by Dorthea Calverley
The forty-year sojourn of Buddhist monks [on the Pacific coast] under leader Hoei-Shin is discussed in some detail in our chapter on Missionaries. This refers to a voyage from China to the area around Vancouver, BC in the year 458 AD and return of the expedition in 498 or 499 AD, recorded in the Chinese yearbook of records for the latter date. Some scholars completely reject this tale as impossible but Russian scientists claim to have proof that Asian geographers had knowledge of the Americas in 1500 B.C. Accepting the negative judgment about that tale, we cannot take anything but a positive attitude to Thor Heyerdahl’s well-known westward voyage across the Pacific and the 1963 eastward voyage of the Japanese, Heri Kenichi from Japan to San Francisco single-handed on a 19-foot sailing boat. They are well documented.
The eminent E. McKechnie, M.D., lecturer on the History of Medicine in the University of British Columbia brings out further evidence of possible intercontinental movement besides the Bering Strait in his book, Strong Medicine.
He states that “the earliest explorers found evidence that the survivors of wrecked Japanese junks had married Indian women.” He also recounts that about the year 1639 the Japanese government ordered all junks to be built with open sterns and large square rudders to make them unfit for ocean navigation, because an Imperial decree in 1637 had attempted to enforce isolationism, with the death penalty for anyone traveling abroad, studying foreign languages, introducing foreign customs or practicing Christianity. In bad weather such junks soon lost their rudders outside the protected inter-island waters, so that the vessels fell into the troughs of the waves and rolled their masts out. Those that did not sink at once were washed by the Kuro Shiwo current at the rate of at least ten miles a day towards the Aleutian Islands and then south along the western coasts of North America. McKechnie writes: “Some junks arrived with a few of their crew members still alive after a drifting voyage that averaged eight to ten months, the longest recorded being seventeen months. The Junks were all Japanese, … (and) were ‘often’ washed up along the western coast of Canada and were the prime source of copper and iron for the natives.”
There is also a well-authenticated account of a Japanese junk, loaded with crockery of the flowerpot and blue willow pattern, wrecked on what is now the Washington coast in the 1800’s. Seventeen survivors landed of whom two men and a boy were rescued from slavery to the Indians by the crew of the Hudson’s Bay Company vessel, Llama. The Bay men tried to return them to their homeland, but whether they got there is unknown and irrelevant.
The Haida Myths compiled by Marius Barbeau shows that the Coast Indians had legends about immigrants from Asia. One is related about the “Volcano Woman.” It opens with the lines: “Six canoe loads of people sailed out of the bitter seas, once long ago. They were on their way towards the sunrise. Although they called themselves Fugitives, (in flight from enemies, they were really seekers of a warmer climate and a promised land ….”
“These Fugitives, according to legend came to occupy the front rank of at least three seafaring nations of the North Pacific Coast–the Tlingits of southern Alaska, the Tsimshian of the mainland south of the Portland Canal and the Haida of the Queen Charlotte and Prince of Wales Islands. Their customs and culture were introduced and adapted to their new-found homeland.” (McKechnie, Strong Medicine, p.8)
There is no reason to believe that these recorded landings were necessarily the first. As long as the Japan Current has followed its modern course–which may have been tens of thousands of years–there could have been periodic influxes of Asiatic peoples.