By Hitomi Kayama
Skim through any list of famous, influential, and highly-accomplished Japanese individuals, and you’ll notice fairly quickly that the majority of them have tread upon the same, familiar gingko leaves that plaster our campus grounds. Take for example the seven (out of nineteen) Nobel Prize Laureates, the Crown princess, and the 15 prime ministers which have served throughout the country’s peaks and troughs. It’s tempting to boast about one’s own institution, but this is apparently observable even at a bureaucratic level – famously, government agencies were once ordered to implement a 50 percent quota of Todai-graduate employees in fear of loss of diversity. If you’re like me, your future prospects might not be so elaborate, let alone comparable to the folks mentioned above. But fear not – closer inspection of the myriad of names gives hint to the fact that University life, regardless of how much time your particular course demands, won’t prescribe you to any expected role in the future. It becomes clear that success is indefinable, comes in unexpected forms, and is nothing elusive if we find a more personal way to make a difference. Here are just a handful of names you might not have come across before, but will surely recall in the future.
Kikunae Ikeda patented the manufacture of monosodium glutamate – if this doesn’t ring a bell, think ‘umami’. Ikeda was a chemist who just happened to discover the chemical root of one of the basic tastes (the others which are sweetness, bitterness, sourness, and saltiness).
Kanō Jigorō was the founder of judo, the first Japanese martial art to be recognized as Olympic-worthy. To top this, he was the first Asian to serve in the International Olympic Committee, and played a pivotal role in bringing the Games to Tokyo in 1940.
Hidesaburō Ueno is famed for being the owner of Hachiko, the most loyal dog that lived. The innumerable books and films, as well as the bronze statue that stands to this day in Shibuya, pay tribute to the unconditional care one can suppose he gave to his faithful hound. On a more poignant note; the Komaba campus was the exact location Ueno died whilst giving an agricultural studies lecture. It’s almost impossible not to revere him for his dedication to Todai, where he undertook both undergraduate and graduate studies, as well as taking up positions as a professor.
Seiji Ogawa, currently aged 79, is the founder of the technology behind fMRI – otherwise known as brain imaging. Having invented what is now an indispensible tool in the world of both clinical research and medicine, this man has single-handedly saved and will continue to save lives.
Hitomi is a first-year PEAK student at the University of Tokyo.