Last year I wrote a short essay called ‘Sea of Trees’ that mentioned a Japanese woman, Keiko Agatsuma, who in the late 1970s came to New Zealand and lived alone on Stewart Island for a short time, in a cave in Doughbay Bay. She was eventually deported back to Japan because she had overstayed the time she was allowed to be in New Zealand, and she became something of a legend: Peter Wells wrote a short story based on her, which in turn provided the inspiration for a film by Niki Caro, and later the playwright Eileen Philipp wrote a Noh play about her. Anyway, the other day I got this little email from writer Matt Vance (author of How to Sail a Boat):
I have just re-read your essay ‘Sea of Trees’ from the Griffith Review.
In one of those short loops that can only happen in a place the size of NZ I recognised Keiko Agastuma.
I was eight years old and on holiday with my family on Stewart Island.
We were walking on the beach somewhere west of Oban when what turned out to be Keiko wandered out onto the beach from the bush.
This was something different in 1978 so my sister and I just stared at her. She smiled and said ‘Which way Half Moon Bay?’
We continued staring and just pointed the way.
Her quote became part of the family vernacular for decades.