Oral History Transcript — Dr. Taro Takahashi
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Interview with Dr. Taro Takahashi
Taro Takahashi; June 27, 1997
ABSTRACT: Family background and early education; effects of World War II; University of Tokyo (1950- 1953); Columbia University (1953-1957); Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, post doctoral research (1957-1959); Vema research; carbon dioxide research; Strontium 90, Project Sunshine; environmental movement (circa 1960s); global warming; Scripps Institute of Oceanography (1959-1960); comparison of Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory work environment to Scripps Institute of Oceanography; work with J. Laurence Kulp, W. Maurice Ewing, Roger Revelle, Al Gore.
TranscriptSession I | Session II
Levin:Today's date is the twenty-seventh of June, 1997 and this is an interview with Taro Takahashi. And we are now at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. And this is Tanya Levin and Mike Sfraga and we will be doing the interview.
Sfraga:We know that you were born on November fifteenth, 1930. I wonder if you can give us a sense of perhaps what your family was like early on growing up and what your home was like?
Takahashi:Oh, we're going to go back to that far? Well, I was born in Tokyo, Japan, as the first son of a fairly well-to-do merchant in downtown Tokyo. Then the family business was men's hat wholesale and manufacturing. However, the family business changed drastically at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, beginning of the Second World War. And those — essentially our family business collapsed, particularly after the bombing, the massive bombing of Tokyo, I guess, in 1943 to '45. Essentially we lost everything. However, my parents managed to scrape enough money so that I went to university as a — I majored in mining engineering. And that was sort of my father's profession, I'm essentially a third generation mining engineer. That's the way I came out.
Levin:So even though your father had the shop, he was essentially trained as an engineer?
Takahashi:That's probably — yes. My mother's side was in the hattery business. And my father was adopted into the family by marriage. So that my mother's maiden name is Takahashi, and that's the name I inherited. So that father was a trained engineer, but by marriage, he gave up his profession and became a businessman.
Levin:Is that typical that the groom is adopted into the wife's family?
Takahashi:Oh yes. That's very common. And the families who only have daughters, you know, adopt a man by marriage. And carries on the family business.
Sfraga:What was the feeling with your father giving up his profession, before he went into the hattery? Did he have a profession in engineering?
Takahashi:Oh yes. As a matter of fact, that is the connection, my connection to the United States. He majored in essentially the drilling, oil drilling. And came to the Galveston area in Texas around, I think it's 1919 or 1920 that time, and stayed there, worked there for four years. And I remember when I was a child going through my father's old photographic albums. And the image of the United States was, you know, oil derricks and cattle. So that's about all I [laughter] knew about the United States. That was an interesting picture of the United States to me. So when I decided to go to graduate school after my graduation from the engineering school of the University of Tokyo in 1953, I decided to come to the United States for graduate school, and U.S. was nothing unfamiliar to me in that sense. But the reason why I came to Columbia as a graduate student was due to two accidents probably. I bumped into then a member of the occupational, U.S. Occupational Forces in Tokyo, and he was the head of the United States Geological Survey, of the military geology division. And he was a graduate of Columbia in the geology department and so was his wife. And —
Levin:Do you recall his name?
Takahashi:Sherman Neushell (?). And his wife's name is Virginia. And then he urged me that if I wanted to come to the United States and study geology, they said Columbia is the best. Well, that's one. And also I thought about it, and that time, you know, professional baseball's here. Yankees and Dodgers were the top of the world. So I said [laughter] I wasn't bothered to think being in any other city. [Laughter] Fortunately, I had the chance to see Don Larson's perfect game, and that sort of thing.
Sfraga:Did you see that in person?
Takahashi:Yes. On real time, but on TV in the West End Cafe near Columbia. And that was personally worth it.
Sfraga:Was American baseball very big?
Takahashi:No. No. They were not in Japan, then. But I was very much interested in, you know, to see real stuff. Because I was interested in it. I played baseball myself.
Sfraga:At what level? Did you play at —?
Takahashi:Oh no. Just, you know, the college, inter-college level. So nothing.
Sfraga:Did you work in your father's hat store?
Takahashi:Yes, I did. I was essentially groomed to become, you know, his successor. And after the war ended, I was asked by ex-employees of the business, my father's business, and they asked me whether I'm interested in becoming the head, for reviving the family business. And I tried it when I was in college. I worked in there, retail stores and things for several months. And I decided not to.
Levin:When you were in school in your early years of schooling, the early grammar school, did you get trained broadly? Or was your school specific for certain types, like science? Do you remember?
Takahashi:This is in grade school?
Takahashi:Oh, the grade school which I went to was very progressive, a private school. And its founder was, name was Fukuzawa, and who was, I think is a very powerful spokesman for the American type democracy. He owned newspapers and spoke in favor of American-type democracy and even before the war, and spoke up against the military dominance in pre-war Japan. And so that I was definitely in my upbringing was in a very pro-American environment, no doubt about it.
Levin:Is that why your parents chose that school? Did your parents share that ideology?
Takahashi:Oh yes. Oh yes. Definitely. The choice of my parents, no question about that.
Levin:Do you think it had something to do with your father going to the U.S.?
