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Early Life [change]
Manjiro was born in the Naka-no-hama in Tosa Province (now Tosashimizu in Kōchi Prefecture). He was the second son of a poor fisherman. He worked when he was young because his father died and his mother and older brother were sick. Because of this, he did not learn how to read and write very well.
Life in America [change]
In 1841, when he was fourteen years old, the fishing boat he worked on ran into a storm and was turned over. He and the people with him were on the ocean for five days. They landed on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where no people lived. They spent 143 days on that island. An American ship passed by the island and John Manjiro and the others were saved.
At this time, Japan was a closed country. The American ship or any non-Japanese ship could not enter Japan. Also, any Japanese who left Japan were killed by the Japanese government if they returned to Japan. Most of the people saved from the island were taken to Hawaii. The captain of the ship liked John Manjiro and took Manjiro with him. Manjiro saw a map of the world for the first time and saw how small Japan was in the world. Manjiro was named “John Mung” by the captain. He was adopted by the captain of the ship and lived with the captain’s family in the United States.
Manjiro learned English, math, measurement, navigation, and shipbuilding at school. He spent all of his time to studying to be a captain. He learned new ideas from the Western world. For example, democracy and equality between men and women.
Return to Japan [change]
Manjiro returned to Hawaii and bought a boat. He and his friends from the fishing boat started to sail back to Japan in December of 1850. Japan was still a closed country. Because of this, he was investigated by the Shogunate (the rulers of Japan) for a long time.
IN 1851, Manjiro return to his village in Japan.
Around this time, Shimazu Nariakira, a historical person in Japan, was interested in English and shipbuilding. John Manjiro began working as an English teacher. He had a strong friendship with many statesmen. He was even asked to be a statesman himself.
In his later years, Manjiro visited American friends. By then, he could not speak English very well any more. He died in 1898 at the age of 71 years old.
The Name, "John Manjiro" [change]
John Manjiro was actually born as Nakahama Manjiro (Manjiro is a Japanese first name). The name "John" comes from the name of the ship he was saved by when on the island in 1841. The name of the ship was "John Howland." The captain gave Manjiro this name. In 1938, Ibuse Masuji, a Japanese writer, first used the name "John Manjiro." From this book came the name of "John Manjiro."
John Manjiro's English [change]
Manjiro had problems translating because he was not good at translating English sentences. This was because he had not learned basic grammar when he was young. He was used as interpreter when Commodore Perry came in 1863. Manjiro pronounced English just as he heard it. His pronunciation was different from present-day English. Japanese based their pronunciation of English at the time on Manjiro’s pronunciation. They were able to be understood by Americans and English people.
The John Manjiro Musical [change]
There is a musical about Manjiro in Japan. It is called “The Dream of John Manjiro”. It was first done in June, 1974.
John Manjiro was the first Japanese man to set foot on the contintental United States, to take a train, to ride a steamship, and to wear a necktie. John Manjiro talked about world views with Ryoma Sakamoto, a famous Japanese statesman and general.
- Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Nakahama Manjirō" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 688.
- Lade, Jennifer. "Manjiro Festival celebrates sister cities of Fairhaven, Tosashimizu," South Coast (Massachusetts). October 4, 2009; retrieved 2013-2-25.