John Blackthorne from

How do you distill the essence of a show as complex and sprawling as Shōgun into a title sequence that lasts about 90 seconds? If you’re Elastic, the design studio behind opening sequences for shows like The Last of Us and House of the Dragon, you turn to inspiration from 1600s Japan.

Designer Nadia Tzuo, the creative director of Shōgun‘s title sequence, revealed to Mashable that initial directions for the credits focused on design elements and art styles from that era of Japanese history, such as paintings or architectural details. However, the idea that most immediately caught the team’s attention was that of Japanese dry gardens, made up of sand and gravel.

“Initially, that direction was called ‘the walled garden,’ which described Japan very well at the time,” Tzuo told Mashable. “It was like its own world in a way, since it closed borders to foreign contact and wasn’t easy to reach.”

With that concept in mind, Japan — and the entire conflict of Shōgun — becomes a world made miniature in the title sequence. The sun rises over a peaceful dry garden, where the rocks represent land and the gravel between them represents oceans. From there, we see John Blackthorne’s (Cosmo Jarvis) ship sailing into view; battles between the forces of Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Ishido Kazunari (Takehiro Hira) follow soon after. Yet given the garden’s smaller scale and the viewer’s distance from it, there’s still a sense of observational remove. For Tzuo, this remove is intentional, corresponding with how one should experience a dry garden in real life.

“The garden is meant to be watched from a far distance. Not too far, but you’re not supposed to be in it. It’s providing a third-person point of view,” Tzuo explained. “This observational point of view matches the feeling of the whole concept of the show, because Blackthorne is an outsider. He’s observing all the things happening, and he can’t do much about it.”

Even though we’re somewhat removed from the garden itself, it’s hard to miss the detail at work in these opening titles. The gravel itself took quite a bit of time to perfect, as Tzuo and her team had to ensure it didn’t look powdery and had the correct weight. They also researched the architecture and layout of Osaka Castle, as well as the designs of the many ships present in the sequence. They also received digital 3D models from Shōgun‘s production team so the imagery could remain consistent throughout. One especially fun detail is the inclusion of the show’s model for the fishing village Ajiro, which you can spot on the mossy base of one of the dry garden’s rocks.

Elsewhere, you can catch key symbols from the show raked in the garden’s gravel. Mariko’s cross get blown away as war engulfs the garden, an image that’s especially heartbreaking given her fate in episode 9. Toranaga’s three-flower crest features prominently as well. The crest itself corresponds to that of the real-life Tokugawa clan and shogunate, whose founder Tokugawa Ieyasu inspired Shōgun author James Clavell when creating the character of Toranaga.

Thanks to the presence of the crest, the figure of the shogun looms large throughout the opening credits, but nowhere more so than in their final moments. After the credits take a turn from peaceful towards all-out war, we watch a mountain under siege crumble — a nod to the pivotal episode 5 earthquake, Tzuo noted — to unveil a massive mask bearing Toranaga’s crest. Not only are we witnessing the rise of the shogun, but we’re also seeing the arc of the show play out over the course of the credits.

“The shogun is born through war and destruction,” Tzuo said. “That’s what it always has been, and that’s something we wanted to bring into the title.”

Shōgun is now streaming on Hulu, with the finale premiering April 23.