Friends, family remember S. Hadley’s Michihiro Yoshida

  • Michihiro Yoshida, right, who joined the Japanese Air Force at 15, shortly before the end of World War II, is shown in his military uniform. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Yoshida’s painting, titled “Painful Memory,” features several common motifs found throughout his work, including hands, eggs, nature and surrealism. 

  • Michihiro Yoshida and his wife, Gloria, were married in 1979. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Michihiro Yoshida, better known as Yoshi, is shown in younger days. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Michihiro Yoshida (bottom right).

  • Michihiro Yoshida poses with two of his paintings, titled “Cogito Ergo Sum IV” (left) and “Avarice.” SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/15/2018 11:53:22 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — He was known to Mount Holyoke students as “the running man.”

Every day, Michihiro Yoshida would begin his morning with a 5-mile jog. As he got older, he started running 3 miles. But Mount Holyoke students still recognized the 88-year-old with a headband who started out at The Village Commons and ended with a visit to the Mount Holyoke Library, where he would sit for hours at a time to read Japanese newspapers.

Wednesday, Aug. 29, began like any other day as Yoshida set out on his daily jog. But as he crossed the street in front of his apartment at The Village Commons, he was struck by a car and killed.

The accident remains under investigation and no charges have been filed, according to the Northwestern district attorney’s office.

On Sunday, family and friends gathered at Mount Holyoke College in the Warbecke Room to remember a man who was something of a legend around town, where he had lived for nearly two decades. Yoshida — or Yoshi, as he was better known — was a husband, a stepfather, a painter, a writer and a war veteran. He was also a green thumb and a gourmet cook.

“He was in many ways a very steadying figure and also this incredible creative soul that opened my eyes to possibilities that you could be the person you really wanted to be, and not the person corporate America told you to be,” said Yoshida’s stepson Shel Horowitz, who met Yoshida when he was around 10 years old, along with his younger sister Helen. “Even at that young age, that was something I was very eager to discover.”

Horowitz sat near a large window in Yoshida’s apartment, full of the natural light he had loved. For 18 years, he made his home here, and it could almost pass for a small museum, with seemingly more artwork than wall space — at least 140 of his paintings, with even more works rolled up or stacked in corners of his studio. Where there wasn’t art there were plants, around 50 or 60 in all.

“He has kept many of these plants going for decades,” Horowitz said. “I recognize some of these plants from my childhood.”

Although everyone seemed to know Yoshida, Horowitz described him as a man whom few actually knew well. He was often content to spend his days writing or working on an oil painting.

Horowitz’s mother, Gloria Yoshida, was in many ways her husband’s opposite, with an “extremely gregarious” nature and a seemingly endless social circle.

“She had lifelong friends she had met sitting next to on a public bus,” Horowitz said of his mother, who died in 2011. “Yoshi was something of a hermit. Yoshi did not have a high need to socialize. And so there was always that tension with my mom wanting to entertain all the time, and Yoshi wanting to be in his studio or his office creating.”

But despite their differences, Horowitz characterized their relationship as a storybook romance, beginning in 1966 when Yoshida made a stop in New York City. He was in the midst of traveling the world, with a particular interest in seeing the great museums, and intended to stay in New York for just a few months.

Instead, he met Gloria at a party in the Bronx. By 1968, he was living with Gloria and her family. The couple married in 1979 and wouldn’t leave the city until 1993, when they moved just a short distance away to New Jersey.

Horowitz said his stepfather was, like Gloria, an “urban creature.” Horowitz didn’t think that the couple would ever leave the greater New York City area. But in 2000, they moved to South Hadley to be closer to family.

The couple eventually settled in their apartment in The Village Commons, which provided a downtown setting, active social scene and open, sunlit apartment.

“Basically, all Yoshi wanted was a place with good sun, and a place to plug in his computer and put up his easel,” Horowitz said.

In The Village Commons community, Jeffrey Labrecque, the complex’s chief operating officer and Yoshida’s landlord, said Yoshida’s death has left a palpable absence.

Labrecque, who knew Yoshida for 18 years, remembers him as being friendly on his morning jogs, always offering a wave before heading off to the Mount Holyoke campus. People recognized him as the jogger with the headband, he said.

“We have a lot of tenants here, and everyone here is unique to us,” Labrecque said. “But there was a profound uniqueness that (Yoshida) had to us.”

Labrecque was also struck by Yoshida’s artwork, which he described as “unusual” and “something you wouldn’t see every day anywhere else.

“He did what he did quietly and peacefully,” Labrecque said.

“To go from that calmness to this tragedy,” he added, “is just heartbreaking for so many people in the community.”

The ‘Mythic Modernist’

The calmness that Yoshida cultivated in South Hadley contrasts with a much more turbulent time in his life: At age 15, Yoshida, who was born in Kurume, Japan, was a trainer in the Japanese Air Force, placing him among the youngest World War II veterans.

In that same year, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, which Horowitz said deeply disturbed Yoshida and had a profound influence on his life’s work.

If Hiroshima was the “traumatic event of his birth country,” Horowitz said, the 9/11 attacks had a similar effect on Yoshida as “the traumatic event of his adopted country.”

“I think the idea of being able to commit so much violence in one moment was disturbing to him,” Horowitz speculated — Yoshida did not talk about it himself. “He found the idea that human beings would do that much damage to other human beings incredibly shocking.”

Both events had a dramatic effect on Yoshida’s art, which also drew from global influences, incorporating nature, geographic forms, mythological and other recurring motifs, such as hands and eggs. “Things that don’t go together, going together,” Horowitz said.

While Yoshida lived in New Jersey, Horowitz dubbed his stepfather “Montclair’s Mythic Modernist.” It was “a way to quickly sum up in three words what made him different,” Horowitz said, “this combination of modern sensibility and ancient, 1,000-year-old stuff.”

As for what Yoshida made of the pseudonym, “I don’t think he particularly thought a lot about that title,” Horowitz said. “He seemed to think it fit, and was happy to use it. But he never really got around to thinking in English. He thought in Japanese.”

In western Massachusetts, Yoshida continued to share his artwork with solo shows, including an “enormous” one at former state senator Stan Rosenberg’s Boston office.

Horowitz believes that Yoshida still had “hundreds of paintings in his head.” His output slowed somewhat in the last few years of his life due to arthritis, but he did not give up on painting and continued to write every day. His suspense novels won literary awards in Japan.

“He made his mark,” Horowitz said. “And I think that’s what all of us really want to do — just make our mark.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.

 

 




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