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Why ‘Gates Ajar’?

Friday, July 5th, 2013

2013 05 11 Astoria

In the course of explaining exactly what and who the Friends of MacDonald are to our guests and new members, the idea and concept – if not the actual words themselves – of “Gates Ajar” pops up. This expression and these words are more than just the name of our committee’s newsletter.

When asked, we usually begin by explaining that Ranald MacDonald – though not the “first” person to do so – was the first native-English speaking person to “teach” English in Japan. Following this explanation, it has often been asked just how the 14 samurai who were Ranald’s pupils could have picked up their English proficiency so quickly – in a mere 7-months time. No doubt each of these men were ‘special’ in their own way, obviously being of high rank in Japan and quite capable, otherwise they would not have been among those chosen for the special assignment of learning English from this very peculiar and unusual foreigner. The truth is, most, if not all, of these men were already ‘employed’ as translators and cold have been considered linguistics experts; each had been studying English, perhaps for years, from the Dutch translators at Dejima. Their Dutch teacher/translators, however, spoke far from ‘perfect’ English. Using Moriyama Einosuke (perhaps the best known of Ranald’s pupils) as our example, we know that when he first met with Ranald he could already read and write English with a certain amount of fluency, and history tells us that Moriyama could also “speak” English, though with such such a heavy Dutch accent so as to be frustratingly unintelligible to native English speakers. But Moriyama and the others could read and write in English; they understood basic English vocabulary and syntax – all that was needed was some rather intense work on pronunciation, and Ranald was more than up to the task.

But back to the expression “Gates Ajar”. What could this rather ambiguous catchphrase mean in the context of an historical committee?

When Ranald approached Japan in July of 1848 her borders were sealed, her windows, doors and gates closed and virtually locked tight against the influences of the outside world. But by the time he left 10 months later there was a small breach in Japan’s armor, and the gates had been left open just a bit … ajar.

The third issue of the FOM newsletter, dated Fall 1989, introduced its distinctive title of “Gates Ajar”. There really is no mystery: the phrase comes from page 98 of MacDonald’s own autobiography where he wrote: “… I came thus to play my humble part in the drama of ‘Gates Ajar’, of west and east, in the world of the Pacific.”

Gates Ajar – Spring 1993

Sunday, March 28th, 1993

100 Years Ago:  1893 was Ranald’s year of trial …

Ranald MacDonald, then 69 years old, was living as Fort Colville, Washington.  He and his Ontario editor, Malcolm McLeod, had fleshed-out the story of Ranald’s Japan adventure.  During 1891 and 1892, in response to McLeod’s insistent demands for money to publish the book, Ranald pleaded for loans, attempted to mortgage his ranch, and sold subscriptions – desperate efforts to raise a few hundred dollars.  he recorded his failures in a heartbreaking series of letters, now among the McLeod papers in the Provincial Archives at Victoria, B.C. ~~~

” … My cousin, who understands the circumstances, unfortunately has not the available cash …”  ” … Money is very tight, more especially after the fire and rebuilding of Spokane …”   ” … It is impossible to avoid a feeling of disappointment and mortification …”

McLeod, meanwhile, was apparently writing to Ranald about his own financial problems, and Ranald was quick to sympathize.

“Thanks to kind providence we have plenty to eat and the broad Columbia passes our door — no fear of thirst,” Ranald wrote in late 1893.  He tells of banks closing, hard times and his own poor health.  Yet he remains optimistic:  he thinks he can sell 100-150 copies of the book, once it is published.

A month later, Ranald writes again, this time saying he is disheartened and disappointed to learn that, after a year, the Book is no closer to publication.

His natural optimism returned quickly; he approached a local newspaper about publishing his book.  One professional newspaperwoman, excited about the book, offers encouragement but is unable to find a publisher; she did select several chapters to be printed in the Kettle Falls Pioneer beginning in November 1893.  Within a year, the Pioneer had published Ranald’s obituary.  His book was not to see its first publication for more than 30 years; its second, for almost 100.

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FOM paid membership grows …

Friends of MacDonald paid membership has climbed 150% during the past year, bringing income g=from membership to within $69 of the budget, according to Chairman Mas Tomita.  Lyn Hadley, who has computerized and reorganized the mailing list for faster access, says that the current roster lists 233 names, including courtesy mailings to Honorary members. Account reports from the Clatsop County Historical Society, of which Friends of MacDonald is a committee, indicate that FOM has almost reached its $1800 budget goals for the 1992-93 budget year and has established a sound financial base of operations.

