Study Guide

Heart of a Samurai Quotes

  • Family

    In three days they had not caught a single fish. Their families would go hungry. Manjiro swallowed hard when he thought of the empty rice bin at home. (1.1.4)

    This is going to be a recurring thing—the whole connection between his family back home and food (or lack thereof).

    He had hoped this fishing trip would be a way to redeem himself after his dismal failure in his job husking rice for Imasu-san. (1.1.34)

    Being Manjiro seems kind of rough—he's all about guilt-tripping over his inability to provide for his family. You have to wonder if his obligation to his family just stresses him out more than anything else.

    The ache he had felt when his father died had been a sharp pain at first, but had dulled over time until he hardly noticed it. But now, like a sore muscle, the pain flared up again. He longed for his mother, and for his dead father, too. Imagining himself dead in one of those graves made him even miss himself! (1.2.65)

    Manjiro's in the middle of contemplating life without his family because he's just seen a few gravestones on the secluded island. What's interesting is who he imagines dying. You'd think that the gravestones make him imagine himself dying—and they do—but they also make him think of his mother and dead father.

    His imagination makes the pain of losing a parent "flare up again," which—if you think about it—is a way of making him feel more alive. Sure, he's thinking seriously morbid thoughts, but if you're feeling pain, then it must mean that you're alive and kicking, right? So maybe thinking these depressing thoughts about his family makes Manjiro almost more alive and closer to his dead father and remaining family.

    "You have childrens?" Manjiro asked.

    The captain shook his head, coughed, and said, "No." He paused. "No," he said again.

    "You have no childrens; I have no father." Manjiro said, and their eyes met for a moment.
    When Manjiro left the room soon after, he tried to identify what he was feeling. He was no longer afraid. He was no longer angry. He was, perhaps, a little amazed. A little surprised. And maybe even a little bit happy. (2.6.50-52)

    This is the first father-son bonding experience Manjiro has with Captain Whitfield. It almost sounds like first love, doesn't it? And it is—just of the familial sort.

    "I have three sister and one brother. I have no mother, no father. My one brother older but he weak. I take care family." He stared down at his teacup, tears trembling in his eyes. Of course, he was not taking care of his family. (2.6.33)

    Here's the reason why Manjiro is so concerned about his family. Not that he doesn't have a cultural reason for his familial ties, but it's clear that there's a practical reason, too: He's the only one who can work.

    "You miss your wife," Manjiro said.

    Captain Whitfield nodded. "And you miss your mother. But you and I, we are a family now." (3.15.17-18)

    Family doesn't have to be made out of blood. Sometimes it's a matter of connection and opportunity.

    "It's all right," Manjiro said. "You and me, we family now."

    Captain Whitfield's dark look blew away like a squall's black clouds. He smiled. "That's exactly right," he said. "We've got each other now. We may have had our sails knocked back, but only for a moment, for there's Mr. and Mrs. Aken's house—you know their son Isaachar, who you called Itchy. Why, and there's Eben himself."

    A man had come out on the stoop of the house. He looked their way and shouted, "Is that my good friend William Whitfield sitting there looking so forlorn? Please come out of the damp and the cold. There's supper and a bed here!" (3.15.42-44)

    The captain and Manjiro have just returned to the captain's house in Fairhaven, and the house looks completely abandoned. Ugh. What's neat is how familial the captain's neighbor is, though. Family is super-important, but family is also what (or who) you decide to define it as.

    "I used to be afraid of blue eyes," Manjiro whispered to William. "But how could anyone be afraid of you?"

    The baby gazed up at him, his face like a polished jewel.

    "Someday, when you are grown, you will come and visit me in Japan," Manjiro said. "You will be the captain of a big, three-masted barque and you will sail proudly into Urado Bay. You will walk the road to my home and no one will run away, afraid you are a devil. Everyone will greet you as my brother." (3.23.10-12)

    Leave it to a baby to make everything better. They're like little tiny blank slates. What's more telling here, though, is how Manjiro still sees himself in Japan in the future and apart from his adopted American family.

    He longed for Mrs. Whitfield's warm, fresh-baked bread and thick jam. He yearned to hear William Henry's happy babble and to be able to chat with Captain Whitfield again. At the same time, he began to be homesick for Japan: He missed the foods of his old country; he missed his mother; he even found himself missing things he didn't think he liked! He felt torn about where, exactly, he wanted to be. He just knew it wasn't Mr. Hussey's! (3.25.1)

    Nothing makes you more aware of whom you love and who you count as family than being at a place you don't want to be.

    "I wish they were precious stones, but they are only shells," he sighed, "shells that I collected in places where I traveled."

    His mother held out her hands to show the shells—small and curved, frilled and ruffled, or smooth as teardrops. They were pink as cats' tongues, shiny brown and speckled, iridescent black, or creamy white.

    "Kirei!" she said. So beautiful! (5.40.31-33)

    For all of Manjiro's worries early in the novel about not providing for his family, you'd think that his mother would be one of those mothers who might complain about Manjiro's gift of shells, or at the least, pressure Manjiro for something more valuable than shells. But nope—this scene is heartwarming because his mother recognizes Manjiro's gift for what it is: shells collected for their uniqueness and natural beauty. Yay.

  • Language and Communication

    That night, lying in his bunk, Manjiro couldn't help trying the new words. "Buttons," he whispered. "Pockets. Shoes. Bread." Bread was hard to say. He tried again and again. "Captain," he said. "Whitfield."

    "What are you doing?" Goemon said.

    "Maybe if I learn some words, I can ask questions."

    Goemon groaned. "More questions!"

    "If we don't learn their language, how will we know what they intend to do to us?" (2.3.70-74)

    Manjiro makes it seem like learning English is all about survival when he talks to Goemon, but he "couldn't help trying the new words." Hrm… doesn't sound like learning English is just for practicality—it sounds like Manjiro's actually intrigued by the language.

    Denzo was the only one with enough authority to talk to the captain. (2.4.7)

    Sometimes it's not a person's lack of language skills that prevents him from communicating; it's his culture. In this case, 19th-century Japan's strict social hierarchy and code of honor make the Japanese fishermen unwilling to speak to the Captain. (Except for Manjiro of course.)

    Denzo was the leader of their group, and he should be the one who spoke to the captain. But Denzo, like the others, didn't want anything to do with the barbarians, including learning their language, so it had fallen to Manjiro to interpret what the others said. (2.6.18)

    Manjiro has a serious burden on his shoulders. To be the sole interpreter and communicator with a bunch of strangers in a language you barely know is not easy. It's a good thing Manjiro has the openness and willingness to learn a new language quickly.

    [Manjiro] learned how to scrub the deck with soft sandstone tools known as "holy stones." The main deck was scrubbed with a "bible" and the hard-to-reach corners with a "prayer book."

    "They aren't really those things," Itch said. "A bible is a holy book, see, and a prayer book is, too. You wouldn't really scrub a deck with them." (2.7.1-2)

    Uh… yeah, we don't envy Manjiro trying to learn English. Itch's attempt to define the different ways "bible" and "prayer book" are used isn't exactly helpful, not that it's his fault or anything. Chalk it up to the irregularities and multiple meanings in English.

