A couple of weeks back, I visited The Mayflower Pub in the Rotherhithe district of London where the Mayflower apparently docked before it set sail from Plymouth, England in the direction of Virginia in the New World. With a two-month delay, the merchant ship finally took off mid-September at the height of an Atlantic autumn storm. Fighting the elements were 102 English men, women and children, who, eventually blown off course to land in Cape Cod fought through a harsh winter. Thanks in great part to the indigenous Wampanoag, half of the original crew survived.
Some two hundred years later, in the autumn of 1832, an Edo (Tokyo)-bound 14-man cargo boat that left Mihama, Japan was also blown off course, this time landing more than a year later on the northwest coast of Washington state. Among the three to survive on the mastless and rudderless boat was young crew hand, Yamamoto Otokichi, who, after years of trying to return back home, ended up becoming a translator and a British citizen, inadvertently setting up a trade agreement between Japan and Great Britain. Following the signing of the Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty in 1854, the US and Japan, with the insistence of US Commodore Matthew Perry, also formalized trade. It was 1858 .
Almost two centuries on, we are a fourth-generation family of travelers to the New World, each of us marked by a storm of our own generation. For my grandfather, it was returning from his westward travels to an imperial Japan. For my mother, it was entering post-WWII enemy territory and a segregated Kentucky, USA. For me, like Yamamoto, it has been choosing family in a sovereignty-seeking UK over eligibility to return to a single-citizenship Japan.
We are in a kind of globalization adolescence. As part of our new world seascape, my generation and my children’s must simultaneously navigate closed borders and open pandemics. Attorney and Health Care Activist, Elizabeth Edwards says that whether we make it or not has largely to do with how well we adjust our sails in the face of these storms, by which I think she means that adjusting the sails is sometimes the only way forward. I concur. I too have yielded my thoughts in voice and in ink to inch forward, giving up a little before it’s time to adjust the sails all over again.
September 16th was Mayflower Day. Wishing everyone many days of adventuresome sailing this autumn. And good luck making the delicate adjustments to your sails.