Published January 23, 2012
KYOTO, Japan – Japanese-American Minoru Ohye traveled all the way to Japan to celebrate his 86th birthday Monday with his only brother, whom he had not seen in nearly 60 years.
The brothers were born in Sacramento but were separated as children after their father died in a fishing accident. They were sent to live with relatives in Japan and ended up in different homes.
When they hugged in a hotel room and exchanged gifts of California chocolate and Japanese sake, they no longer even spoke the same language.
The American brother wore his trademark baseball cap and jeans. The Japanese bother wore a suit and tie.
But they had the same bright eyes and square jaws, a dead giveaway that they were brothers. They both loved golf and had back pains. They thought the other hadn't changed a bit.
"If we miss this chance, we may never meet. You never know," said Ohye, energetic except for a sore knee. "Either he may die, or I may die."
Separated across the Pacific, their only prior meeting had been a brief one in the mid-1950s when Ohye stopped by Japan while serving in the U.S. Army in the demilitarized zone on the Korean peninsula.
His brother, Hiroshi Kamimura, 84, was adopted by a Japanese family, grew up in the ancient capital of Kyoto and became a tax accountant. He married and had three sons.
Ohye joined the youth group of the Japanese Imperial Army at 13 and went to Russia, where he was sent to a Siberian coal mine when Japan surrendered. He returned to be with his mother in Yuba City, California, in 1951, and worked as a bookbinder and a gardener.
He became homeless when he failed to collect payment for a restaurant he ran and later sold in the late 1950s.
About 10 years ago, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a welfare service organization for U.S. veterans, found him a spot in the Eskaton Wilson Manor home for the elderly.
It was Eskaton's program to grant a wish called "Thrill of a Lifetime" that got Ohye back to Japan.
While others wished for rafting trips and football game tickets, the only thing Ohye wanted was to see his brother again. Eskaton administrator Debbie Reynolds put together a fundraiser for Ohye's trip.
Kamimura acknowledged it had been difficult to communicate with his brother through telephone calls because he didn't understand English. They would exchange a lot of "hellos" and then their conversations ended, he said.
"I am happy. He is the only brother I have," Kamimura said after watching Ohye blow out the candles on a birthday cake at a restaurant. "This may be our last time together."
Brian Berry, a graduate student at the University of Tokyo who was approached by Reynolds to help with the reunion and got Ohye from the Tokyo airport to Kyoto, was relieved the brothers were together at last.
"Even over time, with all that has been gone through, still the only thing you are thinking about is your family," he said. "Right when you're near the end of your life, you are still thinking about your family."