    Manjiro spent the day puzzling over that and over all the words he'd learned that had more than one meaning: The bow was the front of the vessel. But it was also what he did when he bent from the waist when meeting someone. The fins on a whale's tail were called its fluke. But a fluke also meant a stroke of luck—like the fact that Captain Whitfield had sent a boat to fetch turtles on Bird Island that day. That was a stroke of luck—a fluke. Or was it fruke? R's and L's were impossible. What was the difference between grass and glass, for instance? (2.7.3)

    Sometimes when you know a language well, it's hard to understand how a new language learner might have a hard time differentiating between sounds—and thus meanings—of different words. We know the difference between Rs and Ls, but since Japanese doesn't necessarily distinguish between those sounds, Manjiro can't easily hear these differences.

    "The chart is like… invitation," Manjiro said, staring at the unfamiliar letters that he knew formed words. "I cannot read the words, but I imagine they say, 'Come and see!'"

    The captain patted him on the back. "That isn't what the words say," he said, "but I think that is always what a chart means. When I see a place on a chart where I haven't been, I wonder, 'What is that place like?' I look at that place again and again, wondering if something more might be revealed. But there's nothing to be done but to go and see it for myself." (2.9.28-29)

    Manjiro's a visual learner. Makes sense since he's an artist and English is his second language.

    "The night afore we was to ship out," Biscuit began conspiratorially, "Jolly took a dickey run and met his oppose. He was already half seas over by the time he looked up with them and very shortly they was all three sheets in the wind."

    What are they talking about? Manjiro wondered.

    "That Jolly, he used to bleed the monkey, all right."

    Isaiah nodded. "He was a shonkey, too."

    Manjiro sighed. He would never understand English! (2.12.28-32)

    Slang: the downfall for any foreign language learner. Hey, even we have to admit that the phrase "bleed the monkey" has us scratching our heads a little… a reminder that slang changes over time, too.

    "That is interesting," Captain Whitfield said, "because we call this two-hour period of time the 'dog watch.'" He nodded to the sky, where the first stars were appearing. "Maybe we call it that because of that star." He pointed to a brilliant star and said, "That's Sirius, the dog star. Do you call it that?"

    "No," said Manjiro. "We call that Aoboshi, blue star." (2.14.26-27)

    Captain Whitfield's trying to find some common linguistic ground with Manjiro, but it's not working out. No biggie, though—languages (and names) are different because cultures are different. The captain is chill about that (he even goes on to agree that the "dog star" is indeed very blue).

    "So you overheard our conversation, did you? I hope you know that it is impolite to eavesdrop."

    Manjiro hung his head. "I am sorry to eaves drip."

    "Eavesdrop," the captain corrected. (3.15.61-63)

    To be honest, we think "eaves drip" is just too cool as far as mistakes go. Why is it "eavesdrop" and not "eaves drip"? Ever think about that?

    "Plum Duff—it is best food on whale ship," Manjiro said.

    "Oh, you mean plum duff."

    "That's what I said."

    "No, you said 'prumuduffu.'" (3.16.11-14)

    Manjiro's telling Terry, his new white friend, the name of his horse, Plum Duff. It's a testament to Manjiro's patience that he's able to deal with Terry's mimicry of Manjiro's Japanese accent. But maybe it's also because Terry isn't exactly making fun of Manjiro—he's just open and blunt. He does hear an accent and he can't quite understand it and he isn't afraid to point it out. So maybe Manjiro's just cool with Terry's honesty.

  • Principles

    Manjiro was afraid, but he said, "My father told me that a person should always put his heart in order before falling asleep. Then he will be unencumbered by fear." Manjiro tried to put his heart in order. He said a sutra—a prayer—for his ancestors, his family, his friends, and for himself. Then he waited for his heart to go back where it belonged instead of jumping all over inside his chest. (2.3.81)

    Manjiro's the perfect son precisely because he takes his father's statements and treats them like hard-core principles that he should follow. But how faithful will he be to his father's teachings when he becomes "son" to Captain Whitfield?

    Roused from his fever, Jusuke whispered, "As the saying goes: 'Entering the village, obey the village.'" (2.3.31)

    What Jusuke says makes sense: If you're going into a new place, you better "obey the village" because, at the very least, it's the polite thing to do. But what's interesting is how Manjiro tries and yet doesn't stick to this principle. Or more to the point, how later, Captain Whitfield encourages Manjiro to do exactly the opposite of this saying…

    As a Buddhist, Manjiro had learned that it was wrong to kill—not just people, but living creatures. Of course, Manjiro had killed plenty of fish. In a country like his, surrounded by water and filled with people who needed to eat, it was natural to eat fish. In some villages, whales were sometimes caught. But even a small fish deserved a prayer of gratitude. The fishermen he knew never took fish without remembering to leave grateful offerings at shrines for such purposes. (2.4.76)

    This passage comes right after the scene when the sailors capture the whale. Manjiro can't believe how brutal the sailors are to the huge whale, and it's hard not to see his point. Manjiro's philosophy toward animals seems current and modern—you know, eco-friendly and all that. By comparison, the sailors do seem thoughtless about the majesty of the whale.

    Manjiro thought, If I'm eating poison, I might as well lick the plate, but he didn't say it. There was no reason to be rude. Instead, he bowed to Denzo and said, "Thank you for reminding me of things I should not forget."

    This is the scene when Denzo warns Manjiro that Manjiro is turning into a "barbarian." What's ironic is how deferential and non-"barbaric" Manjiro is to Denzo. He doesn't say what's on his mind, and instead remains super-polite, just the way Denzo expects him to be.

    Manjiro had never thought of such things. He had always known what work he would do. Of course, he would have liked to bring honor to his family, and he remembered how he'd once said he wanted to be a samurai. (2.7.36)

    By "things," Manjiro means "hopes and dreams"—Captain Whitfield's just asked Manjiro what his are, and Manjiro isn't sure how to respond given that the concept is a little new to him. What his thoughts do bring up is how different his guiding principles were in Japan, with the major one being all about bringing "honor to the family." Now he's trying to figure out what being principled means when the Captain keeps pressing him to express his individualism.

    [Captain Whitfield's] an honest and fair-minded man, pious and plainspoken. There be no drink aboard his vessel, and there be no whale chasing on Sundays, neither. And no flogging. He's no hypocrite, like some whose names I could mention. They claim to be godly men, yet treat their crew like dogs. Some ship owners provision their vessels so poorly that a poor sailor can barely keep flesh on his bones. (2.8.7)

    Now that's principled. It should be noted that Captain Whitfield principles are couched in his religious background. Manjiro's Japanese focus on taking care of the family doesn't have this same religious emphasis.

    "Why would he do a kindness to me?" Manjiro asked.

    "Why shouldn't he?"

    "Because I am just a boy and he is a grown person. I am a poor nobody and he is a rich important person."