Takahashi:Oh yes. I think yes. And, you know, it's a social circle where my, particularly my mother went around was — I would say intellectually very pro-American circle of the Japanese society at the time. Which included the founder of NEC Company, which is now a big electronic company. And Mr. Iwadare was his name. And he was, as a matter of fact, he worked with Thomas Edison. And then he — his son, I think, graduated from MIT and again this is very — and I think his son became, well the founder, Mr. Iwadare himself, became a Quaker. And so it's a pro-American environment I grew up in.
Sfraga:What type of environment was that then when — there must have been conflict? Your parents must have felt a conflict and perhaps pressure from others within Japan because they were so pro-American and then we had this great war. What was that like to be pro-American and put in that kind of a situation?
Takahashi:I did not particularly feel, you know, as a young teen to know any pressure. I think the Japanese community as a whole, particularly children, were confused by different kinds of signals they got, you know. Before the Pearl Harbor attack, just to say a name like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig was commonly known and worshipped as demi-gods, whereas now we are fighting against the country who produced this. That sort of became kid's mind. We were very confused about that. And, for example, that time Hershey chocolate was a premier item. Wealthy kids had that. Ten cents. And the poorer kids could afford five cents domestic chocolate. You know, that kind of thing. And American merchandise had a prestige in pre-war Japan.
Levin:What sort of home did you grow up in? What was it like? Did you have a large family?
Takahashi:Yes. As a matter of fact, my mother was the oldest of six sisters. And that family had no boy. That's the reason why by marriage my father was adopted into my family. And when I was a young kid I remember still there were three aunts living with us. And, you know, every other year or so they have seen that marriage parties and things, I thought that was — that's the way that life was, and that's the only life I knew about. What else? What can I say?
Sfraga:And your father was able to take care of all of this family because the business was doing quite well, very prosperous?
Takahashi:Yes. Very much so. And we were, I think, one of the biggest hat wholesale units in Japan that time. And because of my father's connection to Texas, he brought into that, I think, an agreement with the Stetson Company, and sole distributor of the Texas hats in prewar Japan.
Sfraga:So we actually had Stetson hats in Tokyo?
Sfraga:What did your father do after the…what did the family do after the war with their business now in ruins?
Takahashi:Yes. And my father had a serious illness, had a big operation before the war, just before the war. So he was essentially, you know, operating at half, fifty percent level.
Sfraga:What was the nature of his illness?
Takahashi:Oh I think he had, I think some kind of kidney failure and lost one of the kidneys. Must be a terrible situation. It's, you know, business is in ruins and the Japanese economy was in ruins. So we essentially lived by selling a piece of land and properties.
Sfraga:So your family had property then, a good amount of property?
Takahashi:In Tokyo, yes.
Levin:Who were you able to sell it to?
Takahashi:Well, it's certainly other — many other businessmen who profited by the war effort. So. We, on the other hand, you know, suffered by the war.
Levin:So some actually profited from it?
Levin:Some of the businessmen there actually?
Takahashi:Oh yes. Sure. It's, anything related to the war, hardware, you know, metal supplies to the machinery. Yes.
Sfraga:Was there pressure on you to revitalize this business from a family standpoint?
Takahashi:No. Not at all. That was — I'm very grateful to my mother. And my mother said, well, do whatever I like best. And so here I am.
Sfraga:Do you remember? Sort of an elementary question here. But do you remember vividly the Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Takahashi:Oh yes. Very well. I was probably age fifteen when the Hiroshima bomb fell. And, as a matter of fact, the military draft for the army came down to age fifteen, and I was, you know, if the war had lasted for few more months, I would have ended up in the military service. But anyway, yes, I remember that newspaper came out next day after the Hiroshima bomb. And they said new type of the bomb. And, you know, they knew pretty much what that was.
Sfraga:What were your personal feelings about that? Do you remember? How did you feel about that?
Takahashi:Not much. I think the bombings were that time, you know, everywhere. Nuclear bomb or conventional bomb.
Levin:Or the fire-bombing technique at Tokyo?
Takahashi:Yes. That's right. It didn't matter too much. But in Hiroshima, as a little side story of my family. As my — one of my uncles was a medical doctor and drafted into the army. And he was second in command of the Hiroshima army hospital. And he received a transfer order two days, effective two days before the bomb fell. However, he couldn't leave the city because his boss, the head of the hospital, was in Tokyo for conference. And he called my uncle up apparently and then asked him to stay in Hiroshima until he returned. And my uncle stayed in Hiroshima and that day the bomb fell. And the army hospital was not too far from the epicenter. And he essentially evaporated. So that was it. You know, one of the side stories in my family and the Hiroshima bomb. You asked me about it.
Sfraga:Do you remember the bombing of Tokyo as well? These massive bombings of Tokyo?
Takahashi:Oh yes. Yes. It's—
Levin:Do you remember air raid drills during high school?
Takahashi:Oh yes. Yes. Well my first encounter was that, you may know, Dolittle raid over Tokyo. And I was coming back from school. I guess I must have been in grade school, and coming home. And that morning, Saturday that was, yes, Saturday or Friday. We had in Tokyo the air raid practice. So that, you know, in the morning I heard the air raid siren and then it's all clear sign. All clear sign sounded in the twelve noon, and Dolittle, one of the Dolittle's planes came in 12:03 or something. So that I was totally confused and so as military, whether this is a real or practice. You know, practice ended in three, five minutes before the plane came in. So that was one of the serendipities for the Dolittle raiders. When anti-aircraft guns went off, it was twenty minutes after the planes left. So that is, war is a series of comedies or comedy of errors, whatever it is.
