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New Book From Japan

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

A new book entitled “RanaldMacDonald” has been written by FOM International member and English teacher, Ms. Yuko Imanishi, who lives in the suburb of Nagoya, Japan.  The book is being published by “Bungeisha Co., Inc.” with a release date of June 15, 2013 [the price is 1,400 plus tax].

The book is written in Japanese and 218 pages long and is described as the story of an American who entered Japan when the nation was closed to the outsiders and ended up being the first “native English-speaking” English teacher in Japan [5 years prior to Commodore Perry’s first visit to Japan in 1853.]

Ms. Imanishi came across the story of Ranald MacDonald in 2009 during a visit to her friend in Astoria, Oregon while on vacation in May of that year.  Imanishi first saw the Ft. Astoria birthplace monument of MacDonald while taking a walk in this small town off the Pacific Ocean.  It was quite an awakening for her when she read the inscribed words “the first English teacher in Japan”.  An English teacher herself, Ms. Imanishi became intrigued; she studied and read many books about MacDonald, leading to a fascination with this remarkable American.  MacDonald’s adventurous, fearless and forward-looking attitude – which was based on his belief that all people are basically the same – stimulated Imanishi’s imagination and her ‘need’ to write about him.  MacDonald’s positive attitude and belief in people and his subsequent fearless endeavor in Japan was quite unusual – even unthinkable – under the iron fist of the Shogunate at that time.  How incredible was MacDonald’s “story” and yet how little-known it remained!  This realization fueled Imanishi’s desire to write a book that would enlighten more people in Japan about the extraordinary individual named Ranald MacDonald.

"Ranald MacDonald" by Yuko Imanishi名古屋市郊外在住の英語教師でマクドナルド友の会国際会員でもある今西佑子女史は、この度 ラナルド・マクドナルドと題する本を書き上げ、来る6月15日に株式会社文芸社より初版第一刷発行の運びとなった。【価格(本体)1,400円+税】

日本語で書かれた218ページに及ぶこの本は、“鎖国下の日本に密入国し、日本で最初の(ネイティブ)英語教師となったアメリカ人の物語”と、解説されている。 更に、帯表紙には、「ペリー来航の五年前、単身日本にやって来たアメリカ人がいた!」とある。

今西女史は2009年5月の連休に友人を訪ね初めてオレゴン州アストリアを訪れた際、ラナルド・マクドナルドの物語に出会った。 太平洋に面した田舎町アストリアを散策中、史跡フォート・アストリアで“マクドナルド生誕の地”と書かれた記念碑に出くわし、更に「日本で最初の英語教師」と日本語で刻まれて居る文字を読み驚きを覚えた。 彼女自身英語教師でもあった事から興味をそそがれ、マクドナルドに関する本を読み、研究するに従い、この偉大なるアメリカ人の虜になった。 マクドナルドの冒険心と恐れを知らない、基本的に人間は皆同じ・・・との信念に基ずく前向きな態度に心を打たれた今西女史は想像力を掻き立てられ、彼に関して本を書く必要性に迫られた。マクドナルドの前向きな姿勢と人間への信条、恐れを知らない日本での行動は異常・・・と言うか、当時の鉄拳将軍の時代には到底考えられない事であった。 しかし、このマクドナルドの信じ難い“物語”はごく限られた人にしか知られて居ないのも現実である!この事に業を煮やした今西女史は、より多くの日本人にラナルド・マクドナルドなる偉大なる人物をもっと知り理解してもらいたいとの啓発心から、本書執筆に踏み切ったのであった。

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.”

Editorial: Astoria has a long memory

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Friends of MacDonald tend the flame of a great 19th century adventurer

Posted: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 9:11 a, Daily Astorian

In the pantheon of 19th century adventurers, Ranald MacDonald’s story is one of the more astounding. Born at Fort Astoria in 1824, MacDonald was the child of a Scotsman and a Chinook Indian princess, daughter of Chief Comcomly. He went to sea on a whaling vessel, with the intention to be shipwrecked in Japan, which had excluded foreigners for some 200 years. MacDonald’s plan worked, and he brought the English language to Japan.

