Manjiro was a poor boy from a fishing village on the Japanese island of Shikoku. In 1841, when he was just fourteen years old, he and four fishing companions were caught in a storm and their boat was drawn into the Pacific Ocean and shipwrecked on the uninhabited island of Torishima. The group was ultimately rescued by the American whaling vessel John Howland, but since Japan was a closed country, they could not return home.
|Unknown artist, [stern of the John Howland], in Nakahama Manjiro, Hyōson kiryaku: manuscript, 25 October 1852 [Rosenbach Museum & Library AMs 1296/14]|
Upon their return to Japan, the three men were interrogated by a series of officials for a year and a half before being allowed to return to their homes. Leaving Japan and returning were punishable offenses and there was also concern that the men might have converted to Christianity, which was also strictly prohibited.
During the interrogation period, Yamanouchi Yodo, the lord of Manjiro's home province, had the artist Kawata Shoyo transcribe Manjiro's account of his travels and add illustrations. Eventually multiple copies of the manuscript were made; nine copies are known exist today. The Rosenbach's copy is one of only two in the United States (the other is in Fairhaven) and contains some additional drawings and English text in Manjiro's hand.
The manuscript is a fascinating document of a foreigner's experience of America and also of the challenge of explaining a culture to someone who has never experienced it. One of my favorite illustrations is a four page picture of a train, which the Japanese artist depicts as a series of connected houses. You can see a detail of one of these pages below.
Unknown artist, [railroad (detail)], in Nakahama Manjiro, Hyōson kiryaku: manuscript, 25 October 1852 [Rosenbach Museum & Library AMs 1296/14]
Manjiro's story of cross-cultural connection and his love for America have resounded through the centuries. Manjiro's descendents remained friends with Whitfield's descendents and Manjro's story has even inspired modern exchange initiatives. If your interest has been piqued, a complete English language translation of his tale was published in 2003 as Drifting Towards the Southeast. Happy reading.
Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog