Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I am John Manjiro


Have you heard of John Manjiro?  He is somewhat famous in Japan.

My first name is Jon and my wife and her family used to call me John Manjiro.  I did not know why but I just thought it was some funny name they made up and I did not think about.  But then several years ago while I was surfing the net about Japan, by chance, I came across the story of John Manjiro.  I caught them.

In 1841 at the age of 14, John Manjiro, whose fishing vessel was wrecked in Ashizuri-oki, landed on Torishima Island, where he was rescued by a U.S. whaler ship and brought to America. 

He became the first Japanese to set foot on American soil.

Manjiro, taking the name "John Manjiro," was welcomed by the citizens of Fairhaven and New Bedford Massachusetts where he disembarked.  He became the first Japanese student to receive an American elementary and intermediate education as well as a high school education in English, Mathematics, Navigation and Shipbuilding, History, and Geography. He also acted as First Mate on a whaling ship's 40-month journey around the world.

At 24, his thoughts turning to the importance of opening Japan and to his mother, he resolved to return to closed Japan, even at the pain of death. He departed Hawaii and landed in the Ryukyu Islands in 1851. Undergoing investigation there, he then went further in the Ryukyus and on to Nagasaki and Tosa, where he was repeatedly interrogated for the crime of contravening the nation's policy of isolation. He was finally permitted to return to his home in Nakanohama in October of 1852, and mother and son enjoyed a moving reunion after their 12-year separation.

Manjiro had the dream of appealing directly to the Shogun and becoming a force for the opening of Japan, but the urgency of the times demanded the technical and general knowledge that Manjiro had brought from America. Manjiro had just three days and nights with his mother before he was called back by Yamanouchi Yodo, Lord of the Tosa Domain. He became a teacher at the Tosa School, lecturing on American democracy, on freedom and equality, and it is said that he greatly influenced Sakamoto Ryoma and Goto Shojiro.

There are some books on John Manjiro that I plan to read so I may write a little more about this man who was one of the inspirations for Sakamoto Ryoma.

18 comments:

  1. Fascinating- great write-up Jon. Strange to think he might actually have been punished for contravening the law of isolation- even though it was a total accident. What an odd policy isolation was- I wonder what they were thinking when they instituted it- did they think it could last forever?

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  2. ink they absolutely thought it would last forever. Especially by the 1800s, I think they really had little clue about how the world was changing.

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  3. Anonymous10:29 AM

    Just FYI, Fairhaven and New Bedford are in Massachusetts, not Connecticut.

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  4. Nice information. Though he's not my type of guy, his intentions were pure. I think isolation was good for Japan while it lasted.

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  5. Interestingly, at around the same time, an American did something very similar in reverse. There's a brief write-up here (from about half-way down):
    http://onehundredmountains.blogspot.com/2009/01/hot-cold-hyakumeizan-challenge-4.html

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  7. There is something about the isolation of Japan that is so interesting. It really was the last time that Japan really was 100% Japan in terms of culture before foreign influences entered.

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  8. Thank you Chris. I never heard of the story of McDonald. What an amazing adventure to ask to be let go off the ship in a small boat in 1848 to go to Japan. That is beyond imagination.

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  9. Jon,
    Nice blog. Have been doing research in Japan for some specific purposes (will put link below) and in conversation with my wife, who is Japanese, this morning, I mentioned Miki Sawada and her home for
    Anyway, will check in regularly on your effort here. Very nicely done and thanks.

    With your interest in Japan, you may enjoy visiting www.keepusa.org

    There is currently some video available on the site, and soon, hope to publish the results of the research. It's about a fairly amazing part of US/Japan history that has really be buried in the hills of Kiyosato. Much more to come as the research and publication is done.

    All the best

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  10. I only read about Japan because I enjoy it. Japan has a very unique and interesting history, at least prior to the Meiji Restoration. After 1868, Japan went down a slippery slope towards imperialism and ultimately WWII.

    Thank you for the link. I will check it out.

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  11. Reading about Japan because you enjoy is surely the best of all reasons. Permit me to add a link to your blog from One Hundred Mountains...

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  12. Thank you for your comment and for linking to my blog.

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  13. As with Chris, I was also reminded of Ronald McDonald reading your description of this guy.

    Both have amazing life stories.

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  14. Yeah, they are hard to imagine.

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  15. There is a grassroots exchange between the US and Japan called the Manjiro-Whitfield Summit. This group meets annually with every other year rotating between the US and Japan. I attended the summit in 2005 in Nagoya, Japan.

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