    "And why can't a rich man be kind to a poor 'nobody'?" (3.15.31-34)

    Manjiro's asking Captain Whitfield why this old guy—a total stranger—would defend Manjiro against a bunch of ignorant white bullies, and what's evident in Captain Whitfield's answer is how different his principle of common goodness is from what Manjiro is used to.

    "You will find out that, like Jusuke says, 'the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.'"

    Manjiro pointed to the sky. "Look," he said. Pink light rimmed the eastern horizon and ran down onto the sea. "Doesn't it look like the light from another world, spilling through a slightly open door?" (2.11.49-50)

    Goemon is telling Manjiro to go with the (Japanese) flow and not go to America—to not be different. It's interesting that Manjiro replies with the opposite of a hard principle, instead offering up a question based on pure wonder at a simple sunrise.

    "You deserve a proper upbringing, John, and you shall have it." (3.15.65)

    Captain Whitfield is all about committing to John, and that means giving him a farm to live on, a horse to ride, and a mother to raise him. It's a principle that—in abstract—sounds familiar. Sure, these days father-figures might not be promising their sons horses and farms. But they might be promising the kid a stable home and a solid education. Times change but maybe intentions can stay the same.

    "These shells are like the people of the world, Okachan," Manjiro said, speaking not just to his mother, but to everyone. "They come from many different places. They come in many different colors and sizes. But they are all beautiful." (5.40.35)

    This is the principle that brings Manjiro's story into the 20th century: beauty in diversity. It's a reference to the multiculturalism that we take for granted in our contemporary society.

  • Art and Culture

    But the snail had created such a beautiful design in the sand, like a kare-sansui, a Zen garden. Yet not created, Manjiro realized—traced. The snail had taken its long, arduous journey to trace—"My face!" Manjiro whispered. (1.2.86)

    Here, Manjiro is meditating on the snail and the snail is "meditating" on Manjiro's face (or the shadow it casts over it). Together, they create art: the snail "traces" and Manjiro interprets it as beautiful. Pretty cool, huh?

    In Japan there was an artist named Hiroshige who made beautiful pictures of everyday scenes. Manjiro had seen some of these prints: two men seeking shelter from rain that fell in cold, slanting streaks; three travelers lighting their pipes by a fire so real it seemed to glow; several geishas in such find kimonos, you could almost hear the silk rustling. Forever afterward, when Manjiro thought of what happened that day, he would remember it in sudden, vivid scenes like Hiroshige's prints. And yet unlike those pictures, because nowhere in any of them were there scenes as strange as these… (2.3.1-2)

    Just for context, Manjiro goes on and lists all the things that are completely weird to him when he gets rescued. Things like: shoes made out of animal skin, eyes of different colors, big noses. Things clearly not Japanese. Question: Why does Manjiro bother to mention Hiroshige's art when what he really wants to do is to go on and tell us all about the difference between Hiroshige's art and what he experiences?

    The captain picked up a funny-looking musical instrument. A violin, he called it, then played something on it that Manjiro realized must be music. It was a strange sound, a little sad.

    As he listened, Manjiro's eyes drifted around the room, taking in the many unusual objects, finally resting on an open book on the captain's desk. Maybe the captain even knew how to read! (2.6.42-43)

    Manjiro's reaction to the violin music is all a little funny: He is ignorant of what the violin even is, yet he also wonders if "the captain even knew how to read."

    As if understanding his thought, Captain Whitfield picked up the book and began to read aloud.

    Manjiro had a hard time following, but he was sure it was a poem. It had a "shipwrecked brother" in it who saw footprints and got up and started doing something. The gist of the poem, he thought, was that we should do the best we can with whatever fate the gods give us in our lives, and perhaps we can inspire others who come after us. (2.6.44-45)

    The poem the captain reads is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Voices of the Night: A Psalm of Life." What's interesting is Manjiro's summary of what he hears. It's not that the summary is wrong; it's just that it's so bland and disconnected from Manjiro and the novel. The poem actually has quite a bit to do with Manjiro's situation, and though Manjiro may not totally get how the poem connects to his life, it sounds like the captain might have known which poem to pick to fit Manjiro's life at that moment.

    Manjiro pushed up the sleeve of his kimono so it wouldn't drag in the ink. He sat on the floor in front of a low table, brush in hand. He was practicing the character for "garden," which, he thought, might as well be the same as the characters for "prison." (5.38.1)

    This is about as Japanese as Manjiro can get. In fact, the whole image of Manjiro in a kimono, preparing to do calligraphy, is like a scene out of an old samurai movie. The catch, of course, is that he's in prison.

    Since there was so often nothing else to do, he was using the time to learn to read and write his own language. (5.38.1)

    It's kind of ironic that it takes prison-time in Japan for Manjiro to re-learn and practice the Japanese art of calligraphy.

    In spring, the cherry blossoms had burst into bloom, covering the tree in mounds of pale blossoms. The blossoms fell, the leaves unfurled, and summer came. A humid silence had settled on the garden, broken only by the splash of a frog. It was a tranquil prison, but it was still a prison. (5.38.2-3)

    Manjiro's in prison, only his prison is a garden. (The guys have some pretty nice digs for their first experience with a Japanese imprisonment. Note: their second experience with jail isn't this nice.) But it doesn't seem like Manjiro's all that appreciative of his surroundings. It's one of the few moments when Manjiro isn't his usual, positive self. Prison can do that to a person.

    "It's wondrous what they do," Terry said breathlessly. "It's so exact, it's almost more real than looking in a mirror. And fast! Not like sitting for days or weeks to have your portrait painted—and who can afford that, anyway?" (4.34.8)

    Terry's talking about the daguerreotype—you know, the photographic technology of the 19th century. The way Terry talks about the daguerreotype makes it seem as high tech as your newest version of the iPhone.

    Manjiro did not think a daguerreotype would be the same thing at all, and he declined the offer. Still, he wished he had a likeness of his mother. He turned back to the portraits on display and tried to imagine seeing a portrait of her, tried to bring her face back to his memory, but it was shrouded in shadow, sadness, and longing. (4.34.25)

    According to Terry and the daguerreotype guy, daguerreotypes are supposed to look exactly like the actual person. But you can't fool Manjiro: Art is art; reality is reality. And he wants his mom. Even if it's just a portrait. Okay, so here's a question: If we all know that a picture isn't actually the real thing, why do we need a picture to begin with?

    "I wish they were precious stones, but they are only shells," he sighed, "shells that I collected in places where I traveled."

    His mother held out her hands to show the shells—small and curved, frilled and ruffled, or smooth as teardrops. They were pink as cats' tongues, shiny brown and speckled, iridescent black, or creamy white.

    "Kirei!" she said. So beautiful! (5.40.31-33)

    Art can be found anywhere in nature, even in something as simple as a bunch of shells. That's one of the major messages of the novel.

  • Identity

    How does a snail move when it has no feet? he wondered. And where was the tiny creature going with such purpose? Manjiro watched it, losing himself in its slow, graceful movement. (1.2.16)

    Manjiro isn't the kind of guy who wants to be the main guy. He's this guy—the one who's really into nature and daydreaming. All of which makes him even more likable as our main guy.

