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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
Having been founded by Englishmen, the country is full of them. They are white-complexioned and the color of their eyes is a little yellow. As there is no hereditary king in this country, a man of great knowledge and ability is elected king who holds his office for four years and then he is succeeded by another. When the administration is good under a certain king and his popularity continues, he sits on the throne for another four years. He lives a very simple life and goes out on horseback accompanied by one servant. Officials there are not haughty; indeed, it is hard to tell them from ordinary citizens. The present king is called Taylor, an Englishman by blood, who, during the war with Mexico which was fought over the border question, led his army to a great victory which won for him so great a fame that at last he was made king. This year being the Year of the Rat, another king is to succeed the present one.
At the end of the trial the men were put to the usual test of stamping on the picture of Christ. John Mung often attended the Sunday services in Fairhaven, and as Goemon was a servant to a Honolulu missionary, he used to hear Christian sermons and say Christian prayers. But they knew nothing about the bronze tablet of the crucifix, so they stamped on it nonchalantly, only to please the inquisitorial official.
“Tell me, how did you feel when you stamped on the tablet?” asked the official.
“I felt rather cold,” replied John Mung whose feet had been so accustomed to the foreign shoes which he had been wearing that he must have felt particularly cold when his feet touched the bronze tablet.
At last the men were released from prison and sent under escort to Tosa, their home. The Tosa clan wanted to learn firsthand from Manjiro as much as possible about foreign countries. Manjiro was asked to appear before the members of the family of the Daimyo of Tosa in a suit of foreign clothes to show what it looked like.
Word had already reached the village of Nakanohama that Manjiro was coming, and his family, relatives, and almost all the villagers were on hand to welcome him at the village headman’s. When they met Manjiro, however, for the first time in twelve years, they could hardly believe their eyes. The Manjiro in front of them, elegantly dressed in his formal hakama and haori, looking much more dignified and intelligent than the village squire, was quite different from the poor fisherman’s boy they remembered so well.
“Mother, here I am at last!” said Manjiro.
“Is that really you, my son?” said his mother as though she were unable to believe that the fine young man in front of her was her own son.
“Yes, I am indeed your son.”
They both stood there for a while unable to speak. Then Manjiro took his mother in his arms and they both cried. Many villagers cried, too.
Then Manjiro, accompanied by his family and friends, went to the village graveyard and reported his return home to his father.
That night there was a great rejoicing and feast in the house to which his relatives and friends came. When Manjiro told his story about foreign countries and how he had lived among foreigners, they all listened in amazement. But when the talk was over, someone asked him, “Do they have thunderstorms and the four seasons in America?” Another, “How is it possible to live without rice?” Manjiro answered those questions in detail although he thought them silly. They are simple people, after all, said Manjiro to himself. At any rate, when Manjiro sipped sake and ate a broiled red sea bream fresh from the sea of Tosa and boiled rice and red beans prepared by his mother, he knew he had returned home at last.
But the happy reunion was abruptly brought to an end when it was only three days old. A messenger came from the Daimyo of Tosa telling him that it was the wish of the lord that he should become an official instructor at the school of the Tosa clan in Kochi. Much as he regretted leaving Nakanohama, he decided to accede to the wish of his feudal lord. He was glad of the opportunity to teach some of his countrymen the ways of civilization and to let them know that it was no time for Japan to keep her doors closed to the rest of the world.
But Manjiro’s vital role in wakening the Japanese people to world civilization began when he was called in by the Tokugawa shogun’s government. Upon his arrival in Yedo, the former capital of Japan, he was examined by Magistrate Saemon Kawaji before he was officially taken into government service.
Answering the questions put to him by the investigating official, he revealed his own observations about America to the amazement of his listeners. Never can we overestimate the value of these observations which undoubtedly influenced the policy of the Tokugawa government in favor of the opening of the country to foreign intercourse.
Among more serious matters Manjiro also told the officials about the strange customs of the Americans: