Study Guide

Heart of a Samurai Change

By Margi Preus

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.