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July 2010 ~ FOM Annual Meeting

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

The day was fair, the turn-out was gratifying and the conversation lively at the annual membership meeting of the Friends of MacDonald held in Astoria, OR over the weekend.  We greeted many old friends and welcomed several new members while enjoying a delicious lunch at the “Baked Alaska” restaurant (shameless plug) on the waterfront overlooking the wide mouth of the Columbia River and the blue-green hills of Cape Disappointment and Chief Comcomly’s Chinook territory in Washington — the same view eyed by the likes of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1805-06 as well as Ranald’s father, Archibald McDonald in November of 1821, the year he arrived at (then) Fort George.

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We were honored to welcome Consul General of Japan in Portland, Takamichi Okabe and his wife, Kozue.  According to Richard Read of the Oregonian newspaper, Mr. Okabe spent three months in Baghdad as an involuntary “guest” of Saddam Hussein during 1990, when Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. [He had been serving as first secretary in Japan’s embassy in Kuwait.] During his next foreign assignment – in Kenya – Mr. Okabe and a colleague braved warfare in Somalia to investigate opportunities for humanitarian aid there. Later in Nepal, Mr. Okabe was posted in Kathmandu when members of the royal family were massacred at the palace.  Most recently Mr. Okabe served four years as Consul General of Japan in Auckland, New Zealand.  In Portland, he is joined by his wife, Kozue, and we all hope that Mr. and Mrs. Okabe will have the opportunity to enjoy the peace and beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

FOM was happy that Mac Burns,scan0005 Executive Director of CCHS was able to take time away from his busy schedule to attend the meeting.  Mac, who was fresh off the “Goonies 25th Anniversary” celebration the week before, noted that over 100 Goonies fans showed up for the grand opening of the Oregon Film Museum in Astoria the previous Saturday, and mentioned that people had come from all over — France, Japan, and from across the United States.  Mac also passed out buttons and other information about the upcoming “Astoria 1811-2011 Bicentennial Celebration” happening next year.  A link to that website can be found here: http://www.astoria200.org/ .  If you have never visited Astoria, FOM encourages you to do so – it is a sleepy little coastal town with a lot of secrets and surprises, not to mention a rich history.

Mr. Tadakazu Kumashiro, Charter Member of the Friends of MacDonald, was also in attendance. After his retirement, Mr. Kumashiro, or “Kuma” (the Bear) as he likes to be called, joined the Peace Corps in 2001 and was stationed in Namibia for a couple of years working for the Namibian government where he promoted AIDS education by visiting schools.  Kuma-san gave talks to students, teachers and school principals about what they should be doing to prevent an AIDS pandemic.  Kuma-san reports that he had to be hospitalized himself four times while he was there – probably, he noted, because of the unfamiliar germs he encountered.  Mr. Kumashiro rather depreciatingly says he thinks he became ill because of his “old age” – he was 67-69 at the time – but having met him myself I have to say he is one of the most vigorous and energetic “seniors” I have ever met [both mentally and physically].

A big “thank you” to Jim Mockford for bringing his laptop so the group could access the new web page. It was the first time most of the FOM members had seen it (we hope it won’t be the last time!)  We all appreciated that the Baked Alaska staff worked so hard to make sure their wireless network was workable for us.  And we missed the presence of Bruce Berney, who was back in Portland celebrating his grandson’s birthday.

During the meeting an interesting, if not recurring, question was presented by Consul General Okabe, e.g., what was the status of Ranald MacDonald’s “citizenship” at the time of his landing on Rishiri Island in 1848?  A second comment [also in the form of a question] was presented by Mr. Okabe and was definitely food for thought – was Ranald MacDonald really the first teacher of English in Japan?

Will Adams, map of Japan circa 1600Map of Japan drawn by William Adams, circa 1600

The Consul General’s second question referred to one William Adams, who, as the British pilot major of the Dutch trading ship Liefde (“Love” or “Charity”) landed off the island of Kyushu in April 1600.  [The true story of Will Adams was the basis of the romantic novel Shogun, written by James Clavell and published in 1975; Adams’ adventures were also documented in the historical novel Daishi-san written by Robert Lund in 1961.]  According to one source “ … soon after Adams’ arrival in Japan, he became a key advisor to the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and built for him Japan’s first Western-style ships. Adams was later the key player in the establishment of trading factories (in Japan) by the Netherlands and England. He died in Japan at age 55, and has been recognized as one of the most influential foreigners in Japan during this period.

William Adams – known in Japan as Miura Anjin –  may have been the first Englishman [Briton] to set foot in Japan; from historical information [including writings from Adams’ own journal] it seems likely that it was the Anjin who needed an interpreter [the ever-present Portuguese Jesuits, in this case] to make himself understood. Prudence dictates that circumstances – and the Japanese people – taught their language to Will Adams, rather than the other way around.

