Macao, Ronin & Portuguese Bases In Shogun Explained
9 mins read

Macao, Ronin & Portuguese Bases In Shogun Explained

WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Shōgun episodes 1 & 2.




  • Shōgun showcases historical power struggles rooted in Japan’s Edo Period trades and politics.
  • International star Hiroyuki Sanada leads an outstanding cast, receiving critical acclaim for the series.
  • Macau’s Portuguese base poses a hidden threat to Japan, fueled by ronin warriors and betrayal.

The rich and historically accurate world of the new FX/Hulu historical epic series Shōgun features references to real-life bases during the start of the Edo Period in feudal Japan. Much of the plot and conflict in the early episodes of Shōgun are political and rooted in power struggles, pertaining specifically to the trade of goods, services, and even religion in and out of Japan. Shōgun takes place in the year 1600 following the death of the previous shogun and Taiko, who split the rule over the nation between five trusted lords known as the Council of Regents.

Shōgun has an outstanding cast led by international star and actor Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays the protagonist Lord Yoshii Toranaga in the acclaimed FX/Hulu series. The universal critical acclaim for Shōgun has made it one of the most anticipated historical dramas in recent memory and its 100% Rotten Tomatoes score has inspired some early comparisons to Game of Thrones. Shōgun follows Yoshii Toranaga as he suspects betrayal from the Council of Regents, spearheaded by his rival and former war general Ishido Kazunari (Takehiro Hira). Toranaga enlists the help of the resourceful John Blackthrone, an English navigator who could prove to be useful down the line.


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The Portuguese’s Macao Base In Shogun Explained

John Blackthorne standing in front of Lord Toranaga in Shogun episode 2

Macau was a province and international trading post that belonged to Portugal from 1557 to 1999. Macau is located on the coast of the southeastern region of China in very close proximity and with great access to Japan. The Portuguese discovered this region in 1513 during the Age of Discovery and were granted visitation rights from China. After decades of battle throughout the 16th century, Portugal eventually started to rent Macau from the Chinese and began to act as the middleman for trade and service between China and the historically isolated nation of Japan.

Because of the amount of Portuguese influence in Macau, particularly Christianity, Portuguese influence began to spread throughout Japan. Macau became a significant departure point for Catholic missionaries from Portugal to spread their religion throughout Asia, including Japan. The Jesuits were responsible for the transfer of many Eastern and Western customs, goods, and ideologies, providing a large bridge between the two previously inaccessible worlds. In Shōgun, Father Martin Alvito (Tommy Bastow) is a diplomat and translator between the Japanese and Portuguese. Alvito is based on the historical figure of João Rodrigues who was born in a small town in Portugal.


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How The Ronin Play A Role In Shogun

The Portuguese in Shōgun, particularly Father Martin Alvito, have chosen to keep their port in Macau hidden from the Japanese. This revelation begins to chip cracks in their previously and seemingly trusting trade relationship between feudal Japan and the Portuguese after Lord Yoshii Toranaga discovered Macau’s existence. It is also revealed to Lord Toranaga that Macau is organizing a mass accumulation of ammunition, arms, and ronin warriors. Ronin are essentially samurai who have no master and often have no honorable family lineage. They are often considered rogue warriors and can be used as hired mercenaries.

In Shōgun episode 2, John Blackthorne is rescued by Toranaga’s men and is sent to be interrogated by Lord Toranaga. Blackthorne’s honesty ends up winning Toranaga’s favor, as he reveals what the Portuguese have been up to for decades that have worked against Japan’s best interests. Firstly, Blackthorne reveals that both Portugal and Spain have laid claim to Japan and intended to instill their Catholic religion throughout the nation. Blackthorne also tells Lord Toranaga about Macau, revealing that it is now heavily guarded and protected by Ronin who have been converted to Christianity.


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Why The Portuguese Were Keeping Their Base A Secret

A closeup of Lord Toranaga in armor in Shogun

Lord Toranaga is stunned by his conversation with John Blackthorne and quickly releases that the Portuguese cannot be trusted, but Blackthorne has even more to share. This is an incredibly wise move on Blackthorne’s part, whose honesty quickly demonstrates his worth and earns his protection in the eyes of Lord Yoshii Toranaga. Blackthorne goes on to tell Toranaga that a trade ship owned by the Portuguese called the Black Ship has been taking massive profits from the silk trade between China and Japan, revealing that the Portuguese have been stealing valuable exports from Japan without their knowledge for decades.

It’s discovered that Macao is much more than a trading post but is actually a secret Portuguese military base that has hired an army of Ronin converted to Christianity. The more John Blackthorne talks, the more protection he earns himself in Shōgun, and the more stunned Lord Toranaga becomes. Blackthorne also reveals that the Macao base and its army of Ronin have been established for years and were used during the Imjin War in Korea against the Japanese army. This ultimately led to the defeat of the Taikō and the Japanese efforts in Koera, which is mentioned many times throughout the first two episodes of Shōgun.


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The Macao Base Explains Why The Portuguese Wanted To Hide The Navigator’s Journal

Blackthorne on the ground in the pouring rain in Shogun

Based on these major revelations in Shōgun episode 2, it’s no surprise that Toranaga prohibits all Portuguese trading ships from leaving Osaka and starts to suspect the character of Father Martin Alvito. The secret Macao base also explains why the Portuguese ship captain Vasco Rodrigues (Nestor Carbonell) confiscates Blackthorne’s personal journal, which was full of descriptions of his sightings on his various voyages. Knowing that Macao would be mentioned and described in the journal at great length, and also considering that Lord Toranaga would likely read his journal by having it translated for him on behalf of Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai), Rodrigues wanted Blackthorne’s journal to remain hidden.

Knowing what he now knows of Macao, and the years of deception and betrayal on behalf of the Portuguese, Lord Toranaga will have to come up with some form of retaliation which could spell major trouble for Father Martin Alvito. At this point, it’s unclear whether Father Martin Alvito is actively keeping Macao a secret from Toranaga and Japan at large, but in all the time that he has spent in Japan, it’s shocking and suspicious that it has never once been brought to Lord Toranaga’s attention before. The military base at Macao was the unknown reason for Japan’s failure in Korea, which could have major consequences for the Portugese in future episodes of Shōgun.

Shogun 2024 Poster


Shogun is an FX original mini-series set in 17th Century Japan. Shogun follows John Blackthorne, who becomes a samurai warrior but is unknowingly a pawn in Yoshii Toranaga’s plan to become Shogun. The series stars Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne and Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga, along with Anna Sawai, Tadanobu Asano, and Yûki Kedôin.

Cosmo Jarvis , Hiroyuki Sanada , Anna Sawai , Tadanobu Asano , Yûki Kedôin


Streaming Service(s)

Maegan Houang , Rachel Kondo , Justin Marks , Emily Yoshida

Frederick E.O. Toye , Jonathan van Tulleken

Source: Britannica, FX Networks

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