Johannes Knudsen, Japan and Denmark
(Photo: leaflet by the committee to honor Mr. Johannes Knudsen from Mihama town, Hidaka county, Wakayama prefecture, Japan)
“Thank you for being so brave and generous.” This is the title of the leaflet to honor Mr. Johannes Knudsen, who is a brave Danish man of the ocean. To pay my tribute to his most humanitarian and heroic act, I visited Mihama town and Hidaka town, Wakayama prefecture in September 2019 just before my departure to Denmark for the new assignment.
On 10 February 1957, off the coast of Hinomisaki, Hidaka county, Mr. Johannes Knudsen, chief engineer of the Ellen Maersk on his maiden voyage lost his life at the age of 39 when he jumped into the raging and freezing waters in the darkness in his attempt to rescue a drowning Japanese sailor from a Japanese fishing boat on fire. People have kept telling the story of his brave act and remembered it from one generation to another at the bottom of their hearts.
(The virtue of Mr. Knudsen will be remembered from one generation to another through local children in various ways such as picture-story telling; photo from the same leaflet above)
(Honoring Mr. Johannes Knudsen; photo by M. Miyagawa in September 2019)
Now it is spring, 2020. For the past two months, Denmark has closed the country to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by shutting the national borders, asking people to tele-work and so on. Denmark is now cautiously beginning to lift the restrictions in a gradual and controlled manner. Japan has declared astate of emergency for more than one month and in many prefectures, the declaration has been ceased and further gradual lifting of restrictions are carefully considered. (as of 20 May)
In Japan, Denmark and many countries in the world, so many health care workers and doctors have protected our lives under such a difficult situation, and we are sincerely grateful for this. A husband and a son of my friend are doctors. She said that all she could do every morning when she sends them off to the work is just to pray for their safe return to home. Every day.
I suppose that one of common mentalities shared between Danes and Japanese is this altruistic spirit. I dare to say this although I am still a new comer living in this country for seven months only.
(Letters from the city of Frederikshavn and Nordjyllands Kystmuseum)
In February this year, on occasion of the sixty-third anniversary of Mr. Knudsen’s death, I wrote letters to Mayor Birgit Hansen, the city of Frederikshavn, Mr. Knudsen’s home town and Mr. Henrik Nielsen, director of Nordjyllands Kystmuseum, to which both Mayor and Director wrote back the warm hearted replies. They kindly told me that the representatives of the city would participate in Tokyo Olympic (later on the Game was postponed to 2021 due to COCID-19), and that Bangsbo Museum was dedicated to Mr. Knudsen and kept permanent exhibition of a bust statue of Mr. Knudsen and the related materials to him.
(Permanent exhibition at Bangsbo Museum; Photo by Nordjyllands Kystmuseum)
Again, back in Wakayama prefecture last autumn on a calm and warm day. I bowed with a moment of silence to Mr. Knudsen in front of his memorial tower, seeing a tranquil sea further behind. I was trying to imagine what he thought of in his mind.
(The ocean from Takui port off the coast of Hidaka town; photo by M. Miyagawa in September 2019)
A fellow crew of the Ellen Maersk once said, “Mr. Knudsen was watching the rescue efforts from the closest point. He must have thought that he had to help the drowning man, then acted spontaneously without any hesitation. All the other colleagues could do was just to pray.”
(The rescue boat from the Ellen Maersk preserved at Hidaka town; photo by M. Miyagawa in September 2019)
Both Denmark and Japan have been struggling against COVID-19 and we are about to contain it. Let us try to be patient for a little bit more I really hope that from summer to autumn onward, here in Denmark, it would become possible for us to travel more freely. It will be time for me to accept the invitations from Frederikshavn and visit the grave of Mr. Knudsen in his hometown and report to him as follows;
“Japan and Denmark have done our best in the joint effort to overcome COVID-19, sharing the spirit of solidarity and endurance. We have done it. Thank you for watchingus from the heaven.”
Embassy of Japan in Denmark