Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Shipwrecked!: The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy

Shipwrecked!: The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy

Rhoda Blumberg
For ages 10 and up
HarperCollins, 2001   ISBN: 978-0688174842

When Manjiro was nine years old his father, a fisherman in Japan, died and left the boy in charge of the family. It was a formidable responsibility which Manjiro took very seriously, trying his best to find work with the fishermen in his village. Eventually he had to go to another village in the hope that he would be able to get work that had more of a future.

It was during his very first fishing expedition, which he made with four men, that Manjiro had his first real adventure. A terrible storm blew up and Manjiro?s boat was tossed about by the sea until the terrified fishermen were able to make landfall on a small deserted island. They lived there for five months barely surviving on what little food and water could be found on the island. One day they saw a ship on the horizon and it was with wonder that they watched the enormous American whaling vessel approach the island. The Japanese were very frightened but they knew that they had no choice but to approach the ship.

Soon enough they were aboard and it was with amazement that they discovered that though the American?s certainly looked different, they were not "devils" as they had been taught to believe. Indeed the sailors and captain of the whaling ship were very kind to the Japanese and did their best to make them feel welcome.

Manjiro amazed the captain of the John Howland by learning English in just a few short weeks. It was clear that he was very bright and eager to learn. After arriving at Honolulu to unload whale oil, Manjiro decided that he would stay on the ship and learn from the captain how to be a navigator. This was just the beginning for Manjiro as he went on to visit many places; to go to school for while in America; and even to hunt for gold during the California Gold Rush.

Manjiro never gave up the idea of going back to Japan even though he knew that he could be executed for having left his homeland. At this time Japan was violently isolationist, refusing to allow foreigners into their country and also refusing to let Japanese to leave. Though it had been at peace for a long time, Japan had a very restrictive code of rules. The people were controlled by the government in every aspect of their lives right down to what clothes they were allowed to wear.

The author of this exceptional book makes a point of showing the reader throughout the book how different the Western and Japanese cultures were, and how startling it must have been for Manjiro to see western people and their countries. Even the houses he visited were so unlike those he had seen at home. In Japan the houses did not have glass windows and interior of the house was not divided into rooms. One large space was used for eating, sitting, and sleeping.

The author also shows us how brave Manjiro was to return to Japan. His courage and intelligence made it possible for him to help his country adapt to the new world, to open its doors to people of other nationalities peacefully. His is a truly remarkable story and the author clearly has great admiration for the fisherman?s son who grew up to become a diplomat, a teacher, a political advisor, and the first Japanese person to live in the United States.