Ranald MacDonald

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Ranald MacDonald was among the first Americans to enter Japan, and later served as an English teacher and interpreter.

The son of a Chinook (Native American) woman and an official of the Hudson Bay Company, MacDonald heard stories of Japanese castaways, and became intrigued to travel to Japan himself. He did so in 1848, having paid a whaler to set him off in a small boat just off the coast of Hokkaido. His boat capsized, and he was rescued by Ainu fishermen, who sent him to the samurai authorities of Matsumae han, who in turn had him sent to Nagasaki to be dealt with by the authorities there. MacDonald was imprisoned in Nagasaki alongside a number of deserters from the whaling ship Lagoda; while there, he became a teacher to fourteen Japanese, including Moriyama Einosuke, who would put his English language abilities to use interpreting for shogunate officials during their encounters with Yevfimy Vasilyevich Putyatin[1] and Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853-1854.

MacDonald was released after a year of imprisonment, and allowed to leave Japan on an American ship. He found his way to the gold fields of Australia, and then to Europe, returning to the United States in 1853.


  • Matt Matsuda, Pacific Worlds, University of Cambridge Press (2012), 233-237.
  1. Mitani Hiroshi, David Noble (trans.), Escape from Impasse, International House of Japan (2006), 174.