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A Japanese Robinson Crusoe

A Japanese Robinson Crusoe

Jenichiro Oyabe
Greg Robinson
Yujin Yaguchi
Copyright Date: 2009
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    A Japanese Robinson Crusoe
    Book Description:

    First published in 1898 and long out of print, A Japanese Robinson Crusoe by Jenichiro Oyabe (1867–1941) is a pioneering work of Asian American literature. It recounts Oyabe’s early life in Japan, his journey west, and his education at two historically Black colleges, detailing in the process his gradual transformation from Meiji gentleman to self-proclaimed "Japanese Yankee." Like a Victorian novelist, Oyabe spins a tale that mixes faith and exoticism, social analysis and humor. His story fuses classic American narratives of self-creation and the self-made man (and, in some cases, the tall tale) with themes of immigrant belonging and "whiteness." Although he compares himself with the castaway Robinson Crusoe, Oyabe might best be described as a combination of Crusoe and his faithful servant Friday, the Christianized man of color who hungers to be enlightened by Western ways. A Japanese Robinson Crusoe is flavored with insights on important questions for contemporary Americans: How does one "become" American? How is Asian American identity formed in response to the conditions of other racial groups? When and how did the Asian American "model minority" myth emerge? A new introduction provides a provocative analysis of Oyabe’s story and discusses his years abroad in the context of his later career, placing the text within both American and modern Japanese history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6127-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. An Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)
    Greg Robinson and Yujin Yaguchi

    The year 1898 saw the United States transformed from a continental power into a Pacific and Asian empire. On May 1, just days after the U.S. government declared war on Spain, Admiral George Dewey launched an attack on Manila, and a full-scale invasion of the Philippines followed in July. In December, as a result of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War, the United States took over the overseas territories of the defeated Spanish empire. In addition to seizing Puerto Rico and imposing a protectorate over Cuba, Washington annexed Guam and occupied the Philippines—setting off another war...

  4. Preface
    (pp. 35-36)
    Jenichiro Oyabe
  5. Chapter I Origin—Childhood
    (pp. 37-42)

    Early one summer evening, when the air was pure, the earth moist, and graceful old pine trees, waving in the breeze, were playing their peculiar music together with the surge’s roar on the cragged beach, “Shipwreck! Shipwreck! Fire! Fire!” came the sudden shout from the simple-hearted fishermen who had been mending their nets on a peaceful shore.

    While these men were preparing a life-boat, several strange black vessels rushed amid circling clouds of smoke into the bay. Soon the “stars and stripes” were flung to the gentle wind, and the sailors boldly cast anchor in waters where no foreign vessels...

  6. Chapter II Leaving Father’s House
    (pp. 43-48)

    Most miserable and worthy of the most profound pity is such a being as a foster-child. I met again with inexpressible suffering in the sudden death of my good patroness, the aunt.

    In those days, I had a desire to come to the capital and to devote myself to higher studies. So I took my share of the property, to which I was entitled on the death of my mother, and started for the city of Tokyo, a distance of more than three hundred miles. I walked all the way. As soon as I arrived at the capital, I entered...

  7. Chapter III At Yezo Island
    (pp. 49-54)

    A young man is naturally strong and vigorous. He has a great variety of thoughts and feelings. Having many thoughts, his wisdom and wit gush forth like a spring of water. Having much feeling, his heart is easily moved. He has strong impulses, therefore he loves an active life rather than a quiet one. Truly, youth is like a glorious day of spring. It is the time of seed sowing, and whether this seed grows or decays depends upon the care taken of it. There is no other season so dangerous for a man as the days of his youth....

  8. Chapter IV On to America
    (pp. 55-60)

    The hoar-frost lay glittering on the tender grass. The forest leaves had changed their deep green color to yellow and red, and the first winter winds were wearily sighing.

    “Oh, how wondrous rare the autumn scenes are! Only yesterday the summertide was here, and now it is dead. So comes and goes our life. At the longest, how short it is! But though so short and so full of meaning, yet here on this desolate isle, for no crime I have committed, I find myself a lonely exile. I have no relative to comfort me, neither do I see any...