    "I've been thinking, though," Manjiro said. "Maybe there's another way." (1.2.25)

    This is Manjiro in a nutshell: He's always thinking of a creative alternative, which is why "maybe there's another way" gets repeated a bit throughout the book.

    "My face!" Manjiro whispered. The shadow of Manjiro's face must have seemed like an island of shade in the bright sea. The snail and I, Manjiro thought, are alike. I trace out the length and breadth of this island every day, pacing around and around its face. Like the snail, I have no idea of all that lies beyond. (1.2.87)

    Manjiro's watching a snail make its slimy trail on the ground. His big revelation is that the snail's trail is in the shape of Manjiro's face because of the shadow his face is casting. But instead of going super-narcissistic (Oh! Nature reflects me!), Manjiro identifies with the snail and what the snail is doing: figuring out the borders of what he knows.

    "Henceforth," the captain said, "I want ye to call this boy by his new whaling name: John Mung."

    "Hear, hear!" the men cheered. (2.4.93-94)

    We don't get to find out that John Mung, the artist of all the illustrations throughout the book, is actually Manjiro until this moment in Chapter 4. Why don't the illustrations at the beginning of the book make it more clear that John Mung = Manjiro? Why reveal the John Mung's identity well after we've seen John Mung's illustrations?

    John Mung! So they would really call him that? Now he had not just one, but two new names—two names like a samurai would have. But barbarian names. Manjiro shuddered a little. (2.5.7)

    This is the moment in the book when we get the sense that Manjiro has a split (or double) identity, in the sense that he has two parts to his cultural identity and they don't totally mesh just yet. So for this reason, it makes sense that he has an American name for his growing American self and a Japanese name for his Japanese self. Kind of like Beyonce and her alter-ego Sasha Fierce, only Manjiro doesn't name his alter-ego, the Captain does.

    "Captain Whitfield says this, Captain Whitfield says that. You listen to everything he says. He makes you think wrong thoughts. You listen to the foreigners; you believe them. You're like them," Goemon cried, his voice breaking. "I don't know you anymore!" (2.8.39)

    Why is it that Goemon's so much more upset about not "know[ing]" Manjiro "anymore" than Manjiro? How is a changing identity different from the perspectives of the self and of a friend?

    "Look how that woman walks with her arm on that man's arm. Don't they know that they shouldn't touch in public—that's just wrong! And, besides, women should always walk behind men."

    "Why should women walk behind men?" (2.10.23-24)

    That's our Manjiro, defending a woman's right to walk wherever she wants, even if it's even with or ahead of a man. He's a budding feminist, that guy. Question: Did he always think these radical thoughts or is this all from the influence of the captain and the other sailors?

    Manjiro pointed to the sky. "Look," he said. Pink light rimmed the eastern horizon and ran down the sea. "Doesn't it look like the light from another world, spilling through a slightly open door?"

    […]

    "It's like how I feel about America," Manjiro said. "It's as if I see this little bit of light from an open door. It promises… I don't know what! But I want to go through that door and find out what is there." (2.11.50-52)

    Manjiro's a romantic. To Goemon, this whole vision of "the light from another world, spilling through a slightly open store" isn't all that—it's just a typical sunrise—but Manjiro is a dreamer and a visionary. He sees sunrise and thinks opportunity; he thinks America.

    Manjiro hung his head. "Please excuse. I should be punished. I… I dropped it… into the sea."

    The captain remained silent, puffing on his pipe. And everything rushed out of Manjiro—the story as best he could tell it: the attack by Jolly and the gang of thieves, the theft, and the fight. "I don't think you can believe," he finished. "Now it is my fault for Jolly not being here. I am sorry you lose your best harpooner and get me, only a greenhand." (2.14.11-12)

    Manjiro's a stand-up guy. In fact, this sense of self is so important to him that he's willing to risk the captain's affections just so he can be true to his principles. And on top of that, he's totally humble. These qualities don't change for the rest of the novel—they're the bedrock of his identity.

    Within him, Manjiro knew, beat a heart scoured by sand, pounded by waves, burned by sun, and polished by rain and wind. It would always be the simple heart of a fisherman, but perhaps it had also become the mighty heart of a samurai. (5.41.18)

    Ding, ding, ding… This is one of those major moments in the novel. How can we tell? It features the title of the novel in a sentence. Anytime a book does that, you just know the passage has to be significant.

    In this case, Manjiro's back at home in Japan. He doesn't know yet whether he's going to be locked up in jail because he's spent time on foreign land or if he's going to be rewarded for all his knowledge of the West. He's just who he is—the same guy as at the beginning of the book, a person with faith in his own simple, good-hearted identity. And that is what gives him (and us) hope for his fate.

  • Change

    Manjiro had never thought of such things. He had always known what work he would do. Of course, he would have liked to bring honor to his family, and he remembered how he'd once said he wanted to be a samurai. But that was not a real dream, because it could never happen. Now… well, now he didn't know. (2.7.36)

    Sounds like Manjiro's on the cusp of some major internal change. Not that he completely trades his hard-core family values with rabid individualism, but the question will be how Manjiro decides to juggle the two values, especially when he returns home toward the end of the book.

    Manjiro opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Thoughts collided in his mind. To see America… but to possibly miss a chance to return home to his mother and his family. To learn a thousand new things… but to go to a strange place where people might hate and reject him. To feel again the lift of his heart when the sails filled with wind and the ship seemed to soar over the ocean… but to have to say good-bye to his comrades with whom he'd shared so much… (2.8.20)

    So here's the official offer: Either try to return home with his Japanese buddies, or go with the Captain to America as his son. Why is it that so often it's thoughts of family and home that keep a person from transforming?

    "Captain Whitfield says this, Captain Whitfield says that. You listen to everything he says. He makes you think wrong thoughts. You listen to the foreigners; you believe them. You're like them," Goemon cried, his voice breaking. "I don't know you anymore!"

    Manjiro wondered if that was so. Had he changed? (2.8.39-40)

    Short answer: Yes. Manjiro has changed, and in a way that's unrecognizable to Goemon. But has Manjiro really changed that much? He's always been a curious guy, who asks a lot of questions, and he's also an all-around nice guy. So why is Goemon so surprised that Manjiro's thinking of leaving with the Captain?

    Manjiro told the captain how two gods, Izanami and Izanagi, had created an island—his home—out of sweet-smelling mist and fog. Something like that was happening with their friendship, he thought. It was like a tranquil island in a stormy sea. (2.8.42)

    So things are starting to go a little crazy, but oddly enough, the Captain's fatherly relationship to Manjiro ("their friendship")—which is another change—brings Manjiro a sense of calm and safety. True friends and family: The only way to weather a storm.

    Manjiro pointed to the sky. "Look," he said. Pink light rimmed the eastern horizon and ran down the sea. "Doesn't it look like the light from another world, spilling through a slightly open door?"

