Otokichi (山本 音吉 Yamamoto Otokichi , later known as John Matthew Ottoson; 1818–January 1867) was a Japanese castaway originally from the area of Onoura near Mihama, on the west coast of the Chita Peninsula in Aichi Prefecture.
Otokichi was a 14-year-old crew member on a rice transport ship bound for Edo, the Hojunmaru (宝順丸), 15 meters in length with a cargo of 150 tons and a crew of 14. The ship left on November 3, 1832, but was caught in a storm and blown off-course far out in the Pacific Ocean.
Drift to America
The ship, without a mast or a rudder, was carried across the northern Pacific Ocean by currents. It drifted for 14 months, during which the crew lived on desalinated seawater and on the rice of their cargo. Several crew members died of scurvy; only three survived by the time they made landfall at Cape Alava, the westernmost point of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, in 1834. The three survivors were Iwakichi, 29; Kyukichi, 16; and Otokichi, then 15.
The three castaways were looked after and briefly enslaved by the Makah Indian tribe. They were later handed over to John McLoughlin, the Chief Factor for the Columbia District at the Hudson's Bay Company. While there, they met Ranald MacDonald, at that time a child, who was inspired by the memory to travel as an adult to then isolated Japan in 1848. MacDonald became the first Westerner to teach English there, and, like Otokichi, was instrumental in bringing Japan into increasing contact with the Western world.
Travel to Europe
McLoughlin, envisioning an opportunity to use the castaways to open trade with Japan, sent the trio to London on the Eagle to try to convince the Crown of his plan. They reached London in 1835, probably the first Japanese to do so since Christopher and Cosmas in the 16th century.
The British Government ultimately denied interest in the enterprise, and the castaways were instead dispatched to Macau on board the General Palmer, so that they could be returned to their home country.
Macau and attempt to return to Japan
Once in Macau, Otokichi, Kyukichi and Iwakichi were welcomed by Karl Gutzlaff, a German missionary and Chinese translator for the British Government. Gutzlaff, who had views on evangelizing Japan, enthusiastically learned the Japanese language from the trio, and with their help managed to make a translation of the Gospel According to John into Japanese. The trio was joined in Macau by four more castaways from Kumamoto Prefecture in Kyūshū, who had been shipwrecked on the island of Luzon in the Philippines.
An opportunity to return them to Japan appeared when the American trader Charles W. King offered to take them back to Japan, again with the hope of establishing trade relations with the country. In July 1837, the seven castaways left with Charles W. King on board the Morrison to Uraga at the entrance of Edo Bay. There the ship was fired on repeatedly, and King was not able to accomplish his objective to establish diplomatic contact. He then went to Kagoshima, but again met with cannon fire, and finally decided to abandon his efforts and go back to Canton. The castaways resigned themselves to a life in exile.
Otokichi's new life abroad
Unable to return to Japan, the castaways started a new life in Macau. They seem to have worked as translators for the British trade legation and British missionaries.
Otokichi is next recorded to have been working for the British trading company Dent & Co. in Shanghai in 1843. He apparently also worked as a crewman on American ships, and worked at helping Japanese castaways to return to Japan on board Chinese or Dutch ships, the only ones allowed to visit the country.
Otokichi married an Englishwoman who later died of illness. Otokichi then married a Malay woman, with whom he had a son and three daughters. He became a naturalized British subject, taking the name John Matthew Ottoson. "Ottoson" is said to have been a transliteration of "Oto-san" (literally "Mr. Oto"), a respectful nickname used by his Japanese friends.
Otokichi is known to have returned to Japan twice, first as a translator on board HMS Mariner, which entered Uraga Port in 1849 to conduct a topographical survey. To avoid problems with Japanese authorities, he disguised himself as Chinese, and said that he had learned Japanese from his father, allegedly a businessman who had worked in relation with Nagasaki.
The second time, Otokichi went to Japan under his British name "Ottoson", in September 1854. He was a member of the British fleet under Admiral James Stirling. The fleet docked at Nagasaki and negotiated and signed the Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty on October 14. On that occasion, Otokichi met with many Japanese, including Fukuzawa Yukichi. He was apparently offered permission to live in Japan, but he chose to return to his family in Shanghai.
Toward the end of his life, Otokichi moved from Shanghai to Singapore, his wife's native island. The British had compensated him generously for his contribution to the treaty with Japan, and he apparently rented a luxurious colonial house on Orchard Road.
- Nakahama Manjirō, another castaway, who went to America 10 years later.
- Hasekura Tsunenaga, who went to The Americas on a diplomatic mission in 1614, on the Japanese galleon San Juan Bautista.
- Tanaka Shōsuke visited the Americas 1610
- William Adams (sailor), English pilot of Dutch fleet who settled in Japan 1600.
- Christopher and Cosmas, first Japanese to visit England in 1591
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