James Clavell based the character of John Blackthorne on Will Adams, a real-life English sea Captain and adventurer, whose experiences in late sixteenth century Japan are paralleled by Clavell's story.
When Toshirô Mifune was wearing his Toranaga samurai gear, he went completely into character, grunting and growling constantly, and always with an angry look. Nobody dared to go close to him in such moments.
Nagashima, the filming location for Anjiro, was so remote it was difficult to find accommodations for the whole crew. Due to a misunderstanding, the crew lost their bookings on September 1st, and not the 15th as planned. Changes had to be done in order to be able to finish by September first, but they managed to do it. On the day filming ended, a typhoon destroyed the whole set of Anjiro.
In a Japanese television interview, made around the time of the filming, Toshirô Mifune stated that the original script had his character speaking modern Japanese, and that he corrected the anachronisms in the language, to forms that were more appropriate to Japanese, as it was spoken in the sixteenth century.
Just one week before production, the Japanese actress, chosen for the role of Mariko, left the project. She was a singer, and had to go on tour. This was a major headache for the team. Still, production was not stopped, and a whole month was shot before Yôko Shimada was hired to play Mariko.
The set for the village of Anjiro was built in Nagashima, a remote virgin beach in a fishing village. It was so remote, that there was no road leading to it, so it had to be built. The trees removed to do so, had to be replaced after production finished.
English actors were hired for the entire six months that production was going to take. It was not possible to do the same with the Japanese actors, especially Toshirô Mifune, so during filming there was a constant negotiation about his availability when necessary to meet the shooting schedule. Apparently, at some points, negotiations became very tight and tense.
Luca Bercovici, son of Scriptwriter Eric Bercovici, was hired as the dialogue coach for Yôko Shimada. There were some words she was not able to pronounce, so they were changed to tailor the script for her.
The ship used for the Erasmus, was called The Golden Hinde. It was hired in London, and sailed to Yokohama via San Francisco. This is the same ship used for the Black Ship, so it had to be modified to look different.
The Japanese galley was a replica of ancient Japanese galleys. It was heavy, and therefore difficult to move. Director Jerry London and the Producers later said they regretted not installing a small engine on it.
There was a previous attempt to film the story of Will Adams, on whom James Clavell based his story. Peter O'Toole, and his producing partner Jules Buck, had tried to set it up in the mid-1960s, and Fred Zinnemann and John Huston had been attached to direct. Toshirô Mifune was also set to star.
Shogun (1980) was heavily edited, and trimmed down, as the two hour and five minute television movie Shogun (1980). The television movie premiered in the U.S. on September 15, 1980, and the television movie premiered on ITV in the UK, on October 10, 1989, as "Shogun: The Movie".
The mini-series premiered 1 year before the premiere of the science fiction fantasy cartoon Blackstar (1981) (TV Series). The cartoon is about space pilot John Blackstar whom finds himself marooned on the strange alien world Sagar and gets caught up in the Trobbit people's fight for freedom against the evil Overlord. It has never been acknowledged by the production company Filmmation that the mini-series and in particular the novel itself influenced the cartoon as it does bare a few similarities.