Manjiro's statue in Cape Ashizuri and old Whitfield's house in Fairhaven, MA.
Nakahama Manjiro (1827-1898), also known as John Manjiro (or John Mung), was one of the first Japanese people to visit the United States and an important translator during the Opening of Japan.
During his early life, he lived as a simple fisherman in the village of Naka-no-hama, Tosa Province (now Tosashimizu, Kochi Prefecture). In 1841, 14-year-old Nakahama Manjiro and four friends (all brothers, named Goemon, Denzo, Toraemon, and Jusuke) were fishing when their boat was wrecked on the island of Torishima. The American whaler ship John Howland (with Captain William H. Whitfield in command) rescued them and, at the end of the voyage, dropped four of them in Honolulu; however Manjiro (nicknamed "John Mung") wanted to stay on the ship. Captain Whitfield took him back to the United States and entrusted him to James Akin, who enrolled Manjiro in the Oxford School in the town of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. The boy studied English and navigation for a year, apprenticed to a cooper, and then, with Whitfield's help, signed on to the whaler Franklin (Captain Ira Davis). After whaling in the South Seas, the Franklin put into Honolulu in October 1847, where Manjiro again met his four friends. None were able to return to Japan, for this was during Japan's period of isolation when leaving the country was an offense punishable by death.
When Captain Davis became mentally ill and was left in Manila, the crew elected a new captain, and Manjirō was made Harpooner. The Franklin returned to New Bedford, Massachusetts in September 1849 and paid-off its crew; Manjiro was self-sufficient; he had $350 in his pocket.
Manjiro promptly set out by sea for the California Gold Rush by ship. Arriving in San Francisco in May 1850, he took a steamboat up the Sacramento River, then a train into the mountains. In a few months, he made about $600 and decided to find a way back to Japan.
Manjiro arrived in Honolulu and found two of his companions were willing to go with him. (Toraemon, who thought it would be too risky, and Jusuke, who died of a heart ailment, did not voyage back to Japan.) He purchased a whaleboat, the Adventure, which was loaded aboard the bark Sarah Boyd (Captain Whitmore) along with gifts from the people of Honolulu. They sailed on December 17, 1850 and reached Okinawa on February 2, 1851. The three were promptly taken into custody, although treated with courtesy. After months of questioning, they were released in Nagasaki and eventually returned home to Tosa where Lord Yamauchi Toyoshige awarded them pensions. Manjiro was appointed a minor official and became a valuable source of information.
In September 1853, Manjiro was summoned to Edo (now known as Tokyo), questioned by the shogunate government, and made a hatamoto (a samurai in direct service to the shogun). He would now give interviews only in service to the government. In token of his new status, he would wear two swords, and needed a surname; he chose Nakahama, after his home village.
Manjiro detailed his travels in a report to the Tokugawa Shogunate, which is kept today at the Tokyo National Museum. In July 8,1853, when Commodore Matthew Perry's Black Ships arrived to force the opening of Japan, Manjirō became an interpreter and translator for the Shogunate and was instrumental in negotiating the Convention of Kanagawa. However, it appears that he did not contact the Americans directly at that time.
In 1860, Nakahama Manjiro participated in the Japanese Embassy to the United States (1860). He was appointed translator on board Kanrin Maru, Japan's first screw-driven steam warship, purchased from the Dutch. Due to Japan's former policy of isolation, the crew had little experience on the open ocean, and during a storm, her Captain Katsu Kaishu, Admiral Kimura and much of the crew fell ill. Manjiro was put in charge and brought the ship to port safely.
In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, Manjiro studied military science in Europe. He returned to Japan by way of the United States. He was formally received at Washington D.C., and he took advantage of this opportunity by traveling overland to Fairhaven, Massachusetts to visit his "foster father", Captain Whitfield. Eventually, Manjiro became a professor at the Tokyo Imperial University.
Manjiro apparently used his know-how of western shipbuilding to contribute to the effort of the Shogunate to build a modern navy. He translated Bowditch's American Practical Navigator into Japanese, and taught English, naval tactics and whaling techniques. He allegedly contributed to the construction of the Shohei Maru, Japan's first post-seclusion foreign-style warship.
Manjiro was married three times and had seven children. In 1918, his eldest son, Dr. Nakahama Toichiro, donated a valuable sword to Fairhaven in token of his father's rescue and the kindness of the town. It continued to be displayed in the town library even during World War Two.
Among his accomplishments, Manjiro was probably the first Japanese to ride a railroad, in a steamship, to officer an American vessel, and to command a trans-Pacific voyage.
There is a great statue of Nakahama Manjiro at Cape Ashizuri, on Shikoku. However, his grave, formerly at the Zoshigaya Cemetery in Tokyo, was destroyed by American air raids in World War II. In Fairhaven, the Manjiro Historic Friendship Society is renovating William Whitfield's home to include a museum dealing with the Manjiro legacy.