Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Japan's trailblazing castaways

A Japanese castaway was the first of his people to visit the United States. Another castaway rescued at sea by American sailors eventually returned to Japan to play a key role in the overthrow of the Shogun, which began Japan's modernization.

First, there was Yamamoto Otokichi, whose storm-ravaged ship landed on the Oregon coast in 1834 after drifting across the Pacific Ocean for 14 months.

He was followed several years later by Nakahama Manjiro, another shipwreck survivor who was rescued by an American whaling ship in 1841. He was taken to the United States, where the 14-year-old received a high-school education. He eventually returned to Japan, where Manjiro's knowledge of Western technology and the English language was put to good use by the rebels who orchestrated the overthrow of the Shogun in the 1860s.

(Manjiro is often mistakenly identified as the first Japanese to visit the United States, but that honor goes to Otokichi, although Manjiro probably had a much greater impact on Japanese history.)

There's a good children's book about Manjiro titled Shipwrecked! : The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy

Wouldn't these castaways' stories make a good subject for a documentary? Or at least a term paper.

—Mellow Monk

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