Yiannis Papadatos, President of the Estia organization in Nea Smyrni, offered an honorary plaque to Japanese Ambassador to Greece, Masuo Nishibayashi, for the assistance of a Japanese ship to Greeks during the Asia Minor catastrophe in 1922.
The Asia Minor catastrophe, as it came to be known, put an end to three thousand years of Greek presence in Asia Minor as a million refugees were pushed out to the harbor from a burning city on September 8, 1922. French, British and United States ships docked idly by as thousands drowned. Those that managed to leave doubled the populations of Athens and Thessaloniki.
Their plight is one that is well-known to most Greeks, however there is a lesser-known side of the story. A Japanese merchant ship showed humanity by throwing the silk and lace it was carrying overboard to make way for the population.
The name of the captain of the Japanese ship remains unknown, however oral accounts from Greeks and Armenians, who were transported to Piraeus and other Greek ports, spoke of the heroic act, made even more formidable when taking into account that the Japanese official line was in sympathy with the Turkish side. The story acquires even greater importance when bearing in mind that the Greek government had issued an order that Greek ships refrain from rescuing the survivors of the city.