Jyokichi Takamine and BSI
Director, Developmental Brain Science Group
the Institute for Protein Research, Osaka University, I became acquainted with
the practical perspectives of scientific research and an academic environment
where researchers pursued pragmatic achievements while fostering unique ways of
thinking in a free atmosphere. Affected by such a pragmatic environment, I took
a post in the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Tokyo.
At the same time, I was asked to join the newly launched research project in neuroscience
at the Life Science Tsukuba Research Center, where I was appointed as a chief
scientist. In the Tsukuba laboratory, competent researchers, including the chief
researcher Yoji Ikawa, engaged in heated discussions day and night, as they aimed
to redefine the practice of life science research. Their topics of discussion
differed widely, ranging from the overall importance of research in top science
to the various ways of approaching issues, developing personnel, and investing
in research just to name a few. At the same time in Wako, the Frontier Research
System was being established as an epochal Japanese research system and this was
where Dr. Masao Ito took his post and later became director. Eager expectations
about brain science and the national budget were combined to help launch the RIKEN
Brain Science Institute (BSI) in Wako with Dr. Ito appointed as Director. The
establishment of the Brain Science Institute was possible because of the great
efforts of many individuals, including the former president Minoru Oda who suddenly
passed away just recently. Our group also moved to Wako where we started working
with the other groups.
In looking back at the ten years that have passed since I joined RIKEN, I realize
that one of RIKEN's most admirable qualities is its effective administrative system.
Once a decision has been made the administrative system will immediately begin
putting into action what has been decided. An administrative system as functional
as the one at RIKEN is rarely seen within universities or similar structures.
What is more, RIKEN is unafraid of making difficult decisions that may have a
decisive impact. For example, when chief scientists are discussing plans, the
members may even work toward implementation of those plans even if they may have
rather negative implications for members of their own systems. This example succinctly
illustrates RIKEN's commitment to policies that focus on eliminating any barriers
which may hamper the future development of science. There is consensus that as
long as there is confidence about the best path to the future, there is a willingness
to go as far as eroding or superseding any short term authority. Even staff members
who once took stances opposing the boards of directors can be appointed as directors
several years after. This rigorous system that encourages healthy debate is exactly
what I admire RIKEN for.
It is therefore not surprising that RIKEN introduced BSI Ñ a new system of a size
comparable to itself Ñ an operation where much of the future direction of the
institute is developed through meetings by the chief scientists.
Furthermore, no description of RIKEN would be complete without remembering Dr.
Jyokichi Takamine. Recently, I had the chance to read a book entitled "The Life
of Jyokichi Takamine - Truth in the Discovery of Adrenaline (Asahi sensho)," which
was jointly written by Kazumasa Iinuma and Tomio Kanno. The book goes on to describe
Dr. Jyokichi Takamine as a scientist who excelled in chemistry and pharmacology
and succeeded in sampling Takadiastase and Adrenaline. He initiated what is today
called "venture business" by patenting "Takadiastase" as a gastrointestinal drug
and "Adrenaline" as a hemostat or vasopressor and gained huge profits from these
patents. Adrenaline was the first hormone in the world to be crystallized out.
What is more, Dr. Takamine insisted on establishing the "Institute of Physical
and Chemical Research (RIKEN)" and contributed greatly to its foundation. He was
convinced that in order to develop human resources that were rich in "originality"
and implement creative achievements, it was necessary to establish a research
institute that was open to the private sector in principal. Accordingly, he suggested
setting up the Institute and requested that the nation provide for the cost of
expenses, which were almost equivalent to the cost of building a state-of-the-art
battleship in those days. This is how the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research
was formed. It is true that Dr. Takamine's venture business success was partly
due to the competent talents that surrounded him, but it was in larger part due
to his own eminent capabilities, such as his competence as an experimental scientist,
his deep foresight, his information-gathering ability, and most importantly his
ability to effectively combine all of his skills in pursuit of his visions for
Science is triggered by basic questions, but it can be difficult to develop it
beyond mere curiosity. Dr. Takamine realized this and not only established a practical
perspective to science at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research but
also worked vigorously to practice a science that went way beyond mere curiosity.
RIKEN is now a unique and mainstream scientific institute in Japan and this present
position is indebted to the precious and determined efforts of Dr. Takamine and
the other competent predecessors that followed. Now, with this great scientific
heritage, BSI is taking another great leap forward.
A system is something that its constituent members should develop on their own.
Yet, even when a system appears to be sufficiently robust, it may be more fragile
than we expect. I do hope that RIKEN BSI will continue to develop competent human
resources and thereby grow from just a source of cutting-edge research information,
into an institute that is capable of scientific leadership on the world stage.