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海の祭礼-Festival of the Sea – Translated into English by Prof. Stephen Kohl

Sunday, June 28th, 2020

Preface by Stephen Kohl, Sirius Woods, 2019

Festival-of-the-Sea.jpg           I first met Mr. Akira Yoshimura in the autumn of 1988 at a meeting of the Friends of MacDonald in Tokyo. I had read Umi No Sairei (Festival of the Sea) and was fascinated to hear him speak of the countless trips he had made to Nagasaki to gather materials for that book. I suggested that I thought it would be a good idea to translate this work into English. There were several reasons for this. First of all, putting the text into English would make it available to an extended audience. Secondly, at that time the only account of Ranald MacDonald’s adventure in Japan was his autobiography – which was necessarily limited to what MacDonald himself had personally seen and experienced. Festival of the Sea provides a much broader context for MacDonald’s story by showing us how it appeared from a Japanese perspective. Yoshimura’s work also concludes with an extended account of the career of Moriyama Einosuke, MacDonald’s star “pupil”. This establishes the true value and legacy of MacDonald’s experience in a way that Ranald MacDonald himself never knew.

          After that initial meeting with Mr. Yoshimura, time passed and in 1997 Jo Ann Roe published Ranald MacDonald: Pacific Rim Adventurer, which began to put MacDonald’s experience into a broader context. In 2003 Frederik L. Schodt published Native American in the Land of the Shogun: Ranald MacDonald and the Opening of Japan. In this work, he provided much more context and relied on numerous Japanese sources including Umi no Sairei, but still, we see the story primarily from Macdonald’s perspective. I felt that Yoshimura’s work provided an important counterpoint perspective, so I undertook to make a translation. I wrote to Mr. Yoshimura, and with his encouragement, I did make a rough translation, but life intervened and I never did accomplish more than a rough draft. Then Mr. Yoshimura died and the project languished. In 2017, however, Mr. Sekikawa Natsuo invited me to participate in a symposium at the Yoshimura Akira Memorial Library. I was unable to do so, but Mr. Sekikawa’s enthusiasm inspired me to go back and revise my earlier draft of the translation and bring it to completion.

          Yoshimura Akira was born into a merchant family in the downtown (Nippori) section of Tokyo.  From an early age, however, he was more interested in literature than in business.  Through his college years and beyond he wrote and published stories, and in the late 1950s and 60s several of his works were nominated for the prestigious Akutagawa Prize [a Japanese literary prize awarded semiannually for the best work of fiction by a promising new Japanese writer]. Although he was never awarded that prize, his reputation was firmly established in 1966 at the age of thirty-nine with the publication of The Battleship Musashi (Senkan Musashi). In this work he pioneered a new genre, what has come to be called “documentary fiction”. He collected detailed information from historical records and from interviews with people involved to explain the significance of the construction of the Battleship Musashi. In the process of describing the building of the ship, he also created an essay on the nature of modern war. His insight was that, engaged in modern, all-out war, the Japanese people had to use everything in their power to try to prevail. The symbol for that effort was the Battleship Musashi. In the end, of course, it was a failed effort, but nevertheless it was a valiant and committed effort which reflected the dedication and commitment of the Japanese people as a nation. That was what Yoshimura celebrated in his work.

          Although Yoshimura continued to write fiction with contemporary settings, he is primarily known for his history-based documentary fiction, and from 1980 on his interest turned to late Edo-period Japan. Since he could not interview the participants in the events he dealt with, he thoroughly researched the diaries, letters, and other documents pertaining to his subject. He made repeated trips to the site where events took place to the point where he could even actually describe the weather at the time and place certain events occurred. We might way that even though he was writing fiction, he included as little fiction as possible in his works. Yoshimura hinted at a possible reason for this: in a middle school composition class, he once wrote an essay entitled “My Father’s Hand” – and although his father was alive and well at the time, in the essay he described his father’s body laid out in a coffin. On the back of his father’s hand was a large mole, which he caressed with his fingertips. He wrote that this was the first time he had experienced the sensation of touching his father’s skin – as the eighth of none sons his father had never taken him by the hand and he had therefore never had the opportunity to touch his father’s skin. Yoshimura’s teacher thought this was an excellent essay and read it aloud to the class, but when his father read it he was furious, shouting, “You have written something here which has no basis in fact!” Perhaps it was from this experience that Yoshimura showed such devotion to getting the ‘facts’ right.