  9. Chapter V Crossing Kurile Islands
    (pp. 61-65)

    Now, my next plan was to cross the Kurile Islands, North Siberia and Alaska. So I tried to discharge my faithful servant, giving him plenty of provisions, clothing, and some other things which I bought in the town. But my man refused to go back to his old home, and asked me to take him wherever I went, even to America. I wanted to very much, but, on account of the scarcity of provisions, I dismissed him and urged him to go back home and carry my message to the old chief.

    From the port of Nemuro I took passage...

  10. Chapter VI On Russian Soil
    (pp. 66-70)

    Paramushur Island—so I spelled the name after hearing the pronunciation of the Norwegian captain—is located to the southwest of Cape Lopatka in Kamchatka.

    I was now landed alone on that island and walked here and there to see if any house or human being existed there. But I could scarcely find anything as far to the north and east as the eye could range from snowy hill to sparkling iceberg.

    I took snow and rolled it again and again until it became a large snowball about five or six feet in diameter. I made dozens of them and...

  11. Chapter VII Sent Back to Japan
    (pp. 71-77)

    Our good ship carried us safely to the port in Kamchatka. It was very near daybreak. The moon and the dawning sunlight, mingling together, made the white sparkling ice cliffs along the shore more glittering than a solid diamond hill, as Milton imagined it. By its contrasted brightness, we saw clearly the harbor’s indigo horizon, and we entered the port without calling a pilot.

    The wind was cold, and every drop of seawater that came upon the deck froze immediately. The ironwork around the vessel became so cold in this severe weather that, if we touched it with bare hands,...

  12. Chapter VIII Wandering on the South Sea
    (pp. 78-84)

    The Bonin Islands lie in the Pacific, extending in a direction nearly north and south between the latitudes of 26° 30" and 27° 45" north, the centre line of the group being the longitude about 142° 15" east. The group consists of three large islands, Peel, Buckland and Stapleton, or rather, in the native names, Father, Mother and Brother. These isles were known to the Japanese at a period as far back as 1675, and were described by them under the name of Bunin Shima, signifying “uninhabited island,” whence the English term Bonin.

    The splendid Father Island rises like a...

  13. Chapter IX At the Ryukyu Islands
    (pp. 85-92)

    We were favored by the southwest trade-wind, and had a delightful run of twenty days; and with nothing to interrupt the uniformity of sea life we entered Port Naha in Okinawa Island.

    The islands known as the Ryukyu group are said to be thirty-six in number. They lie between 20° 10' and 28° 40' north latitude, and 127° and 129' east longitude. Formerly these islands were ruled by a king who paid an annual tribute both to Japan and to China. But in 1878 the whole island kingdom was annexed to Japan.

    Okinawa, where Port Naha and the capital are...

  14. Chapter X In the Chinese Empire
    (pp. 93-99)

    A bright spring day very nearly changed the appearance of nature into that of a sooty monster, the sun showing on a far-off western mountain peak just two or three inches. The evening wind, passing through the old pine forest, together with the bird’s song which echoed among the deep glens, made wild music. The far-distant hills looked so dark against the sky that they could hardly be distinguished from the mass of clouds. A silvery cascade hung on the slope of a hill like white silk on a weaver’s frame, and a long stream flowed about the crooked bases...

  15. Chapter XI Voyage to America
    (pp. 100-107)

    Courage and perseverance carry all before them. I had overcome many difficulties and now arrived at the city of Tientsin. After I had rested two or three days, my friend told me of an American merchant ship that was anchored in the port. He told me the captain all about me and asked him to take me to the United States at the cheapest rate possible.

    The captain was a kind-hearted man. He told my friend that he would take me to America at the cost of my rations. I paid the money and remained in the ship, and two...

  16. Chapter XII Darkest America
    (pp. 108-116)

    Old Robinson Crusoe was cast upon an uninhabited island of the sea, but nature had abundantly provided him with food and a climate that was always warm, so that a man would not suffer though he had no house or clothing.

