The Other Pleasure of Cruising: Stumbling on Cool Stuff

We interrupt this program for a special cruising report from Fairhaven, Massachusetts

It was rainy this morning here in Fairhaven, where we’ve taken a slip at the Acushnet River Safe Boating Club, across the Acushnet River from that historic seaport, New Bedford. We’re stationary for a few weeks while Tom works on a construction project and I edit a couple of manuscripts. In spare moments we explore our new home by the tried and tested method of stumbling. Analog stumbling. In the real world, which can get sort of weird, even if you don’t hurt yourself.

Regardless of the weather, I needed to get out and stretch my legs, so insisted that we walk toward the center of town and find a place to have coffee. We know the town slightly, have found the highly acclaimed Margaret’s and knew we could go there if we didn’t find another cozy bakery or coffee shop. What we found was Pumpernickel’s which turned out to have coffee, plenty of coze and an amazing array of breakfast specials. It was hard to resist the Garbage Omelete, but Tom chose one egg with home fries, linguica sausage and herb bread toast. I settled on a side order of corned beef hash. Everything was great, especially the toast and the hash. (Both places are now recommended.)

The Fairhaven Spires

Italian Renaissance Milient Library, Fairhaven, MA
Millicent Library and Manjiro Festival Fairhaven, MA

Next we sauntered to the library, which we knew to be:

  1. a block away
  2. one of a set of spired and turreted confections that grace the center of town
  3. probably not open for another hour at least.

Surprise, this gorgeous example of the 1890’s library builder’s art opens at 9 AM every day but Sunday.

There were tents and booths being set up in the street out front, a Saturday market by all appearances. But inside the library we found a display of Japanese art, dolls and whaling artifacts that made us curious. Tom asked what the connection to Japan was and the librarian gave him a map titled “Welcome to the Manjiro Trail.” He tucked it away to look at later.

What the Taika?

Fairhaven, MA Town Hall and Manjiro Festival
Fairhaven Town Hall during Manjiro Festival

The Town Hall, another turn of the century architectural marvel across the street, was also open, strange for a civic building at 10 AM on Saturday. A trio was standing on the front steps singing sea chanties. Continuing our wander we went inside and up the stairs and found this:

taika set up on stage
Taika – Japanese drums, ready for performance by Odaiko at Fairhaven, MA Town Hall

We must have been standing there with our mouths hanging open because a girl came by and asked if we’d like a program. We’d stumbled into the 14th Annual John Manjiro Festival. And just in time too, moments later the drummers came in, playing and dancing, and began to beat upon their drums.

taika performance
The Taika drummers ease their audience into the performance.
physical Taika
At time Taika looks more like a martial art or athletic event than music.

While we listened to Odaiko we read the story of what brought all this Japanese celebration to the whaling seaport of Fairhaven. We’d thought the town was most famous for being the starting port for Joshua Slocum’s historic single-handed circumnavigation on the 36 foot Spray, immortalized in his classic adventure story Sailing Alone Around the World. Little did we know.

The Manjiro Story

“In 1841 a 14 year old Japanese boy went to sea to fish with four friends. Their boat crashed on an island in a raging storm. Months later the “John Howland” whaling ship from New Bedford rescued them. Due to the “closed door” policy of Japan at that time, the Captain of the ship, William Whitfield, was not allowed to take the men back to Japan. He left the oldest four in Hawaii but the youngest, Manjiro, accepted the Captain’s offer to return to the USA with the ship in order to acquire some education.

“Thus Manjiro (Nakahama) became the first Japanese person to live in the USA. In the following years the young foreigner became well known to the townspeople as Captain Whitfield treated him like a son. He went to his first school ever (the Old Stone School) after being tutored by Miss Allen, a local teacher and neighbor of the captain. He later learned higher level math, navigation and surveying at the Bartlett School. After returning to Japan Manjiro was instrumental in bringing the country into the modern world after it’s long isolation.

“Herein we urge you to visit those local site which were pertinent to his life in this area. It was here that the strong ties between Japan and the USA were initiated.”

From Welcome to the Manjiro Trail, Whitfield-Manjiro Friendship Society, Inc.

And there’s the answer to the question of how New England whaling artifacts and Japanese dolls came to share display space in the Italian Renaissance style Millicent Library.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming – Cruising Maine – yeah, sometime soon.

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  1. Hey and Hi!
    Could it be now that the third time will be the charm? I have witten 2 other comments and both times failed to go to the black block and POST COMMENT! *eeish! and damb!

    But perhaps better things will come of it and following the sounds of distant drums?
    What is this I hear about ‘cruisin’ the streets and byways of Fairhaven ?
    Wonderful story about Italian Renaissance style in libraries and city halls and the recued Japanese lad who came to New Bedford and why Japanese drums call you to follow their sound and hear the story of John Howland, the 21 year old indentured servant of Governor Carver, who during the Mayflower voyage in a turbulent storm Howland fell overboard. He managed to grab a topsail halyard that was trailing in the water and was hauled back aboard safely and who’s name graced the whaling ship John Howland that picked up the survivors in the Pacific. Strange elements of fate provided by readers related to participants. Again a wonderful aside to the regular events of Tidal Life.
    Keep listening for those different beats.

    Love you both


  2. Hey Nancy. Been enjoying your blog these last couple of years. Just wanted you to know that you are still remembered back here and that people are reading this. Mark G.
    PS: Get yourself a copy of Robert P Tristram Coffin’s “Coast Calendar”, which is a beautiful look at one year in the life of a Maine coastal farm family. Copiously illustrated in the margins by the author, it is perhaps THE most charming book I have ever read and it somehow reminded me of the old Whidbey. As you are actually down east right now, you will particularly appreciate the subtleties in the very short stories of each month’s passing. Very short reading and very memorable. I just picked up a copy from ABE books or Alibris or maybe Amazon online . 1940 original for several bucks and am very excited to have another copy, the other having been loaned to a Frenchman who disappeared with it.
    Have fun out there and make it a safe winter on the boat. As he was from there, you might find the book in a local used book store. Get that copy and you will want to thank me.
    Mark G.

  3. Love your stories! I live on Whidbey Island (Coupeville) but I was born and raised in Salem, Massachusetts. I’m descended from John Howland of the Mayflower, and I didn’t know there was a ship named after him. Oddly enough, John fell overboard on the way to Plymouth Rock, but he was obviously rescued, or I wouldn’t be writing this.
    Kind of cool that a ship named after him was instrumental in rescuing the boys. It’s fun to stumble on cool stuff. :-)

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