Dear Frederik Lowell Schodt,
also known as Fred,
When THE Dutch —mind you, I do not like generalizations like that— were masters of the universe, say, between 1600 and 1675, they went east, lowercase, to the Far East, capitals, and west, lowercase, to the West, capital. The furthest east was Dejima, the furthest west the Appalachians and the Caribbean.
This was an amazing feat. Less than two million people, most of them migrants and immigrants to the cities bordering on the North Sea, were able to finance, construct, man and legalize three quarters of the fleet across the world. And this lasted for two generations only, id est, fathers and sons.
The era is called the Golden Age in the Netherlands. I prefer to call it the Gilded Age, with thanks to Mark Twain’s description of the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century in your, if I may say so, United States of America. Life in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century was only gold for, for instance, some 150 leading families in Amsterdam, while the rest, tens of thousands of people in the city, were struggling for life. Trade was quite often the euphemism for piracy and/or war. One of the commodities was human livestock.
In those days, seen from the Netherlands, the region behind the Appalachians and the Caribbean up to Dejima was the dark side of our planet. And it still is, although Europeans created their own nations in North America, colonized its west and even islands in the Pacific, and finally reached Asia from the east. Economically, the Pacific gained and the Atlantic lost momentum, politically, Asia was approached from two sides, by Europeans from the west and by former Europeans from the east.
For years I had been looking for a way to travel west, lowercase, to the Far East, capitals, in order to explore this dark side. I did not want to follow in the footsteps of Columbus and his peers, because they went west as a grand idea, not as a matter of fact. I wanted to go west in the footsteps of ordinary people.
So I read about what was driving them and stumbled across fisherman going after herring and cod, farmers after land, loggers after lumber, trappers after furs and whalers after whales. In an footnote to Jay Dolin’s ‘Leviathan, The history of whaling in America’ I found the intriguing name of Ranald MacDonald and in a Wikipedia reference a recent biography by the title ‘Native American in the Land of the Shogun: Ranald MacDonald and the Opening of Japan’ by Frederik Schodt. The book made it clear to me that I would be able to make my journey by following a father and a son from the United Kingdom to Japan.
And now for the cliffhanger, ‘In the early hours of one September morning in 2008, I appeared on the doorstep of the home of a grand, old man in Astoria, Oregon.’ As a matter of fact, it was Saturday, September 20, 2008, 9.30 local time. So maybe the same moment Rahman’s visitor appeared on the doorstep of his narrator.
The grand, old man, Bruce Berney, is in your words, Fred, the ‘indefatigable promoter of MacDonald’s story’. I don’t know what impression I made on him, but my travel companion and I were more than welcome and Bruce at once baptized us ‘Friends of MacDonald • The Dutch Connection’. As soon as we had left Astoria, Berney informed the Friends of MacDonald in the United States and Japan about our existence. From then on we shamelessly profited from innumerable people in the west of the United States and all over Japan, including you, who received us with great warmth and kindness and informed us about this extraordinary ordinary man. Your words about him: ‘Each generation must interpret the past according to its needs, and there is now a real need for heroes who can transcend national and ethnic boundaries. […] And as a true cultural and racial hybrid—in the best sense of the word—he assumes heroic proportions because of his success in carving his own path in life, in an often unfriendly world.’
The MacDonald biography is a sideline in your work, which consists of an indefatigable effort to bring, what is called, ‘the popular culture of Japan’ to readers in the United States. 35 years ago you wrote the ‘first substantial English-language work on Japanese comics, or manga, as an artistic, literary, commercial and sociological phenomenon’ and you just translated The Osamu Tezuka Story, a thousand page biography in manga, as we have seen, of ‘the father, godfather and/or god of manga’. For this part of your work you received the Japanese ‘Order of the Rising Sun’.
I can see that you feel slightly embarrassed by my words, so I would like to do something now, that I forgot previously.
I would like to invite now the translators of In the light of what we know, Carla Hazewindus and Anne Jongeling, to share in our congratulations.
Carla, Anne, you made it possible for monolingual Dutch readers to get access to this marvelous book and contributed to its success. Translation is painstaking as well as underrated. This big but small present illustrates the fact. Nevertheless, your work has been seen, believe me. You might, by the way, a little bit later, get your copy signed by the translator of this unusual biography of Osamu Tezuka.
But you did and do much more. You are a translator of government documents and literature, a simultaneous interpreter Japanese-English on innumerable occasions and you wrote books on technology, including robots.
In your MacDonald biography you write at length about the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Dutch United East Asia Company, each firmly part of the national histories of the United Kingdom and The Netherlands. Your book ‘Professor Risley and the Imperial Japanese Troupe: How an American Acrobat Introduced Circus to Japan–And Japan to the West’ even extends your work to Dutch soil. During one month in 1868 Risley’s Keizerlijk Japansch Gezelschap performed in several major Dutch cities. Your approach of the relations between Asia, North America and Europe is surprising by the unconventional angles you choose.
In doing so, being a ‘niche-writer’ as you call yourself, your work became the inspiration for the foundation Friends of MacDonald • The Dutch Connection. If this foundation survives and is able to annually find and honor a work like Zia Haider Rahman’s ‘In the light of what we know’, your work will have changed the world for the better, the truer and the more beautiful.
Therefor, Frederik Schodt, may I convey to you my warm congratulations on behalf of the board of Friends of MacDonald • The Dutch Connection and invite you to come forward to receive an exceptional 2016 Ranald MacDonald Prize for your entire oeuvre.
This, Fred, is your medal, for this one occasion in North American Maple.
And this is your diploma, lasered in corn paper like the regular trophy.
And here the world with a couple of places of importance to the life of Ranald MacDonald, in European walnut, just like the regular trophy.
And this is the lid, in this case made of Calamandar, to enclose it all, with, of course again, the stylized portrait of Ranald MacDonald.