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1994 Turoda tour plans underway …

Plans are moving forward for FOM’s 1994 Centennial Tour to Turoda, Washington, and the grave of Ranald MacDonald, who died August 5, 1894.  Current thinking favors a four-day bus tour in June or October.  it would include Fort Vancouver, museums in Spokane and Colville, Washington, which house MacDonald memorabilia; the house in which MacDonald died, and the Indian cemetery where he lies buried.  Some interest has been expressed in a longer tour, including visits to Forts Kamloops and Langley in British Columbia, Nisquilly in Washington and Astoria  Plans are still open to member opinions and suggestions (see FOM address, pg 4) but should be completed this Spring.

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OPB considers feature film …

Oregon Public Broadcasting has tentative plans underway for a documentary film which will focus on the story of Ranald MacDonald.  A draft script has been completed, according to a report to FOM members, and the station is now seeking necessary funding.  Michael McLeod, who wrote the draft script, claims no relationship to Malcolm McLeod, Ranald’s friend and editor.  Mike based the script on Herbert H. Gowen’s Five Foreigners in Japan and Ranald’s Narrative of His Life; FOM reprinted a chapter from the first book and assisted the Oregon historical Society in reprinting of the second.  Any members interested in participating in the project are invited to call or write FOM Chairman Mas Tomita, 3950 NW Aloclek Pl., Hillsboro, OR  97214; 503.645.1118.

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A Return To Japan

FOM Chairman Bruce Berney and his son Mark traveled to Japan in late summer of 1992, following the path of Ranald MacDonald from Lahaina in the Hawaiian Islands to Rishiri and Nagasaki.  It was Bruce’s first trip to Japan since he taught in Toyama 30 years ago and he visited friends of that era as well as Friends of MacDonald throughout Japan.

IT WAS A FANTASTIC homecoming.  The generosity of friendly people who welcomed us in Tokyo, Toyama, Nagasaki, Sapporo and Rishiri Island surely sets a new standard for visits here from our Japanese Friends of MacDonald.

We left Seattle on August 15 and spent one night at Lahaina, Maui, Hawaiian Islands, to see the town from which Ranald MacDonald sailed for Japan.  We were thrilled to see two houses which he would have known:  the 1847 Masters’ Reading Room and the 1838 Baldwin Home.  We stayed at the Pioneer Inn, built in 1901 and later expanded.  It is the oldest and cheapest hotel in town, but if you like atmosphere, I recommend it.  Although overrun with tourists, Lahaina is rich in history and should be considered as a destination for FOM members.

We were greeted in Tokyo by FOM/Japan Chairman Mikio Kawasaki [Oregon’s trade representative in Tokyo] and Dr. Masaki Takahashi of Sapporo, and Mrs. Ishihara led us to the gravestone of Moriyama Einosuke, MacDonald’s most famous pupil.  On, then, to Toyama, where we spent three nights with the family of Dr. Atsuro Oshima, my Japanese brother, in whose home I lived 30 years ago.  Mother Oshima is beautiful as ever.  Sister Hiroko came from Nagoya to help, as her English is very good.  Among Toyama highlights:  a visit to the minister of education and new principal of Chubu Hugh School, to whom I told the MacDonald story; a jazz party, at which I met three of my former students; and a folk dance festival in the village of Yatsuo.  It is my pleasure, but not my doing, that Oregon and Toyama are sister cities.  next, FOM enthusiast Yuji Aisaka accompanied us to Osaka and Dr. Morokuma had planned a MacDonald seminar, well-attended.  They also took us to the Nagasaki Prefectural Library for a press conference.  The librarian, Mr. Ishiyama, showed me the valuable manuscript of the official report of MacDonald’s stay at Nagasaki and gave me a photocopy of it for our library.

Then:  sightseeing, including a visit to Deshima, the partially restored site of the Dutch factory from which MacDonald was deported; Daihian, a house at the location of the hermitage where MacDonald was incarcerated, and a memorable lunch at the famous Fukiro restaurant near the shrine which serves the Daihian neighborhood.  Yuji, who joined us for the tour, made sure we arrived at Nagasaki Airport in time for our flight to Sapporo.

We were welcomed to Sapporo by Dr. Takahashi, Dr. Zengoro Terashima of Hokkaido Women’s College, Takahashi Shiroshita of TV Hokkaido, and the bright lights of his camera crew.  The following day, we met with the vice-governor of Hokkaido, the president and executive director of Sapporo International Communication Plaza Foundation, and a reporter for Hokkaido Shimbun Press, lunched with several other FOM enthusiasts, and visited the Historical Museum of Hokkaido, where Hideshi Seki showed us models of boats believed similar to those in which MacDonald traveled the Japanese coast.

