Former Japan Airlines executive was hero


POSTED: Thursday, January 29, 2009

Former Japan Airlines executive Katsuya Nohara was not only instrumental in opening up the airways between Honolulu and Japan, but he was also a skillful negotiator and hero.

Nohara died at home in Waikiki on Sunday after a battle with liver cancer, surrounded by family. He was 85.

His distinguished career at Japan Airlines spanned nearly four decades, beginning in 1953, when the company was established and he was posted in Honolulu to open its first foreign office.

Three years later he was dispatched to Washington, D.C., to negotiate routes to the U.S. for the airline.

His career took him all over the world - including San Francisco, New York and London - but he would eventually return to Honolulu, where his wife, Toshi, was from, as general sales manager for Japan Airlines in 1963.

He was valuable to Japan Airlines because he was bilingual and a good negotiator. Nohara also served as president and chairman of the board of Jalpak.

Though he was known in the business community as an airline executive, Nohara's greatest act, according to daughter Dorcie Sakuma, was when he offered himself in exchange for passengers taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists on a hijacked plane.

He was then the head of Japan Airlines' Europe, Middle East and Africa division.

Nohara eventually was taken hostage, said Sakuma, in an ordeal that would continue in Syria and then Libya. The passengers were eventually released, unharmed, and he was given an award for heroism by the late Japanese Emperor Hirohito.

“;He was a hero, but he never told us anything about that,”; said Sakuma. “;He was always humble.”;

Born in Tientsin, China, Nohara grew up across the globe in London before moving to Tokyo for middle school and high school, eventually graduating from Tokyo University.

It was also in Japan that he would meet his wife, Toshi, who is originally from Wahiawa and going to university there.

He was an avid golfer, a sport he started at the age of 7, thanks to an aunt who was the first female golfer in Japan. He also enjoyed skiing, soccer, tennis and polo. He played soccer until he was well into his 80s.

Because he lived through World War II and its hardships, Sakuma said her father was a proponent of peace. He donated often to nonprofit groups such as Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF.

Family members and friends said Nohara was known for his integrity, humility, honesty, hard work and compassion.

“;He saw how people had to suffer through war,”; said Sakuma. “;He was very generous in donating to charities that benefited the underprivileged.”;

Nohara is survived wife Toshi Frances of Honolulu; daughters Dorcie Sakuma, Anne Abaya and Mary Nohara Jones; and son Steven.

Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Feb. 9 at Hosoi Garden Mortuary. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Doctors Without Borders in memory of Nohara.