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Date of Issue:1/February/2006

John Manjiro
A Pioneer in Japan-US Exchange

Hiroshi Nakahama, MD
4th generation descendant of John Manjiro


In 1841, a young fisherman lost at sea was rescued by the captain of a US whaling vessel and went to America, where he remained for the course of his education. Ten years later, he risked his life in returning to Japan, which had by then adopted an isolation policy. With the shogunate government struggling to deal with the arrival of Admiral Perry and demands that Japan open itself to the world, Manjirofs information on the US was welcomed as an invaluable resource. Manjiro was to play a key role in the opening up of Japan and the subsequent introduction of American technology and culture. The bonds of friendship that formed between Manjiro and Whitfield have continued through the years, with exchange between the families now carried into a fifth generation. The John Manjiro Whitfield Commemorative Center for International Exchange has been established to promote mutual understanding between Japan and the US through grassroots-level exchange that builds on the spirit of the friendship that developed between these two men.

Lost at sea and life in America:
Manjiro was born in Nakanohama, Ashizuri-misaki in Shikoku. At the age of 14, he was taken on by an Usa fishing boat, and in January 1841, he went to sea for the first time with four other fishermen, only to be caught in a storm and lost at sea. After seven days clinging to life aboard the small fishing craft, they washed up on the uninhabited Torishima Island, part of the Izu group. In June that year, they were rescued by William Whitfield, captain of the American whaler John Howland. Unable to return the fishermen to Japan because of the countryfs isolation policy, Whitfield put four crew members down in Hawaii, taking only Manjiro with him to the US. Manjiro was warmly welcomed at Captain Whitfieldfs home in Fairhaven on the East Coast, and was educated through from the alphabet to advanced mathematics and navigation. He was the first Japanese student to study in America. Ten years later, he returned home via the Ryukyu Islands, which were under the control of closed Japan.

This was two years before Admiral Perryfs expedition and there was no one in Japan with any information on America, so the shogunate government called Manjiro to Edo, where he was appointed as a jikisan, a samurai in the direct service of the shogunate. It was extremely unusual for a fisherman to become a samurai.

Information on America helps open Japan:
Manjiro gave shogunate officials information on America. One of the key elements of which was that the American leader was voted in by the people. When American whalers landed on Japanese soil, crews had until then been treated as criminals violating Japanfs isolation policy; Manjiro requested that such crews be rescued and their supplies replenished. Foreign ships were only allowed into the port of Nagasaki, but because clearance procedures were slow and cumbersome, Manjiro argued that the Americans wouldnft do that, but would instead come to Uraga or Edo to press directly for Japan to abandon its seclusion, accurately reading the psychology of the Americans as well as the purpose behind Admiral Perryfs visit. In retrospect, the Kanagawa Treaty was just as Manjiro predicted. In later years, Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States (1923-1929) was to note that gThe return of John Manjiro to Japan was equivalent to our dispatching a US ambassador to the country, because of his successful effort to assist the Japanese Shogunate in understanding the true nature of our country. This allowed Commodore Perry a more welcome reception upon his arrival than might have been expected otherwise.h Manjiro was respected more in America than in his own country. It was feared that because he spoke English, he might act in Americafs favour, and negotiations were accordingly conducted in Dutch. Manjiro neither served as an English interpreter nor met with Commodore Perry. However, Perry knew about the English-speaking Manjiro.

Manjiro also put his navigating skills to use as first mate on American whalers. He was actually Japanfs only world-class navigator at that time. There was also once a reference to trade in a letter he received from Captain Whitfield: gWe are looking forward to the time we can trade with your country.h Manjiro was close friends with Yataro Iwasaki, who founded the Mitsubishi Trading Co., and Ichizaemon Morimura of Morimura Trading Company, pioneer in US-Japan trade, persuading them that Japan would have to look offshore in future. He also had a heavy influence on Yukichi Fukuzawa and Ryoma Sakamoto. The above letter is regarded as a major factor behind the start of Japanfs overseas trade.

Manjiro published an English conversation textbook, called eEi-Bei Taiwa Shokeif or eA Shortcut to Anglo-Japanese Conversationf, to bring English to Japan. This included the alphabet song, transmitted to Japan for the first time. He introduced the first ever English grammar to Japan, where it became an essential text for anyone wanting to learn English. These were quiet but enormous achievements. Manjiro also translated Nathaniel Bowditchfs eThe New American Practical Navigatorf, which became the foundation of Japanese navigation.

When he went to America on the Kanrin-maru, the books, sewing machine, camera and other items he brought back with him helped to transmit American culture to Japan.

Loving thy neighbor:
Captain Whitfieldfs actions taught Manjiro the philosophy of loving thy neighbour, as in the egood Samaritanf story in the Bible.

How did Manjiro seek to repay his great debt to the captain? By behaving in the same manner as Whitfield, which is not toward Whitfield himself but rather toward other people. The most important lesson that Manjiro learned in America may well have been this idea of loving thy neighbour, which is still not understood in Japan. This can be discerned in Manjirofs subsequent actions. If he ate out, he would always have any leftover food packed up to take home. He would not only pass this food on to beggars, but also tended to engage them in friendly conversation. When the leader of the beggars came to Manjirofs house to wish him seasonfs greetings, members of Manjirofs household, unaware of Manjirofs relationship with the beggars, were surprised and displeased, but Manjiro argued that they should feel sorry for people who had ended up like that. It wasnft only beggars to whom he related as fellow human beings and equals. He was the same also with the daimyo, speaking as an equal without bowing his head. Without this deep-seated belief, it would surely have been impossible to say to the daimyo, the epitome of a feudal society, that in America, smart people are chosen as national leaders by vote. His habit of speaking in the same way to everyone, be they beggars or daimyo, was regarded as very strange. Manjiro succeeded in consistently loving his neighbor in the midst of a feudal society, with his turbulent life coming to a close at the ripe old age of 71.

150 years of exchange between the two families:
Ever since Manjiro and Whitfield, succeeding generations of their families have sustained their exchange, with all members of the Nakahama household visiting Fairhaven to offer their regards. The relationship has continued into the fifth generation, and with transport so much more convenient, the families now meet once every year.

Willard Whitfield, a member of the fourth generation, heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor when he was on a gunship. Hearing that the ship was going off to attack Japan, he immediately disembarked and had himself reassigned to the coastal patrol. He couldnft face the thought that guns fired by his ship might hit Manjirofs descendants. He didnft want to attack the country where Manjirofs descendants lived. Then, during the war, Japan had come up with balloon bombs, bombs attached to big balloons made of washi paper that were sent off on the prevailing westerly breezes to fall on the US. When I heard about these, I prayed that they would not fall on the houses of Whitfieldfs descendants. While Willard and I belonged to enemy nations, we thought exactly the same thing. We realized that war between nations and friendship between individuals was entirely separate things.

The ties between our families have remained completely unchanged over the more than 150 years from Japanfs years of isolation through to the present day. I firmly believe that the bonds between us, built from respect and friendship above and beyond national borders, will continue on into the future.

 

 

 


 
 
 

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