Sfraga:That must have been an incredibly confusing time for you. As a youth you grew up with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and your family connection to the States, and then you're at war with the States. And the allies, you know, force the surrender. It must have been perhaps bittersweet or much confusion.
Takahashi:Was — yes. Wasn't too much for me because my father predicted this war going to end in a Japanese defeat. There's no question about it in his mind.
Sfraga:Why did he feel that?
Takahashi:Well he worked in the Texas oil. And the oil was gushing out, and then he returned, you know, five years later to Japan. And he — one of the oil companies approached him to find out whether he could work for them. And apparently, he told me that he went to look at the oil field in Japan. This is he said the sparrow's tear, tear drop vs. Niagara Falls. How can you wage the war? But while, you know, I lost one of my uncles by atom bomb. Whereas the life has always the compensating side. My father's life was spared. Because of his expertise in oil, the Japanese government asked him to become a consultant and him to go to the newly occupied southeast Asia. I don't remember whether it's Dutch Borneo or wherever that was the oil field. And he said first yes, then after he went through the medical test and things, he decided not to. But even the date of the ship which he was supposed to be on was set, I remember. And that ship was sunken by a U.S. submarine. So his, his life was spared. Interesting twists. Everything is a matter of days and week where you be able to, or he died.
Sfraga:Did he do other — did he do eventually any other consulting for the Japanese government during the war?
Takahashi:He taught at a university and the oil recovery technique. That's as far as he went.
Levin:What was being taught in your school about why the war was being fought?
Takahashi:Well, I think in my school, again, this is an unusual school, the purpose of the war was never being said. And that was a topic that's not touched. If they said something which they believed in, probably they were arrested by the Kempei or Gestapo. So just there was very much silence in that. However, my sister went to public school, and I heard, sort of the public propaganda through my sister's side. Which certainly, you know, hopped up about the western, the evils of the western colonialism, you know, the U.S., British, Dutch, all part of this colonization of the entire Asia. And they're trying to get to Japan. And that's essentially what the party line was.
Sfraga:So you and your sister went to different schools?
Takahashi:That's right. I don't know why. Just because I think, you know, that time in the Japanese family system, I was the one who was supposed to succeed the family business. Whereas, my sister will be married away.
Sfraga:What kind of things were you reading as a young boy? Did you read science or science fiction or popular —? What was your interest in reading? Obviously baseball was —
Takahashi:Oh baseball was. But I think the reading was very much world literature. And, of course, the translation or abbreviated translation into Japanese. And those are the books — you know, Les Miserables, for example, I liked very much. What is that, Huckleberry Finn? I remember that. You know, so that western literature. You know, basic things that I was very much familiar with and I liked those stories.
Levin:Did you have a library in your home?
Takahashi:Yes. We lived comfortably with a lot of books.
Levin:Do you remember any journals coming into your house?
Takahashi:The magazines, you mean? Yes. Well, one of the things I was very much interested in, I think, it's the American journal. The — oh what is the name — I think it's oil engineering or something like that. My father subscribed and came through Switzerland or something. And glossy, beautiful magazines which I remember. You know, of course in English. Beautiful pictures of airplanes and of cars and things that. Things — So in that sense, again, my family was non-typical of a Japanese family at that time.
Levin:Did you talk with your father about his work that he did in U.S. with his oil engineering?
Takahashi:Oh yes, yes. Oh yes. Very much so.
Levin:Did you talk broadly about science in general?
Takahashi:Yes. Well, he was not much of a scientist. But certainly the talk about oil and geology. You know, what, how and what sort of places he drilled. And that made me very much aware of and made me interested in geology and that's where my professional life had led to here. And also I was interested in, at one point, fishing, particularly ocean fishing. And my father took me out on a chartered boat and we fished. Big fish, beautiful. You know, just outside of Tokyo harbor. Now, you can't think about that. But that's — in pre-war Tokyo was a pretty nice little town. I could say. And that — so I got so much interested in fishing, my father bought me a small boat, and hired fishermen to go out with me. And every other week or so. And the fishermen can use our boat when I was not using it. And so, he showed me his life, where he can find lobsters and other shells. And that led to my oceanographic and geological profession later on. So, everything —
Takahashi:Yes. Those things which he introduced to me as a hobby, then became later on, you know, congealed as a professional interest.
Sfraga:Did you have friends as a young boy who had similar interests?
Takahashi:No. No. I think it's a — I remember. Essentially my father was my playmate. And, of course he was, you know, after his major operation he was convalescing and never recovered to a hundred percent. So, he, most of the times he stayed home and ran the business by phone, and the rest of the times he played with me, for which I'm very thankful.
Sfraga:Did you have teachers early on in your schooling who had a very positive impact on your studies either in sciences or other areas?
Takahashi:I don't think so. Science is probably, yes, probably my school teachers discouraged my scientific interest. You know, particularly my grade school teachers insisted memorizing facts. He was interested in taxonomy and he was a botanist. I had to memorize names of this and that. And which totally turned me off. So my interest was electronics and model airplanes and that kind of thing. And so education was not, did not — school education did not encourage my profession.
Levin:Were the experiments, say in the chemistry class or physics class — did you have the feeling that they were more cookbook type experiments or real experiments that actually led to —?
Takahashi:Oh it's another cookbook.
Sfraga:So your father was the driving force behind introducing you to all of these?
Takahashi:Yes. Yes. Very much so, very much so.
