The Japanese were skilled mariners who, like the Chinese, had the ability to travel great distances on the gyre of currents and the winds cycling around the Pacific Ocean. It is told that a Japanese junk discovered an eastern continent after being blown off course. Although the voyage may not have set out with the intention of exploring the north western coast of North America, the crew of the junk are thought to have wintered in this land, perhaps California, and to have returned to Japan via what is now Alaska. This vague account likely tells the story of numerous Japanese vessels, but refers specifically to an experience recorded during the latter part of the 18th century.
Fearing negative influences from the increasing number of European visitors, Japan closed its islands off from all but the Dutch East India Company in 1640. Japan did not welcome anyone from the outside, sometimes preventing its own fishermen from returning to its shores after long absences. Before Japan’s xenophobia, this policy of eliminating contact with outsiders, began, Japanese vessels had travelled widely. Ancient archaeological evidence excavated in Ecuador includes a piece of pottery with the Japanese Jomon design, decorated with markings made by sticks wrapped in cords. Archaeologists date this pottery to 3,000 B.C.E., over 5,000 years ago. If the dating and source of the pottery is accepted, then it means Japanese goods made their way across the Pacific. Such pottery could have been left by Japanese mariners travelling the same circuit used thousands of years later to pass the Pacific Northwest and head all the way to South America. It is certainly not definitive proof, but it has sparked the interest of historians who can then explore other evidence and accounts to create broader histories that recognize the maritime capabilities of nations beyond Europe.