Dr. Takahashi and Tak Shiroshita and his TV camera flew with us to Rishiri Island.  Among those who greeted us at the airport:  Hideo Iwashima, my guest last year and the first Rishiri Islander to visit MacDonald’s birthplace.  (It was pointed out that my son mark is the second native Astorian to visit Rishiri – MacDonald being the first.)

Highlights of Rishiri:  visits to the Rishiri and Rishiri-Fuji city halls, to two beaches on which MacDonald may have landed, to the ancient customs house up an ancient stone stairway MacDonald may have climbed, to historic shrines … There was a tour of Rishiri Museum, including an excellent Ranald MacDonald exhibit, and guided by curator Eiji Nishiya, and a tour around the island with Mr. Furukawa and our interpreter, Lisa.  Our lodgings were in a tatami room of the beautiful new Rishiri hotel, especially memorable because of the formal banquet held there in my honor.  The next night, Mr. Iwashima hosted a sukiyaki farewell party in his popular gift shop, the Marine House.  Close friends later took us to the dock for our overnight ferry ride to a port near Sapporo.  We rested the next morning at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Takahashi, who later put us on the flight to Tokyo.  There, an FOM dinner climaxed our adventure and included presentation of a new middle school English text (Chuko Shuppan Press) which devotes five pages to “The First American Teacher”.

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Book Presented

A copy of The Attic Letters, Ume Tsuda’s correspondence with her American mother at the turn of the 20th century, has been presented to the Astoria Public library by FOM-Japan member Akiko Ueda, who is one of the editors.  Tsuda (1864-1929) was one of the first five girls sent to study in America by Japan’s Meiji government in its effort to modernize the nation.  The book is available on inter-library loan; call number is 952.03.

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Fall Luncheon Proves Success …

Chairman Mas Tomita and Vice Chairman Bruce Berney reported to an October 24 meeting of FOM members on their trips following MacDonald’s path.  Mas recalled his brief but exciting trip to Toroda, where he accompanied a Hokkaido TV team on a visit to the grave of Ranald MacDonald.  Details are told in the Fall 1992 Gates Ajar.  Bruce, whose journey to Japan in late summer is recounted in this issue, told of visiting sites Ranald might have visited and also of his meetings with FOM and other friends.

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Author to lecture in Astoria April 17 …

Dr. James P. Ronda, author of Astoria and Empire, will speak at the Astoria public Library at 3 pm Saturday, April 17, discussing “Astoria and the Wilder West”.  The event is sponsored by the Astor Library Friends Association.  Following the lecture, there will be an informal no-host dinner with Dr. Ronda.  For reservations, call Bruce Berney, Astoria, Oregon, Public Library, 503-325-7323.  Dr. Ronda’s book is the first scholarly treatment of the 1811 Astor Expedition, which built the first American settlement on the Northwest coast, since Washington Irving’s Astoria appeared in 1834.  Fort Astor, later Fort George, became the birthplace of Ranald MacDonald in 1824.

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Recommended Reading: FOM Chairman Mas Tomita recommends FOM member JoAnn Roe’s new book, The Columbia River: An Historical Travel Guide ($15.95 softcover) to “those interested in Indian heritage.”  For those interested in the MacDonald family’s role in the Northwest, he suggests member Jean Murray Cole’s Exile in the Wilderness ($30; University of Washington Press).

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Suggestions from friends …

DAVID H. WALLACE of Coquitlam B.C., who has studied and written about Ranald MacDonald, writes FOM to report that he recently has prepared a typescript of the only known actual Ranald MacDonald manuscript of his Japan visit, now in the Provincial Archives in Victoria, B.C.  it is the basis of McLeod’s text. [A copy of the original is in FOM Archives.]

“It shows MacDonald a little less flowery than McLeod would make him appear and also shows his interest as a British Imperialist … [This poor word is so maligned today – at one time it was quite respectable to be a British Imperialist, especially in Canada,” Wallace writes.]  He also suggests that the “MacDonald country” map printed in last fall’s Gates Ajar be expanded to include the Canadian sites which figured importantly in Ranald’s life.

Author JEAN MURRAY COLE also asks, in connection with the1994 tour, if it could include Fort Langley, where Ranald spent the “most memorable years of his childhood with the family — 1828 to 1833 …”  She mentions also the archeological work around Fort Colville – and is seconded in that interest by DON STERLING, retired editor, who suggests that the tour include information about Indian settlements of the area.

[Diverse member interests may lead to some “tour extensions” for those with more time to travel.]

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