Story: Noda Asajiro
Seaman, cashier, gum-digger, farmer
This biography was written by Steven Oliver and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993
Noda Asajiro is said to have been born on 17 January 1868 at Tomioka, a small fishing village on the island of Amakusa-Shimo-shima, near Nagasaki, Japan. His father was Noda Kakashi, a carpenter and shipbuilder. His mother's name is recorded as Noi Kimomo Kena Kuishn. When he was about eight or 10 years old Asajiro accompanied his father aboard an English ship in Nagasaki harbour, and was accidentally left on board when the ship sailed. Once discovered he was transferred to a German vessel which was supposed to be going to Japan. However, Asajiro was never to return to his homeland.
Noda spent a number of years as a sailor in the Pacific, finally leaving ship at Invercargill, New Zealand, in the late 1880s or early 1890s. He was almost certainly the first Japanese to settle in New Zealand. When he arrived he spoke fluent German, and may also have known English, as he found work in Invercargill as a cashier. He then moved north to work as a kauri gum-digger, in Northland or Waikato.
Noda married Rihi Tipene Te Ahu of Ngati Mahuta, probably in 1894. Their wedding is said to have been presided over by the Maori King, Mahuta Te Wherowhero. They settled and farmed in the Ohinewai area. According to family information, they lived on an island of 24 acres in Lake Waikare. Noda became a noted strawberry grower, and was known as Tommy Noda. When he was naturalised in 1908 he was farming at Ohinewai, where he owned land.
By 1912 Noda was living at Rangiriri. It is likely that Rihi had died, for on 15 May that year, at Pukekohe, he married Kathleen Jessie Brown, née Edwards. She was part-Maori and came from Batley in the Kaipara district. She returned north with Noda and they farmed at Batley; he also purchased land at Kaiwaka.
Noda is said to have had five children. Shortly before the Second World War Martin Noda, son of Asajiro and Rihi, succeeded in establishing contact with the Noda family in Japan, who recalled Asajiro's disappearance. Further contact was ended, however, by Japan's entry into the war. In 1942 both Asajiro and Martin Noda were declared enemy aliens. A local school teacher and justice of the peace had written to inform the minister of defence about them in December 1941, warning of Asajiro: 'Like most of his race he has a very plausible tongue. I am confident he would prove himself a danger to our country should the opportunity arise – in spite of his age.' Martin Noda was interned on Somes Island in Wellington Harbour for four months. Although half-Maori, in his search for his father's family he had developed contacts with Japanese sailors and other visitors. He was one of 29 people of Japanese descent interned during the war, along with people of German, Italian and other nationalities perceived to be a threat to the country's security. His father, however, was not interned, probably because of his age and ill health. Asajiro died at Batley on 9 July 1942.
Noda's fortuitous arrival in Invercargill as a young man at the end of the nineteenth century established a link between New Zealand and Japan which remained virtually unknown until a century later. He was the first of a small number of Japanese who settled in New Zealand before the Second World War. Noda's descendants are now an extended family of some 300 and have re-established contact with their relatives in Japan.