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The Ordeal Of The Kanrin Maru
New evidence suggests that Manjiro, the first Japanese to see the U. S., not only played an unrecognized part in the opening of Japan, but also helped save the pride of its young navy from a watery grave
August 1963 | Volume 14, Issue 5
But Brooke had failed to reckon on the violent whim of the elements. Before very long, the two ships ran into a typhoon: “The worst storm ever encountered in the Pacific,” reported a seasoned officer on the Powhatan . To make matters worse, the captain of the Kanrin Maru became incapacitated with seasickness; Brooke was forced to assume command. Fortunately, the American officer could rely on Manjiro, who was an experienced navigator. Had it not been for these two men and a remnant of the crew from the wrecked Fenimore Cooper , the ship might well have gone down.
From here on, Brooke’s verbatim journal tells the story of the Kanrin Maru ’s ordeal: … Two seamen only in each watch. There does not appear to be any such thing as order or discipline onboard. In fact the habits of the [Japanese] do not admit of such discipline and order as we have on our men of war. The Japanese sailors must have their little charcoal fires below, their hot tea and pipes of tobacco. The Saki [ sic ] is not very carefully kept from them. Add to this that the orders are all given in dutch and that very few of the seamen understand that language and one may form some idea of the manner in which duty is carried on. The Capt is still confined to his bed, the Commofdore], also. [Brooke here refers to Kimura Settsuno Kami, Japan’s Secretary of Naval Affairs, who was another of the Kanrin Maru ’s passengers] The officers leave the doors open which slam about, leave their cups dishes & kettles on the deck to roll and slide about so that there is nothing but confusion. We must remember however that this is their first sailing cruise, that the weather is heavy, and that they were taught by the Dutch. Manjiro is the only Japanese onboard who has any idea of what reforms the Japanese Navy requires. … We are badly off for barometer; the Adie oscillates about an inch at each roll, and one of the Japanese put his hand through the face of the aneroid. I have the remnants in my room now. Another put his foot through the sky light and today we shipped a sea which nearly reached the Chronometers. Tis a high old cruise. But I like the novelty. I shall endeavor to improve the Japanese navy and will aid Manjiro in his efforts. … It blew very violently from SSE until midnight. Several times I thought the sails would leave the yard. At 12 PM it rained in torrents, the air white. Wind hauled to Westd and soon came on strong, but that being the last change to be anticipated I felt relieved. At 3 turned in. We made 96 miles from noon to midnight. I had hardly laid down before I was called again. Squalls heavy. I was much struck by the apathy of the Japanese early in the evening. There was every appearance of a gale [yet] the hatches were not properly secured and the light in the binnacle was very dim. The officer of the deck was below [and] two or three Japanese sailors [were] crouching about the deck. I sent to Manjiro and finally succeeded in getting not only the officer whose watch it was but all the officers—who clustered aft. … I proposed today to watch, quarter & station men and officers. But an unexpected difficulty occurred; of 6 officers of the grade of Lieutenant some are totally ignorant of their profession. The Commo: is unwilling to give [watches to] those who are competent … as they are not of as high shore rank as some who are incompetent. … Manjiro is intensely disgusted; he is forced to yield to the Commo. But he has convinced the officers of the propriety of putting them in watches. I asked him what the Commo: would do if I took my men off watch and refused to work the vessel. “Let her go to the bottom,” he replied. He said [that] for his part he had some regard for life. … On the ist [of March], I had an understanding with the officers & Capt. It has been necessary heretofore to keep a constant lookout myself and to have our men on watch as the Japanese are totally incompetent. The wind being ahead I proposed to show the officers how to tack ship. They were too lazy to come on deck, made various excuses etc. I therefore , called all my men and sent them below with orders to do . nothing without my consent. I then informed the Capt that I should not continue to take care of the vessel unless his officers would assist. He gave them a lecture [and] put them under my orders, and I sent my watch on deck. … … Manjiro tells me that the Japanese sailors threatened to hang him at the yard arm last night when he insisted upon their going aloft. I told him that in case of any attempt to put that threat into execution to call upon me, that in case of mutiny on the part of the Japanese sailors if the Capt. would give authority I would hang them immediately. …
So great was the fury of the storm that the Powhatan changed course and headed toward Honolulu for repairs. Meanwhile the Kanrin Maru plodded ahead; on March 17, after a voyage of thirty-seven days, she finally dropped anchor in San Francisco harbor. The Powhatan did not arrive until twelve days later.
Writing to the Secretary of the Navy, Isaac Toucey, Lieutenant Brooke related without rancor the difficulties encountered during the voyage. He also took the opportunity to praise Manjiro, whom he described as “a Japanese of singular ability.”