Writing in Eminent Astorians, Frederik L. Schodt says MacDonald: “ … is a classic example of an individual who, overcoming great odds, did something heroic then fell through the cracks of history.”

Over lunch last Saturday at the Bridgewater Bistro, the Friends of MacDonald held its 25th annual meeting. The Friends group had its genesis following the 1988 placement of a memorial stone at Fort Astoria park. On that marker, MacDonald’s story is told in English and Japanese. Local leadership from then-Astoria librarian Bruce Berney and Japanese money were the winning combination.

The Japanese make a bigger deal of MacDonald than we Americans. A woman from Kyoto traveled to the Friends of MacDonald lunch, as did the Japanese Consul from Portland.

It is said that through biography we give life to the dead. Reminding Astorians that a story of global accomplishment began here is important. The Friends’ gathering reminds us that the Columbia-Pacific region has long been a cultural crossroads.

Cities are living things. They are in a constant cycle of deterioration, death and renewal. And they have memories.

MacDonald Scholarship Established on Rishiri

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

The “Daily Souya” newspaper, dated Dec. 11, 2012, reports that a scholarship fund named “MacDonald’s Encouragement  Study Fund” has been established on Rishiri Island.  A committee to support and manage the Fund has also been formed with Mr. Kyoji Furukawa as its first President.  Since the beginning of 2012 the leaders of Rishiri Island held a series of meetings intended to get the ground work done for devising a scholarship fund which would benefit the students of the only public high school on the island and in particular to encourage them to study English.  One or two top students will be chosen from the  English-language class and will be sent to America – to Oregon and/or Washington – to experience American life and to further encourage their English language skills.  The program hopes to nurture the type of “internationally-minded person” who will become a human asset to Rishiri Island and will help to sustain the prosperous and happy life-style of Rishiri Island.  Committee members hope that this program will encourage more students to attend Rishiri Public High School [whose student body is in decline].  We at Friends of MacDonald happily and enthusiastically go “on record” in fully supporting the “MacDonald’s Encouragement Study Fund” and it’s exchange program.

For those of you who are interested in assisting this fledgling program by either donating funds or hosting a student from Rishiri – or both – please contact Friends of MacDonald at amm@friendsofmacdonald.com .

“Nanakorobi Yaoki” ~~ “七転八起” ダルマ精神

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013


“Nanakorobi Yaoki” is translated to mean “seven times down, eight times up” —  another way to say “never give up hope”.

The Daruma is a traditional Japanese doll modeled after Bodhi Dharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism.  Daruma has a design that is rich in symbolism and is regarded as a talisman of good luck to the Japanese. These ‘dolls’ are seen as a symbol of perseverance and good luck, making them a popular gift of encouragement.  They are usually made of papier-mâché, have a round shape, are hollow, and weighted at the bottom in a way that each doll will always return to an upright position when tipped over. This characteristic has come to symbolize the ability to have success, overcome adversity, and recover from misfortune.  Due to this, Daruma is often illustrated alongside the phrase “Nanakorobi Yaoki”, translated to mean “seven times down, eight times up”, another way to say “never give up hope”. The eyes of Daruma are often blank when sold. The recipient of the doll fills in one eye upon setting the goal, then the other upon fulfilling it. In this way, every time they see the one-eyed Daruma, they recall the goal.

Knowing what we do about Ranald and his seemingly boundless desire and energy to explore and participate in his world, I can easily imagine that he would have been delighted to have had a Daruma – with all of the projects he managed to document, it’s likely he would have used up several of them in his lifetime.  If there is anyone we can think of that epitomized the notion of “try, try again” it definitely was our friend Ranald MacDonald.