U.S. museum returns manuscript on John Manjiro taken away in 1912

JIJI

A manuscript recounting the travels of John Manjiro, a Japanese national who spent years in the U.S. in the 19th century and became a bridge between the two countries, has been returned to Japan by a U.S. museum after a 100-year absence.

The four-volume work was completed in 1852, before Japan opened up to the West following U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry’s visits. Featuring colorful illustrations of American daily life, it introduces the customs of the time as well as the country’s political system and port environment.

Manjiro was born in 1827 to a poor fisherman in the Tosa domain, now Kochi Prefecture. He set out on a fishing trip in 1841 at age 14 and drifted to an uninhabited island in the Pacific.

He was rescued by an American whaling ship and taken to the United States, where he studied English, mathematics, measuring techniques, navigation and shipbuilding.

Returning to Japan in 1851, Manjiro went to Tosa the next year and lived with painter Shoryo Kawada, who interviewed him and compiled the book returned by the U.S. library.

The manuscript had been kept at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia as the first book introducing the United States to Japan. It will be on display at the Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum in the city of Kochi until July 19. While the original version of the book is missing, six manuscripts have been confirmed to exist. The one on display at the museum in Kochi was taken to the United States in 1912 by the an employee of the Brooklyn Museum.