• 2023.02.15
  • A Portuguese swimmer and atomic bomb survivor
Yokochi Shintaro was a Portuguese swimming coach who led his son, Alexandre Yokochi, to the Olympic finals.
No doubt he was the most famous Japanese person living in Portugal and one of the most important figures in Portuguese sports.

Strong, straight-backed Yokochi was tall for a Japanese person of his generation (2012)

Yokochi was born in 1935, just as Japan headed into World War II. He survived the atomic bomb when it fell on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
Yokochi began swimming when he was studying at Waseda University. He developed an exceptional record and was expected to join the Japanese Olympic team. Unfortunately, an injury kept him from participating in the Games. He did, however, coach the Portuguese swimming team towards five Olympic appearances.

Yokochi first arrived in Portugal in 1958. The Sport Algés e Dafundo (https://www.sportalgesedafundo.com/) athletic club asked the Embassy of Japan in Portugal to send a coach. The embassy then sent Yokochi upon recommendation from the Japan Swimming Federation. His contract was originally for three months, but Yokochi somehow found himself still in Portugal after sixty years.

I first met Yokochi in the early 1980s, when my father moved to Portugal on business.
I went to a Japanese supplementary school where Yokochi was teaching swimming to all of the students. At his house, his wife Irma’s mother would sit unmoving in a chair all day, which was a bit unnerving. I even fell from a boat at a marina, and Yokochi scooped me up with one hand to save me. I remember it all like it was yesterday.
I was about the same age as his second daughter, and I have fond memories of climbing trees in the yard and eating loquats together.
Despite his massive size, his oldest son Alexandre had an adorable habit of pouring ketchup on everything he ate—to the point that everyone called him “Mr. Ketchup.” He was already an accomplished swimmer back then, and ended up taking 7th place in the 200-meter breaststroke in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He remains the only swimmer in Portuguese history to make the Olympic finals.

Yokochi and his wife Irma, whom he called Tsubaki Hime (Lady of the Camellias) (2012)

When I returned to Portugal and met Yokochi again after a 20-year absence, I was both embarrassed and delighted to find that he still remembered me as “the girl who fell from the boat in the marina.”

Yokochi and I at a restaurant in Ericeira (2014)

Yokochi had several other amazing experiences in his life beyond his illustrious career as a swimming coach. He’d also tell you about them at an animated pace, sucking you completely into his world before you knew it.
One of his most memorable stories took place when he first came to Portugal. There were no other passengers on the plane, and the cabin attendants felt sorry for the scared young Yokochi (he was just 22 at the time), so they gathered around him and held his hand the whole way. And then of course, there’s the story of the bomb in Hiroshima.
Yokochi was just nine years old when the bomb fell on Hiroshima. When he saw the massive red fireball drop into the horizon from his classroom window, he thought the sun had fallen out of the sky. Then came a thunderous sound followed by a powerful wind. The other students crouched in the hallway as instructed by the teacher, but young Yokoichi ran in the opposite direction over to the window that had been blown out to see the fallen sun. He thrust his head out of the second-floor classroom window with so much force that he ended up falling to the ground. Terrified, he got up and ran home.
Little Boy ended up being dropped 12 kilometers from Yokochi’s house. Its windows shattered, but the house itself apparently remained standing. A few days later, Yokochi went with his father into the city of Hiroshima and saw, as a nine-year-old boy, the kinds of atrocities you and I have read about in our textbooks.

The tragedy made the Hiroshima boy grow up before his time. He ended up marrying and raising three kids in Portugal, however, and was blessed with seven grandchildren as well.
On January 15 of this year, Yokochi passed away peacefully as an elderly man of 87. For a person who weathered so many ups and downs in life, this seems to me to be a profound blessing.

My daughter and Yokochi’s granddaughter (the two girls on the front left) at the Korean Festival, standing in front of a picture of Alexandre competing in the Korean Olympics


  • Megumi Ota
  • JobConservator, interpreter, and coordinator / Insitu (restoration), Kaminari-sama / Novajika, and others

I’m a conservator and preservationist living in Portugal. I specialize primarily in paintings (murals) and gold leaf design, and am involved with UNESCO World Heritage structures as well as the interior of the Palace of Belém. I derive great satisfaction from having close ties to my community in the rural village near the Silver Coast where I live. My hobby is gardening.

View a list of Megumi Ota's

What's New


What's New