Eizo Kimura, 92, says his fascination with Henry the Navigator, a Portuguese prince who became a key figure during the Age of Exploration, helped him navigate his own life.
Recalling his time as a sophomore at Keio University in 1941, when the Pacific War broke out, Kimura said “My university was enveloped in a somber mood, but what supported me in my younger days were the words ‘The Navigator.’ “
In 1971, Kimura published a biography about Prince Henry (1394-1460), who sponsored voyages to the coast of West Africa and pioneered maritime trade routes, laying the foundation for the bigger voyages of exploration undertaken by Christopher Columbus.
His book “Daikokai Jidai no Soshisha” (“Founder of the Age of Exploration”) was praised by a Lisbon-based academic society, which said it was a work of research equal to those by European historians on the subject. (It has been translated into Portuguese.)
An electronic version was published last year by Japan’s Heibonsha Ltd., returning the book to the research spotlight about four decades after its original publication.
Kimura was born and raised in Osaka. His family was successful and wealthy until the end of World War II, when it struggled. He eventually opened a small bookstore.
He read a large volume of English documents about Prince Henry at a university library, while studying Portuguese at the Portuguese consulate.
When the Osaka Expo was held in 1970, he finally made his long-held dream come true by traveling to Portugal.
During his time there, he visited places connected with the prince, such as Sagres in southwestern Portugal, and met with local researchers.
“In Europe, people’s impression of Henry is of a very progressive man, but my book describes him as a very humane person boasting both strong curiosity and religious passion,” Kimura said.
“My book highlights the idea that if people do work hard, they can open the door for fulfilling their dream,” he added.
Kimura is also known for his conservation efforts with freshwater fish. He founded an conservation association and staged protests against construction projects, including one to build a barrage in the Nagara River, in Mie Prefecture.
Since his wife Yaeko passed away in fall 2012, however, he has retired from these activities.
Instead, to keep his brain active, he writes a diary in French.
“Until I am reunited with my wife, I can’t allow myself to get senile,” Kimura said.
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