Levin:Is it typical in Japan that the oldest son carries on in what the father had done? Say your three generations of engineers. Did you go out thinking well, I'll be what my dad has been? I'll get that training as well?
Takahashi:Well, no. The engineering came later on. But I grew up with the idea of becoming the head of my family business, which is my mother's side's business. So I received extra training to become a better hatter and designer. For example, I had regularly an art teacher came to my house. And I received very formal training of the — particularly painting, you know, the drawings by pencils, charcoals and water color, and finally oil. So, that was the grooming. And somewhere after, you know, during the war, when business started collapsing, I began to think much toward the engineering side as my future.
Sfraga:Did you like the art work? Did you like the drawing and —?
Takahashi:Oh yes. I like it very much. And I still do.
Sfraga:Do you continue it today?
Takahashi:I hope to return to that. With this hustle and bustle of Lamont and writing proposals, I don't have time to sit down and do paintings. I started a few times, but never finished a piece.
Sfraga:But you enjoyed it as a youth.
Takahashi:Oh yes. Yes. I did. Yes.
Sfraga:Do you have any of those paintings or sketches?
Takahashi:I still have a few of them in my home. And a couple of years ago I visited the grade school where I graduated in Tokyo. And 10 and behold, my drawing was still hanging in one the principal's offices and I was very proud. This is what I've done.
Sfraga:Had it been there all that time or did they put it up just for your visit?
Takahashi:I don't think so. I just stopped in unannounced. But I thought, my gosh I can't tell the difference between mine and one of the — Picasso's piece. [Laughter]
Sfraga:So you were quite a good artist?
Takahashi:I didn't know. But now it looks very respectable. But as a child, you know, they had no references. I just reflected, expressed images on a canvas. And so that was a totally — beauty of childish innocence.
Sfraga:Did you have any — did you ever hold an art show or show your work anyplace? Or this was just strictly for your enjoyment and your training.
Takahashi:Yes. Just my own enjoyment.
Sfraga:Anyone else in your family with that ability?
Takahashi:Well, my daughter certainly inherited that kind of inclination. And she's in the theater business, graduated from Barnard [College] and does quite well.
Sfraga:Was your mother a good artist or your father?
Takahashi:Yes. My mother's side. My mother was very artistic.
Levin:So when you were in high school, you knew that you were going on to the university. Did your teachers — were any of them advising you which school to go or was it just a given that you would go to the University of Tokyo?
Takahashi:Well, it's my high school years that were disaster because, you know, immediately after the war, the food was scarce, society was upside down. And I received very little guidance and very poor training. Even the school was bombed so that in some cases we sat around and received lessons outdoors. And rainy days we went to the factory building where we received lessons. And that was — wasn't too good. That was — in spite of that, the poor education in the four year period, thank god I came through, and society became, becomes settled down. And food became a little more plentiful. I think three years at the university — I had a very good, solid education there.
Levin:Do you remember any of your professors at the university that particularly impressed you or helped you in your later career?
Takahashi:Oh yes. Particularly my thesis advisor. We had to write a, you know, undergraduate thesis, an essay to graduate. And he had a very good, strong influence on my career. And as a matter of fact, he suggested I go to Harvard graduate school rather than Columbia graduate school. But as I mentioned, New York Yankees was better than the Boston Red Sox. [Laughter] So, I chose to come to Columbia.
Levin:What was the name of this professor?
Takahashi:His name was Imai, I-M-A-I. And he's still living. Visited him a couple of years ago. And—
Sfraga:What was that like to visit?
Levin:Was the training that you're receiving, particularly in engineering, was that more hands-on or was it also rote? Was it more as a classroom work or was it more the actual lab?
Takahashi:Actual laboratories. And you know at that time, in 1952, 1953, this was way before the computer time. And, yes, engineering meant solving some equations on a piece of paper or doing some experiments. And yes, I liked the experiments and the field trips and things like that very much.
Levin:What sort of field trips did you go on?
Takahashi:Well, as an engineer, you know, students in the engineering school, there were a lot of mining companies who were interested in having us during the summer, three months, so that they can look over the next year's graduating engineers. And so I went to one of the gold mines in the northern part of Japan. And I stayed there for three months, and tagged along with one of the chief engineers, and learned the trade, what sort of things we had to do to become a mining engineer. So that was a very practical thing, and I enjoyed it.
Levin:And they came to the school to recruit? They actually were on campus?
Takahashi:Oh yes. They came to — As a matter of fact, the professors had pretty good ideas. In other words, he had a ranking of the companies and sort of matched us with students. Top students go to the best companies, and etc. So that, yes, he acted sort of an employment agency. I think many engineering schools do that. Even in the U.S. I remember that schools acted as job agencies. And —
Levin:And were you sent to the far north? Were you out there in Sapparo, Hokkaido [Japan]?
Takahashi:Yes, that's right. North of Sapparo. And oh geez, from Sapparo, a local train and it took another ten hours or so. And that summer, I remember, my father died. And I received the cable when I was in — working in the mine. It said father died. So I came back to Tokyo for his funeral. But that trip, I remember, took forty-eight hours.
Sfraga:What year was that?
Takahashi:Nineteen fifty, oh, two, something like that. And trains were not only slow, but, you know, you have to cross the straits between Hokkaido and Honshu [Japan], and it was a ferry boat. And that was six, eight hours. Then another slow train all the way back to Tokyo.