    […]

    "It's like how I feel about America," Manjiro said. "It's as if I see this little bit of light from an open door. It promises…I don't know what! But I want to go through that door and find out what is there." (2.11.50-52)

    Change is here. It comes in Manjiro's fresh perspective, one that's totally different from his friend Goemon's view of a mundane sunrise. Manjiro doesn't see a sunrise—he sees a new future. Which is why this scene precedes the moment that he leaves his friends and goes on with the captain.

    He paused, not wanting to disturb them, and heard the captain say, "I had resigned myself to a life at sea, with a small house in Fairhaven for my few months between ships. But now, with a bright young ward, I've begun to think of a farm again. A boy should have land to roam, work for his hands to do, a pond to fish, and a horse to ride."

    Who was this boy they were talking about? Was it him? Was the captain suggesting that he should have a horse to ride? (3.15.48-49)

    Manjiro happens to overhear this conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Aken and the Captain about how the Captain is thinking about changing his lifestyle for Manjiro. Understandably, Manjiro's more than a little surprised. A horse and a farm? That would be a complete departure from his previous life as a poor fisherman's son.

    Several faces appeared at the door. Not the faces of his brother and sisters, but grown-up people. He could see that they did not recognize him. He hardly recognized them. But then an older woman stepped out from the shadow of the door and their eyes met. A moment passed between them and he was once again a young boy, standing at the door of this hut, saying good-bye before going to work for Imasu-san. (5.40.23-24)

    Everything changes… except for a mother's love, right?

    Lord Nariakira stood facing the courtyard. He was silent. Manjiro wondered if he had said too much, if he had angered the powerful lord. A gust of wind blew into the room, lifting the edge of the map. "The weather is changing," the daimyo said.

    "Maniiro nodded. "As is the world," he said.

    The lord turned to look at him, one eyebrow raised.

    "But I believe good will come out of this changing world," Manjiro said. (5.38.29-32)

    The change Manjiro is referring to here is the coming of the Americans. It's inevitable, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Americans bring with them different ideas, a different culture, and more importantly, a different way of dealing with the world—one that embraces international trade and open ports. This is a huge change for a place as isolated as Japan.

    But impermanence was the nature of life. Wasn't it funny, Manjiro thought, that his countrymen, who so admired the fleeting beauty of cherry blossoms and the maple's momentary burst of fall color, clung so fervently to the past? They were like the last fragile blossoms that tremble on the branch while the wind tears and tears at them. (5.41.5)

    Of course Manjiro would have a natural simile on hand to describe his countrymen's perspective. But he has a point: How is it that his people can appreciate the changes in nature and yet not be able to deal with the changes in the world? Maybe it has something to do with how predictable seasonal changes are. Global matters, on the other hand, aren't so easy to predict or manage…

    "But others say," the messenger continued, "that Lord Yamauchi wants him to teach young samurai the barbarian's language." The man lowered his voice to a whisper. "They even say that he will be a samurai himself." He clucked his tongue. "Imagine—a simple fisherman becoming a samurai!" (5.41.15)

    Now that's a serious change in a closed society like Japan. Manjiro is part of a major sea change: Japan begins to engage with the idea of a meritocracy. Going from a fisherman to a samurai? That's pretty amazing.

  • Society and Class

    "Even if we should get home, you know very well you can't be. You weren't born into a samurai family. You were born a fisherman's son and you will be a fisherman, and any sons you have, they also will be fishermen. That is the way it is; that is the way it has always been; that is the way it will always be." (1.2.33)

    Even Goemon doesn't believe that Manjiro can become a samurai. Every one of Manjiro's friends is a traditionalist, all into the strict divisions between classes in Japan. That makes Manjiro more alone, but also more unique among the guys.

    "If you were a real samurai, you would commit seppuku now, rather than wait to be humiliated by the barbarians," Goemon said.

    "Maybe they won't humiliate us," Manjiro said hopefully.

    At this, Goemon simply grunted. (2.3.45-47)

    Goemon's looking down on the "barbarian" rescuers because they ask the boys to sit on benches instead of sitting cross-legged. It's really a potato, potahto kind of issue, though, when we get down to it: Every culture has their own norms.

    And it was like a village, they thought, as they were swept on board the John Howland and through a series of small rooms, like tiny houses, each one more ornately decorated than the last.

    "Only someone very important could own rooms like these," Goemon whispered.

    "A lord."

    "A daimyo."

    "Maybe even a shogun!" Manjiro gasped. (2.3.32-36)

    The guys are pointing out something that's true even on the supposedly classless, equitable American ship: There's still an implicit difference in class, as the guys notice through the different levels of decoration in the rooms. As you might expect, the stateliest, most well-appointed room on the boat is Captain Whitfield's.

    "I feel it is important for me, as the leader of our group, to watch out for you. Now, listen to me. It is better for you to stay away, so that you don't become tainted by their ways. They are corrupting you. Already you walk with their swagger. You are forgetting your manners and addressing all of us as your equals. You neglect to bow. Just now—you did not acknowledge me. You don't even bow to the captain of this ship!" (2.5.35)

    Denzo's speaking to Manjiro, so we know there just has to be trouble. But doesn't it seem that Denzo's trying to power-trip all over Manjiro?

    "We are just humble fishermen. Only big important people—the shogun, the daimyo, maybe this captain—they can do great things."

    "That's what I used to think, too…." (2.8.33-34)

    Goemon's all about sticking up for the old Japanese ways, even if it means that he—as a fisherman—gets the short end of the stick. But Manjiro's not down with all of that. What he goes on to suggest to Goemon is nothing short of a class revolution, even if Manjiro isn't thinking or speaking in such dramatic terms. He is advocating some dangerous thoughts for Goemon, though, so it's no wonder Goemon's scared that Manjiro's already lost his way. Upending the status quo is often an unpopular thing to do.

    "Why would he do a kindness to me?" Manjiro asked.

    "Why shouldn't he?"

    "Because I am just a boy and he is a grown person. I am a poor nobody and he is a rich important person."

    "And why can't a rich man be kind to a poor 'nobody'?" (3.15.31-34)

    Captain Whitfield is referring to a common principle of helping a fellow man. This principle can only work if based on two contradictory ideas, though. First, Captain Whitfield is showing the impulse toward a classless society, where poor and rich shouldn't have such a huge social division. However, the dialogue also shows how class division has to exist in order for the principle of common goodness to exist. How can there be a principle of being good to the common or fellow man if there wasn't an unfair situation that requires the need for principle to exist in the first place?

    "Look how that woman walks with her arm on that man's arm. Don't they know that they shouldn't touch in public—that's just wrong! And, besides, women should always walk behind men."

    "Why should women walk behind men?" (9.10.23-24)

    It looks like Manjiro's sympathies have extended to women, the true absent class in the book. Well, it's not totally absent, but the female presence is definitely lacking in this book in a major way. Not that there's much that can be done about it—the story does have (at this point) to do with a ship at sea in the 19th century, which isn't exactly a female sphere at this time. This just makes Manjiro's response even more radical, though, since he's questioning the patriarchal system that overarches American and Japanese cultures.

