Yamamoto Otokichi

  • Other Names: James Matthew Ottoson

Yamamoto Otokichi was one of three Japanese castaways, along with two men named Kyukichi and Iwakichi, who came ashore in the Pacific Northwest in 1834, and then journeyed to England, China, and elsewhere in their efforts to return home.

Their ship was somehow disabled just off the coast of Japan, floundering and floating all the way to the west coast of the United States. Found by members of the Makah Indian tribe, they were at first enslaved, then later turned over to a sea captain of the Hudson Bay Company. They were later allowed to make their way to England, and to China, in efforts to find their way back to Japan. The group arrived in Japan in 1837 aboard the American ship Morrison, a ship out of Macao carrying a number of American missionaries who were hoping to show goodwill by returning the castaways. Instead, the ship was fired upon by shogunate forces, and driven away.

Otokichi ended up settling in Shanghai, while the others did so in Singapore and Macao. Otokichi himself married an Englishwoman, became an English subject, and took on the name James Matthew Ottoson, later settling in Shanghai, marrying a Malay woman, and working as a translator and agent for a British trading company. He visited Nagasaki once in 1849 pretending to be a Chinese, and later re-entered Japan in 1854 as an English subject and interpreter for a British mission led by Sir James Stirling seeking to determine Japan's position in treating British and Russian ships, while the two countries were at war with one another (in the Crimean War).[1] Following the negotiations, Otokichi was offered the opportunity to return to Japanese society, but chose instead to return to his new home of Shanghai.


  • Matt Matsuda, Pacific Worlds, University of Cambridge Press (2012), 233-237.
  1. Mitani Hiroshi, David Noble (trans.), Escape from Impasse, International House of Japan (2006), 223.