We walked up the steep foot trail to Wakkanai Park and on to Wakkanai Tower on a beautiful August afternoon. We had been to Cape Soya in the morning and seen Sakhalin in the distance across the strait. At Wakkanai Park we learned of the history of Hokkaido and Sakhalin when saw several monuments about the northern regions including “Hyosetsu no Mon” a monument to the people lost at Karafuto (Sakhalin). At the end of WWII there were 420,000 Japanese living in Sakhalin who were driven from their homes by an advancing Soviet Army that was taking control of the island on the defeat of Japan. This monument expresses the loss of the Japanese who were forced to abadon Karafuto and also to those who lost their lives on Sakhalin. There were other monuments nearby.
Kunin No Otome no Hi is a monument to the “Nine Maiden Telephone Operators” who in August 20, 1945 five days after the war had been declared ended were unexpectedly attacked by the Soviet Army at Kholmsk. As the residents of the town evacuated the telephone operators stayed at their switchboards until the gun battle drew near and then committed suicide by cyanide rather than be captured. Their final words were transmitted, “Everyone, this is the end. Sayonara, Sayonara.”
Another statue along the way is the Monument in Praise of the Sakhalin Huskies who performed in the South Pole Expedition of 1956. The dogsled huskies did great work while they were there but due to extreme weather conditions they were unable to taken aboard the ship and a 15 dog sled team was left behind in Anarctica. One year later another expedition arrived to find two dogs still alive and the two named Taro and Jiro became famous around the world. A movie was made about their story called “Anarctica.” The monument at Wakkanai Park is located at the old training ground of Taro and Jiro and the other sled dogs of the South Pole Expedition of 1956. The expedition ship Soya Maru is now anchored at the Japan Maritime Science Museum in Tokyo.
At the top of Wakkanai Tower we had a fantastic view of Rishiri Island with its majestic volanic mountain they call “Rishiri Fuji” and perhaps more dramatic than Mt. Fuji as it is surrounded by the sea. It was here on Rishiri Island that American adventurer Ranald MacDonald arrived in 1848 as an intentional castaway and to answer his personal curiosity about the secluded Kingdom of Japan came alone to see what would happen if a foreigner entered a country that forbid Japanese to go abroad and foreigners to come to Japan. MacDonald was taken into custody by Samurai and sent to Nagasaki the only port open to westerners and only to the Dutch. At Nagasaki he was employed as the first native English speaking teacher of English in Japan. He was released to the USS Preble in 1849 and after other adventures abroad returned to the Pacific Northwest of Oregon, Washington and Canada. He died at Toroda, Washington in 1894 and his grave is now the Ranald MacDonald State Park in north central Washington State near the Canadian border.
As chairman for ten years of the organization Friends of MacDonald (1998 – 2008) I enjoyed many exchanges with Japanese historians and educators who have an interest in his story and in 2006 I was invited to be a guest historian on the Japanese telelvision show Sekai Fushigi Hakken (Discovering the World’s Mysteries) on Tokyo Broadcasting. We filmed at MacDonald’s birthplace in Astoria, Oregon but this year I looked out from Wakkanai where his story in Japan was born, on the shores of Rishri Island. MacDonald also spent about two weeks at Soya which at that time was a Samurai outpost that kept watch over the northermost part of Japan where they feared the arrival of Russians and occasional whaling ships that passed by. MacDonald was brought to Japan on the Plymouth whaler and made a special arrangement with Captain Edwards to be allowed to take a small boat and row to shore. His exploits were reported by the Seaman’s Friend newspaper in Hawaii at the time but the rest of the story was not known for many years and his autobiography was published postumously. For more info see http://friendsofmacdonald.com/