The Three Kichis
June 8, 2021 12:09 PM   Subscribe

The first western documented1 Japanese to visit Washington State, in 1834, were three ship wrecked sailors.

In the 1830s Japan had been closed to foreign visitors (and citizens were forbidden from leaving) for 200 years. So the sailors almost immediately became pawns in international diplomacy.

[1] Several Japanese ship wrecks have been found that predate this event and there are First nation stories of visitors that could have been Japanese survivors of those wrecks.
posted by Mitheral (25 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
There’s a lot going on in that story, pretty amazing!

My favorite takeaway is that Owyhee == Hawaiian at the time and after a quick side trip to Wikipedia learning that the Owyhee River was named after three Hawaiian fur trappers who disappeared on an exploratory trip up the river in 1819.
posted by skyscraper at 12:54 PM on June 8 [4 favorites]


How awful to wind up in a strange place and then be dragged around with no say in the matter while being unable to communicate.
posted by shoesietart at 12:55 PM on June 8


Although [spoiler alert] at least one of them did learn to communicate and did pretty well with that skill.
posted by skyscraper at 1:01 PM on June 8


How awful to wind up in a strange place and then be dragged around with no say in the matter while being unable to communicate.

Foreign sailors shipwrecked in Japan were summarily imprisoned and executed. The Sakai Incident, for example.
posted by SPrintF at 1:13 PM on June 8


This was great-- thanks for posting.
posted by travertina at 1:16 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


Foreign sailors shipwrecked in Japan were summarily imprisoned and executed. The Sakai Incident, for example.

They weren't shipwrecked, and the attack seems to have been a sideshow in the Boshin (Civil) War rather than government policy. If you read the article, it mentions that Ranald MacDonald, who was at the same fort as the sailors but not at the same time, snuck into Japan from a whaling boat and was imprisoned and then expelled, but seems to have been well enough treated.
posted by tavella at 1:21 PM on June 8 [5 favorites]


I wondered about Owyhee, I have been there. There is a Shosbone-Piute nation there 22 miles X 22 miles, in area. It is a matrilineal society, maybe those Hawaiians disappeared in a good way...
posted by Oyéah at 1:24 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


What an amazing story!
posted by starfishprime at 1:28 PM on June 8


Previously, some Australian mutineers in Japan just four years earlier.
posted by acb at 1:43 PM on June 8


Fascinating! My wife's great great grand father sailed with Perry to Japan. I had never heard of this smaller, might I say more human, story. (I've tried to isolate her relative from the various wood cuts, but, you know - we all look alike.)

Many thanks for this, much appreciated.
posted by BWA at 1:57 PM on June 8 [4 favorites]


The fact remains that Russian and British sailors stranded in Japan were simply killed, rather than being sent home. Assisting survivors of shipwrecks has been a tradition, in the West at least, going back to ancient Greece. And aid to travelers in distress is simple humanity.

Japan's policies towards foreigners changed sharply after the Perry Expedition, which quickly led to the fall of the shogunate, the Meiji Restoration and rapid modernization. (The full story is a lot more complicated than be summed up in a paragraph.)
posted by SPrintF at 2:00 PM on June 8


I was just reading about Ranald MacDonald in Barry Lopez's book "Horizon" The story is fascinating-- Lopez goes into more detail than this article does, for those interested.
posted by gwint at 2:19 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


I too have been reading about Ranald MacDonald because of Horizon, and it led me to also pick up Native American in the Land of the Shogun: Ranald MacDonald and the Opening of Japan, which is a good biography of a fascinating historical character.
posted by lhputtgrass at 2:31 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]


The fact remains that Russian and British sailors stranded in Japan were simply killed, rather than being sent home. Assisting survivors of shipwrecks has been a tradition, in the West at least, going back to ancient Greece. And aid to travelers in distress is simple humanity.

I would have agreed with you over most of my life, but what happened to the Native Americans who were friendly to Columbus and other European explorers has changed my mind.
posted by jamjam at 2:37 PM on June 8 [14 favorites]


Every society doesn't have to practice western diplomacy, no. For Island societies all over, and indigenous people, meeting the West was death by many means, sickness being one of them. Pragmatic "diplomacy" is direct, and not without precedent, formed by the results of other historic contact.
posted by Oyéah at 2:46 PM on June 8 [5 favorites]


but what happened to the Native Americans who were friendly to Columbus and other European explorers has changed my mind

Seems off-topic, to me. Columbus and other "explorers" were not shipwrecked.

