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Native American in the Land of the Shogun: Ranald MacDonald and the Opening of Japan Paperback – May 1, 2003
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"A story that reads like fiction....[Schodt]is particularly well-qualified to discuss Japanese perspectives on MacDonald's story and has uncovered material hitherto untouched by writers on the subject. This is certainly the definitive work on Ranald MacDonald." --Jean Murray Cole, author of This Blessed Wilderness and Exile in the Wilderness: the biography of Chief Factor Archibald McDonald 1790-1853
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Ranald MacDonald was a mix blood Native American, half Chinook and half Scot, who had an essential role in opening Japan's doors to the western world. Based on MacDonald's 1923 posthumous autobiography and a lengthy list of primary documents, especially MacDonald's letters, Frederik L. Schodt writes a compelling narrative about MacDonald's life and his involvement with the trade industry and his travels to Japan, which could not have been possible without his lively adventurous spirit during the most exciting periods in US history as it was expanding its trading endeavors to the East. MacDonald's contributions and participation with the Hudson Bay Company, a trading company in the Pacific Northwest that is closely associated with the historic British East India Company, was one of his links to reaching Asia. This is a uniqe retelling of a part of history that many people do not even know existed, but Schodt puts together his narrative like a jigsaw puzzle with the people and events that appear to excessively revolve around MacDonald's story. As a result, there are several portions of the history that overshadows MacDonald's role, and his story gets lost within the shuffle of events; questions arise where there are missing links to what may have occurred, such as the significance of MacDonald and the Lahaina Islands of Hawaii as well as a long list of references that appear detached to MacDonald's story.
But one of the insightful chapters of the book was the discussion of MacDonald's contact with the Ainu people of Japan, the indigenous inhabitants of the Rishiri Islands. The people of the island held MacDonald with high regard and dedicated a museum in his honor. In addition, it is also refreshing to read the accounts by individuals from the Congregational Missionary, such as Samuel C. Damon who wrote an article about MacDonald's adventures and associates the historical importance to the "opening" of the doors to the East to the West at the time when Japan was maintaining isolationism within its ports. But Damon emphasized that attempts were being made, prior to Commodore Perry's excursion, with Commodore Biddle and the USS Columbus in 1846 with hopes that trade would reoccur.
NATIVE AMERICAN IN THE LAND OF THE SHOGUN is a daring narrative that challenges history and shapes how it is told. Schodt places great emphasis on the significance of how a bridge was built between East and West, especially as it relates to one individual, Ranald MacDonald who happened to help translate English for the Japanese people as well as cultivate relations between America and Japan.
"Native American in the Land of the Shogun" is just such a book. At first glance, it appears to be a quirky story of a stranger in a strange land, something along the lines of Lafcadio Hearn or Donald Richie, foreigners who made their home in a country notoriously shy of foreigners. But Ranald MacDonald's story is much more interesting, full of adventure and daring do that would hardly be believable if found in a fiction novel.
At that time Japan was a mysterious land, due to the sakoku laws which stated that foreigners could not enter Japan under penalty of death. Spurred by curiosity and a love of adventure, as well as his belief that his own Native American ancestors had evolved from shipwrecked Japanese sailors who drifted to the North American continent, Ranald MacDonald conceived a wild plan of purposely scuttling his boat off the shores of Hokkaido so he could appear as a shipwreck victim and hopefully be rescued instead of sentenced. Once there, he counted on his semi-Asiatic appearance and easy-going nature to protect him and hopefully convince the Japanese of his value as an English interpreter and teacher. Imprisoned in Nagasaki, he taught English for seven months, and his students, the only English speakers in all of Japan, were able to translate for Commodore Matthew Perry when he came to force open the closed doors of Japan. How differently things would have played out if Ranald MacDonald had been unsuccessful in his mad scheme!
Amazing as it seems, Ranald MacDonald has faded from the eye of history, never receiving credit for his lynchpin role in history. In this book, Frederik L. Schodt seeks to pluck this incredible man from obscurity and let his story be told in full. "Native American in the Land of the Shogun" is a dense history book, setting the stage for MacDonald with a detailed study of the Hudson's Bay Company role in the Oregon Territories, or which MacDonald's father was Chief Factor. From there, he traces MacDonald's boyhood, education, disappointments and the discrimination he faced as an half-Chinook. The road to Japan is laid clear, going from New York, to Hawaii, to the Sea of Japan on a whaling ship, as well as his eventual return home and statement before Congress on the nature of Japan and the Japanese people.
Richly detailed and captivating written, after reading "Native American in the Land of the Shogun" and hearing the story of Ranald MacDonald one wants to become an apostle, retelling his story to everyone willing to listen. This is definitely a book that I will be recommending from now on to anyone with an interest in Japan, or anyone who likes to read about fascinating characters that changed the world in a very small but important way, just because they wanted to.
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In 1848, at the age of twenty-four, MacDonald risked his life to follow a dream.Read more