By Beth David, Editor
The word “amazing” got used a lot this Sunday. Several people spoke fondly, remembering Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara of Japan, who died on July 18 at the age of 105.
Dr. Hinohara was no stranger to Fairhaven. Famous in his native Japan, he was instrumental in raising funds to buy and renovate the house that was owned by Capt. William Whitfield in 1843. Capt. Whitfield rescued a 14-year-old Japanese castaway who was stranded on a desert island in the Pacific and brought him back to Fairhaven. Young Manjiro eventually became instrumental in opening Japan to the west, and was the first Japanese person to live in America.
Fairhaven and New Bedford both have a sister-city relationship with Manjiro’s home village, Tosashimizu.
In 2008, the Capt. Whitfield’s house was saved, and the Whitfield-Manjiro Friendship Society (WMFS) was created to operate a museum at the house.
Dr. Hinohara visited Fairhaven at other times, including in 2012, when he was 100 years old, to dedicate a gift of cherry trees to the town.
“He was just an amazing man,” said Gerry Rooney, President & CEO of the WMFS.
Rokuichiro Michii, General Consul of Japan/Boston, also used the word “amazing” to describe Dr. Hinohara.
Mr. Michi said the doctor was a “national hero,” and “very famous,” like a sports figure.
The doctor’s advice to people, said Mr. Michi, was to live for others.
“Once people start living not for themselves, but for others, then they will not be alone,” said Mr. Michi, relaying Dr. Hinohara’s advice. “And he showed that…until the last moment.”
Mr. Michi said that in addition to eating small meals and never taking the elevator, Dr. Hinohara “lived for other people, so we really miss him.”
Mr. Michi also told the story of Dr. Hinohara being on a hijacked plane and had to translate the word “hijack” for fellow passengers.
Mr. Michi said that Dr. Hinohara told people: If you lose your dreams, you are half dead, if you lose your courage, you are truly dead.
Despite his books and fame as a medical doctor who knew all about eating right and exercising, Dr. Hinohara often craved fast food from America, where he went to school, said Mr. Michi.
He liked hamburgers, fried chicken, and Coca Cola.
“And bread with peanut butter,” said Mr. Michi. “So these are the secrets of long life.”
Bob Whitfield, a fifth generation direct descendant of Capt. Whitfield, ad his family, sent a written statement that Mr. Rooney read.
Mr. Whitfield said the family was honored when Dr. Hinohara took on the goal of saving the house.
“Our whole family was saddened to learn of the passing of Doctor Hinohara,” reads the statement. “We marveled at his endurance and strength. He may have been small in stature but a giant in heart.”
Mr. Whitfield wrote that Dr. Hinohara’s commitment to saving the “Captain’s house,” created a legacy of friendship “that few will ever match.”
“The impression he made on our grandchildren, teens at the time of the dedication, was such that they spoke of him often with warmth, honor and respect not only for his age but his attitude and wisdom of life at any age,” wrote Mr. Whitfield. “His smile and friendly hug will truly be missed.”
Selectboard chairperson Bob Espindola noted Dr. Hinohara’s leadership in raising funds for the building, then giving it to the town.
“This is living proof of what he meant to the people of Fairhaven,” said Mr. Espindola. “It’s a wonderful ting the town ahs to show.”
And so, too, are the cherry trees that have been planted at several places around town.
Mr. Espindola, who works for Titleist, took special delight in noting that Dr. Hinohara was golfing even when he was more than 100 years old.
“We all aspire to be the person he was, still doing the type of things he does, till the end,” said Mr. Espindola.
New Bedford City Council President Joe Lopes told the crowd that the honor of the friendship started more than 170 years ago is still there.
Several other people spoke at the memorial, including Yoshi Kadota, who said that Dr. Hinohara went to a junior high school in Mr. Kadota’s home town.
He asked the doctor about living to be 100 and expected to get advice on how to eat.
To his surprise, Dr. Hinohara said the secret was friendship.
“You have to have a good friend,” relayed Mr. Kadota. “To make a good friend is the most important thing in life, and to meet people.”
To meet people like at the memorial gathering he said.
“I’m very happy to meet you all,” he said. “You are my friends, good people.”
Peter Grilli, who grew up in Japan, said he remembered when Dr. Hinohara spoke at his school in the mid-1950s.
He gave an “extraordinary, inspiring talk,” said Mr. Grilli, about what life meant and how one can live a fulfilling life.
“I’ve never forgotten that day,” said Mr. Grilli.
Then he met Dr. Hinohara in the 1990s. He was in his 80s and still “going strong.”
His appointment book had bookings five years in the future, said Mr. Grilli, and at 105, Dr. Hinohara still had appointments booked four to five years out.
“What does that say about human optimism and spirit,” asked Mr. Grilli.
He then encouraged everyone to go to the attic of the museum, his favorite room and Dr. Hinohara’s favorite room.
“And think about what a 14 or 15-year-old kid was thinking,” said Mr. Grilli. “Put yourself in the mind of a young boy, the first [Japanese person] to live in America.”
The group then walked a block to Cooke Park where a memorial bench in honor of Dr. Hinohara was placed in 2012. Mr. Rooney and Mr. Michi placed red roses on the bench.
The group then returned to the museum for refreshments.
To learn more about the Whitfield-Manjiro story, visit http://www. whitfield-manjiro
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