Men who endeavored to bridge Japan and the outside world during the Tokugawa Shogunate.

(Posted on April 27, 2022)


I would like to talk about two persons in particular. One was William Adams (1564-1620), an English navigator who happened to reach Japan in 1600. The other was John Manjiro (1827-1898), a Japanese fisherman whose boat was shipwrecked and then was saved by an American whaling ship in 1841. Let me elaborate on the two men.   

                                    Willian Adams before Tokugawa Ieyasu


Willian Adams participated in a five-ship Dutch expedition to Japan. Only one ship managed to reach Japan in a dilapidated condition and he was one of the survivors. Adams and a Dutch navigator, Jan Joosten, were not allowed to leave Japan while the others did. When Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, met the two, they explained that they were not pirates, but were navigators. They talked about the European situation that included the rivalry between the Catholics and Protestants. They were requested to build a western sailing ship. So, they built a 120-ton ship. Ieyasu seemed to be pleased with the knowledge they had and made the two samurais. I think you may realize that Adams was portrayed as John Blackthorne in a 1980 American historical TV miniseries called “Shogun.”


Adams is a household name in Japan. His Japanese name “Miura Anjin”, literally means a navigator of Miura, which was his own territory in Miura peninsula, Kanagawa prefecture. His son, Joseph inherited Adams’ samurai status and was authorized to trade with foreign countries. Joseph managed to trade until 1632 just before the enforcement of an isolation policy. Thereafter, no trace could be found for Joseph. As for Jan Jooste, his Japanese name, “Ya Yosu” became the name of a place, “Yaesu”, which is a popular place near the Tokyo station now.   



Now turning to John Manjiro. His fishing boat sank because of bad weather and he and his colleagues managed to drift to a desert island, Torishima. They were saved by an American whaling ship, which sailed back to Hawaii because the American captain knew that he would not be allowed to reach Japan because of their isolation practice. His colleagues disembarked in Hawaii, but Manjiro stayed on board and went to New Bedford, Massachusetts, the major port of whaling ships. Somehow, the captain of the same whaling ship decided to take care of Manjiro by letting him stay at the captain’s house and sending him to school, where he studied maths, English, navigation, surveying, ship building among others. Then Manjiro started working on whaling ships for three years to earn money for returning home. He managed to take a ship bound for Shanghai and en route reached Okinawa, which at that time was under the control of the Satsuma clan. Finally, Manjiro came back to his home in Tosa, Shikoku after 11 years in 1852, which happened to be one year before Commodore Perry came to Japan to open its doors. Because of his knowledge and English, Manjiro became a samurai of the Tokugawa shogunate, serving and advising the shogunate for the drafting of a treaty between Japan and the US in 1854. During the Meiji period, Manjiro preferred to be live modestly as an educator rather than a government official or politician. 


The two men endeavored to bridge Japan and the outside world in their respective ways as if they were destined to do so.







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