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A Japanese Robinson Crusoe

Jenichiro Oyabe

Publication Year: 2009

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

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An Introduction

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pp. 1-30

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...

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Preface

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pp. 35-36

“The kingdom of Nippon,” says St. Xavier, “is the delight of my soul.” And to one whose ideas have been trained in accordance with the habits of European civilization, Japan is indeed the land of surprises; not, however, the country, but its people. But how...

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Chapter I. Origin—Childhood

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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...

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Chapter II. Leaving Father’s House

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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...

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Chapter III. At Yezo Island

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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...

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Chapter IV: On to America

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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...

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Chapter V. Crossing Kurile Islands

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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...

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Chapter VI. On Russian Soil

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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...

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Chapter VII. Sent Back to Japan

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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...

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Chapter VIII: Wandering on the South Sea

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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...

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Chapter IX. At the Ryukyu Islands

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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...

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Chapter X. In the Chinese Empire

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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...

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Chapter XI. Voyage to America

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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...

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Chapter XII. Darkest America

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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...

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Chapter XIII. Light of America

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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...

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Chapter XIV: In American Schools

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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...

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Chapter XV. At the Capital—University Life

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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...

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Chapter XVI: Lecturer—Visiting Europe

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pp. 150-149

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...

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Chapter XVII. Studying at New Haven

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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...

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Chapter XVIII. Vision of Future Work—Ordination

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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...

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Chapter XIX. Departure from America

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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...

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Chapter XX. At the Hawaiian Islands—Return to America

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pp. 173-185

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...


E-ISBN-13: 9780824861278
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824832476

Publication Year: 2009

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Subject Headings

  • Missionaries -- Japan -- Biography.
  • Japanese -- United States -- Biography.
  • Oyabe, Zenʼichirō.
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