Levin:Wow. That must have been quite the trip, especially with the ordeal or having just lost your father.
Takahashi:Yes. I mean, in forty-eight hours nowadays you can fly around the world three times or four times.
Sfraga:In addition to these field trips, were there clubs that you were involved with, organizations on campus or elsewhere?
Takahashi:Yes. I think, yes, I was in an engineers' rowing team. And I was a member of the engineers 8. So, you know, that was my diversion from engineering studies.
Sfraga:So you liked sports, athletics?
Takahashi:Yes. Tennis. That's about all I have done.
Levin:At the university did you have colloquium or symposiums?
Takahashi:No. Just a European-style, old-fashioned teaching. You know, you sit there nicely and the professor lectures and you take down every word of it. And it certainly was not the American style, free-wheeling type teaching.
Levin:Were you aware of what your classmates were doing with their research?
Takahashi:Oh yes. Yes. I think my class of 1953 was twenty-five of us. We were very close as a unit. And socialized together, and did the research together.
Levin:Your research topic. How did that come about? Did your professor suggest it as a possible —?
Takahashi:Yes. It's a general idea, I chose to study or specialize in applied geology or mining geology, and that's the reason why. I studied under this Professor Imai, and he suggested a few things. So that's what I did.
Levin:Did you have contact with Imai outside of the school hours?
Levin:Did you have contact with Professor Imai outside the school?
Levin:Or just in the classroom?
Takahashi:No. Just totally school environment.
Sfraga:Did you have favorite courses that you took specifically?
Takahashi:Yes. I think so. I liked mathematics and engineering.
Levin:When you were in the university and you were taking math and engineering, were you also able to take classes outside of the sciences?
Takahashi:No. That was essentially the pre-war system. And so once you enter certain curriculum, like mining engineering, there's a set number of courses. And then no diversion to literature or anything, which I regret very much. And that's one of the nicest things about American liberal arts education. Everybody had to have a certain breadth of understanding, knowledge of civilization. So I had to catch up with those things. As a matter of fact, after I came to the United States and rubbed shoulders with, you know, graduates of Columbia College, of Amherst or wherever. And I came to realize, that hey I can do some of the differential equations better than they can, but I don't know who was Julius Caesar or whoever. And so, I thought after I got my Ph.D. I made a great effort to read more, the variety of books so that I understand world history and the civilization, and particularly arts, art history, and educated myself.
Levin:Did you find after the war that there was a particular push towards getting people into the sciences?
Takahashi:No, I don't think. During the war, yes. There was a great push for science and engineering. And then one advantage was that engineers were deferred from the military service. So even the wrong people came into engineering. But after the war, no, no. Nothing.
Levin:It was engineering that was given the special status. Were there any other types of science that were also accorded this prestige during the war because —?
Takahashi:Yes. I think in Japanese society — during the war and so even to date — that they tend to give engineers more prestige than scientists.
Takahashi:There's no question about that. That's another thing I learned. Here in the United States, there are many more science schools and scientists occupy certain a societal niche, whereas engineers may be mixed up with train engineers or operators of trains.
Sfraga:When you decided to come to Columbia, how did you go about contacting the right people? Did you contact your friend that you had met during the occupational forces?
Takahashi:Yes, that was an accidental encounter, and actually because of Sherman Neushell, I applied to Columbia. And Professor Paul Kerr, who was the chairman of the geology department at that time, and under whom Sherman Neushell studied. So because of Sherman's letter of recommendation, I was offered a Columbia scholarship, Nathaniel Britton scholarship. Seven hundred and fifty dollars a year. And out of which I had to pay tuition, and about two hundred dollars left in my pocket. And of course, you know, you can't live with that. But fortunately, a friend of my father's, they lived in the east side of Manhattan. And they invited me to stay with them. And so that's the reason why I could come to Columbia, and the left over two hundred dollars from the Britton scholarship was the only pocket money, yearly pocket money I had at that time.
Levin:When you thought of going from engineering, mining engineering, into geology, did you see it as a natural transition or were you thinking, oh I'll try something new?
Takahashi:Well, there's a little story attached to that. When I was a senior, you know, just about ready to graduate, that time the Japanese society, particularly in the labor front, was in turmoil. The General Douglas MacArthur's occupational government released all the political prisoners at that time. So that a lot of Communists who were in prison at that time were released and they started having a lot of political activities. So that Japan was essentially an open market as far as the political choices were concerned. So that — because of the increasing labor activities, I started questioning myself. Gee, as an engineer, I graduate from the college, and then go into a major corporation, and make the capital wealthier. And whatever we're going to invent, probably make, that labor's poor, so this doesn't really make sense. So that I was really searching for my role in the greater context of the society. And I felt, gee, engineering was not the way to create a harmony between capital and labor. And if I go to pure science, I can generate new ideas, which may lead to new employments of the labor. So that I want to gear myself to more independent science, not an engineer who will work for capitals. So that's the reason why I have deliberately chosen to go into pure science, geology.
Sfraga:So you saw this as a service to — for a much larger picture, as a service to mankind.
Takahashi:To humanity, yes.
Levin:What were your political leanings at that time?
Takahashi:My political inclination? Well, the only thing I can say is I was anti-military. [Laughter] That's about all I could say. It was, you know, the Communists who say that American-style capitalism is evil. I was not decided non-committal at all.
