Shipwrecked!: The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy

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Any person who leaves the country to go to another and later returns will be put to death.

This was the law in Japan in the early 1800s. When fourteen-year-old Manjiro, working on a fishing boat to help support his family, was shipwrecked three hundred miles away from his homeland, he was heartbroken to think that he would never again be able to go home. So when an American whaling boat rescued him, Manjiro decided to do what no other Japanese person had ever done: He went to ...

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Any person who leaves the country to go to another and later returns will be put to death.

This was the law in Japan in the early 1800s. When fourteen-year-old Manjiro, working on a fishing boat to help support his family, was shipwrecked three hundred miles away from his homeland, he was heartbroken to think that he would never again be able to go home. So when an American whaling boat rescued him, Manjiro decided to do what no other Japanese person had ever done: He went to America, where he received an education and took part in events that eventually made him a hero in the Land of the Rising Sun.

In 1841, rescued by an American whaler after a terrible shipwreck leaves him and his four companions castaways on a remote island, fourteen-year-old Manjiro learns new laws and customs as he becomes the first Japanese person to set foot in the United States.

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Editorial Reviews

Horn Book
Manjiro's gifts shine through Blumberg's lucid narrative.
Bulletin of the Center for Children' s Books
Readers will be particularly intrigued by Manjiro's observations regarding the differences between American and Japanese living standards and deportment...
From The Critics
This elegantly designed book tells the true story of Manjiro, a fourteen-year-old Japanese boy who was shipwrecked with some other fishermen in 1841. The group was rescued by an American whaling boat whose captain became fond of Manjiro and brought the boy home to Massachusetts, where he was treated like a son. Manjiro, who grew up to become a skilled sailor, risked death when he returned to his isolationist homeland, where laws forbade Japanese citizens from ever leaving. After a period of harsh treatment, he proved instrumental in opening his country to the West. Blumberg writes in clear, engaging prose, incorporating Japanese history into Manjiro's fascinating adventures.
—Kathleen Odean

