Vietnamese refugee and Okinawan rescuer reunited after 36 years

Vietnamese refugee and Okinawan rescuer reunited after 36 years

Masakazu Minami, left, and Gensho Miyagi, former captain of the Shonan-maru, joyously embrace each other at a Jimmy’s restaurant in Mekaru, Naha City. The men are reunited for the first time in 36 years, on the evening of July 13.

July 14, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo
By Hiroe Nakagawa

After fleeing his native Vietnam, Masakazu Minami 50, (Vietnamese name: John Tai Tuan Vin), was rescued off the coast of Ho Chi Minh City by Okinawa Suisan (fishery) High School’s training vessel, the Shonan-maru. It was August 8, 1983. On July 13, 2019—36 years later, Minami arrived in Okinawa to reunite with the former captain of the Shonan-maru, Gensho Miyagi (75, formerly Gensho Shimoji), and his crew. “Thank you,” Minami expressed gratitude to the men for saving his life with a tearful embrace.

Minami was 14 years old when he was rescued. He fled Vietnam aboard a wooden boat carrying 105 refugees escaping dire situations back home. The boat was spotted by Shonan-maru four days after he departed Vietnam. Miyagi, who was captain of the ship at the time, made the executive decision to rescue the refugees, and boarded them on the Shonan-maru. The ship then re-routed to Manila, Philippines. The Filippino government accepted all 105 refugees, including Minami. It was the last time Minami and the Miyagi saw each other.

On the evening of the 13th, Miyagi and 25 of his former crew and staff gathered at a restaurant in Naha City to welcome Minami. Minami revealed that the 105 rescued refugees are now scattered across the globe, including the United States and France. He bowed deeply to the men, and said in a trembling voice: “You saved 105 lives. Thank you.”

The Shonan-maru may have saved these refugees’ lives, but the central government was spiteful at the time, calling the effort “unnecessary.” The crew, however, seemed proud during the reunion. Seeing the emotional guest, the crew asserted that “the captain’s decision was not a mistake.”

Minami now owns Yellow Bamboo, a Vietnamese restaurant in Uchisaiwai, a town located in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. Minami wished to treat the men to his specialty pho in Tokyo, to which Miyagi responded, “I’ll bring the whole crew.” The men promised a second reunion in Tokyo.

(English translation by T&CT and Monica Shingaki)

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