Back in 1999, I got into a discussion of Japanese creativity. For 20 years, I'd been hearing, often from the Japanese themselves, that they weren't creative. On the other hand, I owned a lot of cool gadgets that had at least been improved upon by the Japanese. On the other other hand, it was pointed out to me that the Japanese sure didn't win many hard science Nobel Prizes: only five Japanese winners up through 1999.
Beginning in 2000, however, there have been 11 Japanese hard science Nobel Laureates. The latest is Shinya Yamanaka, age 50, for coming up in 2006 with a much less creepy way to use stem cells. (He shared it with John B. Gurdon of Britain, who was the first to clone an animal way back in 1962.)
Nicholas Wade reports in the NYT:
In a brief interview today, Dr. Yamanaka, who was born in 1962 in Higashiosaka, Japan, said that he had trained as surgeon but “gave it up because I learned I was not talented.” Having seen how little the best surgeons could do to help some patients, he decided to go into basic research and did postdoctoral training at the Gladstone Institutes in California.
“When I came back to Japan in the 90s I suffered from a disease which I called PAD — post-America depression,” he said. Another Japanese Nobel prizewinner, Susumu Tonegawa of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has criticized the lack of research freedom given to scientists in Japan. Dr. Yamanaka said that there were still some problems, but that conditions had become much better since Dr. Tonegawa moved from Japan. Dr. Tonegawa won an unshared Nobel Prize in 1987 for discovering the basis of antibody diversity.