Shigeaki Hinohara, St. Luke’s doctor whose foresight saved lives after Tokyo sarin attack, dies at 105

Kyodo, Staff Report

Shigeaki Hinohara, honorary head of St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo — who continued practicing as a doctor even after turning 100 — died from respiratory failure on Tuesday, the hospital said. He was 105.

A well-respected figure, Hinohara had been suffering from medical conditions affecting his heart and other organs due to his advanced age, said Tsuguya Fukui, who heads St. Luke’s, at a news conference on Tuesday.

He was hospitalized in March when he became unable to eat, but he refused to be fed through a tube and was discharged a few days later, spending the rest of his days at home, Fukui said.

During his more than half a century as a physician at one of Tokyo’s leading hospitals, Hinohara pioneered comprehensive medical checkups, which have today become standard for many middle-aged Japanese, and advocated preventive medicine.

His 2001 best-selling anthology of essays, “Ikikata Jozu” (“How to Live Well”), has sold more than 1.2 million copies.

A charismatic figure, Hinohara was also known for calling on senior citizens to maintain an active social life. In 2000, he founded a group for healthy people over the age of 75 and urged them to contribute to society using their wisdom and experience.

He went on to receive the Order of Culture from the government in 2005.

Hinohara was a native of Yamaguchi Prefecture and a Christian, graduating from the school of medicine at Kyoto Imperial University in 1937 and continuing his studies at its graduate school. He then began working at St. Luke’s in 1941 as a physician.

Hinohara also studied at Emory University in the United States.

In 1992, he became the head of St. Luke’s, and in 1994, while working as the hospital’s director, he had the foresight to install oxygen tubes throughout the walls of the building — including hallways, lounges and the chapel — to prepare for mass casualties that could occur if an earthquake hit the capital.

The measure proved life-saving just a year later when the cult Aum Shinrikyo used sarin to attack subways in Tokyo, killing 13 people and injuring thousands.

The hospital was able to accommodate 640 patients within two hours and save the lives of all but one. Hinohara said this was possible because the hospital was prepared for such an emergency.

Hinohara was also a passenger on the Japan Airlines plane that was hijacked by Japanese Red Army members in 1970.

“The hijackers had dynamite strapped to them and we were terrorized, wondering whether the negotiations might break down,” Hinohara said as he recalled the ordeal in a 2008 interview with The Japan Times.

At the age of 88, he wrote a script for the Japanese musical “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf,” in which he also performed as an actor, dancing with children. The show, first performed in 2000, had a production off-Broadway in New York in 2010.