His Life in Full
Jokichi Takamine was born in Takaoka, Toyama, Japan, in 1854.
While still a baby, he moved to Kanazawa where his physician father noticed the young boy’s aptitude for both languages and science. He encouraged him to pursue his interests, even if it meant leaving home. So at the tender age of 12, he won a scholarship to study Western science and moved almost 1000 miles west, to Nagasaki.
Takamine was sent to live with a Dutch family, with whom he continued to study English, and attended a school run jointly by the Portuguese consulate and local government. It was here that he was first introduced to Western science and medicine, and excelled at the school. He showed such promise that he was recommended for medical school in Osaka at the unusually young age of 16. After two years in Osaka, he moved on to Tokyo. Having decided that he would make a better chemist than physician, he enrolled for the chemistry course at the Tokyo College of Science and Engineering, which would later become Tokyo University.
At that time the government was sending great numbers of Japanese abroad to study the gamut of disciplines, be it science, governance, law, education, economics or any of a hundred other areas in which Japan badly needed expertise, to help build a modern state. As a result, the Japanese government was able, in the coming years, to send out students to university. With his fluent English and exemplary academic record, Takamine was chosen to receive a three-year scholarship to further his study of chemistry in Glasgow, and set out for Scotland in 1879, arriving in early 1880.
Scotland seems to have treated the young Takamine well, for he thrived there, not only studying at the university but also embarking on a personal study of the industrial revolution.
He put this to practical use by specializing in the manufacture of fertilizer, another area which the Japanese government had marked out as vital to the modernization of Japanese agriculture. He also developed his knowledge of enzymes which would later enable him to revolutionize the production of alcohol.
After three years in Glasgow, Takamine headed for home.
He started work immediately for the Japanese government at the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce where he was given the task of introducing Western knowledge into Japanese farming. But his stay was to be a short one.
In 1884 he was sent to the USA as a co-commissioner representing Japan at the Cotton Exposition in New Orleans. It is easy to imagine that, had he not made this trip, he might have remained in Japan for the rest of his life as an exceedingly competent but otherwise undistinguished government bureaucrat, making small changes to Japanese agriculture and generally working for the good of the nation. In New Orleans, however, he stayed in the house of a retired military man, Colonel Ebenezer Hitch. Takamine fell in love with his daughter, Caroline Field Hitch, and this was to keep him tied to the USA for the rest of his life. He also met Lafcadio Hearn, one of the earliest and most successful writers on Japan, who later partly credited Takamine with fueling his interest in the country and persuading him to travel there in 1890. In what must have been indubitably a whirlwind romance, before the end of the Exposition Takamine had proposed marriage to Caroline, and promised to return to America once he had made himself financially secure to pursue the proposal.
The match was unconventional for that time, but the couple were evidently deeply committed to each other. After two years working in Tokyo at the Japanese Bureau of Patents and Trademarks, Takamine returned to America. The happy couple were married at the height of a New Orleans summer, on August 10th 1887.
They went on their honeymoon to South Carolina, where, in addition to the usual sightseeing trips, they visited fertilizer factories. Indeed, it seems to have been more of a working holiday than a honeymoon, for not only did he study the aforementioned fertilizer production, Takamine also researched American alcohol production and went to Washington DC to take an intensive course in American patent law.
Before that, however, he would return once more to Japan with his wife, a venture that would be financially rewarding but personally difficult for him.
On his return, he again worked on applying Western technology in Japan, but this time to a private rather than state enterprise. He set up the first super-phosphate factory in Japan with Baron Shibusawa Eiichi and Masuda Takashi, introducing and selling chemical fertilizer to Japanese rice farmers for the first time; up until then night soil had been the major source of fertilizer for rice, with the `soil` of the rich even fetching higher prices than that of the poor because of their better diet!
The venture did not go well at first, but after Takamine had set up a new sales structure, creating contacts with influential fertilizer merchants and offering them monopoly rights over wide areas, the business really took off, and the Tokyo Artificial Fertilizer Company soon established chemical fertilizer as the norm in rice cultivation.
Jokichi and Caroline were also blessed with two children, Jokichi and Eben, born in 1888 and 1890 respectively. However, everyday life was tough. The couple were living with Takamine’s mother, Yukiko, in the insalubrious and perhaps rather malodorous district around the fertilizer plant.