    "It's wondrous what they do," Terry said breathlessly. "It's so exact, it's almost more real than looking in a mirror. And fast! Not like sitting for days or weeks to have your portrait painted—and who can afford that, anyway?" (4.34.8)

    Terry definitely has a point: Sitting for a portrait for weeks on end definitely couldn't work unless you had money. Good thing photography isn't just for the wealthy these days.

    He paused, not wanting to disturb them, and heard the captain say, "I had resigned myself to a life at sea, with a small house in Fairhaven for my few months between ships. But now, with a bright young ward, I've begun to think of a farm again. A boy should have land to roam, work for his hands to do, a pond to fish, and a horse to ride."

    Who was this boy they were talking about? Was it him? Was the captain suggesting that he should have a horse to ride? (3.15.48-49)

    The Captain's telling Mr. and Mrs. Aken that he's thinking about changing his lifestyle for Manjiro. This is also one of those subtle moments when we realize how well-to-do Captain Whitfield must be. He definitely doesn't flaunt his class or wealth, but the easy way he just drops the idea of buying a farm and a horse for Manjiro is telling.

    "But others say," the messenger continued, "that Lord Yamauchi wants him to teach young samurai the barbarian's language." The man lowered his voice to a whisper. "They even say that he will be a samurai himself." He clucked his tongue. "Imagine—a simple fisherman becoming a samurai!" (5.41.15)

    So this would be a big change, right? Manjiro going from fisherman's son to samurai in Edo period, Japan. Even though the messenger doesn't know what will happen, the fact that it's even a rumor that Manjiro might become a samurai is a big deal. This is a sign of change in its own right.

  • Tradition and Customs

    "Even if we should get home, you know very well you can't be. You weren't born into a samurai family. You were born a fisherman's son and you will be a fisherman, and any sons you have, they also will be fishermen. That is the way it is; that is the way it has always been; that is the way it will always be." (1.2.33)

    Some things never change. Like being a Japanese fisherman in the late 19th century. Good thing Manjiro isn't so stuck on tradition like his friend Goemon here—otherwise, we wouldn't have a story to read.

    Before Manjiro's father had died, he had taught Manjiro about Bushido, the samurai code of honor. "I wouldn't be that kind of samurai," Manjiro said. "I'd be like the noble samurai of old times: heroic warriors who were loyal to their lords, and who studied calligraphy and poetry as well as the art of fighting." (1.2.36)

    Manjiro's interesting because he's faithful to his father and the whole tradition of the samurai—kind of. The fact that he "wouldn't be that kind of samurai," the samurai his father told him about, means that he's willing to go his own way. But "his own way" still isn't exactly his own way—it's just an even more traditional form of samurai he says he wants to be. It's like the only way he can feel okay about deviating is if he goes one up on his father and becomes even more traditional.

    Each of them was also given a metal stick, with four prongs on one end.

    "Fork," the sailor said—and showed them they should use it to eat the rice. The fishermen recited their prayer before eating.

    "Itadakimasu—I will humbly receive." (2.3.50-52)

    Even eating is something completely specific to a culture, right down to the utensils used. But the prayer before eating seems to be a shared custom in this case. It may be in a different language and from a different faith, but the sentiment seems pretty universal.

    "Stop apologizing for asking questions!" the captain said. "How are you going to learn if you don't ask things? Ask all the questions you like whenever you like to whomever you like." The captain tipped Manjiro's chin up and looked him in the eye. "Do you understand?"

    Manjiro began to bow, but the captain put his hand on his shoulder.

    "One other thing," he said. "It is good to be respectful, but it would be well if you would stop that incessant bowing!" (2.4.27-29)

    It's hard not to do an inner cheer for Captain Whitfield. Yeah, Manjiro has different cultural customs—like bowing—which should be respected, but Preus makes Manjiro's buddies so restrictive and uptight about his inquisitive mind that Captain Whitfield comes off like a hero just because he allows Manjiro to express himself.

    Manjiro told the captain how two gods, Izanami and Izanagi, had created an island—his home—out of sweet-smelling mist and fog. Something like that was happening with their friendship, he thought. It was like a tranquil island in a stormy sea. (2.8.42)

    Izanami, a goddess, and Izanagi, a god, wanted to mate, which was how they ended up creating an island. So… if we're supposed to take Manjiro at his word that "Something like that was happening with their friendship," what does Manjiro mean exactly? Does he view himself and the captain like Izanami and Izanagi? Are they together supposed to create some kind of new home from their bond? Something to think about…

    Captain Whitfield pointed to the small island where the fishermen had been found, and then to another group of islands that lay to the northwest of that island. "Your home," he said.

    "No!" The fishermen shook their heads.

    "Our country is much, much bigger than that!" Denzo said.

    Captain Whitfield smiled. "Perhaps since your country does not allow anyone in or out, they do not know the true size or shape of the world—even of their own country."

    Manjiro did not translate that for the others, fearing it might anger them. (2.9.15-19)

    Captain Whitfield may have a point: The Japanese maybe don't have the best perspective on their string of islands. But does he have to be so patronizing about it? He doesn't exactly come off as respectful here.

    It was true the Americans were somewhat uncivilized. They were loud and dirty and let their hair grow in unruly knots and tangles. They swore and cussed and spat. They often ate with their hands, and rather like animals. They didn't smell too good! And their whaling practice was a very bloody business indeed.

    But they knew a lot of things about which Manjiro knew nothing, and the thing they knew the most was the thing he knew the least: the size and shape and scope of the world. How could you not want to understand the world in which you lived? (2.9.24-25)

    This passage comes right after the Captain shows the Japanese guys their country on the map and basically disses them in English. Manjiro's response in the first paragraph above is kind of similarly condescending, except that it's in his head. But the second paragraph shows how appealing it is to Manjiro to bridge that divide between the Japanese and the Americans because, to him, "contrasting regions" isn't so important as knowing his larger context: the world.

    Through the trees and far down the beach, Manjiro could hear the native people singing. Mele and hula, their music and dancing was called. They weren't supposed to do it; the missionaries said it was wrong. Manjiro thought the music was lovely; it had a motion like the sea—it rolled over you and through you like water. Western missionaries had come to Japan, too, a couple of hundred years earlier, and they were one reason Japan had closed its doors to foreigners. Seeing how the native islanders here were expected to change almost everything about their lives for the missionaries, Manjiro could understand why Japan had expelled them. (2.10.9)

    Westerners don't come off so good here. Manjiro is giving an underbelly view of Western "influence" on Hawai'i—and he frames it all in terms of a colonial power taking away a native cultural custom.

    The next day was May Day. The custom was to fill a little basket with flowers along with a handwritten note, then drop it at the door of a girl whom you liked. Upon hearing your knock at the door, she was supposed to chase and catch you and—most unbelievably—kiss you! (3.24.1)

    Okay, so we definitely don't celebrate May Day like this anymore. Do we have any contemporary customs that are as sweet as this?