Regarding Ranald MacDonald being the firsranald-ca-1853t American to “set foot in Japan” [the way Will Adams was the first Englishman to do so] we know this just isn’t so.  There were Americans who had visited Nagasaki while in the service of the Dutch during the late 1700’s.  In the mid-1800’s there were scores of American whaling ships in the Sea of Japan, and historical record tells of some crew members that had either been shipwrecked off the Japanese coast or had deserted their vessel to seek their fortunes ashore.  As far as is known, however, Ranald MacDonald was the first American to intentionally go to Japan for the express purpose of learning about the Japanese people and their language and to teach English to them, and to perhaps ‘work’ as an interpreter.  As to the question of Ranald’s citizenship, regardless of the fact that Fort George was under a British flag in 1824, it cannot be denied that half of Ranald’s DNA came from a Chinook Indian mother, a fact that made him a truer “American” than any geographical accident of birth.  Later in his life, through both choice and residence, MacDonald became sufficiently “American” enough to justify that we may say that Ranald MacDonald was the first American to leave his mark upon the people and the nation of Japan, and the first native-English-speaking individual to teach the English language there.

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Gates Ajar – Spring 2009

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

A Pilgrimage to Nagasaki to Meet Obama-san

January 20, 2009 was indeed an historic day, not only for Americans, but also for many people all over the world.  On that day a “New Era” started with the inauguration of the new President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, in Washington D.C.  But where was I on that day?  I was sitting next to another Mr. Obama at a dining table in a Chinese Restaurant in the ANA Nagasaki Hotel in Japan. This white-haired gentleman – about 40 year’s Barack Obama’s senior – was Dr. Masami Obama (83), a gynecologist and obstetrician of Nagasaki City in Japan. Perhaps I need to, 1) introduce who this Japanese Obama-san is, and, 2) explain why I was meeting with him in Nagasaki on January 20, 2009.

Dr. Obama, Mas Yatabe, Mr. Maeda

[left to right: Dr. Obama, Mas Yatabe, Mr. Minoru Maeda]

Dr. Obama has been an active Rotarian for many years and was president of Rotary Club Nagasaki South Chapter in 1988. He was the first Chairman of FOM Nagasaki as well, which was formed on March 6, 1998 [FOM in America’s official organization date was May 20, 1988].  Dr. Obama was the force behind the effort to erect the impressive granite monument of Ranald MacDonald not too far from Dejima in Nagasaki in 1994 as the commemoration of their 30th anniversary of the Chapter.

As I stood across from Ranald MacDonald’s monument in front of this rather large, well-fenced house where the make-shift prison “Daihian” used to be [the so-called jail house “Daihian” stood less than a 10-minute walk from Dejima Island on the way to Matsunomori Shrine near the famous Great Suwa Jinja],  I could not help but imagine Moriyama Einosuke [who would later become chief interpreter for the Tokugawa Shogunate] and 13 other native-Japanese Dutch/Japanese interpreters walking into the house to take English lessons from a native English speaker for the first time in Japanese history. What a significant event that was! The year was 1848 [a full 5 years before Commodore Perry of the East India Fleet of America came to the Uraga port with 4 black ships with a demand that Japan open its doors to American vessels] and a native Oregonian, Ranald MacDonald, was the teacher. Many historians, including Mr. Akira Yoshimura, the author of “Umi-no-Sairei” [Festival of the Sea)] believe the English lessons at Daihian influenced the outcome of the negotiations between the Tokugawa Shogunate and Commodore Perry of the United States of America, which took place several years later. The ability of the native Japanese interpreters to understand and speak English and their knowledge of the current events of the world impressed the American negotiators and raised their level of respect for the Japanese negotiators.

Along my journey to Nagasaki to meet with Dr. Obama and visit the Ranald MacDonald Monument, I met several other remarkable Friends of MacDonald in Japan, and I would like to introduce them to our members (in no particular order):

Mr. Yuji Aisaka of Kyoto is an ex-English teacher and an absolutely amazing person.  Mr. Aisaka was present at the dedication ceremony of Ranald MacDonald’s birth place monument in Astoria in 1988. He has also visited MacDonald’s grave in Toroda, Washington. He attended and observed the Shinto-style dedication ceremony of the Monument of Ranald MacDonald in Nagasaki in 1994.  Moreover, Mr. Aisaka searched out and visited the house where Ranald MacDonald’s father, Archibald McDonald, lived in Scotland!  Mr. Aisaka is perhaps the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic friend of MacDonald around. He has given me books, newspaper clippings, a DVD, a video, etc., all related to MacDonald – and even reference material of Otokichi of Mihama. He says he is in love with the Columbia River – and I believe him!

Mr. Tetsuya Sano of Kobe, a former Hyogo State Representative and one of the Executives of the Hyogo Scouts Association was a leader of the Hyogo Boy Scouts when they erected the Sankichi “Friendship” monument at Fort Vancouver in Washington State in 1989. He and I traveled together with Mayor Koichi Saito and 107 citizens of Mihama in 1997 to the Makah Indian Reservation at Neah Bay, Washington, to follow in the footsteps of Sankichi in the Pacific Northwest.  Mr. Sano presented me with a very interesting book written by the late Akira Yoshimura who authored a book about Ranald MacDonald’s venture into Japan called “Umi no Sairei” [Festival of the Sea]. The book I was given included the episodes behind the book and the research journals of the book Umi no Sairei.