In his historical fiction, Yoshimura often wrote about those who had been overlooked in historical accounts. Frederik Schodt has described Ranald MacDonald as “a man who did an extraordinary thing and then fell through the cracks of history”. In this sense MacDonald was a prime subject for Yoshimura’s pen. Moriyama Einosuke, who figures prominently in Festival of the Sea, is another case in point. Having proven himself as Japan’s most accomplished interpreter of English, Moriyama played a crucial role in crafting the Bafuku’s (Shogunate) first treaties with all the other countries of the world. Moriyama negotiated with Commodore Perry, and later with Townsend Harris, but he also negotiated treaties with all the other European countries that demanded a role in the opening of Japan. In the 1850s and 1860s, Moriyama was virtually the only person who knew both sides of the equation – what a treaty said in English and what it said in Japanese. Both sides relied on him to ensure that they agreed on the same things. He continued with his work under enormous pressure, for truly the destiny of the Japanese Nation was on his shoulders. Once the new Meiji government took power, Moriyama disappeared from sight until Yoshimura redirected our attention to him. Moriyama’s disappearance from the scene was only partly due to the fact that the new Meiji government wanted its own interpreters, not those of the old Tokugawa government. It was also the case that Moriyama was simply burned out by the time the regime change too place. Some historians have held Moriyama responsible, unfairly in my opinion, of having led Japan to agree to ‘unequal treaties’. Indeed, those treaties he helped negotiate were unequal, but they also protected japan from being colonized by one or more of the Great powers, yet the indignity of the treaties rankled and some blamed Moriyama. So for many reasons Moriyama had been largely ignored by historians until Yoshimura illuminated his crucial role in the opening of Japan.

          We see something similar in the case of Hori Tatsunosuke, another interpreter and contemporary of Moriyama, about whom Yoshimura wrote in his historical novel Kurofune. Hori is known to history as the first Japanese to have a meaningful encounter with Commodore Perry’s squadron. He stepped aboard the Susquehanna and uttered three words in English: “I speak Dutch.” Hori was recognized as a man of competence as an interpreter of Dutch, but he had the ill luck to be stationed in Edo during the winter of 1848-49 and so was unable to receive tutelage in English from Ranald MacDonald. Throughout his career he was overshadowed by Moriyama who, thanks to MacDonald, had a greater facility in Spoken English and was able to consort more comfortably with foreigners. So, Hori experienced frustration and embarrassment, but he persevered, and in the end was able to make the transition to the new Meiji government which Moriyama did not (could not) do. And Hori compiled a Japanese-English dictionary – which Moriyama had begun to do but had not completed. Hori also became a respected teacher of English, an endeavor Moriyama rarely had time for.  In Yoshimura’s telling, perseverance paid off for Hori and in his own way had made a meaningful and lasting contribution to the opening of Japan. But he, too, has been largely forgotten. Yoshimura recognized this and clarified Hori’s role in history.

          One of the hallmarks of Yoshimura’s historical fiction is the celebration of those forgotten figures who, through their dedication and perseverance, have made meaningful and lasting contributions. Certainly we see this in Festival of the Sea where Ranald MacDonald had the courage and determination to wade ashore alone in a country where foreigners were forbidden to set foot, and in Moriyama, who stood exposed and alone as Japan’s spokesman to the other nations of the world. These were remarkable men who did remarkable things, and Yoshimura Akira was the bard who brought their stories to life. ~ S.K.

Gates Ajar June. 2020 Vol.32 No.1 ~ Following in the Footsteps of our Illustrious Ancestor: Ranald MacDonald by Emily Cole

Sunday, June 28th, 2020

Ranald MacDonald was the first son of Hudson’s Bay Company Chief Factor Archibald McDonald. Our mother, Jean Murray Cole, Archibald MacDonald’s great-great granddaughter, has written extensively about both Archibald and Ranald. My sister Catherine and I were raised on stories of their adventures.