Sfraga:Were you looking to come to the U.S. because it was the United States, or were you looking to come to U.S. universities because they offered a far better curriculum or research opportunities than perhaps were available in Japan? Or were there comparable institutions in Japan at that time?
Takahashi:Scientifically there's no question that Japan was way behind. And this was obvious from the literature, particularly Americans scientific literature. You know, only a few of them that I read when I was in college, and I realized that, hey, my professors who are giving us the lectures, those are essentially a translation of those American literatures, and acting as a translator rather than originator of the ideas.
Sfraga:How widespread was that? Was that knowledge that you had ...?
Takahashi:I think it's a view common among the young radicals at that time. [laughter]
Sfraga:Is that how you viewed yourself?
Takahashi:Yes. Also, you know, some knowledgeable professors themselves. For example, an old friend of my father's came to my house. You know, had a dinner and a few drinks and then essentially they said American science is so far ahead, we are just copying things. This sort of… The background idea was already implanted.
Levin:And yet you noted when you came to America that your math was a little bit more advanced? Is that true in general that math was more advanced?
Takahashi:Yes, well this probably goes all the way back to grade school type, even this date, you know, they say that math skills of the Japanese, the Korean community is so much better than the western. I think this is a result of the more regimented education. And for going into engineering, here's the same thing, mathematical skill is the first one that they value.
Sfraga:When you first came to the United States, did you detect any racism any prejudice? How was that adjustment for you?
Takahashi:Racism was not felt. Interestingly enough, when I first arrived in San Francisco on a cargo ship — that time airplanes were too, too expensive. There was a family friend whom I visited. They went through these Japanese internments and things, you know, during the war. And I remember that they were telling me that racism and injustice and etc. — As I look at it, I understand why you got interned. [Laughter]
Levin:Certainly bad times to many people.
Takahashi:I don't think I personally felt any animosity or racial prejudice. I'm very thankful for that. You're in an academic environment, I think, I would say, you know, racial prejudice is totally nil, I'm not saying. But that's certainly not expressed to me openly. No.
Levin:When you arrived at Columbia, were you comfortable with English?
Takahashi:Not at all. Well, I had six years of English training, but was poor particularly in spoken English. The speed demanded for understanding lectures, discussions, and meetings was too fast. I didn't have that kind of language skill. And, you know, any course you take, it's — what do you say — after one hour's lecture you may have to read fifty pages. Fifty pages of reading in a Japanese university is probably one semester's reading assignment in English. So that the one semester was condensed in one lecture. And yes, I certainly struggled.
Sfraga:How did you manage to not only keep up with, but to eventually succeed?
Takahashi:I don't know. I was young. [Laughter] It was a precarious existence, yes. Because of the language difficulties, very few of my generation was successful in getting a Ph.D. from an American university. Now younger Japanese generations have received much better language training, so that language problems are less, but still pretty difficult to overcome.
Levin:Was there any advisors or professors at Columbia that sort of took you under their wing, or made an extra effort to help you?
Takahashi:No. I met with a foreign student advisor when I came here. And he asked me where I was living. I was living with an American Irish family on the east side. And he said fine. He said no more. My life twenty-four hours a day, English speaking life, started right there. And for which I'm very thankful.
Sfraga:Did any of your siblings go to college?
Takahashi:In the U.S.? Or in Japan? Oh yes, my younger brother. He's also in science. He is in a very similar field as I am.
Takahashi:No. Chemistry. Fundamental chemistry. And graduated and got a Ph.D. in Japan, [???] then came to Cal Tech [California Institute of Technology] for two years for postdoctoral training, then went back to Japan. He's a government research laboratory scientist. And he didn't learn English, spoken English too well. For two reasons. He brought his wife, so at home they spoke Japanese. And so, you know, you'd reset your ears and voice every day back to Japanese. And number two, he was a post-doctoral fellow so that he didn't have to pass the tests in English. But the one thing that I am thankful to Columbia, judgment of the Columbia professors at that time, to get the Ph.D., I had to pass two foreign language tests. I had chosen German and Russian.
Levin:Now that is interesting. [cross talk]
Takahashi:Scientific Russian, I learned at Columbia. So I learned Russian in English. So that when I was asked to translate something I could do from Russian to English, no problem.
Levin:Were you asked this often? Because that was certainly a very unique skill among the scientific staff.
Takahashi:Well, you know, in 1957, when I finished my Ph.D., the Soviet Union, the Russians were very, very important. So I made an investment for the future. And since then, I haven't used it.
Sfraga:But that was a very conscious effort —
Sfraga:— to learn that language because of the geopolitical environment.
Takahashi:Yes, that's right. So, however, the German I learned in Japanese, in Japan. I couldn't translate straight into English. So I asked the chairman of the department that time, Professor [Marshall] Kay, if I can — you know, one hour and a half time can if I do the first step German to Japanese. Then after the regulation hour, I'll do Japanese to English. And he said okay. So I did this two-step. The department said okay, fine, so I passed.
Sfraga:What made you study German? Was that required?
Takahashi:That was required.
Sfraga:Was the language — was a language required or was German required?
Takahashi:No. No. For the university entrance, the classical Chinese, English and German were required. This was pre-war training.
Sfraga:That's very interesting.
Takahashi:So that the Confucianism was so strong in the Japanese culture so that we must be able to read two thousand year old, not the present day, Chinese. So I can read two thousand year old Chinese literature, but I cannot communicate with modern Chinese, not at all.
Sfraga:And the reason for the German was —?