(Excerpted Review)
Publishers Weekly
From 14-year-old castaway to honored samurai, the first Japanese person to come to the United States had more adventures than the hero of many a swashbuckler. "With insight and flair, Blumberg relays Manjiro Nakahama's (1827-1898) story, handsomely illustrated with period drawings," said PW. Ages 8-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
From 14-year-old castaway to honored samurai, Manjiro Nakahama (1827-1898), the first Japanese person to come to the United States, had more adventures than the hero of many a swashbuckler. With insight and flair, Rhoda Blumberg relays Manjiro's life story in Shipwrecked!: The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy. Handsomely illustrated with period drawings, sketches and woodblock prints, the text also explains such historical elements as 19th-century Japan's carefully enforced isolation from the Western world, the importance of the American whaling industry and the enormous cultural gaps between Japanese and American societies. ( Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
Manjiro is a fourteen-year-old boy fishing off the coast of Japan to support his family when, in 1841, an eight-day storm whisks him away from his family, his country, and, it seems, everything in his life he has known. When the storm abates, he has drifted three hundred miles from Japan and may never return due to the strict isolationist laws of that country. When he is saved miraculously from an isolated rock of an island by an American whaler, his reaction is bittersweet. He is to travel to a new world, but he and his four companions are leaving their old world behind. That new world becomes the site for a developing genius. Quickly learning English, Manjiro learns also to navigate. When his ship stops at Honolulu, his companions depart, but he stays on to return to Fairhaven, Connecticut, where he develops a new life and becomes the first Japanese person to set foot in the United States. But homesick, he is determined to return to his family--which, he feels, must be starving. To earn money, he joins the California Gold Rush, buys passage to Honolulu, and there purchases a small boat, which he has brought alongside an American merchant vessel. In this, he travels home, and though he is greeted with enormous suspicion and faces possible execution, his brilliance and usefulness to Japan save him. When Commodore Perry first comes into Japan's harbors, it is Manjiro--now elevated to the position of a samurai--who is first called to advise the country on how to deal with the Americans. Even in quick summation, Manjiro's life seems the stuff of fiction, and Blumberg tells the tale with the quick pace of an adventure story. But this is nonfiction, and Blumberg is faced with the task ofestablishing not only the adventurous life, but the entire context of that life. She does this by describing the world of the whaler, of New England in the mid-nineteenth century, of isolationist Japan and its complex social systems, and of survival at sea. All of these complex worlds are, however, aligned with the remarkable story of Manjiro so that the reader is seeing the story better because of them, not seeing a story hidden by them. The result is a text that creates a full and rounded image of a young boy excited at the prospect of an entirely new culture opening before him, while at the same time terribly homesick for his own world and determined to return. As in her other works, Blumberg illustrates this text with pictures drawn from the contemporary culture, including several illustrations actually drawn by Manjiro and illustrations drawn by other Japanese artists based upon Manjiro's descriptions. Contemporary photographs of New England scenes, as well as many Japanese illustrations depicting the western world and its perceived threats, work in a manner similar to the text to suggest Manjiro's--and Japan's--very ambiguous attitude toward a culture that threatened to establish a contact that might change Japan's own culture forever. It is this ambiguity, together with the excitement of a tale of discovery and survival, that makes Shipwrecked! such a riveting read. 2001, HarperCollins, $16.95. Ages 8 up. Reviewer: Gary Schmidt SOURCE: The Five Owls, September/October 2001 (Vol. 16, No. 1)
Children's Literature
Reality TV and those survivor shows can't hold a candle to the true story of Manjiro. His story of survival started when he was nine and had to support his family. As a poor Japanese fisherman, he was lost at sea with his companions and after facing desperate circumstances for many months; he was rescued by an American whaling ship. Japan at that time was a closed society and for the whaling captain or Manjiro to return to his home would probably have meant a death sentence. The intelligence and ability of Manjiro became apparent as he mastered the skills of navigation and English. After a stay in Hawaii, schooling in New England and even work in the gold fields of the West, Manjiro eventually managed to get back to Japan. Fortunately, he landed in the territory of Lord Narakira, who secretly opposed the Japanese isolationist policy. Poor Manjiro, however, was cast in prison, but eventually recognized for his knowledge and understanding of Westerners and became a Samurai. He married, and worked for the rest of his life as a teacher, inventor and interpreter. Through his eyes readers learn about the US in the 19th century and feudal Japan during the same period. It is a fascinating story, and one that most of us probably don't know. Blumberg has illustrated her text with maps and many drawings, including those of Manjiro. 2001, HarperCollins, . Ages 8 up. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-The true tale of a 14-year-old Japanese boy who, after being shipwrecked while fishing in 1841, was marooned for six months, rescued by an American whaling ship, educated in New England, and returned home to become an honored samurai. Blumberg was inspired to rescue this incredible story about Manjiro, also known as John Mung, when she realized that although it was well known in Japan, it enjoys only a small awareness in the West. The author's presentation illuminates what Japan's isolationist policies meant to individuals living there at that time and the immediate cultural differences that Manjiro experiences such as eating bread and sitting in chairs as the "first Japanese person to set foot in the United States." Her book packs a lot of excitement and drama into a few pages, and has lots of large, well-chosen illustrations. The title doesn't begin to hint at the incredibly varied adventures that are compacted here, deserving of a longer and more thorough treatment, but the text does convey the author's enthusiasm and awe of her subject. This is a good addition to libraries, as not only is it a fluid story about a fascinating person not yet on the shelves, but it also sheds light on many topics such as Japanese history, whaling practices, and 19th-century America.-Andrew Medlar, Chicago Public Library, IL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688174859
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/7/2003
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 348,300
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.19 (d)

Meet the Author

Rhoda Blumberg has written about the opening of Japan (1853-1854) in Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun, a Newbery Honor Book, which also won the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award and the Golden Kite Award. Her acclaimed histories also include The Incredible Journey of Lewis & Clark, The Great American Gold Rush, and The Remarkable Voyages of Captain Cook, all ALA Notable Books. She is the winner of the Washington Post/Children's Book Guild Award for her overall contribution to nonfiction.

Rhoda Blumberg says that while doing research for Commodore Perry, "I read about the ordeals and strange adventures of Manjiro, then spent years replaying his life story in my mind until I felt impelled to write about him."

The author and her husband, Gerald, live in Yorktown Heights, New York.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Head of the family at the age of nine! When his father died in 1836, Manjiro had to support his mother, three younger sisters, one younger brother, and an invalid older brother who was too weak to work. Manjiro's family lived in poverty, as did their neighbors. Their squalid shacks were huddled together, hugging Japan's shore in Nakahama, a village in the province of Tosa. The men were fishermen, a vocation that had to be handed down father to son. Manjiro's father had been a fisherman; therefore, Manjiro would be a fisherman. Sons were forbidden to find any other field of employment. That had been the law of the land for hundreds of years.

