Tokujo Maru

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The Tokujô Maru was a rice cargo ship which became castaway in 1813. Its crew were perhaps the first Japanese to set foot on the North American mainland.

The ship became castaway at sea in late 1813 or early 1814. The rudder was broken by waves, and fierce storm winds forced the crew to cut down the mast. The ship then floundered, out of sight of land and at the mercy of the waves, for many months, until only the captain, a man by the name of Jûkichi, and two crewmen, remained.

Finally, in early 1815, some 17 months after the ordeal began, the crew were found and rescued by the American fur trade ship Forester, captained by a William J. Pigot. The three Japanese men were taken aboard the Forester roughly 300 miles west of Point Conception, California, and were brought to the mainland. It's unclear exactly where they landed, but it may have been at Refugio Ranch. Captain Pigot and Jûkichi were met there by some fifteen men, who provided them horses to ride inland some three miles; this would be the first time Jûkichi rode a horse. Jûkichi spent ten days in New Spain, and recorded that he found the clothing and customs quite interesting, but was repulsed by the sight of the slaughter of cattle; meat was only eaten very rarely in pre-modern Japan, and animals were thus not raised or slaughtered for such purposes.

The other two Japanese crewmen were eventually brought ashore, and all three were nursed back to health. They were then taken, aboard the Forester, to Alaska, and then to Kamchatka, where they were able to secure passage on a Russian ship to travel the rest of the way home to Japan. One died along the journey, but the last two surviving Japanese men made it back to Japan in late spring 1816.

Jûkichi is said to have suffered financial hardship and isolation for the rest of his life; he devoted some of his attentions to attempts to have a memorial erected for his lost crewmen. The first Japanese to set foot in California, he died in 1853, just a few years before his countrymen began traveling overseas more freely overseas than they had in centuries.


  • Michael Redmon, "An Accidental Asian Tourist in the 1800s," Santa Barbara Independent, 8 December 2015.