Born in Kent, England in 1564, William Adams was apprenticed when he was still a child and spent 12 years learning shipbuilding, astronomy and navigation. After serving in the Royal Navy under Sir Francis Drake, Adams became a pilot for a merchant company and took part in an expedition to the Arctic in search of a Northeast Passage along the coast of Siberia to the Far East.In 1598, Adams went to Holland and was chosen as Pilot Major for a five-ship expedition to the Far East. During the voyage, which took them via the west coast of Africa, across to the east coast of South America, through the Magellan Straits, and up the coastline of Chile, the fleet was scattered and four ships were lost.

When the "De Liefde" -the only remaining ship- made landfall in April 1600 off Bungo in Kyushu, only 9 of the remaining 24 crew members could even stand. Allegations by Portuguese priests that Adams' ship was a pirate vessel led to seizure, and the sickly crew was imprisoned at Osaka Castle.At that time, the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu was looking for ways to set up trade relationships with Europe. When he learnt about Adams' skills and experience he freed him and his crew under the condition that he pass on his knowledge.

Later, he also ordered him to build western-style sailing ships : first an 80-ton, then a 120 ton vessel. Both vessels were successfully completed. Ieyasu's rewards for Adams' service and loyalty included two swords which transformed Adams the English pilot into Miura Anjin the samurai. His Japanese last name Miura was given to him because he had been named administrator over a fief called Miura. His first name Anjin contains the Kanji for needle which is used in the word Compass. Adams died at Hirado, north of Nagasaki, in 1620 at the age of 57.