Monday, April 03, 2006

Asiatic Society reports on Frederik L. Schodt's lecture

The Asiatic Society of Japan has already released the notes on Frederik L. Schodt's speaking event on March 20:

March Meeting

The Czech Ambassador, H. E. Mr. Karel Žebrakovský, had kindly invited the Society to hold its March meeting in the embassy's very comfortable cinema hall. On this occasion we were also happy to have with us the Canadian Ambassador, H. E. Mr. Joseph Caron, and Mrs. Caron.

The speaker was Mr.
Frederik L. Schodt, a graduate of ASIJ and ICU, as it happened, who had chosen to give us the outline of his latest book, Native American in the Land of the Shogun: Ranald MacDonald and the Opening of Japan, which was twelve years in the researching and writing, and last year was named an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice Magazine. (He presented a copy of this book to your secretary to help in the writing of this summary, and it will be passed on to the ASJ library in due course.) Mr. Schodt's presentation held his audience spellbound, illustrated throughout, as it was, by slides.

Ranald MacDonald, who was remarkable for coming to Japan five years before Perry and teaching English to an interpreter who would play an important role when Perry did come, was born in Fort George, Astoria, in 1824, the son of a Scotsman, Archibald McDonald, an officer of the Hudson's Bay Company, which virtually operated as an independent state in an area ranging over what is now Washington and contiguous regions, and set up various "forts" of which Fort George (built by earlier traders as Fort Astoria) was one; a monument to Ranald now stands in the partial reconstruction of the original Fort Astoria. His mother was a daughter of the Chinook Chief Comcomly, but she died soon after he was born. The Company then set up its main base in Fort Vancouver, further up the Columbia River, and after moving here Archibald met and married Jane Klyne, whom photographs show to have been a "Métis" (like a Spanish mestizo - the traders had no white women with them). This was the place where Ranald acquired his first rudimentary education.

Around this time, three Japanese drifters (hyôryûsha) were cast ashore near Cape Flattery, and made their way to the neighbouring Ozette. From there they were taken to Fort Vancouver, and the chief factor there, John McLoughlin, sent them home on a roundabout route via Hawaii, London and China; however, they were barred from coming home by Japan's Seclusion Laws, and all died abroad. It is unlikely that Ranald ever met them, but his interest in Japan was undoubtedly stirred by hearing of their story.

At the age of ten, Ranald was sent to the Red River Settlement (now absorbed into Winnipeg) to receive a better education; this community in "Rupert's Land" had churches and schools. Then in 1839 Archibald, having greater ambitions for him, sent him on to a friend in St. Thomas (near London, Ontario), Edward Ermatinger, to be apprenticed to his business. However, Ranald did not take to this arrangement, and ran away and went to sea. In 1842 we find him in Sag Harbor, on Long Island, aboard a whaler. By this time whalers had fished out the Atlantic, and moved to the Pacific, including the area north of Japan. There was one Captain, Mercator Cooper, who picked up a number of Japanese sailors and successfully put them ashore in Tokyo Bay. (Another Japanese drifter picked up by a whaler was the famous "John" Manjirô Nakahama, and Ranald must at least have heard of him, as Manjirô was taken to Fairhaven, Massachusetts.) In 1846 Ranald arrived in Lahaina, in the Hawaiian Islands, aboard the Plymouth, and must have heard there about Captain Cooper. On Lahaina there was a missionary doctor, Dwight Baldwin, and his mission contained reading matter for seamen, such as newspapers and books, some of which carried information about Japan. At one stage Baldwin had hosted shipwrecked Japanese sailors, and had tried to learn their language.

In Honolulu there was a missionary, Samuel Damon, who was a chaplain to seamen and published a newspaper, The Friend, which printed the story of Captain Cooper and of other shipwrecked Japanese sailors, and also of Americans shipwrecked in Japan. Damon was becoming increasingly interested in Japan, and feeling that the time must come when the country would be opened up, first to trade and then to missionary work. Another paper, The Polynesian, carried accounts of foreign ships being provided with food and water in Japan, although their crews were not allowed to land - this representing an easing of the seclusion policy which had been initiated in 1842. These accounts Ranald read, and they must have stimulated his determination to make a landing in Japan, which was also spurred by a love of adventure.

