From Samurai Chemist To Cherry Blossoms

From Samurai Chemist To Cherry Blossoms

Written on 08/28/2023

Japanese-American biochemist, Jokichi Takamine, crystallized adrenalin, the first hormone to be isolated in the twentieth century, from the adrenal medulla, in the summer of 1900. This was the first pure hormone to be isolated from natural sources.

In his private laboratory, Takamine developed, from a fungus grown on rice, a starch-digesting enzyme similar to diastase; he named it Takadiastase. In 1890 he was called to the United States to devise a practical application of the enzyme for the distilling industry.

At this time he took up permanent residence in the United States, establishing the laboratory at Clifton, N.J., where his pioneering research in the isolation of adrenalin was carried out. The production of Takadiastase for medicinal use was taken over by the Parke-Davis Co., with whom Takamine was associated for the remainder of his career. He maintained close ties with Japan, aiding its development of industrial dyes, aluminum fabrication, nitrogen fixation, the electric furnace, and the manufacture of Bakelite.

As Takamine became wealthier, he left his laboratory work behind and turned his energies toward improving the position of the Japanese in the United States. He helped found the Nippon Club and the Japan Society to foster better relations between Americans and the Japanese. When Takamine learned in 1909 that First Lady Helen Herron Taft was working to beautify the Tidal Basin area around the Potomac River in Washington, DC, he funded a gift of 3000 cherry trees from the mayor of Tokyo to the city of Washington. This symbol of Japanese–American friendship has become a clichéd tourist attraction and festival that began in 1927, but almost no one remembers the man who was instrumental in making it happen.

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