    Back on board the Franklin, his hands shook as he tied on his old tunic—once rough and stiff, now worn so thin you could practically see through it. He tied his cloth belt around his middle and grabbed his ragged tenugui—his headband. (4.27.34)

    Manjiro is donning traditional Japanese garb he had when he left Japan because he wants to make sure that the Japanese men on the boat he sees will recognize him as Japanese. His hope? Traditional fashion will overcome the Japanese fear of strangers (even Japanese strangers). Too bad his clothes don't have as much symbolic weight as he would like them to have…

  • Foreignness and the Other

    "What lies there," he wondered aloud, "across the sea?"

    "Nothing you want to know about," Denzo said, hurrying to hoist the sail. "Barbarians live there. Demons with hairy faces, big noses, and blue eyes!" (1.1.3-4)

    This is our first introduction to what "barbarians" (i.e. white people) are supposed to be like. Scary, huh?

    "The law says, 'Any person who leaves the country and later returns will be put to death.'"

    They brooded on this in silence.

    Finally, Manjiro said, "But why?"

    "Because, if we were to encounter any of the foreign devils, we would be poisoned by them." (1.2.40-43)

    Goemon and Manjiro are commiserating about how they might not be able to return to Japan. Why? Because Japan in the late 19th century is completely into isolationism, which basically means Japan wants nothing to do with any other country in this book. "Foreign devils" is some pretty strong language, though—it seems personal instead of political.

    "Maybe not our bodies, but they will poison our minds with their way of thinking. That's why no fishermen are allowed to go very far from the coast—they say 'contamination lies beyond the reach of the tides.' The barbarians would fill our heads with wrong thoughts!" (1.2.45)

    So this is what's wrong with all those "barbarians." But seriously, fear of "wrong thoughts" sounds a lot like an overprotective parent.

    When he finally reached one of them, he raised his head and looked up. He could not lift his arm to reach out. His blood turned to ice, and dizzy again, he felt himself sinking. For when he had looked into his rescuer's face, he had gazed into a pair of eyes as blue as the sea. (1.2.98)

    Barbarian alert. What's interesting here is Manjiro's reaction. Seeing a white guy's face makes him lose his bodily senses: his "blood turn[s] to ice" and he gets "dizzy." He feels detached from himself enough that he "[feels] himself sinking." His rescuer's face makes him lose himself.

    Manjiro wondered why the foreigners didn't just carry their small things in separate pouches, the way it was done in Japan. But once his hands discovered his pockets, he couldn't keep them out. His hands wanted to explore those spaces just like, when he'd lost teeth as a boy, his tongue wanted to explore the empty holes where his teeth had been. (2.3.67)

    So maybe the foreign isn't so bad. Another way to think of the way Manjiro explores his new pockets is as a way for him to safely "discover" a new culture.

    The strange men were all different colors! Their skins were the colors of weathered wood, or clay, white sand, or dried grasses. One was as black as soot! And all different kinds and colors of hair—like the leaves in fall: yellow, red, brown. The black man's head was crowded with tight knots. The head of one man seemed to be covered all over with bright golden coins! All the men were burned and weather-beaten, their faces creased and stained with grime. And they were big. Very big. (2.3.24)

    One thing that's already beating Manjiro's expectations: skin and hair color. Also notice how Manjiro turns human coloring into something both naturally beautiful ("leaves in fall: yellow, red, brown") and completely unusual ("The head of one man seemed to be covered all over with bright golden coins!"). The men are maybe more intriguing to Manjiro's visual senses than they are threatening.

    Jolly, whose oar was directly behind Manjiro's, hissed at him. "Yer a heap of trouble, ye filthy, spying Chinaman. … Eating our lobscouse, drinkin' our water. Yer nothing' but an ignorant pagan. … We'll be setting you off on the first desert island we spy." (2.4.47)

    Calling the American sailors "barbarians" isn't going to win the Japanese fishermen any racial tolerance awards, but how Jolly acts toward Manjiro seems really bad by comparison. He's aggressive with his hatred of Manjiro, plus he can't even get the difference between the Japanese and the Chinese. It's the worst form of "othering" that can happen to Manjiro.

    "I feel it is important for me, as the leader of our group, to watch out for you. Now, listen to me. It is better for you to stay away, so that you don't become tainted by their ways. They are corrupting you. Already you walk with their swagger. You are forgetting your manners and addressing all of us as your equals. You neglect to bow. Just now—you did not acknowledge me. You don't even bow to the captain of this ship!" (2.5.35)

    Uh-oh…. Sounds like Denzo already doesn't recognize Manjiro. Although don't you wonder why he can't cut Manjiro a little slack? Is it that Manjiro is really becoming foreign or is it that he's just so busy helping out on the ship that he forgets to bow to Denzo?

    Jolly sneered. "Cap'n won't take you back to yer godforsaken country. Savages and beasts that they are, they'd boil us in big pots and skin us, too. They'd do the same to you. That's how you can tell they're no better than animals." Jolly shoved his face up close to Manjiro. "Ye won't be going home again," he said. (2.6.5)

    What's funny about Jolly's words (if funny is even the right word) is how similar they are to the words the Japanese guys say about the American sailors. Foreigners: More alike than they seem, if only in their hatred for each other.

    As he ogled the fancy cakes in the baker's window, he was startled by his reflection in the glass. How odd he looked, in his Western clothes! A movement, also reflected in the glass, caught his eye, and his gaze shifted behind him to a handful of boys—the same boys he'd seen earlier. He watched quietly as the boys made faces and rude gestures behind his back. One pulled at his eyelids, making his eyes into ugly slits in his face. Another bowed and bobbed. The other boys doubled over laughing.

    Is this how he looked to people—strange and grotesque? Did everyone see him this way? (3.15.24-25)

    This moment could be seen as the moment when Manjiro first becomes conscious of "race" in the way we know it today: full of (false) stereotypes and unjust treatment. But what does Manjiro really consider "strange and grotesque"? On one hand, it's pretty easy to say that he finds the boys making faces at him disgusting. On the other hand, is he more sensitive to the whole thing because he himself thinks he looks "odd…in his Western clothes"?

  • Contrasting Regions

    In Japan there was an artist named Hiroshige who made beautiful pictures of everyday scenes. Manjiro had seen some of these prints: two men seeking shelter from rain that fell in cold, slanting streaks; three travelers lighting their pipes by a fire so real it seemed to glow; several geishas in such find kimonos, you could almost hear the silk rustling.

    Forever afterward, when Manjiro thought of what happened that day, he would remember it in sudden, vivid scenes like Hiroshige's prints. And yet unlike those pictures, because nowhere in any of them were there scenes as strange as these:

    Twelve shoes, Manjiro counted, as he sat on the bottom of the boat. Stiff-looking things, brown as the skin of hairless dogs. Shiny and smooth, as if made of animal hide.

    […]

    Eleven eyes. When at last he dared to look up, what he noticed was their eyes. Each pair a different color: green as a stormy sea, blue as the sky, black as night, or brown as his own. One man had only one eye, and that one as gray as a cloudy day. The other eye was covered with a patch….