Takahashi:Well, that's a basic science. The pre-war. You know, Einstein theory papers were all in German. And major engineering and medical papers were German. So.
Levin:And then of course once the war began, there was the allied, you know —
Takahashi:Yes. That was —
Levin:—between the Germans and the Japanese.
Levin:Which would just reinforce —
Takahashi:But that tradition went on, you know, even a few years after the war.
Levin:So you finished up your Russian training in '57, which was also the year, the Geophysical Year, when it began?
Takahashi:Yes. That's true. And it's the year, you know, Sputnik went up. And yes. I remember Sputnik when I was on the research ship Vema. And sailing from here to Bermuda. And on the ship's radio we caught the Sputnik's first broadcasting.
Levin:Oh really? You recorded it?
Sfraga:On the ship?
Takahashi:On the ship. That was '57 or '58.
Takahashi:November of '57.
Sfraga:What did the recording sound like?
Takahashi:I don't remember. We just sailed on! [Laughter] I don't even remember whether that was in Russian or English. I have no recollection.
Sfraga:What were your feelings about that?
Takahashi:I was impressed. But I never felt the U.S. would fall behind.
Levin:Was that the general reaction on the boat?
Takahashi:Yes. Well, the U.S. scientific community was, you know, very confident after the victorious war. And the nuclear bomb and everything else.
Sfraga:It's an interesting theme that you bring up, and that is, your father and then you, and then your colleagues, but your father and you, very confident in American science and American ability to overcome perhaps whatever hurdles there might be, whatever drawbacks there might be. And see its way through. Did that faith ever falter? Did you ever think that maybe this might not be the truth in the future?
Takahashi:Well, I would say, you know 1960s, the Vietnam War, I'm not the only one, every American lost confidence in the American system. But certainly after that I have recovered, regained the confidence in the American system. Yes, we have problems, but if you look around the rest of the world, you see that the Soviet Union did not make it and collapsed. We are still standing pretty strongly. So I have confidence toward the future. Yes, not Without it’s problem, but sure.
Sfraga:When you were in graduate school here in the U.S., did you keep in touch with any of your Japanese colleagues or the students you went to school with in Japan?
Takahashi:Not much. Well, as a matter of fact I had two hundred dollars a year pocket money and even twenty-five cent stamps that were required for air mail to Japan, that was a major portion of my expenses. Subway was ten cents, but for Christ's sake that was ten cents out of two hundred and is not insignificant. So I walked from place to place.
Levin:What type of classes did you take as a graduate student at Columbia?
Takahashi:Well, what kind of courses?
Levin:Well, which classes stand out in your mind as particularly being important later on in your career? Which professors were particularly memorable?
Takahashi:Oh, one of the most exciting lecturers was Professor [J.] Laurence Kulp who was the founder of geochemistry group at Lamont. And he — his lectures really excited me. That's the reason I became a geochemist.
Sfraga:Was it the content or the way in which he delivered the content?
Takahashi:Both of them.
Takahashi:Both. And, on the other hand, Professor [W.] Maurice Ewing was such an imposing scientific statue. But in the classroom he was not an exciting lecturer. That's very dull. Maybe I was not advanced enough to understand his, you know, the meat of his thinking. But he — certainly I was not fired up by his lectures. Although Kulp is probably a lesser scientist compared to Maurice Ewing, but had a package of flair and jazziness [laughter] I must say. That's what I was attracted to.
Sfraga:What were your dealings with Maurice Ewing early on as a graduate student? Did you ever talk with him, or was it just strictly a classroom relationship?
Takahashi:When you signed up for a geophysics course, Ewing came in once or twice. [chuckles] The rest, the rest of lectures were given by a bunch of assistant professors and assistants. At that time those included Professor Frank Press, now the retired President of National Academy of Sciences. And young post-docs and young assistant professors came in to give lectures. And I wouldn't say that course was well-executed. Now I understand it. You know, Professor Ewing had Lamont Observatory to build up, and his mind was not in teaching a little course. But at least he knew my name and face. And the way I joined Lamont Observatory is because of that contact. And when I conducted my Ph.D. research, this was done at the geology department in Schermerhorn Hall, not at Lamont. I finished in my work at Schermerhorn, that time it's Columbia geology department was the main portion, Lamont was attached to it. And my thesis advisor was Professor Behre, B-E-H-R-E, Charles H. Behre. And two thesis advisors were initially Paul Kerr and Laurence Kulp. And then I was looking for a job and, as a matter of fact, I was interested in getting a job in mining industries. And that, however, that was the year in the middle of the recession during the Eisenhower administration. You know, gold mining companies were not hiring any geologists. So I was sort of lost. And on the Schermerhorn fifth floor, I still remember, there was a men's room, and I went there to take a leak, and Maurice Ewing came in, stood next to me, and he did the same business, and asked me, "Hey, did you get a job?" I said, "No sir. I still don't have a job." And Maurice said, well, if I'll work with him. And if I am interested in it, come and see him tomorrow. And so I went, and he gave me a job.
Sfraga:That was good timing then?
Takahashi:Perfect timing. Yes, perfect relief too. [Laughter] So, to this day, I advocate no partitions between urinals. [Laughter]
Sfraga:Look at the success you've had because of that.
Levin:Was that your first time at Lamont or had you visited early?
