On a Shipwrecked Teenager

John had been forced to go to sea to support his family. His dad had died a few years earlier, and the 14 year old had an older brother, but that brother was sickly. Thus, John became the man of the house and, as was often the case in those days, the one to be the breadwinner. Growing up on the coast, it was natural that John would get a job with a fishing crew, and that’s what happened. The year was 1841, and times were tough. John was hired on by the small boat crew to be the helper and the cook during the days out at sea fishing with large nets held up by buoys.

But, on one of his first times out with the boat and crew, a storm blew up and sent the small vessel far off course. They ended up barely making it to a deserted island off the coast, where they were unable to get their craft seaworthy again. Thus, the five person crew had to endure six months of near starvation on the island, eating what fish they could catch near shore.

Then, miraculously, a whaling ship sailed by and spotted the castaways. The captain of the ship, William Whitfield, was happy to take the 4 men and the teenager aboard, but he told them that they’d have to go with his ship, the John Howland, on the whaling voyage before he could land them anywhere. The men eagerly agreed. Anything was better than dying on that island.

Finally, then the whaling ship reached port, the four adult men were happy to be put ashore, and they tried to make arrangements to somehow find their way back to their homes. But Captain Whitfield had taken a liking to John, and he offered the teen a chance for an education in Whitfield’s hometown of Fairfield, Massachusetts. John jumped at the chance. He was thrilled to go, and it was there that he saw things that amazed him. He rode a train for the first time. He learned navigation. He learned to read and write and a foreign language. He apprenticed as a barrel maker. And then Whitfield got John a place on the crew of another whaling ship.

By September, 1849, John was 22 and had a decent amount of money. He’d frugally saved as much as he could of his pay from the whaler, and he decided to join the thousands who were headed to California for the Gold Rush. There, even though he arrived a bit later than many, John managed to make a decent amount from his prospecting. And it was then that John decided that he wanted to return home, to the mother and small family he’d left almost a decade before.

And so he did. He was warmly received by his family and village on the coast, and he became somewhat of a minor celebrity in the area because of his adventures at so young an age. His family never grew tired of his tales of travel, of the things he’d experienced and seen, and of how educated and “proper” he’d become.

In the 1860s, his country called on John. Because of his travel and language experience, he was asked to serve as a sort of ambassador for some visitors to his country. It seems that no one else spoke the language he had picked up back in school in Massachusetts. The country needed John to interpret for them as they welcomed strangers to their shores.

You see, John wasn’t really his name, it was only the name that Captain Whitfield called him. His birth name was Manjiro, and he was one of the first Japanese men to have ever visited the United States. And, when Japan opened its doors to foreign trade, it was Manjiro who represented the Japanese emperor and who translated Japanese into that strange language he’d picked up in Massachusetts.


On a Taciturn God

What do you do when your God is silent?

What do you do when you appeal to your God and get nothing—nothing—in return?

That’s what the generals in the war were facing. All nations feel that God is on their side in wartime. In this case, the generals of this particular nation appealed to their God and often received only stony silence as an answer. Even when they addressed the God directly, politely and respectfully requesting approval or disapproval of their war plans, the God would sometimes only offer one-word answers with no other details or comments. This frustrated the war leaders. Surely, the God would wish to comment on the plans! Sadly, for them, few words from the God were forthcoming.

The war was going badly. The generals wanted to continue the war, but the enemy was too powerful, had better weapons, and their own resources were dwindling. So, as many nations do, they went before their God and bowed, low, hoping that in their humility, their God would give them some indication as to the right course to take for the country they loved and were fighting for.

Still, nothing.

The people began to suffer. Shortages of food and housing, clean water and medical supplies, basic life necessities could not be ignored any longer. Something had to be done. The people were being lied to by the government; they were being told that the God had great plans for a victory that would save them all and restore the proud nation to glory again.

Part of the problem seemed to be those special few who were taking the generals’ petitions to the God. Tradition dictated that no one except specific individuals could speak to the God on behalf of the people or, often, even on behalf of the generals. On the other hand, one would expect a God to know what was happening without having to be told what was happening, right? Yet, some in the nation blamed the messengers for not accurately depicting the harsh realities of the situation to the nation’s God.

The war situation proved to be untenable.

The war was lost.

The generals, summoning all their courage for the survival of the nation, demanded that the God accept the humiliating defeat that was being handed to them. They asked the God to speak directly to the people. The announcement from the God was to be met with great respect by the people. The nation was ordered to stand for the announcement and to put on their best clothing out of respect for the God.

And so, on August 15, 1945, for the first time in the history of their nation, the people heard the voice of their Emperor and their God, Hirohito, as he announced on the radio the surrender of the Japanese Empire to the Allies.