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Samuel Wells Williams

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Samuel Wells Williams was the Chinese & Japanese interpreter and translator on Commodore Perry's voyages to Ryûkyû and Japan.

Williams was a Protestant missionary based in China, and had been to Japan once previously, in 1837 aboard the Morrison. Though received in Naha, and fed and resupplied, the Morrison was driven away from Japan proper, and was never permitted to make port there.

Williams was then hired by Perry's mission in China, along with Anon L.C. Portman, a Dutch language interpreter. While his Chinese-language reading and writing abilities were valuable for reading and constructing official documents, it is said that his spoken Japanese was insufficient; in their respective diaries, Williams and Bernard Bettelheim, a missionary the mission met in Ryûkyû, are harshly critical of one another's language abilities, manner, and approach.

At Uraga, the Americans were able to communicate well enough with Dutch-speaking Japanese, via the Dutch interpreter Portman, as well as in English at times, and Williams took a secondary role.

Williams is buried in his hometown of Utica in upstate New York. Many of his diaries survive, and are held by the Yale University Library.

References

  • Mitani Hiroshi, David Noble (trans.), Escape from Impasse, International House of Japan (2006), 119-120.
  • Yamaguchi Eitetsu, "Okinawa? Changing Times?" Plenary Panel, East-West Center International Conference in Okinawa, Pacific Hotel, Naha, September 18, 2014.
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