Day after day, Manjiro set out to sea with boatloads of men. His job consisted of unhooking fish and emptying nets. Because he was a child, he had no chance to cast and catch. The men paid him by giving him fish to take home. They were very poor and could not afford to be more generous.

After five years of this child labor, Manjiro was unable to advance past the position of being a mere helper. And so he sought work at Usa, another coastal village ninety miles away. A fisherman called Denzo questioned him, and after learning about Manjiro's family's sad plight, Denzo welcomed him aboard a small fishing boat that he had borrowed from a friend. The crew consisted of Denzo, his two brothers, Goemon and Jusuke, his friend Toraemon, and Manjiro.

The group loaded the boat with rice, firewood, and drinking water, preparing to spend up to three days at sea. On the morning of January 5, 1841, they rowed thirty miles out and cast all the nets they had, but there wasn't a fish to be caught. At night, theyanchored near shore and slept fitfully until sunrise. The next day at sea proved equally disappointing, even when they tried their luck with rods and straw ropes strung with hooks. Again they lay at anchor for the night.

The third day, they ran into a school of mackerel. They were gleefully casting and filling their nets when the sky turned black. Before they could get ready to head in, walls of waves banged against their boat with such force that their oars and rudder were washed away. Then a ferocious wind attacked. It broke their mast and ripped their sail. The terrified crew expected to be dumped into the ocean. It was a miracle that the boat didn't capsize. Instead, it went on a wild ride, steered by wind and waves.

When night fell, sleet and freezing cold added to the group's agony. Their drenched clothes were frozen stiff. Icicles hung from their sleeves, sashes, and hair. Fortunately, the icicles, composed of freshwater, proved to be lifesavers. They sucked them, for their supply of drinking water had gone overboard. Sleet scraped from the boat also satisfied their thirst. And cold raw chunks of the mackerel they had caught halted their hunger.

Day after day, they clung to the sides of the boat, riding the swells of the sea, terrified, trembling from winter's cold, waiting for death to end their misery. At the mercy of water and wind, they helplessly rode the waves, not knowing when or where their lives would end.

The storm lasted one week without letup. On the eighth day, the ocean became calm, yet the disabled boat was carried forward by a strong underwater current. The fishermen felt as though they had fallen off the edge of the earth, for they could see nothing but sky and sea.

At noon, Denzo said he spotted an island floating on the horizon. Since the others didn't see it, they suspected that suffering had caused Denzo to hallucinate. But soon, land loomed ahead for everyone. They had sighted the island of Torishima, located more than three hundred miles from Japan. Using pieces of boards as oars, they rowed with all their might until the boat was about half a mile from shore. The island's steep cliffs looked forbidding.

Rocks and reefs just above the water's surface kept them from rowing closer. They were all paralyzed with fear. How could they land without crashing their craft? Rather than risk immediate action, they delayed decision by spending the night on board their battered boat. At daylight, they rowed around the island, looking in vain for a safe place to land. Because the shallow waters were spiked with rocks, they could not row to shore. Therefore, they decided to swim.

They jumped into the sea just minutes before their boat crashed against sharp rocks and was smashed to bits. All swam for their lives. Fright, and the fight for survival, supplied their bodies with unusual energy. Exhausted, and freezing from cold, they helped one another climb ashore.

Jusuke was in dreadful shape. His leg had been badly hurt by their boat's floating debris. But, despite severe pain, he joined the others, climbing a cliff to level land. Then all of them collapsed, glad to be on solid ground...

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Table of Contents

Shipwrecked 7
Marooned 11
An Isolated Empire 15
Rescued 21
The Whaling Ship 25
Honolulu 35
A Japanese New Englander 39
A Crazed Captain 47
Digging for Gold 53
Arrested 59
Imprisoned 63
Home at Last 67
Honored Samurai 71
Author's Note 78
About the Illustrations 80
About the Author 80
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 20, 2013

    terrible book never want to read another book like this ever!!!!

    terrible book never want to read another book like this ever!!!!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2008

    This Review Is Ounstanding!

    This is outstanding!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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