In the normal course of life, Nakahama Manjirō, born in 1827 into a poor family living in Tosa Shimizu, near Ashizuri Misaki, would have lived and died a fisherman. His fortunes changed when he was marooned on an uninhabited volcanic island some 580km south of Tokyo, along with five shipmates. After nearly five months, they were saved by a landing party from a passing US whaling ship, who had come to the island in search of fresh water.

Mung ended up serving with the American crew for four years, before returning with the captain, John Whitfield, to his home in Bedford, Massachusetts. The bright lad mastered English, mathematics, surveying and navigation, and undertook journeys to Africa, Australia and around southeast Asia. After making some money in the California Gold Rush of 1849, Mung returned to Japan in 1851, where he soon found himself serving as an advisor to the feudal lord of Tosa. Two years later Mung was summoned to Tokyo to assist with the drawing up of international trade treaties, and in 1860 he returned to the US as part of a national delegation.

Before his death in 1898 he taught at the Kaisei School for Western Learning in Tokyo (later to become part of the prestigious Tokyo University), sharing the knowledge he had accumulated during a period when Japan was still living in self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world.

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