- Historic Sites
The Man Who Discovered America
The story of Manjiro, the shipwrecked waif; of the kindly captain from Fairhaven; and of how Japan, hidden away from the world, learned strange news of other lands
December 1956 | Volume 8, Issue 1
Then the Captain sent for the chief cook and told him, “Give them some food at once, but remember, don’t give them too much before they have fully recovered.”
A little later, the Captain somehow was able to find out that they were shipwrecked Japanese fishermen who had been stranded on the island for six months.
They were given coats and leather boots, and although they did not feel so uncomfortable in the close-fitting coats which were quite different from their kimonos, they found that the leather boots were almost unbearable.
A little before noon that day, the ship weighed anchor and put out to sea. The five men were shown into a room below, which appeared as wide as an eight-mat room, and were told they had better take a good rest there. Three days later they recovered their spirits and in five days their bodies regained their former strength. They did not like to be idling away their time, so on the seventh day they said to the Captain that they were willing to do some work along with the crewmen.
On the eighth day the ship took its course toward the southeast. On the tenth day a watchman, who was in the crow’s-nest perched high on the foremast looking through a telescope, shouted, “Bloooowsl Ah bloooows!”
“Where away?” shouted back Captain Whitfield.
“Two points abaft the starboard beam.”
The chase and capture of the whale made an exciting spectacle. As he stood watching on the deck Manjiro said to himself, “I’ll be a whaler someday!”
The following day, when Manjiro was perched on the mainmast looking through a telescope, he discovered a large whale and a small one floating among the waves.
“Whales! Whales!” he shouted at the top of his voice to the men on the deck. The boats were at once lowered. Seeing the danger, the large one tried to swim away holding the small one in its breast fins, but the boats encircled it and killed it in the same way as they did the day before. However, they let the whelp whale escape unmolested. Manjiro was given a new sailor cap by the Captain as a reward for discovering the whale, while Denzo, Jusuke, Toraemon, and Goemon were also given similar caps as rewards for the good job they did at the slings and tackles, sending down the oil barrels to the hold, and cleaning the deck, which had been smeared with oil.
The ship kept steadily south-southeast when finally six months’ voyage brought them to a harbor called Honolulu, on Oahu Island of the Sandwich Archipelago, late in November after catching fifteen large whales. Captain Whitfield took the Japanese fishermen to the Governor’s office.
The Governor was an American about fifty years of age whose name was Dr. Gerrit Parmele Judd. Governor Judd brought a map of the world, which Manjiro and the others had never seen before, and unfolded it before them. Pointing here and there over the map, he questioned Manjiro, using simple words.
The Governor smiled and kindly explained. “This is a folding map. Now look here. This is the sea. This is a great land. This is an island. Well, were you born here or there?”
“We were born here,” replied Manjiro pointing to an island.
Governor Judd exchanged looks with Captain Whitfield and they both nodded.
“Do you worship Buddha?”
“Yes, we do,” answered Manjiro, Jusuke, and Goemon in unison.
After further questioning Governor Judd said: “Now you shall stay in this island until further notice, for I will see to it that the Government pays all your expenses while you are here. In the meantime, I’ll give each of you a silver dollar as my personal gift, for you’ll need some money for the present.”
Manjiro and the others humbly bowed in thanks, bending low at the waist. With these silver coins in their hands, they filed out of the Governor’s room and were shown into a guest room of the office where they were served with bananas and coffee for the first time in their lives.
Captain Whitfield liked Manjiro in particular for his cheerfulness, politeness, and willingness to learn. So when a question was raised whether it was all right to take Manjiro to America all the men except Manjiro were puzzled, because they were born in the same province and, after drifting together thousands of miles, had landed in a strange country and naturally found it hard to part with one of their members.
They decided to leave the choice with Manjiro. Whereupon, Manjiro nonchalantly made his intention known that he would sooner go and see for himself what was the real truth of America.
Captain Whitfield, very pleased with what Manjiro had just said, added assuringly, “I’ll take good care of him, so don’t you worry.” Then he took Manjiro on board the ship while Denzo and the others came to the wharf to bid him farewell.