Takamine knew he would not be able to compete in the old and well-established chemical fertilizer industry in the United States. Thus, rather than applying Western technology to Japanese industry, he pondered how he could apply Japanese technology to Western industry. Admirably, he decided on alcohol production as one area where this could be attempted to his advantage.
Takamine took this knowledge to the United States in the 1890s and tried to sell it to the whisky industry.
He was soon employed by the Whiskey Trust, who put him in charge of whisky production at the Peoria distillery. He experimented further with enzymes derived from wheat bran while working here, and ended up turning round the fortunes of the distillery, which now had access to a cheaper, more effective enzyme to break down starch.
He founded the Takamine Ferment Company in 1891 to market the enzyme, and the family appeared to have got off to a flying start in the States.
Takamine was financially ruined. At the same time he was struck down with liver disease which required emergency surgery in Chicago, stretching the family budget even further, and Caroline even took to selling arts and crafts to support the family; something of a step down for the daughter of a famous Southern dynasty.
It was while in hospital that Takamine struck upon his next idea, the one that would make him rich and secure his future. He was considering other uses for the wheat bran enzyme he had developed, and to this, end applied for a patent for the process in 1894.
He was granted U.S. Patent No. 525,823 for deriving amylase from wheat bran using aqueous alcohol. This was the first patent on a microbial enzyme taken out in the United States.
He marketed it through the drug makers Parke, Davis and Company, and the resulting medicine, Takadiastase, became the world’s first commercial indigestion remedy.
It was so successful that you can still pick it up in any pharmacy in Japan or the United States today. Takamine became an adviser to Parke-Davis, and through his patent earned enough money not only to give him financial security but to make him fabulously wealthy. By 1900 he was a millionaire, and he moved to New York with his family and set up a private laboratory in Manhattan.
Takamine now had the financial freedom to devote himself to scientific research, and he applied himself to the problem of obtaining adrenaline.
Polish chemist Napoleon Cybulski managed to extract the substance in impure form in 1895, and in the same year George Oliver and Edward Schafer showed that it could be used to raise the blood pressure of laboratory animals. But the impurities in the extracts obtained often caused the treatment to be more dangerous than the diseases it was meant to cure.
Professor John Abel of Johns Hopkins University had also researched the problem, so Takamine visited him many times during the summer of 1899 to ask him about his methods. He employed an assistant, Keizo Uenaka, and between them they developed a method of deriving pure adrenaline in crystalline form, from the adrenal glands of sheep and oxen.
It was a public and medical sensation. It was used to prevent haemorrhaging during surgery, one of the most important developments since anaesthetic. Takamine applied for the patent which was granted in November 1900, making him the first man to hold a patent on a purified hormone. The following year he presented and wrote single author papers to the New York Medical Society and the Society of Chemical Engineering, and was awarded the right to use the word Adrenalin as a trademark.
He was further challenged by H.L. Mulford, a rival of Parke-Davis, who took the company to court, arguing that Abel was the progenitor of the discovery, and that as a natural animal extract the hormone could not be patented.
The Judge ruled in favour of Takamine, and his discovery and patents were safe.
Takamine used the great wealth which his patent had generated to expand his business activities.
He founded three more companies; Sankyo Pharmaceutical in Tokyo, the Takamine Laboratory in New Jersey, and the Takamine Ferment Company.
He also turned his attention towards improving the lot of the Japanese in the United States, and to improving Japanese-American relations. He founded the Japanese Society of New York and the Nippon Club. Where he often appearedin traditional Japanese dress to give talks on Japan and its culture. He also frequently entertained the cream of New York society at his Japanese-style home, Shofuden
And arranged and financed the gift of 2000 cherry trees from the Mayor of Tokyo to Washington City in 1909 when he learned that the First Lady, Helen Taft, was working to enhance the Potomac River basin.
He was acknowledged by the Emperor of Japan in 1915, who awarded him the Fourth Order of the Rising Sun.
Takamine, after fighting the disease for over half a year, passed away peacefully in July 1922. He was buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in New York, where a stained glass window depicting Mount Fuji, adorns his mausoleum; his mission to bridge the gap between Japan and America enduring in death as it had in life.
Jokichi Takamine gave the world the technology which allows for beer and whisky to be produced commercially and reliably, the first effective medicine for indigestion, and the world’s first effective asthma medicine and remedy for anaphylactic shock.