A Japanese fishing vessel in 1841 sinks and its crew swims to a small unknown island to be rescued by a passing American ship. At the time, the Japanese borders were closed to all western nations so the Japanese sailors are frightened of their captors. They cannot return to Japan because the western ship will not be allowed into port, and even if it was, the fishing crew would end up in prison (or even put to death) as associates of the west. So the crew goes off to America with the western ship, learning English on the way. Our hero is Manjiro, a 14 year old boy, who is very curious and learns everything he can about this new culture. He ends up being adopted by the captain of the western ship and lives for a time in New England. Then he heads to San Francisco to pan for gold, but eventually he makes his way back to Japan where at first he is imprisoned, but then later helps the emperor to lower the wall around Japan. The emperor calls him a samurai, which had always been the boy's dream.