History/English faculty members present at forum


The final Liberal Arts and Education faculty forum of the semester was given on Manjirō, a man who helped shape Japan, and Helen Waddell, an Irish author who spread her literature worldwide. The presentation was given by professor and department chair of history Dr. Adam Stanley and assistant professor of English Amanda Tucker.

The presentation started with Stanley introducing the audience to Manjirō and his story. Manjirō lived in a village called Nakanohama, Japan, where he lived with his mother and sister. When Manjirō was 14, he set out on a fishing trip with a crew of four other men: three brothers – Fudenojō, Jūsuke, Goemon – and their neighbor Toraemon. This journey was supposed to help Manjirō raise money to support his family. On this fishing excursion, the crew experienced horrid weather that wrecked their small fishing boat. After fighting the waters, the crew ended up making it to Torishima, an abandoned island (Bird Island).

The crew lived on this island for six months. The resources were scarce and the crew members’ mental and physical health deteriorated. After six months, the crew noticed a ship in the distance, and the ship saw the men from the island and sailed in to rescue them.

The name of the rescue ship was the John Howland, and the captain was William Whitfield. The John Howland was an American whaling ship that was out hunting sea turtles when they spotted the five people on Torishima.

The John Howland crew members and the five Japanese crew members were unable to communicate with one another due to the language barrier. The one thing they both understood, though, was that the Japanese members could not return to Japan. The Tokugawa shogunate had “closed” Japan, meaning no outsiders were allowed into Japan, and the current Japanese inhabitants could not leave. If outsiders tried to enter or insiders tried to leave, they would face profound consequences, most often death.

The Americans were not going to take the risk of trying to get into Japan, and the crew members were not sure they would ever get back to their families. The American crew liked the dedication and techniques that Manjirō had on the ship, and they started to call him John Mung. The John Howland landed in Honolulu, and it was there that Whitfield helped the crew members start new lives since the chance of getting back to Japan seemed slim. Whitfield offered Manjirō a chance to sail back to Massachusetts with them. There he promised to let Manjirō live with him and help him get an education.

Whitfield upheld his deal with Manjirō when they arrived in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. For the first year, Manjirō had a private tutor to give intense training, but after that year he was eligible to attend the Bartlett School of Math where he was able to prepare for work on ships out at sea.

In 1846, Manjirō was offered a position on the Franklin, a ship that would sail East out of Massachusetts. Manjirō accepted the position with the hopes of being able to return to Japan. Although the Franklin was not able to make it to Japan, Manjirō was able to successfully circumnavigate the globe, one of only a few other recorded Japanese sailors to do that. The ship landed back in Honolulu where Manjirō met up with his friends from Japan. The men decided they would try to return to Japan, once they got the funds.

Manjirō sailed back to Massachusetts where he stayed with the Whitfields until the “gold fever” in California spread. Manjirō took this opportunity to earn some money. In three months, Manjirō earned $600. He used this money to sail to Honolulu, to purchase equipment for the journey back to Japan and to purchase a long boat they named The Adventurer.

“After hours in a life and death battle with the waters, Manjirō and his two crew members were able to make it to the island of Okinawa,” Stanley said.

Once the men arrived in Japan, they were immediately detained by authorities and spent one and a half years in interrogation. In 1852, the men were free to go back to Nakanohama. Manjirō was reunited with his mother and sister who thought he was dead.

Shortly after their arrival, Matthew Perry, an American Naval officer, invaded Japan and demanded that Tokugawa open Japan. The Meiji dynasty overtook the ruling and began a restoration of Japan. Manjirō played many roles during this time. He was summoned to what is now Tokyo to become an adviser for the authority. This is when he was finally able to receive the surname, Nakohama, something that was only given to the elite class in Japan. He was a samurai, a teacher, a translator, a whaler and a diplomat.

In 1870, Manjirō was able to travel back to the United States, where he reunited with the Whitfields.

“When William Whitfield opened the door, all he could say was ‘well if it isn’t John Mung,’” Stanley said.

Manjirō withdrew from public life once arriving back to Japan because he was reprimanded for visiting the Whitfields on his diplomatic trip to the United States, and he was also experiencing health issues.

In 1898, Manjirō passed away. In the period before he died (1870-1898), Manjirō was almost forgotten from the Japanese culture. He did, however, leave his impact on the educational system in Japan.

Manjirō created the ABCs for the Japanese children. He also taught several central leading figures that ended up shaping Japan. Fukuzawa Yukicni in education and Iwasaki Yatarō, the founder of Mitsubishi, a then ship company. Manjirō also had large impacts on the constitutional government of Japan.

“We didn’t get any [stories] published of his experiences from his life. He was forbidden by the Tokugawa government,” Stanley said.

Tucker gave a presentation on Helen Waddell after the life of Manjirō was completed. She became interested in this topic while doing research at Queens University.

“[Finding the research on Helen Waddell] was really serendipitous,” Tucker said.

Tucker talked about Waddell’s influence in Japan and the transnationalism that occurred in the Meiji era.

“Transnationalism is different from globalization,” Tucker said. “[Globalization is an] increasing comprehension of the world and transnationalism is a willingness to see a connection between cultures.”

Tucker talked about the span of the missionary movement through Japan. British missionaries migrated into Japan because the British thought Japan was “a country of gentlemen.”

Hugh Waddell, Helen’s father, was a Presbyterian missionary in Japan and he was most interested in cultural and religious translations. His work influenced his daughter to be interested in writing, and soon Helen was writing stories about her family. She would typically have a young girl named Elizabeth, a brother Billy, and a father Sensē in all of the works she would write. These characters would reflect her family.

Helen Waddell has written many stories that have been translated and sold throughout the world. Some of those works included “The White Iris,” The Spoiled Buddha, Writings from Japan, The Princess Splendor and other stories, and Lyrics from the Chinese. These stories are part of what critiques call the “lost decade.”

Tucker talked about how the stories Helen Waddell wrote could help to show the “transnational processes as cross-cultural discourse.”