It's interesting to compare Columbus's account of his landing to Drake's account of his landing in Northern California. Drake's ship, the Golden Hind (fat with Spanish silver) was the first European vessel that the local Native Americans (more-or-less in the area of the current Drake's bay*) had ever encountered. Drake's crew were afraid of the natives and the natives apparently had no understanding of why "ghosts" had visited them. Drake's crew completed careening the hull of the ship and got underway, and by Drake's account, the local were sad to see them go.

It's tempting to compare this encounter to the native Pacific Islanders encountering white men who, during WWII, literally dropped out of the sky and apparently had plenty to eat even though they did not farm or fish. The first Cargo cultists had to invent their own way of interpreting something so far outside their experience.

First Contact does not always lead to bloodshed. (Second or third contact, well, not so lucky.)
----
*Well, actually, we don't know the exact location of Drake's landing in Northern California. Drake's Bay? Maybe. But internal evidence from Drake's account is inconclusive and points to a number of different possibilities.
posted by SPrintF at 3:15 PM on June 8


Every example in this, the linked article, and the linked Metafilter thread had the encroaching sailors imprisoned, not executed, and this paper, "Succoring Strangers: Castaway Humanitarianism in Nineteenth Century East Asia" [cached] suggests that was standard practice across the East Asia. With sailors sometimes then being repatriated, for example in Japan through through Nagasaki and the Dutch. While imprisonment would certainly be unfortunate for those genuinely shipwrecked, at least Korea and Japan regarded it as a security measure, suspecting (and correctly in some cases) that they were spies rather than genuine accident. And it's not like being imprisoned at first wasn't what happened to these sailors. So I'm not really sure where you are going with this.
posted by tavella at 3:31 PM on June 8 [5 favorites]


remarkably studious and docile
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:49 PM on June 8


It's interesting to compare Columbus's account of his landing to Drake's account of his landing in Northern California. Drake's ship, the Golden Hind (fat with Spanish silver)

Which the Spanish got after killing off the indigenous people and stealing their land.
posted by Mitheral at 4:10 PM on June 8 [5 favorites]


I want to say this accounting is well written and fascinating in every aspect. I read most of this aloud to my 14 year old grandson, who is the same age as the youngest of the three.
posted by Oyéah at 6:46 PM on June 8


I love this story.

I am a history professor in Washington State, and two years ago I was invited to do some guest lectures at a university in Japan. I talked about the Three Kichis, and Randal MacDonald, and Frank Matsura, and other historic connections between our corners of the world. It was a fun talk to put together.
posted by LarryC at 9:02 PM on June 8 [3 favorites]


Suppose the Japanese government at that time did execute foreign sailors who wrecked on their shores. It would still be baffling to suggest this should affect how Japanese sailors who wrecked on foreign shores should have been treated, or how we should sympathise with them now – one, we should take the moral high road; two, these sailors would have had zero input into their government's policies. As the article says:
career choices were limited for young men growing up in places like Onoura in the 1830s. The "main jobs on offer" were fishing, rice-farming, and sailing. Because such occupations were largely determined by family traditions, most of the sailors on the Hojunmaru probably knew from an early age that they would end up as crew members on a sengokubune.
A tit-for-tat view of state violence treats citizens as if they are mere pawns of their state to be traded in games of diplomatic chess, and not as actual people.
posted by Panthalassa at 4:45 AM on June 9 [6 favorites]


In Shipwrecks and Flotsam: The Foreign World in Edo-Period Tosa the official policy from the Tokugawa Shogunate is said to be that upon coming in contact with a foreign shipwreck,
Coastal officials were to provide food, water, and other necessities, but they were also to keep the passengers and crew isolated on the boat in a safe harbor. If the vessel foundered, the survivors could be kept on shore, but were to be prevented from interacting with locals. In all cases the Tokugawa were to notified immediately.
At least in Tosa it seems that while waiting for repairs or for an escort back to one of the ports that was allowed to trade with foreigners (Nagasaki, Tsushima, Satsuma, Matsumae), the locals had a fair amount of contact with the shipwreck survivors, which then had to be glossed over or omitted from official reports. Even after the 1825 Edict to Repel Foreign Vessels, there are instances of fishermen taking their boats out and attempting to offer food and water to foreign ships.
posted by emmling at 8:29 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]


what a fascinating story. I have read the article but not the comments, yet.

aside from the tale itself, what really strikes me is the way in which Capitalism and Christianity seemed to have driven Europeans to believe they were not only entitled to take over the entire world, but obligated to do so. must convert everyone and get them to sell us their stuff so we can make money and teach them all to live like "civilized" people. ugh.
posted by supermedusa at 10:25 AM on June 9


That and racism is the root of the recent residential school News.
posted by Mitheral at 5:18 PM on June 9


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