Pre-1778 Japanese Contact With Hawaii?

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Ross Bender

Nov 1, 2022, 3:14:39 PM11/1/22
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Captive Paradise: A History of Hawaii by James L. Haley (St Martin's Press, 2014) notes the possibility of Japanese contact with Hawaii before the arrival of Cook in 1778. While Cook believed he introduced syphilis to the islands, the author speculates that the disease may have come earlier from Spanish, Portuguese, or Japanese visitors.

He cites an article in the Hawaiian Journal of History (Vol. 10, 1976) by Wythe Braden -- "On the Probability of Pre-1778 Japanese Drifts to Hawaii." Braden notes proof that a Japanese  junk that had been blown off course by a typhoon arrived in 1832 with four survivors aboard. There are other less reliable reports.

While the article is over forty years old, there is apparently now DNA evidence that some ancient Polynesian ancestors may have come from East Asia, specifically Taiwan. 

Perhaps there is some Japanese scholarship on this issue. I wonder if the notion of early Japanese contact with Hawaii is as far-fetched as it may seem.

Ross Bender
Pre-1778 Japanese Drifts to Hawaii.pdf

William Farris

Nov 2, 2022, 3:06:26 AM11/2/22
         I don't know about Japanese contact with Hawaii prior to 1778, but your email contains a howler:  Japanese ships, with the exception of the KenTooshi, were not junks.   Only the Chinese made junks.  All of this is explained in my articles for the Mariner's Mirror ad nauseam.

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Charles De Wolf

Nov 2, 2022, 3:07:03 AM11/2/22

A message from Honolulu:

Though ignorant of winds, tides, and DNA and being by no means blessed with a good sense of direction, I am nonetheless something of an Austronesianist and can say with confidence that there is indeed a Taiwan-Hawai’i linguistic connection.  The Hawaiian language is, of course, Polynesian, Polynesian belonging to Malayo-Polynesian, the descendants of whose sister branch of the Austronesian family, are the indigenous languages of Taiwan. In most of the dialects of Rukai, for example, the word for ‘eye’ is maca [matsa]; in Hawaiian, it’s maka, cf. Samoan mata. The hypothetical Proto-Austronesian form is *maCa. 

But none of this has anything to do with Japanese. As it happens, I've been puttering about again with Konjaku Monogatari, which includes various tales of wild winds that bear terrified sailors to new and strange places--but hardly as far away as Hawai'i...


Charles De Wolf

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