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Gerald P. Rooney - President & CEO, Whitfield-Manjiro Friendship Society, Inc.

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

What is the connection between Fairhaven, MA and Japan? Fairhaven, MA is the location of the home of Captain William Whitfield where Manjiro Nakahama became the first Japanese person to live in the USA in 1843 having been rescued by the whaler, John Howland, from New Bedford in 1841. In 1987 a group of officials from New Bedford and Fairhaven travelled to Tosashimizu, Kochi Ken, (Manjiro’s home town) and signed a “Sister City” agreement. Since that time, our organization has carried on that relationship with alternating “Manjiro Festivals” in Fairhaven and Tosashimizu. Our latest festival was on October 7th this year. We hosted 24 visitors from Tosashimizu for the weekend and all shared a joyous exchange.

What does your organization do?

Our organization operates the Whitfield-Manjiro Museum at 11 Cherry Street, Fairhaven. We have had over 11,000 visitors from all continents except Antarctica (We are waiting for polar bear). We also schedule and conduct tours of the Manjiro Trail, eight locations pertinent to Manjiro’s life here. Of course we keep an on-going relationship to Tosashimizu. We are also in the process of rehabbing the old horse stable to a cultural center with great assistance from four classes of the New Bedford Vocational High School.

What are the benefits and challenges of your work with Americans and Japanese?

Given that my wife, Ayako, is Japanese, I have always had a personal relationship with Japan. Thus, my work is a continued interaction with Japan and its people. My first encounter with Japan came as the last of 31 countries I visited in a 3.5 year journey around the world by bike and motor-scooter. Having been born in Cambridge, I was brought up in Wilmington from which I started my world travels. Upon my return I located to New Bedford to assist a Sacred Heart priest whom I had met in Japan. It was at that church I met my wife who had come to live in New Bedford while attending U-Mass, Dartmouth.

When I finally retired, I used my 250+ pages of diary to write the book about my “world education” in order to share it with those who might be interested.

What is your favorite thing about Boston?

Boston is always a great historic reference for us to recommend for the many whose goal is to visit us in Fairhaven.

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