Picture books are great introductions to a topic, a person, or event, that older students might find of interest -- and the story of Manjiro is certainly an adventure that might interest many readers.
In 1841, a Japanese boy, Manjiro was shipwrecked and swam to an island with the rest of the crew. This was during a time when citizens exiting or entering Japan were routinely killed. Thus there were no exchanges between the United States and Japan. However, an American whaling ship rescued the crew and Manjiro who, it is thought, became the first Japanese person to live in America. Eventually he returns to Japan taking with him information about America that both intrigue and interest his fellow Japanese. He is often cited as making a major contribution to American -Japanese relations, but his experiences also illuminates the immigrant experience during this period of time.
Emily Arnold McCully, the author/illustrator of Caldecott Award book Mirette on the High Wire (Putnam, 2000), and my favorite, Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor (FSG, 2008), writes of Manjiro in a picture book, Manjiro (FSG, 2008).
Use McCully's book Manjiro to introduce full length novels (fiction), Heart of a Samurai by Margi Peuss (Amulet, 2010) and Shipwrecked: The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy by Rhoda Blumberg (HarperCollins, 2001).