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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:52 03/09/2007
News Review #72: October 10, 2002

Japan celebrates second science Nobel prize in two days

Reviewed By Hitoshi URABE

"Japan celebrates second science Nobel prize in two days"
By Isabel Reynolds, Reuters


Everyone in Japan loves the Nobel Prize. In a most innocent manner they simply adore it.

It was only a day before that Masatoshi Koshiba won the Nobel Physics Prize. Then on Wednesday, the Nobel jury announced that Koichi Tanaka, another Japanese, was chosen to be awarded the Prize in Chemistry.

This is the third straight year that the Prize was won by Japanese. Ryoji Noyori, a Nagoya University professor, won the Nobel chemistry prize last year, and Hideki Shirakawa, a professor emeritus at Tsukuba University, won the same Prize in 2000. This in fact makes for this year's Tanaka the third winner in a row for the Chemistry Prize.

Koshiba and Tanaka would mark the 11th and 12th Japanese Nobel laureate to date. Koshiba is the fourth Japanese to win the Physics Prize, and Tanaka is also the fourth to win the chemistry prize.

Aside from the fact that this was the first time two Japanese were chosen to receive the prize, there are many interesting aspects to this year's two Japanese laureates.

Koshiba is a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo at the age of 76, already well established in academia and in terms of social status. It was quite a while ago when possibilities of his winning the Prize began to be talked about, which, in a sense, finally materialized this year.

Tanaka is an engineer working for Shimadzu Corporation in Kyoto, a company founded in 1875 and running the forefront in areas of biotechnology, semiconductors, and environment. Tanaka is 43 years old, and apparently he was the one more surprised than anyone else in being awarded the Prize. His receipt of the Prize is in a way truly phenomenal for Japanese society. He is not a big name in the society of researchers and his career has not been with academia. The Nobel Foundation in effect declared it is not the fame based on traditional hierarchy that it values but it is the quality of the research itself.

Japan's government is currently running a program for promotion of science and technology. It was informally mentioned that the promotion, and its successors, would be aiming for 30 Japanese winning Nobel Prize during the next 50 years. This year's results would be a significant encouragement for the promoters of the program, especially for the researchers in the field of experimental physics as they have been gulping huge sum of public money and the prize would justify it.

It was 1949 when Hideki Yukawa won the Nobel Physics Prize as the first Japanese ever to become the Nobel Laureate. It was only four years after the cease-fire of WWII and Japan was still struggling to reconstruct the country out of the rubbles. Receiving the Prize by Yukawa was a beam of hope and a source of strength to boost the peoples' morale.

It might be too naive to assume that this year's Prize would have the similar effect to today's society at a comparable magnitude. But this is definitely a good piece of news, a subject everyone could refer to with smile and pride, something we have missed for quite a while.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications