The seminar's members, representing the full range of academic disciplines that bear upon the study of Japan and including Japan specialists from government, business, and the nonprofit sectors, meet regularly to discuss scholarly papers on all aspects of modern Japan, from history, literature, art, and the performing arts to politics, economics, social issues, and the US-Japan bilateral relationship.

Seminar: #445

Founded: 1960

May 22, 2008

April 24, 2009
James Bartholomew (Ohio State)
"Gen'ichi Kato's Nobel Candidacy: Nerve Physiology and the Politics of Science, 1924-1937"

During the interwar period, Gen’ichi Kato (1890-1979) gained renown as one of the foremost nerve physiologists in the world for his isolation of single muscle and nerve fibers. This achievement, coming after many years of unsuccessful efforts by others, created a revolution in the specialty and gave medical science a far more precise understanding of the central nervous system than ever before. Nominated for the 1937 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine by Keio University associates, by a colleague from Argentina, and by the great Ivan Pavlov, Kato’s work received a highly favorable evaluation by the Nobel Committee’s designated referee. Nonetheless, Kato received no award on this occasion or any other. My presentation explores Kato’s brilliant, but complicated life. An early victim of vicious attacks by a former mentor and academic rival, Kato was able to survive through the patronage of the famed microbiologist S. Kitasato. Along the way he cultivated relationships with prominent scientists in Europe and the United States. One cannot say exactly why his Nobel candidacy failed, but foreign scientists’ reactions to his aggressive personality, involvement by Japanese officials in the candidacy itself, and the usual distance – geographic, cultural, political – between Japan and Sweden were likely contributing factors.

Discussant: William Johnston (Wesleyan University)