I was born on July 7, 1958 in a small town facing the Seto Inland Sea. My father, Chuichi, worked at an automobile company and my mother, Fukiko, and grandparents Sakae and Aiko raised agricultural products in the small fields around our house. Although there was no atmosphere of science in my family, it was my dream since childhood to be a PhD scientist. My interest was driven by the comics I loved to read, such as Mighty Atom (called Astroboy in the American movie) and Mach Go Go Go (Speed Racer in the American movie). I found a bright future in Science and Technology. I was also affected by the movie “Modern Times” by Charlie Chaplin. I did not want to work for a company, but rather to obtain an academic position in a university, and to ultimately work as a professor. Although my family was not rich, my parents worked hard and allowed me to go to school for as long as I wished.
I first studied biochemistry in the lab of Dr Ikuo Yamashina, who passed away this January (2014), at the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences of Kyoto University (1981–1985). My mentors are Drs Yamashina and Toshisuke Kawasaki, who is currently at Ritsumeikan University. After finishing the graduate school programme, I was fortunate to obtain a permanent position as an instructor in the lab of Dr Kyozo Hayashi at a local university (Gifu Pharmaceutical University). Dr Hayashi tasked me with biochemically investigating a factor secreted by cancer cells. I worked hard and published eight papers in the four years from 1985 to 1989. As I did not think this project held much promise for me, and wanted to do something of greater interest and importance, I decided to quit that job and go to the USA to pursue my real interest and learn molecular biology. I sent applications to three labs but was not accepted. Dr Yasunori Kozutsumi, my senior at Dr Yamashina’s lab, suggested that I apply to the lab of Drs Mary-Jane Gething and Joe Sambrook at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Joe is one of the three authors of the book “Molecular Cloning”, which is considered to be the bible of molecular biology. Very fortunately, they accepted me. I joined their lab as a post-doc in April, 1989, and encountered the Unfolded Protein Response (UPR). This happy meeting was to change my entire life.
My wife Sachiko and I married one year before we went to Texas. I worked hard at the lab, but we had time for tennis with friends every Saturday evening. During summer and winter holidays we loved travelling within the US, a huge country, and visited around thirty national parks, each unique and beautiful in its own way. We also went to Cancun, Mexico, and visited the three Mayan ruins of Chichien Itza, Uxmal, and Palenque — all so impressive.
After four and a half engrossing years at Mary-Jane and Joe’s lab, we returned to Japan where I obtained a deputy research manager position (1993–1996) and then a research manager position (1996–1999) at the HSP (heat shock protein) Research Institute under the direction of Dr Takashi Yura, who had just retired from Kyoto University. After five and a half amazing years at Takashi’s Institute, Dr Manabu Negishi offered me an associate professorship in his lab at the newly established Graduate School of Biostudies of Kyoto University (1999). After four fascinating years at Manabu’s lab, I became a full professor at the Graduate School of Science of Kyoto University (2003). In this way my childhood dream was fulfilled.
Although I have changed laboratories every four or five years, I feel that I have finally settled down at my current institution. I have also changed experimental systems to meet new goals: from yeast to mammalian cells and then to mice, and seven years ago we also began to employ the medaka fish system. My ultimate goal is a comprehensive understanding of the biology, physiology and evolution of the UPR.
I like to watch various sports. Since junior high school I have practiced Kendo, a modern Japanese sport/martial art which uses a bamboo sword (shinai) and protective armour (bogu). Kendo is now widely practiced not only in Japan but also in many other countries around the world. I practiced Kendo in Dallas and instructed many Americans, and our Texas/Colorado team won the bronze medal in an All United States Kendo Federation Championship. My ranking in Kendo is now five (go-dan). I swing a wooden sword one hundred times every morning. I also instruct elementary school students once a week, with the goal of helping them achieve a sound mind in a sound body.
We have three children, our son Tomohide and daughters Megumi and Linna, all still teenagers who have to attend school and regrettably, with my wife Sachiko, are unable to attend the ceremony. To my great happiness, my eighty-five year old parents both enjoy robust health and I look forward to attending the ceremony with them.
24 September 2014 Hong Kong