The Life of Otokichi
July 4, 2007 11:17 PM   Subscribe

The true story of Yamamoto Otokichi (or John Matthew Ottoson, a transliteration of "Oto-san"): a Japanese seaman who in 1832 got caught in a storm off the coast of Japan and ended up floating all the way across the Pacific, becoming the first Japanese (documented, at least) in North America. And that's only the introduction to his story. To get back to Japan he traveled around the world, setting many firsts for a Japanese native, and played a part as the inspiration for Commodore Matthew Perry and his "Black Ships." Although barely a footnote in history, in 2005 half of his ashes were brought back to Japan to rest in home soil.
posted by switchsonic (20 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I smell a sitcom !!

Seriously, very interesting story.
posted by RavinDave at 11:38 PM on July 4, 2007

Thank you for the interesting links switchsonic. Never heard of this guy before.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:47 PM on July 4, 2007

Very interesting story, thanks for sharing it switchsonic.
posted by rfbjames at 12:01 AM on July 5, 2007

First post - it's an out of the park home run!!!!!
posted by caddis at 12:23 AM on July 5, 2007

Hole in one, switchsonic.

Fascinating story from an amazing time in history when the world was still a large (and largely unknown) place.
posted by three blind mice at 1:04 AM on July 5, 2007

What a fascinating story! Thanks!
posted by gomichild at 2:28 AM on July 5, 2007

Cool story!
posted by p3t3 at 4:55 AM on July 5, 2007

Another one saying thanks for this. Fascinating.
posted by GrammarMoses at 5:08 AM on July 5, 2007

[this is good!]
posted by gen at 5:22 AM on July 5, 2007

Magnificent post; too bad MeFi's not in the midst of one of those best-of-the-month contests, or you'd have yourself a Trendy Consumer Electronics Product. I knew nothing about this, and I used to live in Japan and have considerable interest in its history. Thanks, switchsonic!

I did notice an annoying glitch in the text:

For nearly one year, the three boys spent day after day teaching Dr. Gutzlaff their native language. Dr. Gutzlaff polished his Japanese skills while completing the Otokichi, the only semi-literate of the three, edited the draft work phonetically in simple katakana letters.

Some words have obviously dropped out between "the" and "Otokichi," and there's no hint as to what the "draft work" was.

posted by languagehat at 5:43 AM on July 5, 2007

Yeah, but did he inspire shamelessly made-up J-E phraseprints like ManjirĊ? I put it to you that he did not!

Fantastic story, though. Thanks.
posted by No-sword at 6:26 AM on July 5, 2007

I have to wonder how many Japanese know about Otokichi. I'll bet yen to Mister Donuts that most Japanese have never heard of him.
posted by gen at 6:47 AM on July 5, 2007

Fascinating story, great post. Thanks!
posted by TedW at 7:41 AM on July 5, 2007

Neat! And here I thought all the shipwrecked Japanese during the Tokugawa Shogunate ended up in Russia.
posted by absalom at 9:23 AM on July 5, 2007

That was awesome.
posted by chunking express at 10:26 AM on July 5, 2007

posted by Tehanu at 10:28 AM on July 5, 2007

posted by sswiller at 10:58 AM on July 5, 2007

What a story! Thanks!
posted by rtha at 11:05 AM on July 5, 2007

A month or so there was a MeFi post with a clip from the Stephen Sondheim musical Pacific Overtures.

The show features a character based on Otokichi.

A very interesting life.
posted by munchingzombie at 5:06 PM on July 5, 2007

Dr. Gutzlaff

Oh, c'mon. That's a name that Charles Dickens would have been proud of.
posted by SPrintF at 7:06 PM on July 5, 2007

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