Cole sisters at MacDonald Monument, Rishiri Island

On August 25, 2019, we travelled to Rishiri Island to see where Ranald landed in 1848.

Catherine lives in Edmonton, Alberta and works as a heritage consultant. I live in Toronto, Ontario and where I work as a lawyer. We flew from our respective homes in Canada and met at the Sapporo airport to board the plane to Rishiri Island.

Mr. Eiji Nishiya welcomed us at the Rishiri Island airport, and that evening we met with him and two teachers from Rishiri High SchView "Emily and Toshi at the peak 2019"ool, Mr. Toshi Kano and Ms. Mayumi Nakanishi, to discuss our itinerary for the next few days. The next day Mr. Nishiya and Catherine hiked Mount Pon (444M) and Mr. Kano and I climbed to the peak of Rishiri Fuji (1790 M). Catherine and I enjoyed the onsen in the hotel that evening. 

            Mr. Nishiya gave us a tour of the Island by car on our second day on Rishiri; we visited Ranald MacDonald’s landing place with the monument commemorating his arrival as well as the place where he was imprisoned. We were quite moved as we stood on the beach. It was a windy day and we could imagine how Ranald felt as he navigated his small boat towards the island. We each collected a stone from the landing place as a memento. Mr. Nishiya also introduced us to some local fisher-people who were preparing sea urchins they had harvested. They cracked one open and invited us to taste the fresh uni. Mr. Nishiya collected a glass float from near their cabin for each of us to take home as a souvenir. Little did we know this would not be our last fishing experience on Rishiri.  Later that afternoon, we visited Rishiri High School where we were greeted by the Principal and Vice Principal. We were surprised to learn that the school has 71 students and 24 teachers. This is a very high ratio of teachers to students compared to North America. We then went to Ms. Nakanishi’s classroom of students aged 15-16 years old. Catherine gave a PowerPoint presentation to the students about Ranald’s early life and his later years in North America. Several of the students gave presentations about Japanese culture and food and Rishiri Island flowers. They presented us with beautiful cream puffs and a local drink so that we could sample Japanese sweets. They then asked us questions about Canada. We gave the students tokens of our appreciation: Canadian flag pins and Hudson Bay Company bookmarks. That evening Mr. Nishiya, Mr. Kano and Ms. Nakanishi joined us for dinner at the Rishiri Island Inn. The next day, we visited the museum in the morning and went sea kayaking in the afternoon. To our surprise, we were not paddling, but fishing in the Sea of Japan!  Catherine caught a 14 kilogram hamachi fish. We took the hamachi to our hotel in hopes the chef would prepare it for us. The hotel declined so Mr. Nishiya took the fish to a sushi restaurant. That evening we talked about how fortunate we were to have started our first visit in Japan on Rishiri Island and experience the warm and generous hospitality of our host Mr. Nishiya, Mr. Kano and Ms. Nakanishi.  

We met at the hotel on the morning of our last day on the island. Mr. Nishiya and Mr. Kano took us out for ramen at the famous restaurant. It was a very stormy day and we wondered whether we, like Ranald, would remain on Rishiri but went to the airport and were able to fly to Sapporo, connect to Kyoto and, after a week of meetings, eventually Tokyo.  We met Ranald MacDonald scholars, Mr. Yuji Aisaka and Ms. Yuko Imanishi, for dinner at a restaurant on the Kamo River in Kyoto.  We also met Profs. Toshi Tanaka and Norie Yazu of the Japanese Association for Canadian Studies and enjoyed tori-suki at a restaurant in Tokyo.  

We look forward to a future visit when we’ll be able to go to Nagasaki to follow that chapter of Ranald’s story. On return to Canada, Catherine spoke to the Japanese-Canadian Seniors Group in Edmonton about our experience and they were very interested to learn about Ranald’s life. Next year is the 40th anniversary of the sister province relationship between Hokkaido and Alberta.

We really appreciated the generous hospitality extended to us by all of the people who hosted us on Rishiri Island, in Kyoto and in Tokyo. We hope to continue to build relationships with our friends in Japan through Ranald’s story and look forward to our next visit.   

     ~~ Emily Cole