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Yamamoto, Hiroshi:
Eldest son of the world's first Japanese believer

by Marion Yazdi

published in Bahá'í News, 599, pages 10-12
1980-04
Hiroshi Yamamoto, eldest son of Kanichi (Moto) Yamamoto, the first Japanese Bahá’í in the world, died September 18, 1979, at the age of 70.

Hiroshi was the brother of Shinji Yamamoto, retired State Architect of Wisconsin who now serves on committees planning the new national Archives building in Wilmette. He was also the brother of Mas Yamamoto of Oakland, Fumiko Ono of Berkeley, and Mich Yamamoto of Santa Paula, California.

Hiroshi's childhood was exceptional. He lived with his parents in the Oakland home of Mrs. Helen S. Goodall at 1537 Jackson St. Mrs. Goodall, after moving to San Francisco, kept the Jackson St. house open for Bahá’í gatherings with Moto in charge. His sons, Hiroshi, Shinji and Masao, were favorites with the early believers who met there.

When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came to California on October 3, 1912, He stayed at 1815 California St., San Francisco, and it was Moto who lived in that house and joyously served Him. The Master showed great love for three-year-old Hiroshi and his two brothers. He would hold Hiroshi on His knee and talk and play with him. He gave the young boy the Arabic name "Hassan," meaning "goodness."

For a description of Hiroshi at that time we are indebted to Juanita Storch (who was 17 years old at the time) and the entry in her diary on October 12, 1912. She described the scene as the Bahá’í children, their parents and friends started to gather for an historic afternoon meeting with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:

It was Columbus Day and the people were about Lake Merritt enjoying the celebration but we were going to see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

‘Abdu’l-Bahá and his party were eating in the dining room and I saw a glimpse of them as I went through the hall to take off my coat. Mrs. Cooper greeted us and made us feel at home. The Bahai atmosphere always encourages those few who had like us come early.

Then Catherine and I went outside into the garden. Moto's wife and little boys were on the lawn in the back yard . . . Catherine and I sat in the teahouse for awhile and then walked around the house a few times. It seemed a wonderful privilege to encircle the house in which the Blessed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was at that moment.

I asked Hiroshi to walk with me but he only smiled and scampered off. As we went around one side of the house, he went around the other and when we met he slipped his little soft hand into mine and looked up with his little black shiny eyes and gave me another of his happy smiles. He sat between us for awhile on a big seat in the teahouse and didn't say a word, but his face was actually aglow with smiles. Then he gently slipped from us and ran to his mother who was sitting in a swing under a Magnolia tree.

(Later that afternoon when a photo was taken of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on the top step of Mrs. Goodall's home and the friends were gathered on the other steps, I was on the bottom one, and Hiroshi was sitting on my lap.)

In 1919, after the Oakland home was sold, Moto moved to Berkeley to be near Alec and Kathryn Frankland. It was most important to him that his children be taught the Bahá’í Faith. Mrs. Frankland, and later Marion Carpenter (Yazdi) held weekly Junior classes attended by Hiroshi and his brothers and sister. Hiroshi learned prayers and Hidden Words and gave little talks in a shy, endearing way. At the first Western Bahá’í Teaching Conference, held in San Francisco on November 24-26, 1922, he and the other children took part. They were irresistible—attractive, well-mannered, sparkling and intelligent.

Hiroshi was a member of the Berkeley Bahá’í community until December 7, 1941. After the attack at Pearl Harbor he and his family were interned with other Japanese-Americans, first at the Tanforan race track in South San Francisco, and later at Camp Topaz, ISO miles south of Salt Lake City, Utah. The family was allotted one room. Even though faced with severe hardships, they never complained.

After the war, Hiroshi taught at Yale University for the Navy. He attended the Bahá’í National Convention in 1948 with his father and Kathryn Frankland. There was always a special bond between Hiroshi (in fact, all the Yamamotos) and Mrs. Frankland.

Hiroshi worked for more than 20 years for Pan American World Airways. He moved from Berkeley to Los Angeles and Hawaii, traveling for his company as a field representative. Always, a letter of identification written by the secretary of the Spiritual Assembly of Berkeley went with him. He presented the letter to the Assembly when he returned in the spring of 1977 to become once again a member of the Berkeley Bahá’í community.

Hiroshi was quite ill during his last years. Still, it was good to talk to him on the telephone and to receive his letters. He was always cheerful, kind, and full of appreciation. He was devoted to the Faith, his family, and his friends.

It was in keeping with his character that he made an heroic effort in 1978 to attend the memorial services for a close friend, Ali Yazdi. He sat next to Ali's wife at the graveside and stood with the others for prayers. Because he was paralyzed on one side, it was difficult for him. He had a tremendous sense of loyalty.

As we pay loving tribute to dear, courageous Hiroshi Yamamoto, we feel acutely the loss of yet another of that valiant little band of early believers who knew the Master.

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