    But I, the poor stranger, was now landed in a thickly inhabited and most civilized and thriving city. My heart was not at ease, for my situation was more dangerous than on a bare island where one could freely get fruits and game. I had far more difficulties than Robinson had, for though there were all sorts of the...

  17. Chapter XIII Light of America
    (pp. 117-124)

    Americans are not an isolated, independent race like the Chinese, but embrace peoples of all nationalities that have been naturalized or were born in the United States. Once I heard a speech from a curly-haired black on the anniversary of Washington’s birthday. “Gent’men! we are de born ‘Merican citizen, de chi’dren ov George Washin’ton!” The name “American citizen” was a matter of pride even to that black. I knew a young Jew in New York, whose father had lived in that city about fifteen or sixteen years, who was forbidden to eat pork or anything cooked with lard, and who...

  18. Chapter XIV In American Schools
    (pp. 125-133)

    My academy was strictly Christian; the principal was a well-known Christian worker in the city. In my studies I was interested in my Bible above all other books. My service in the government hospital was very rewarding, too. The head doctor was a man who took close interest in me and gave me his confidence and love. I had no trouble whatever with my living, as I was receiving a fixed salary from the government, besides the nice board, a room, and everything else.

    But, once in a while, when I thought of my poor Ainu people, how they were...

  19. Chapter XV At the Capital—University Life
    (pp. 134-140)

    For many days I had prayed fervently for a chance at higher education, and now I had the answer. I could not let go this opportunity, for I had my long-cherished plan still in view, and also I had heard that my father in Japan was getting old and was waiting for my return. Moreover, the spring term of the university had just begun, and my promise to the kindhearted president must not be broken. For these reasons I could no longer wait for the arrival of the General. I left a letter for him and finished all my business...

  20. Chapter XVI Lecturer—Visiting Europe
    (pp. 141-149)

    The sweet summer was quickly gone, and the bright autumn took its place in the world, where the seasons are like a treadmill. I returned to my school again with good health and strength. My kind president and the mistress were greatly rejoiced when they found me at home again. The madam, with her motherly smile, got busy ordering her old English lady, the cook, to prepare some of the choicest food that I liked the best. “The fish and rice is better for ‘im!” was the cunning joke of a sweet Irish waitress, also in the president’s household.


  21. Chapter XVII Studying at New Haven
    (pp. 150-157)

    Though a traveler may not be in a hurry, yet he will not feel happy when the steamer in which he is taking a trip is running too slowly. Neither is it a very pleasant thing to see another steamer coming far behind and within an hour or two passing his own slow sailer. The boat that I took from Marseilles was an extraordinarily slothful one. I felt rather sorry for our captain every time we came into connection with a fast steamer that passed us. In the middle of the Atlantic one day, however, we met with the U.S.S....

  22. Chapter XVIII Vision of Future Work—Ordination
    (pp. 158-164)

    When I was in New Haven I used to preach somewhat in the local churches, and I also gave lectures in the city and in many different towns; thus I had a good opportunity to visit the old historic spots in the New England states.

    One vacation day I went to Newport and visited the old home of Commodore Perry and saw his bronze statue in Touro Park. My heart was greatly moved, because he was the first man who went to Japan and opened her gates to the Western world. And ever since the great American republic and the...

  23. Chapter XIX Departure from America
    (pp. 165-172)

    Some time before I came to Washington I made an application for service under the Hawaiian Board of Missions and forwarded it to my friend in Honolulu, who was its secretary. The secretary in his answer officially invited me to come to the island as a missionary of the Hawaiian Evangelical Association. “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him,” are words that now became real to me. I thanked the Lord that my prayer had been heard.


  24. Chapter XX At the Hawiian Islands—Return to America
    (pp. 173-186)

    Tall strange-looking tropical trees, coconut and palm, grow on the shore where burning lava once flowed like water and ran to the base of a horrible fire mountain. The natives live very much like those in the South Sea Islands and have grouped together in palm-thatched huts which characterize their native villages. Each village has one or moremorai, enclosures serving as cemeteries. In the middle is a temple, where the priests alone have a right to enter. They contain several idols of wood, rudely sculptured. At the feet of these images are deposited and left to putrefy the offerings...