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Manjiro

A fourteen-year-old Japanese boy when the novel opens. He is the sole provider for his family because his father is dead. He is in a boat fishing off the Japanese shore when a storm blows in, which gets the boat and the fishermen lost at sea. While lost at sea, each fisherman is telling of his hopes and dreams.

Manjiro blurts out that his dream is
to become a samurai. They all know this cannot happen because samurais come from samurai families, and Manjiro comes from a fishermen family. Manjiro is always eager to learn. He excels at learning while onboard the American whaling ship. He becomes endeared to the captain, so Manjiro decides to go to America to live with the captain as his son. Manjiro faces prejudice and ridicule while he lives in America but he always perseveres.
As a man, Manjiro returns to Japan. He learns how read and write in Japanese during his imprisonment upon his return. He goes to fulfill his dream of becoming a samurai. He also works with diplomats and officials of both countries to form a peace agreement between America and Japan.

1

Captain Whitfield

Captain Whitfield is the captain of the John Howland, which is the ship that rescues Manjiro and the other fishermen. While the captain has to be stern as the leader of the ship, he is also a kind man.
He encourages Manjiro to ask a lot of questions and always try to help Manjiro to learn whatever it is he wants to learn.
The captain extends the offer to Manjiro for him to go to live with the captain in Massachusetts. The captain also gives up his life as a ship captain to buy a farm and remarry so that Manjiro can live a normal life.

The captain is a selfless man that is always looking out for Manjiro. Eventually, the captain goes back to sea to make more money to help support his family. The captain is a very loving man that treats Manjiro
as if he is his natural born son.

2

Goemon

Goemon is a boy that is the same age as Manjiro. He is also one of the fishermen on the boat that gets lost at sea. While Manjiro is always eager to learn English and things on the boat, Goemon is very resistant to learning anything. Goemon chooses to live on Oahu with the other fishermen, but does return to Japan with Manjiro when they are adults.

3

Toraemon

Toraemon is another one of the fishermen on the boat when it gets lost at sea. He too lives on Oahu. Toraemon chooses to remain living on the island of Oahu when the others return to Japan.

4

Denzo

Denzo is the oldest and the one in charge of the fishermen. He is the leader and decision maker throughout the novel when it comes to the Japanese fishermen. Denzo presents the offer to Manjiro about living with the captain. Denzo even allows Manjiro to make his own decision about it. Denzo returns to Japan with Manjiro and Goemon.

5

Jusuke

Jusuke is another one of the fishermen that gets lost at sea. He lives on Oahu with the other Japanese fishermen. He dies prior to Manjiro returning to Oahu to rescue the men and return with them to Japan.

6

Jolly

Jolly is one of the American sailors on the John Howland. He is always very mean to Manjiro and the others. He is prejudiced and says racists things to them and tries to make life for them difficult. When the captain fires Jolly, Jolly is the one that steals the captain's pocket watch and tries to frame Manjiro for the theft.

When Jolly and Manjiro serve on another ship together later, though, Jolly's opinion and treatment of Manjiro changes. At this time, Jolly tries to protect Manjiro against the wrath of the captain.

7

Itchy

Itchy is one of the sailors on the John Howland. He also turns out to be Captain Whitfield's neighbor in Massachusetts. Itchy lives in the home with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Aken. Itchy also sails again with Manjiro on the other ship, where a mutiny takes place, and Itchy appoints Manjiro as the harpoonist for the whaling mission.

8

Mrs. Albertina Whitfield

Albertina Whitfiled is Captain Whitfield's second wife. He goes to marry Albertina in New York and then returns with her to the farm to help him raise Manjiro. Mrs. Whitfield ends up giving birth to William Henry. She is always very supportive and loving toward Manjiro, treating him as she would her own child.

9

Terry

Terry is a boy that is Manjiro's age, when Manjiro starts living in Massachusetts. Terry is fishing when he sees Manjiro fall off his horse. The two boys become fast friends. Terry teaches Manjiro American things and Manjiro teaches Terry Japanese things.

10

Tom

Tom is also a boy that is Manjiro's age. Tom is constantly tormenting and taunting Manjiro. Tom has a reputation for being tough. It turns out that Tom's bruises, scratches and injuries are from his father beating Tom.

11

Job

Job is one of Tom's friends. Job tries to defend Manjiro against Tom's torment. Job ends up becoming friends with Manjiro and Terry.