Students trace MacDonald back to Astoria

Japanese teens learn about famous resident’s birthplace ~ By Edward Stratton, The DAILY ASTORIAN,  Oct. 9, 2013

Ranald MacDonald, an Astoria native born at Fort George, landed on the Japanese island of Rishiri 165 years ago, and became the first English teacher in Japan.  During October 2013, two students from Rishiri Public High School visited Astoria to improve their English skills and understanding of MacDonald’s birthplace. They departed for other locations in Washington before heading back to Japan.

Tatsuya Koujiya and Yuuki Komatsu, both 17, arrived in Astoria Oct. 6 with their principal, Hiroyuki Tsukamoto.

“The purpose of it is to encourage the students to learn English and nurture international-minded youth,” said Masaru Yatabe, chairman of the 25-year-old Friends of MacDonald and host and interpreter for the students during their visit to the U.S.

The Japanese newspaper Daily Souya reported Dec. 11 that the communities on Rishiri Island, namely Rishiri and Rishirifuji, established the MacDonald’s Encouragement Study Fund, encouraging students to learn English. One or two top students will be chosen each year from their English-language class and travel to Oregon and Washington to experience American life and encourage their English-language skills.

Tatsuya and Yuuki are the first recipients of the fund. They passed a standardized English test, wrote theses in Japanese about what their goals were during the visit and were interviewed by their principal, vice principal and English teacher.

Tatsuya, a senior at Rishiri, said he was hurt and unable to play for his school’s badminton team. So he looked into the study abroad fund and thought it would contribute to his future. Yuuki, who had never left Japan before, works part time at a restaurant and wants to improve his language skills for when he helps foreign customers.

Yuuki and Tatsuya moved in with the families of 15-year-old sophomores Clay Williams and Ben Williams, respectively (they are not related). They’ve been shadowing their hosts in class, visiting local tourist attractions and the MacDonald monument near Fort George. They also attended a 15-6 AHS junior varsity football victory in Tillamook.

Rishiri’s high school has 96 students compared with AHS’ more than 600. Yuuki said at first it was overwhelming, but that over time Ben and Clay have introduced him and Tatsuya to other students, and that they’ve been enjoying the last couple of days despite the language barrier.

“Anyone going to a new place would feel kind of … nervous and quiet,” said Ben Williams, who along with Clay Williams said their Japanese peers are particularly polite. “The language sometimes is a little bit of a problem.”

The relative freedom and individuality of AHS was something new to Tatsuya and Yuuki, who said their high school environment in Rishiri is much more controlled with a focus on group action.

“Sometimes we feel like we lack the structure, so it’s the meeting of the minds,” said AHS Principal Lynn Jackson about the differences.

The two students and their principal left for Spokane, Wash., this morning, bound ultimately for Republic, Wash., where MacDonald died in 1894. Yatabe said they’ll shadow more students at Curlew High School in northeastern Washington, pay respects at MacDonald’s graveside and visit Mukogawa Women’s University in Spokane, Wash.  Then they will spend two days getting back to Rishiri, traveling through Spokane, Seattle, Tokyo, Sapporo, Japan, and finally home.

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