Reporter's Notebook: Hope in Japan

ByReporters’ Notebook

O K I N A W A, Japan, July 23, 2000 -- For President Clinton, it’s a home away from home. Make that 7,495 miles away from home.

A local resort owner, who can safely be described as eccentric, created a full-scale replica of the president’s modest boyhood home as a tribute to Clinton, who attended his eighth and final G-8 summit as president. “I wanted to make something that will be memorable,” said businessman Takeharu Shiraishi. In Japan, nothing comes cheap. Building the house cost 80 million yen, or roughly $730,000. The home is an accurate re-creation of the house in Hope, Ark., where the president lived for the first four years of his life, according to Beckie Moore, the executive director of the Clinton Birthplace Foundation. Moore, who was brought to Okinawa to see the results of the project, says even the furniture and the photos are identical to those in the Arkansas house. “It looks exactly like it, exactly in every way,” Moore told ABCNEWS. “I think they did a good job recreating the place, pictures and everything.” The house, which is now open to the public on the grounds of the Kanucha Bay Resort, will be left in place permanently. While the real Clinton home in Hope charges $5 admission, access to the replica in Okinawa is free. One woman who toured the home said she was impressed. “To learn that a world leader grew up in an environment like this is very impressive,” said Shugi Mishihira. Another visitor said Clinton’s modest surroundings were superior to those of most Okinawans at the time. “Remembering how we lived in Okinawa back in those days, I am amazed that they had a bathtub and a gas oven back in those days,” said local Emiko Nagamine. Shiraishi says he hopes the Clinton home will inspire young people to achieve great things.“I hope that the young Japanese who come here to visit will have dreams to succeed in their lives like him,” he said. Moore thinks the fact that during his early years Clinton was raised largely by his grandparents has a special appeal to the Japanese. “Family here is very important ... That’s a great message the children will receive,” she said. While Moore says the home is identical to the one in the U.S., those running it aren’t entirely ready to part with their Japanese ways. As is customary in Japan, several pairs of slippers sit just inside the door so that guests can remove their shoes before entering. Funding the replica house did pay off for Shiraishi in one respect: as President Clinton left Okinawa today Shiriashi and Moore had a brief meeting with him on the airport tarmac. The president never visited the house during his three-day stay in Okinawa, but he smiled as he chatted with Moore and Shiraishi at the airport.

SPAM for Survival

Have Okinawans found the elixir of youth? And could it come in cans from the U.S.-based Hormel company? According to government statistics, on average, Japanese people live longer than residents of any other country in the world. And within Japan, Okinawans live longer than those from any other region. It has a particularly high number of residents over 100 years old. Okinawa has more than 350 centenarians. Their percentage of the population is three times higher than in the rest of Japan. Experts attribute the long lives of Okinawans to the diet. “Okinawan food is very good for health,” said Makoto Suzuki, director of Okinawa’s Longevity Research Center. “That is a kind of antioxidant diet with high amounts of vitamins.” The staple of the Okinawan diet is goya champuru, a stir-fried dish with eggs, tofu and a bitter squash-like vegetable, Goya. Suzuki calls it “a very ideal food.” But this Okinawan dish often has one more ingredient most Americans wouldn’t think of as health food: SPAM. That’s right, the canned luncheon meat. After the U.S. military invaded this island in 1945, SPAM was distributed to soldiers and civilians alike. Local residents, who faced considerable deprivation during the war, took a liking to the American pork product. They began mixing it into their traditional meals and have continued to do so to this day. (The goya champuru dish was served to reporters covering the president’s trip. Between the bitter Goya and the SPAM, it’s an acquired taste.) One convenience store near the press hotel carries about a dozen different brands and sizes of canned meat. One SPAM-like product was available in a cannon-shell shaped two kilogram can. Suzuki doesn’t advise people to eat large quantities of SPAM, but he says that collagen in the pork-based food may contribute to long lifespans. Okinawan Kyuchuo Kishimoto, a 104-year-old farmer, says he like vegetables, but he isn’t sure what worked for him would work for others. “You eat what you like,” Kishimoto said. “Some live long time. Some die young.... I don‘t know how I did it.”