Japanese drawing of Otokichi in 1849, as he visited Japan passing for a Chinese man.

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.[1]

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.[2]

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

Japanese drawing of the Morrison, anchored in front of Uraga in 1837.

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.

He died there at the age of 49, in 1867. Otokichi was buried at the Japanese Cemetery of Singapore. Half of his remains were returned to his hometown of Mihama in Japan on February 20, 2005.

See also


  1. ^ *Webber, Bert (1984). Wrecked Japanese Junks adrift in the North Pacific Ocean. Ye Galleon Press. ISBN 0-87770-290X. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Yamamoto Otokichi — Dessin japonais d Otokichi de 1849, quand il visita le Japon déguisé en Chinois. Otokichi (山本音吉, Yamamoto Otokichi, plus tard connu sous le nom de John Matthew Ottoson ; 1818 janvier 1867) était un naufragé japonais originaire d Onoura près… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Japanese Cemetery Park — The Japanese Cemetery Park (Kanji: 日本人墓地公園; rōmaji: Nihonjin bochi kōen ) is a cemetery and park in Hougang, Singapore. It is the largest Japanese cemetery in South East Asia at 29,359 square metres, consisting of 910 tombstones that contain the… …   Wikipedia

  • Japan–United Kingdom relations — This page describes the history of the relationship between the United Kingdom and Japan. This began in 1600 with the arrival of William Adams (Adams the Pilot, Miura Anjin ) on the shores of Kyūshū at Usuki in Ōita Prefecture. During the Sakoku… …   Wikipedia

  • Sakoku — A Chinese junk in Japan, at the beginning of the Sakoku period (1644–48 Japanese woodblock print) …   Wikipedia

  • James Mitose — Infobox martial artist name = James Mitose residence = other names = Masakichi imagesize = 180px caption = James Mitose at age 58 birth name = Masayoshi Mitose birth date = birth date|1916|12|30 birth place = Kailua Kona, North Kona District,… …   Wikipedia

  • Furuhata Ninzaburō — is a Japanese television series that ran periodically on Fuji Television from 1994 until its final episodes (specials) in 2006. It was written by Japanese playwright Koki Mitani.It is a police detective drama starring actor Masakazu Tamura as… …   Wikipedia

  • Christopher and Cosmas — were two Japanese men, only known by their Christian names, who are recorded to have travelled across the Pacific on a Spanish galleon in 1587, and later accompanied the English navigator Thomas Cavendish to England, Brazil and the Southern… …   Wikipedia

  • Tei Gordon — Tei A. Gordon (ゴードン禎) Gordon Tei , born June 2, 1970), pronounced Tay, is an American educated, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist and has lived all through out the Pacific Rim, including Oregon, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, California, and… …   Wikipedia

  • Onna no Michi — Single by Shiro Miya and the Pinkara Trio from the album Onna no Michi B side Okinawa no Hito Released May 10, 1972 (1972 05 10) …   Wikipedia

  • Sakoku — (鎖国, Sakoku?, littéralement « fermeture du pays ») est le nom donné à la politique isolationniste japonaise, instaurée lors de la période Edo (précisément entre 1641 et 1853) par Iemitsu Tokugawa …   Wikipédia en Français

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.