Kiwi woman Migoto Eria heads to Japan to find pāpā who went missing 40 years ago

A Māori Japanese woman travels to Japan to search for her long-lost father who disappeared 40 years ago. 

Back in 1983, there was no internet, no social media and no texting. Communicating with loved ones overseas mostly involved writing letters. 

When Migoto Eria recently began searching for her Japanese father, hand-written letters from him preserved by her late mother for 40 years were her only precious clues. 

Osamu Nakamoto met Rangi Eria in the early 1980s and the pair fell in love. Migoto was the result. 

Nakamoto was working as an engineer on board the Sunny Napier - a ship transporting logs from Napier to the Japanese port city of Tomakomai. 

But wherever he was in the world, Nakamoto kept in touch. 

Migoto remembers as a child getting late-night calls from her father. 

"I remember hearing his voice, and I'd just stand there and listen," she said. 

She last saw her father when she was three years old and when she was six, the phone calls and gifts ceased. 

But after the death of her mother, Rangi, and having started her own family, Migoto is ready to embark on a journey to find her father. 

"This is the right time to be doing this," she acknowledged. 

"Being a bit older, being a mum, married now and particularly after my mother's passing -  time is very short." 

The Tūhoe and Ngāti Kahungunu uri works at Te Papa Tongarewa. Her mahi as the head of Mātauranga Māori aims to connect whanau with long lost taonga.  

Now it's time to make her own connections. 

After Rangi died, Migoto unearthed hand-written letters from her father that were sent in the 1980s. They were letters Migoto had never seen before. 

"I would spend hours reading Nakamoto's letters - there were lots of little clues with emotion and feelings," she said. "Expressing his love for her and a sense of 'it's not finished yet'." 

Using the information in her father's letters as clues - The Hui follows Migoto Eria's journey from her papakainga in Tutira, Hawke's Bay and overseas to Japan. 

"It would be wonderful for my father to know that he has a Māori mokopuna," she said. 

It's a journey with no promise of a fairytale ending. 

"This is a really big opportunity for me and it's worth taking that step - it's worth a chance." 

Watch the three-part story to follow Migoto's search. 

Made with support from Te Mangai Pāho and New Zealand on Air.  

Thanks to Te Papa Tongarewa and Asia New Zealand Foundation for their help in making this story possible.