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The American Hero in the World

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The American Hero in the World 


Anca Vlasopolos' The New Bedford Samurai is a non-fiction novel (the genre was popularized by American author Truman Capote). What does that mean? How is a non-fiction novel different from a history or biography? A non-fiction novel is conscious of it's own creation of narrative out of history.


Dr. Vlasopolos will be our guest lecturer on Monday. It is IMPERATIVE that you make me look good at this lecture. In order to do that, we are going to come up with a list of discussion questions that you MUST answer by our lecture on Monday.




The New Bedford Samurai is a non-fiction novel blending the life of Manjiro Nakahama—a runaway, illiterate Japanese boy who in 1841 embarked on a fishing boat alongside four older men—with meditative chapters on the environmental effects of 19th-century globalization.


Cast with his companions onto an uninhabited island in the Pacific, Manjiro was rescued by an American whaling ship. Ten years later, he returned to Japan, where, after being imprisoned, he was elevated to the status of samurai. The book contains adventures on the high seas (among which are whale hunts, a mutiny, and homoerotic rituals); life in 19th-century whaling towns in New England; a Dickensian apprenticeship; an episode during the Gold Rush; the colossal changes Manjiro, on his two trips back to the U.S., perceives in San Francisco, Boston, and Hawaii; a capsule history of Japan right before and right after its opening to the West; and reflections on the traffic in humans and animals that has remained with us to this day.


Main Characters: 


Manjiro NakahamaNakahama Manjirō(中濱 万次郎?, January 27, 1827 – November 12, 1898), also known as John Manjirō (or John Mung).[1] He was one of the first Japanese people to visit the United States and an important translator during the Opening of Japan.[2] In September 1853, Manjirō was summoned to Edo (now known as Tokyo), questioned by the shogunate government, and made a hatamoto (a samurai in direct service to the shogun). He would now give interviews only in service to the government. In token of his new status, he would wear two swords, and needed a surname; he chose Nakahama, after his home village. 

Manjirō apparently used his know-how of western shipbuilding to contribute to the effort of the Shogunate to build a modern navy. He translated Bowditch's American Practical Navigator into Japanese, and taught English, naval tactics and whaling techniques. He allegedly contributed to the construction of the Shohei Maru, Japan's first post-seclusion foreign-style warship.


Manjirō was married three times and had seven children. In 1918, his eldest son, Dr. Nakahama Toichirō, donated a valuable sword to Fairhaven in token of his father's rescue and the kindness of the town. It continued to be displayed in the town library even during World War Two.


Among his accomplishments, Manjirō was probably the first Japanese person to take a train, ride in a steamship, officer an American vessel, and command a trans-Pacific voyage.


There is a great statue of Nakahama Manjirō at Cape Ashizuri, on Shikoku. However, his grave, formerly at the Zōshigaya Cemetery in Tokyo, was destroyed by American air raids in World War II. In Fairhaven, the Manjirō Historic Friendship Society is renovating William Whitfield's home to include a museum dealing with the Manjirō legacy.[4]


Minor planet 4841 Manjiro is named after him.






Reading Questions for The New Bedford Samurai

Due 22 February 2016


Please your answers to the questions below AND five questions of your own (to ask in class after the guest lecture). Remember to tie your questions to SPECIFIC pages in the novel and be prepared to talk about this material in class on Monday.  


  •  GENRE:
    • How does the genre shape the narrative? How does it compare to other genres we've read?
    • Can a nonfiction novel have a hero?  
    • How is the character of Manjiro Nakahama developed? What imagery does the author use?  
    • How does Manjiro’s experience of encountering the West allow the Western reader to see our world with new eyes?
  •  NATURE:
    • How does Nature become a part of the heroic narrative?  
    • How does Manjiro Nakahama's map emphasize his global experiences (above)?  


  • How does Manjiro’s map here resemble his journey in the novel? 



 WRITE FIVE QUESTIONS OF YOUR OWN. Tie your questions to SPECIFIC pages in the novel.   


Friday Discussion 

Let's start by discussing your answers to your own questions. 


Questions for Friday:

  1. Would he rather live in Japan or the U.S. and why does he make the decision(s) to live where he does?

  2. How does Manjiro relate to the ocean (use the map above and the text)?

  3. If the roles were switched, could Manjiro have been as successful?

  4. Give two examples of continuity in Manjiro's experiences and relationships with people in different places. 

American Hero


We've talked about the genre and the relationship between humans and nature in the global world. Let's circle back around to the American hero. How does New Bedford Samurai reposition the American hero and American identity in a global world? 


In Japan, heroic figures (especially samurai) are pictured with their weapons. How do maps and navigation tools become heroic objects for Manjiro?  


Break into groups and map Manjiro's heroic journey onto his global journey. What is the significance of this? What is the significance of his land-locked existence when he returned home to Japan? 


Reception of the American Hero in the World     


Consider Manjiro's reception in Japan. How do the Japanese determine whether or not Manjiro has embraced an American identity? How do these articles relate to Manjiro's experiences when he returns to Japan?   


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