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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.”

Chronological highlights from past Gates Ajar

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

The third issue of the newsletter, Fall 1989, introduced its distinctive title of Gates Ajar.  It comes from page 98 of MacDonald’s 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.”   Below are listed memorable activities as reported in the newsletters.

1989 – 1990

–  FOM held a seminar in Portland.  Principal speaker was Jean Murray Cole, Canadian author and editor and also the great-great granddaughter and biographer of Ranald’s father, Archibald McDonald. Sharing the podium was David Hansen, curator at Fort Vancouver Historic Monument.

–  Vice-chairman Stephen Kohl reported on his year in Japan during which he visited with Japanese FOM members in Tokyo, Nagasaki, and Rishiri.

–  A four page bibliography of Ranald MacDonald materials in English was published.


–  A second edition of MacDonald’s autobiography was published by Oregon Historical Society Press with a grant from Epson Portland Inc.  It featured an introduction by Donald Sterling and an epilogue by Jean Murray Cole.

–  Gift copies of MacDonald’s autobiography were sent to 110 major libraries in U.S., Canada, and Japan.

1992 – 1993

–  Members participated in bicentennial of Capt. Robert Gray’s discovery of the Columbia River by sponsoring Pacific Rim friendship awards.

–  Bruce and Mark Berney visited MacDonald places, making valuable contacts in Lahaina, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Sapporo, and Rishiri Island.

–  Mas Tomita reported on his trip to Toroda to see Ranald’s grave.


–  FOM co-sponsored with Oregon Historical Society a chartered bus trip from Portland to Spokane and Republic, WA to attend a ceremony at Ranald’s grave to mark the centennial of his death.  Many letters of greetings were read, such as from Washington Gov. Mike Lowry, Hokkaido Prefecture Gov. Yokomichi, and Consul General Masaki Saito.  OHS head Chet Orloff gave a talk, and bagpipes played for the assembled crowd from the Ferry County Historical Society of Republic, WA.  Author Frederik Schodt of San Francisco was aboard, planning a book on MacDonald.  At Spokane, Ed Tsutakawa (d. 2006) gave us a tour of the Ranald MacDonald Building at Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute.

–  Hosted a film crew from TV / Nagasaki which was making a documentary on Ranald’s life.

–  Hosted five FOM Japan members at dinners in Astoria and Vancouver, and Yuji Aisaka who visited later.  They told of the unveiling of the Ranald MacDonald monument at Nagasaki.

–  Mas Tomita represented FOM at the rededication of the Sea Drifters (Sankichi) Monument at Fort Vancouver.


–  Traditions begun: birthday luncheon in Astoria, followed by placing a floral tribute at birthplace monument.

–  Statue of Ilchee, Ranald’s aunt, erected by City of Vancouver, Washington.

–  Mas Tomita attended US-Japan Friendship exchanges held by the Cascade Council of Boy Scouts and the Hyogo Scout Council, Boy Scouts of Nippon at the Japanese Sea Drifters (Sankichi) Monument at Fort Vancouver and visits the Ilchee statue.


–  FOM grieved for the loss of our leader, Mas Tomita, who died in July 1996 of congenital hepatitis.

–  Charter member Steve Kohl became chairman.


–  Jo Ann Roe’s book Ranald MacDonald: Pacific Rim Adventurer was published by Washington State University Press.  She was an FOM charter member who attended the monument dedication. The book is particularly good with Canadian sources.


–  Charter member Jim Mockford, former high school Japanese language teacher, became chairman.  A maritime historian, Jim is also active in the group which preserves the tall ship Lady Washington.   On June 27 he led an FOM group reenactment on the Lady Washington of Ranald’s leaving his whaling ship to become a castaway.  Jim also became editor of Gates Ajar.

–  150th anniversary tour of MacDonald’s teaching in Japan, Sept. 10 to 23.  Ken Nakano, (Seattle) guided four other FOM members (Fred Schodt, San Francisco; Atsumi Tsukimori McCauley, Spokane; Massie Tomita and May Tomba, Seattle) to Tokyo, Sapporo, Rishiri, Matsumae, Mihama, and Nagasaki.


–  Canadian author Peter Oliva won a prestigious literary award for his novel City of Yes (McClellan & Stewart, Toronto) which recounts MacDonald’s experience.


–  FOM members, especially Atsumi Tsukimori McCauley, participated in the erection of an interpretive sign at Ranald MacDonald’s Grave State Park, 18 miles northwest of Curlew Lake.

–  Vancouver Volkssporters named a volkswalk for Ranald MacDonald.


–  Ferry County had a Ranald MacDonald Day.  A seminar included Eiji Nishiya, curator of Rishiri museum; Jean Murray Cole, Atsumi Tsukimori, and Fred Schodt.  The day continued with a picnic, parade, barbecue, and a country western dance.


–  Jim Mockford created an FOM display at Multnomah County Library, Portland OR, and at the public library in Battleground, Washington.


–  FOM Japan member Yuji Aisaka went to Australia and uncovered information about Ranald’s boxing prowess.

– Jim Mockford presented a lecture about Ranald MacDonald at Joyo City, Japan, sister city of Vancouver, Washington.

–  Frederik L. Schodt’s book Native American in the Land of the Shogun was published by Stone Bridge Press (The dust cover features MacDonald’s face as found on his monument in Nagasaki).


–  OHS hosted Ranald’s 180th anniversary with a seminar featuring Prof. Yumiko Kawamoto, lecturer at Waseda University, and Frederik Schodt.

–  Gifts of books, 100 copies of Jo Ann Roe’s and 100 copies of Fred Schodt’s, were sent to libraries throughout the U.S., Canada, and Pacific islands.  (See Winter 2007 Gates Ajar for complete list.)


–  Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission selected Ranald’s (OHS) autobiography for inclusion in Oregon State Library’s centennial “100 best history books.”


–  Consul General of Japan in Portland & Mrs. Akio Egawa visited Astoria for Ranald’s 182nd birthday celebration.

–  “Who Is Ranald MacDonald” seminar held in Honolulu.  Panelists included Dr. Kawamoto, Schodt, and Honolulu historian Dwight Damon.

–  Tokyo Broadcasting’s “Discover the World’s Mysteries” (Sekai Fushigi Hakken) filmed Ranald’s story in Astoria and was seen by millions of viewers.

– Consulate General of Japan in Seattle sponsored Jim Mockford’s lectures about

Ranald MacDonald at the 30th Annual Seattle Cherry Blossom and Japanese

Cultural Festival.


–  The Economist, with a circulation of 1.3 million, featured an article about Ranald on Dec. 19.  (See Winter 2008 Gates Ajar.)


–  Charter member Masaru “Mas” Yatabe, vice-president of the Azumano Group in Portland, was appointed to be new chairman of FOM.

–  Atsumi Tsukimori published a bilingual story of MacDonald for children, Unsung Hero, featuring illustrations by Mariko King.

–  Ranald MacDonald enthusiasts from Holland circumnavigated the world.  Fred Dijs and Josje-Marie Vrolijk visited sites in Long Island NY, Toroda, Astoria, Vancouver, Rishiri, Nagasaki, etc.


–  Mas Yatabe visited Nagasaki to see MacDonald sites and meet FOM Japan leaders, including Dr. Obama.

–  Fred Schodt received Japan’s “Order of the Rising Sun” award.


–  200 Unsung Hero books were sent to eighty elementary schools in Nagasaki.

–  Mas Yatabe visited Rishiri Island.

–  Mas Yatabe helped create the FOM website.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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”.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.]