I have been inspired and impressed by the story of John Manjiro since I was a kid. Because of his influence on me, I want to share his story with you. John Manjiro grew up in my same hometown in the 19th century. He was the first Japanese person to ever live in the USA. John later played an important role as a delegate in Japan .

To me, he has always been a symbol of resilience and passion; these are qualities that I’m still developing and will help me become a suitable candidate for the astronaut selection program.

John Manjiro

Who Is John Manjiro?

John Manjiro was born and grew up as a fisherman in a small rural town in Japan in 1827. When he was 14 years old, he was caught in a storm at sea, and the ship was wrecked on a small and uninhabited Island in the Pacific Ocean. 

For the next 143 days, he had no option but to eat birds and plants without cooking. 

Can you imagine being 14 years old, stranded on an island and eating raw birds for half a year?

Then, a miracle occurred. An American whaling ship found him when he went ashore to seek fresh water and turtles. 

Although he was miraculously rescued, the American ship was not able to return Manjiro to Japan, because of the country’s isolation policy towards foreign countries.

However, Manjiro didn’t give up.

Rather, he asked the captain to become a member of the ship. The captain of the ship was impressed by Manjiro’s curiosity and resilience, and decided to take him back to the U.S. He then arrived in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. This is the beginning of his amazing journey. (https://whitfield-manjiro.org/the-manjiro-story/)

He attended an elementary school there to learn basic subjects such as English and simple math, and even attended Bartlett School where he could learn advanced mathematics, navigation and surveying, which are all important for sailors.

Despite his appreciation of his life in the U.S., Manjiro kept the memory of Japan and dreamed about going back. He was also eager to explore the possibility of Japan re-opening to foreign countries.

Manjiro thought he might have been able to sail nearby Japan. He contemplated how he might return. At that time, gold was discovered in California, and the “gold rush” was sweeping the nation. Manjiro looked to this opportunity to earn enough money to take him back to Japan. 

Thus, he decided to go to San Francisco, which took about three months of sailing. After that, he went to Sacramento where he spent the next 70 days accumulating the money he needed to support his return to Japan.

He was ready to return, and he successfully came back to Japan after a long journey. About 12 years had passed since he was stranded in the ocean when he came back to his hometown.

In the following years, Manjiro was to share his knowledge of western technology in several ways: becoming a professor of navigation, writing a book about his journey, becoming a translator for the delegation for the negotiation of the Japan and the U.S. Treaty of Amity and Commerce, which greatly contributed to the end of Japan’s isolation policy and globalization.

Even though he was just a fisherman, John became a legend of Japan. The only thing he had was curiosity and resilience, but those elements enabled him to be on an amazing journey.

I think of John Manjiro often. These thoughts come as a reminder of the strength I need to achieve somewhat impossible dreams. His journey empowers me. I hope learning about him and following my journey will also inspire you to go after your own dreams.