MYSTIC — This past week Mystic Seaport had the honor and pleasure of hosting a visit from the secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization, Mr. Koji Sekimizu. Escorted by Eric Dawicki, the president and CEO of the Northeast Maritime Institute of Fairhaven, MA, Mr. Sekimizu toured the whaleship Charles W. Morgan and the Museum’s Collections Research Center.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships. Headquartered in London, the IMO has 170 member nations and a full-time staff of 300.
While the IMO is concerned with present-day issues confronting the maritime industry, Mr. Sekimizu discussed with Museum staff the importance of retaining the lessons and knowledge of history.
A native of Yokohama, Japan, Mr. Sekimizu shared the remarkable story of Nakahama Manjiro. Shipwrecked off the coast of Japan when he was just 14 years old in 1841, Manjiro was rescued by the crew of the whaleship John Howland and eventually brought to Fairhaven where he was taken in by the ship’s captain, William Whitfield, and attended school and learned to be a navigator and a cooper.
Japan was a closed country during this period and those who left the nation faced the death penalty upon their return. Manjiro opted to go back to sea and shipped out on the whaleship Franklin, on which he rose to the rank of harpooner. Paid off in 1849, he traveled to California to try his luck in the gold rush.
Manjiro did make his way back to Japan in 1851. Using money he made in the gold fields, he bought a whaleboat and booked passage for Hong Kong. Once off Okinawa, he and two companions were dropped into the water in the boat to make their way to shore. Manjiro was fortunate, his rare experience outside of Japan was of value to the ruling elite and after some months of questioning he was set free and subsequently designated a samurai. When Commodore Perry’s “Black Ships” arrived off Edo, now Tokyo, Manjiro was appointed translator and later participated in Japan’s first embassy to the United States.
Manjiro’s influence on his homeland was significant. He apparently used his know-how of western shipbuilding to contribute to Japan’s effort to build a modern navy. He translated Bowditch’s “American Practical Navigator” into Japanese, and he taught English, naval tactics, and whaling techniques.
His time in Fairhaven is commemorated by the Whitfield-Manjiro Friendship Society, which bought and restored the house he stayed in and promotes cultural ties with Japan. His story will be incorporated into the Charles W. Morgan‘s visit to New Bedford next summer as part of the ship’s 38th Voyage.
Mystic Seaport thanks the secretary-general for taking the time to visit the Museum.