Presents and politics

Lady Ochiba thinks on her feet to deftly sidestep a potential diplomatic trap – in the form of a simple gift – in this electrifying excerpt from James Clavell’s epic novel Shogun, set in 17th century imperial Japan.

Blackthorne thanked Ishido again and turned to the Lady Ochiba.  “Highness, in my land we has Queen – have Queen.  In my land we have custom always must give lady birthday gift.  Even Queen.”  From the pocket in his sleeve he took out the pink camellia blossom that he had cut off a tree in the garden.  He laid it in front of her, fearful that he was overreaching himself.  “Please excuse me if not good manners to give.”

She looked at the flower.  Five hundred people waited breathlessly to see how she would respond to the daring and the gallantry of the barbarian – and the trap he had, perhaps, unwittingly placed her in.

“I am not a Queen, Anjin-san,” she said slowly.  “Only the mother of the Heir and widow of the Lord Taiko.  I cannot accept your gift as a Queen for I am not a Queen, could never be a Queen, do not pretend to be a Queen, and do not wish to be a Queen.”  Then she smiled at the room and said to everyone, “But as a lady on her birthday, perhaps I may have your permission to accept the Anjin-san’s gift?”

The room burst into applause.  Blackthorne bowed and thanked her, having understood only that the gift was accepted.

Shogun, James Clavell (Hodder and Stoughton, 1975)

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