Mr. Minoru Maeda, is a retired English teacher who lives in Nagasaki. Mr. Maeda was at the dinner with Dr. Obama on January 20th and he was the gentleman who kindly guided me around in Nagasaki to MacDonald’s monument, the historic Dejima, the China town and to the splendid Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture.  Mr. Maeda said that in 1988 he was inspired by an article about MacDonald written by Richard Reed of The Oregonian, who was at that time a staff writer for the Daily Yomiuri newspaper.   Mr. Maeda holds a Masters degree from University of Oregon and lived in the Eugene area with his wife and children for 2 and a half years in the 1980s and has many fond memories of Oregon.

Ms. Maiko Midorikawa had just returned from her honeymoon in Tahiti when I met her in Yokohama.  Maiko-san was the ‘go-between’ between myself and Dr. Obama prior to my visit to Nagasaki. She is a graduate of Nagasaki University and thoroughly enjoyed the 3 months she spent a short while ago in the Portland area as a Nagasaki Rotary Club exchange student.

A little more on  Dr. Masami Obama (83), the head of Obama Clinic, who is a true gentleman. He is quite active not only in his profession, but in Rotary club and other civic activities as well. I heard he is an avid golfer who just missed shooting his age by 1 stroke last year. I would like Dr. Obama to come and visit us and enjoy golfing in the Pacific Northwest in the near future.

Mr. Motohisa Shiota of Nagasaki, is another MacDonald enthusiast who was originally scheduled to be at the dinner with Dr. Obama and myself on January 20th, but his health did not allow him to come that day.  I hope he is feeling better by now and that I can meet him here or in Japan some day.

Mr. Eiji Nishiya, is an Executive Director of FOM, Hokkaido. I was only able to speak with Mr. Nishiya on the phone while I was in Japan, but on my next trip to Japan, I am hoping to visit him in Rishiri, Hokkaido and to see the monument that stands near the beach where young MacDonald set foot on Japanese soil for the first time in 1848.

Ms. Yumiko Kawamoto of Tokyo, a noted scholar of not only MacDonald, but of all the historical figures and events leading up to the closure of Tokugawa Shogunate era.

I saw Ms. Kawamoto in November, 2008, but regretfully, we were not able to get together this past January.  However, her advice on the phone prior to my pilgrimage to Nagasaki was invaluable.  Ms. Kawamura was a guest speaker at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland in 2004 along with Frederik L. Schodt who authored a book of Ranald MacDonald called “Native American in the Land of the Shogun”.

I might add that during my journey to Nagasaki I was able to recruit two gentlemen to join us as “International members” of our own FOM. They are Mr. Yoshio Kojima and Mr. Fuminori Marumoto. Mr. Kojima, a graduate of Portland State University in the early1970’s, is a retired English teacher living in Tatebayashi, Gunma.  Mr. Marumoto is president of Kumamoto Kenmin Department Store Ltd. and visited Portland twice in 2007. Kumamoto being not too far from Nagasaki, Mr. Marumoto was quite eager to learn more about Ranald MacDonald.

The most regrettable and truly disappointing thing during my trip to Nagasaki was during my visit to the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture. In this new, $86 million museum [which was completed in 2005] – a wonderful and first class museum by any definition – nowhere did I find even a single mention of “Ranald MacDonald”.  My feelings of disappointment in the Museum’s presentation [or lack thereof] were compounded when I had the opportunity to view a video of the dedication ceremony of the MacDonald monument in 1994 [given to me by Mr. Aisaka after I came back to Portland.]  The dedication ceremony was attended by many of the local government, educational and civic leaders of the Nagasaki area then. Even the Honorable Consul Donald Y. Yamamoto from the US Consulate in Fukuoka was there to give a congratulatory speech – because Ranald MacDonald was a significant figure in the early days of the US-Japan relationship.  How unfortunate that MacDonald’s contribution is completely overlooked by the Museum of History and Culture – a perfect stage to preserve the story of the first native-English-speaking English teacher to Japan if there ever was one.

The closest thing to any reference that the museum had was “… in 1858, the first English School was opened …”  But that event was a full 10 years after Ranald MacDonald was brought to [and subsequently left] Nagasaki!  I sincerely hope that Dr. Obama and other MacDonald enthusiasts can do something about this gaping hole.  My understanding is that the Tokugawa Shogunate had given official permission to have such a class at Daihian in Nagasaki.  It should at least be mentioned somewhere within the museum that in 1848, Ranald MacDonald of Oregon Territory taught the first English to the 14 professional Dutch/Japanese interpreters of Dejima.

I must say that the time I had allocated to spend in Nagasaki on this trip was far too short. My original intention was to meet with and pay my respect to Dr. Obama and to see the Ranald MacDonald Monument and then turn around and go back to Tokyo. I will know better the next time, for sure.