Late in 1847 the Plymouth set out on a voyage to Hong Kong and Japanese waters, and in June 1848 the ship arrived off the west coast of Hokkaido. There Ranald got the captain to cast him adrift in a small boat, with food and water and a chest full of his books, including a Bible. He landed first on a small island called Yagishiri, and finding no people there he made for Rishiri, further north. When he landed he was met by Ainu, who, as was their duty, handed him over to the Japanese authorities. He was taken to the Japanese outpost of Sôya, on the northern tip of Wakkanai, and from there to the administrative centre of Matsumae, on the extreme south-western tip of Hokkaido, all the time keeping up his story that he had been shipwrecked. (There were other American sailors imprisoned there, and one slide showed a Japanese sketch of one of them, named "George".) Eventually he was transported to Nagasaki, to which there was a degree of access granted to Dutch traders, and from which foreign nationals could be deported on Dutch ships, and there he was imprisoned and interrogated, through the use of the professional "Dutch interpreters", of whom a young man, Einosuke Moriyama, proved to be able to understand English to some degree. Interesting Japanese records of the interviews survive, and in one slide could be seen, for example, the katakana "Roburutsurando" for "Rupert's Land". The Japanese found he was not rough and tough like the usual sailors they had to deal with, and as they were now discovering that English was the predominant international language, and the interpreters were desperate to learn it, they made use of him as a teacher, with Moriyama as his star pupil. Ranald also made efforts to learn some Japanese, and another slide showed a word list he had made, with the Japanese written in his own system of romanization, with silent vowels not recorded, thus fta for futa. The Chinese temple where he was kept has been identified in recent times, and a monument to him now stands close by.

In April, 1849, the U.S.S. Preble, captained by Commander James Glynn, arrived, with orders to repatriate any U.S. seamen they found there, and Ranald was one of them. His movements over the next four years are unclear, but he travelled by way of Hong Kong, Australia and the various capitals of Europe before reappearing in North America in the spring of 1853. This was the year in which Perry first came to Japan with certain demands, returning the next year to negotiate them. The negotiations were officially conducted in Dutch and Chinese (Perry brought interpreters with him), but men like Moriyama were able to use their English informally to establish friendships. Thus Ranald contributed indirectly towards the establishment of international contacts and the modernization of Japan.

After returning home he seems first to have gone to British Columbia to join in the gold rush. In 1864 he played a leading role in the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition, but by 1885 the wanderlust had finally run out, and he settled down near the old Fort Colvile, close to what had now become the modern national border north of Spokane, and died there on August 5th, 1894. He was buried in an Indian cemetery at Toroda, near Curlew, Washington.

There followed a number of questions, to which Mr. Schodt gave very full answers. One questioner asked whether, during his interrogations, Ranald ever said that he had entered Japan voluntarily. Mr. Schodt said that he did not. He also speculated on what may have been Ranald's reasons for coming - to become an interpreter, to make his fortune, to proselytize. Another questioner asked what books he might have read in North America to make the racial connection between Native Americans and the Japanese. The speaker said that we cannot be sure, but as the Hudson's Bay Company's records were extremely meticulous he had been able to establish that in their library there were books on Japan by William Broughton and also by Russian explorers such as Vasilii Golovnin and also Georg Langsdorff (the German physician who accompanied Nicolai Rezanov in 1804). He added that the officers of the Company held the racial connection as a common theory and saw a particularly strong resemblance between the Native Americans of the Pacific North West and Asians, with their shorter stature and broader faces than the Plains Indians. Mr. Schodt quoted a letter written by Ranald to Samuel Damon from Hong Kong in 1849, in which he mentions his complexion as being one reason why he went to Japan. A question was asked about whether there were a lot of shipwrecked Asians washed up in the Americas. Indeed there were, especially in the North West but also in Mexico; one group arrived in Santa Barbara, in California, believing they were near Nagasaki! Some did even eventually make it back to Japan. Many of these are detailed in Katherine Plummer's The Shogun's Reluctant Ambassadors. (See her account of one of them in Series III, Vol. 19, 1984, of the Transactions.)

The meeting closed with a vote of thanks proposed by ASJ Council Member Keith McPhalen, who commended the speaker's ability as a writer to look ahead and find something new to write about that would afterwards become a popular topic. This book on Ranald MacDonald was expansive in its aims and provided something deeply gripping to the reader.

After the meeting the ambassador invited those present to stay and partake of drinks, including Czech beer.

"Bulletin" of the Asiatic Society of Japan, No. 4, April 2006.

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