    Six big noses, in fact: one long and hooked, two long and straight, one squashed and wide, one turned up at the end, and another as big and red as a radish. (2.3.1-6)

    Here's what's interesting about this passage: The artwork shows "beautiful pictures of everyday scenes," but Manjiro's experience of being rescued is anything but everyday. In fact, even though he says that his experience reminds him of the artwork, we're not entirely sure why—the contrast between the two types of scenes is so striking. Perhaps Manjiro wants similarities to exist between the Japanese and the Americans, but he just can't help focusing on the differences.

    It was so real, it was almost as if it were happening. In the memory, he was at home. Rain tapped lightly on the roof. It must have been a special day because he could smell the sweet perfume of cooking rice. Why, he wondered, did rice have no smell when it was raw, but smelled so heavenly when it was cooking?

    He was brought back to the present moment when a bowl of steaming rice was set before him. A real bowl. Of real rice. It had not been a dream. The wonderful, unexpected smell of rice cooking had fanned the embers of memory. (2.3.48-49)

    Ah rice, the universal carb—even places as different as Japan and America see the beauty in a steaming bowl of rice.

    They found themselves seated on benches before a table, with their legs swinging under them.
    "You see," Goemon whispered to Manjiro, "the torture has begun."

    It wasn't torture, exactly, but it wasn't very comfortable, either.

    "Look at your legs hanging there," Goemon said.

    "It is a strange way to sit!" Manjiro agreed. (2.3.40-44)

    A good reminder that even something as simple as sitting can be totally different depending on the country you're in…

    "Stop apologizing for asking questions!" the captain said. "How are you going to learn if you don't ask things? Ask all the questions you like whenever you like to whomever you like." The captain tipped Manjiro's chin up and looked him in the eye. "Do you understand?"

    Manjiro began to bow, but the captain put his hand on his shoulder.

    "One other thing," he said. "It is good to be respectful, but it would be well if you would stop that incessant bowing!" (2.4.27-29)

    Here's another major contrast between the Japanese and the American captain: The Captain wants Manjiro to "look him in the eye, " he wants Manjiro to be comfortable with him even though he has more authority than Manjiro. It doesn't seem to occur to the Captain, though, that perhaps Manjiro's bowing is worth honoring as its own cultural practice.

    Denzo shook his head. "If you doubted they were barbarians, this"—he gestured to the roiling black smoke, the blood and grease on the deck, the sharks seething in the water around the ship— "this should convince you."

    "Our countrymen kill whales, too," Manjiro said.

    "Yes," Denzo said. "But not like this. You know how they do it—at home, whole villages work together to capture a whale in a net to drown it. Then they tow the creature to shore, butcher it, and distribute the meat to many people. They use all the parts — all the meat, all the bones, everything. But this—this is barbaric. Look at this waste!" Denzo nodded toward the men who shoved the carcass away from the ship, with most of the meat still intact. The sharks attacked it with such frenzy that the water seemed to boil around it. (2.5.25-27)

    From Denzo's perspective, the Japanese way of killing a whale is not just more humane, it's more communal. People gather together to capture the whale, and they share in the spoils. He's also describing a practice that might only work for a small community or village that doesn't engage in global trade.

    "The day," he said, "is divided into two pieces: sunrise to sunset and sunset to sunrise. Those are divided into six smaller pieces, like 'hours,' but instead of twenty-four, we have twelve. Each 'hour' has the name of an animal: tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, monkey, rooster. Now, I think, is the hour of the dog."

    "That is interesting," Captain Whitfield said, "because we call this two-hour period of time the 'dog watch.'" He nodded to the sky, where the first stars were appearing. "Maybe we call it that because of that star." He pointed to a brilliant star and said, "That's Sirius, the dog star. Do you call it that?"

    "No," said Manjiro. "We call it Aoboshi, blue star."

    "Tis blue, indeed," Captain Whitfield said, filling his pipe once more. (2.10.25-28)

    Here's what's happening: Captain Whitfield's trying to make a connection with Manjiro (not hard to do since they completely get along), so he's searching for common ground, like wondering if "hour of the dog" in Japanese comes from the English "dog star." The fact that there isn't a connection between the two things except mere coincidence shows that sometimes differences just need to be accepted, without explanation.

    And that's pretty much what Captain Whitfield does. He doesn't press on, trying to find similarities where there aren't any; he just ends up being agreeable, noting that the "blue star" is indeed blue.

    Through the trees and far down the beach, Manjiro could hear the native people singing. Mele and hula, their music and dancing was called. They weren't supposed to do it; the missionaries said it was wrong. Manjiro thought the music was lovely; it had a motion like the sea—it rolled over you and through you like water. Western missionaries had come to Japan, too, a couple of hundred years earlier, and they were one reason Japan had closed its doors to foreigners. Seeing how the native islanders here were expected to change almost everything about their lives for the missionaries, Manjiro could understand why Japan had expelled them. (2.10.9)

    Ah finally—some context to Japan's isolationism. It's easy to knock Japan for closing its borders to outsiders, but Manjiro gives a good reason for Japan's isolationist approach. And he does so by seeing an almost-parallel situation in Hawai'i: colonialism suppressing the native Hawai'ian culture. Who knows what Japan would have become if it hadn't closed its borders for a period of time?

    Manjiro pointed to the sky. "Look," he said. Pink light rimmed the eastern horizon and ran down the sea. "Doesn't it look like the light from another world, spilling through a slightly open door?"

    "No," Goemon said. "It looks like the sun is about to rise."

    "It's like how I feel about America," Manjiro said. "It's as if I see this little bit of light from an open door. It promises…I don't know what! But I want to go through that door and find out what is there." (2.11.50-52)

    Manjiro's only in Hawai'i (not even a U.S. state) and he's already seeing things differently. Or he's expressing his different perspective more willingly, anyway. All in preparation for his next destination: America.

    He felt as if had flown over oceans and traveled through veils of fog and mist to arrive in a magical land of enchantment.

    Tidy houses glittered up the hillside, punctuated by tall spires—tall as ships' masts.

    People swarmed down the hills and through the streets. Boys skipped along, pushing hoops ahead of them with sticks. Women spun their parasols and lifted their skirts to avoid puddles. Some of them called out the names of loved ones—husbands, sons, fathers, brothers—who'd been away for years. (3.15.13-15)

    Manjiro doesn't make an explicit comparison to Japan here, but we get the sense that Japan in the 19th century was anything but active and busy, like this port in New Bedford. Something's certainly different between here and there since he's so captivated.

    Americans and the Japanese, when you boiled it down, were more alike than they would ever admit. They both thought they were better than other people—and each thought they were better than the other! (3.24.27)

    Straight from the guy who would know best: Is there really all that much a difference between America and Japan? Sure they're totally different geographically, but Manjiro points out a key similarity: a patriotism bordering on jingoism. The people of both countries can be narrow-minded. But we might also wonder if Manjiro's just being a little too negative. What about all the friends he's made in America? And what about Manjiro himself? Doesn't he also prove that Japanese can be humble and open?