While on an Anthropology field course at Rebun Island, Japan in the summer of 2014, student Richard Wood took a break to explore his family history. Here's his story:
"I visited Rishiri Island in late August, 2014 to learn about my family history. I traveled with my companion, Claudia Sanchez, from our archaeological excavation on Rebun to the island of Rishiri. One hundred and sixty-six years ago, Ranald MacDonald (my great-great-great uncle) shipwrecked himself on Rishiri Island because of his curiosity for Japanese culture. He landed at a time when Japan was closed to the Western world and became the first English teacher in Japan. We were met by three kind hosts: high school English teacher Miss Mayumi Nakanishi, news reporter Mr. Miyanaga Toshiaki, and Mr. Eiji Nishiya, the retired curator of the Rishiri Island Museum. I am forever grateful for the hospitality that I received on Rishiri.
First we visited the memorial for Ranald MacDonald near the beach, where we met the heads of the Ranald MacDonald Scholarship Foundation. A plaque outlines his story and describes him as a “father of modernization.”
I did not understand his full significance until this moment. We went to the spot where he first landed and talked while I collected a few stones. I learned that the first people he made contact with were the Ainu.
He was captured by the Japanese and stayed on the island for a month at a community centre before being taken to Nagasaki where he taught members of the Tokugawa Shogunate, including Einosuke Moriyama, who later led negotiations with Commodore Perry. I tried to imagine his experience. We bid farewell to the members of the scholarship foundation and went in search of lunch. Claudia and I were presented with two beautiful fans from the members of the scholarship foundation for which we are very grateful. Mr. Toshiaki parted with us after lunch.
We visited the lake at the base of the mountain, a kelp processing site and finally the museum. The Rishiri Island museum is a beautiful building with many ancient and historic artifacts. I was surprised to find a wall of articles dedicated to Ranald MacDonald including his personal story, records of distant family visitations and even a comic book of his adventure! We had circled the entire island before our hosts brought us to our hotel, where I presented Mr. Nishiya with a bottle of maple syrup. They took us to a street festival on the next block where we finally parted. We were left to contemplate the amazing events of the day, while more celebrations continued. The weather took a turn for the worse soon after, and on the next morning we discovered that the ferry to Rebun had been cancelled due to the storm. It would seem my family has a habit of getting stranded on Rishiri Island. Mr. Nishiya heard of this and brought us bento lunches despite the storm.
Mr. Toshiaki wrote a wonderful article about our day on Rishiri, which was translated to me by our esteemed interpreter, Amanda Gomez. The article described my visit as a symbol of international friendship between Japan, the United States (Ranald was born in the Columbia District in 1824, before the Canada U.S. boundary was established), and Canada. I am humbled by this sentiment and appreciative of the hospitality shown to me by all of my Japanese friends. I look forward to revisiting Rishiri in the future and seeing these friends again." - Richard Wood