VOX POPULI: Kenichi Horie, a hero of our times

August 13, 2012

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.

For all its exhortation of young people to be "ambitious," our society does not take kindly to youthful "recklessness." Take, for instance, the case of Kenichi Horie, who was 23 years old when he successfully completed his solo navigation across the Pacific on his yacht in 1962.

Instead of earning praise for this extraordinary feat, Horie was met with harsh disapproval at home for his "foolhardy action," which included his leaving Japan without proper travel documents. Horie's was a classic case of "the nail that sticks out gets hammered in."

Horie did try his hardest to acquire a passport, but the government refused to recognize his "sailing adventure" as a legitimate reason for issuing him with appropriate documentation. Horie was thus forced to leave Japan undocumented, setting sail surreptitiously at night. After 94 days at sea, he reached San Francisco on Aug. 12 exactly 50 years ago.

The Americans did not turn him away as an illegal alien. On the contrary, they accorded him a hero's welcome. This caused public opinion in Japan to swing dramatically, and Horie became a living legend of the postwar period in Japan.

Back in that era, adventure and exploration were meant for university teams and other authoritarian institutions. Horie became the first young man to challenge them with his "ambition."

In "Taiheiyo Hitoribocchi" (Alone in the Pacific), which is Horie's account of the journey, there is a passage that impresses me deeply. Describing his feelings as he sailed near Midway Atoll, he wrote: "Basking in the setting sun, I offered a long, silent prayer for the dead. This is where many seamen, who went before me, perished. I don't have a bouquet of flowers to toss into the sea. Forgive me."

Memories of World War II were still vivid in 1962.

That was also the year when Japan's first domestic YS11 passenger aircraft made its inaugural flight, and the world's largest tanker, Nissho Maru, was launched. Japan was beginning to feel some negative effects of its postwar economic miracle, but it was still filled with youthful vigor.

Now aged 73, Horie sailed solo from Hawaii to Japan four years ago. Still nowhere near retirement, the septuagenarian adventurer said he wasn't doing anything special on the 50th anniversary of his Pacific crossing. Being young at heart, it's apparently too early for him to start reminiscing about the past.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 12

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.
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