Takahashi:So that's the reason why I joined Lamont. And I was assigned to work with Larry Kulp. And Kulp was told by Ewing that hey, this kid is coming. So that's the way I became sort of an, you know, oceanographer, oceanographic geochemist.
Levin:And you had been out on the Vema in '57. Had you been out earlier or was that your first time?
Takahashi:That was the first time.
Levin:And what you were doing out there at that time?
Takahashi:Well my assignment was to study the carbon dioxide in the ocean and atmosphere. And that is a topic I still do for my main research. And we wanted to find out whether atmospheric carbon dioxide was in equilibrium with ocean surface carbon dioxide. Or is the ocean absorbing any carbon dioxide from atmosphere or not? That was a simple question asked, and I had to prove or disprove that. And the National Research Council that time gave sixty thousand dollars to each of the three institutions, Lamont, Scripps [Institution of Oceanography], and Woods Hole [Oceanographic Institution]. And I ran the Lamont program. And Charles David Keeling, who is famous with his Mauna Loa study of the atmospheric C02 fluctuations and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, he was the Scripps representative. And the Woods Hole guy, I guess, he flopped and we never heard of his name. So out of the International Geophysical Year [IGY] carbon dioxide program, Charles Keeling and I survived. And to this date, I run that kind of research.
Sfraga:I'm interested is this. The question of the carbon dioxide for this particular research project. Was that something that was given to you or did you go and seek this particular research project?
Takahashi:No, it was assigned to me. In other words, that, the leadership of International Geophysical Year — I think it consisted of the director of Lamont, the director of Scripps, and the director of Woods Hole, and maybe some from Atomic Energy Commission — they essentially specified those are the major research questions must be addressed. And I think a proposal was sent in by Ewing and Kulp, and essentially they hired me to execute that program.
Sfraga:Now is this — was this project secured before your fortuitous meeting with Ewing?
Takahashi:Yes. Ewing had that money and was looking for somebody to run it.
Takahashi:And the reason why I got that one is my thesis was on the reaction between carbon dioxide and the ore minerals, zinc, lead and copper sulfides. And how it reacts with atmospheric oxygen and CO2. And so I had some background on that topic. And Larry Kulp, who was a reader of my Ph.D. thesis, knew of my work, so that probably between Kulp and Ewing, they decided, all right, this kid could do the job.
Levin:Was there any talk early on about the carbon dioxide cycles in the interest perhaps of change in climate warming? Was there any —?
Takahashi:There were. Yes. That question was already published, discussed in, I think as early as the late 1800's.
Levin:And you were aware of that at that time?
Takahashi:No. No. I wasn't. As a matter of fact, I was interested in going into the mining business. So that this ocean, atmosphere and climate were totally foreign to me. But, yes, within a few months I read the basic literature and caught up with it. But certainly Ewing, definitely, and Kulp, those two leaders, were aware of this future climate change and were interested in the cause and origin of the Ice Ages. They were the men of thinkers at that time.
Levin:Was there a concern about that as more than a scientific problem or it purely scientific at trying to figure out the mechanisms?
Takahashi:There was, I would say that among the leadership of U.S. oceanographic community, there was already a concern that this accumulation of CO2 may do something, may cause global warming, or global climate changes. And that time everything was a hunch. You know, the qualitative hunch and the computer assimilation for climate changes came twenty years after.
Levin:This was in the late '50s?
Takahashi:Yes. That's right.
Sfraga:And once you — and once you then caught up with the literature, had a chance to speak with these men, what was you’re feeling about it? Was there enough evidence, did you feel, to start considering the same as they, that there was indeed some correlation between the data that was being gathered and this perceived or probable global change? Or were you still formulating your opinions?
Takahashi:My thinking didn't go that far. I was only concerned with the fate of the industrial CO2. Are they all going to stay in the atmosphere or disappear into the ocean. And yes, my data certainly looks like that certain parts of the ocean were absorbing CO2 from the air. But I could not tell how much that time. But, yes, indeed, the ocean was taking the CO2. That was a qualitative answer that time.
Levin:You mentioned that the Atomic Energy Commission [AEC] was funding part of this, this study?
Takahashi:I don't know exactly. The money given to us was through the National Research Council. Probably NSF was involved. How much AEC was involved, I don't know. In the different ways AEC was involved through Wally [Wallace S.] Broecker's research, Kulp's research.
Levin:Do you know why AEC was interested in this particular problem?
Takahashi:Well, AEC was interested in anything which was thrown into the atmosphere including radioactive debris from the Hiroshima bomb to everything that they tested. And one of the major products was radioactive hydrogen, radioactive carbon [Carbon 14], and radioactive strontium 90. And those were three areas the geochemistry group here in the early days were very much interested in.
Levin:Were you also looking at the problems that, perhaps Larry Kulp and others were working on? Something called Project Sunshine was going on about that time.
Takahashi:Yes. Yes. I participated in that. Scientifically in a different way. When I got to Capetown [South Africa] in 1958 aboard the Vema, I received a cable from Larry Kulp. And it said that I get off the ship here and collect food and soil samples for the Strontium 90 project. And the reason why Larry Kulp was interested in that is that radioactive Strontium 90, which goes into the human body via milk and other foods, stick to the bone, and may cause cancers and affect genes. And there was no southern hemisphere data. So that Capetown to Cairo, there are a bunch of cities, where samples were to be collected along the same longitude, approximately thirty degrees east meridian. This was essentially during the waning days of the colonial black Africa, and I had a chance to travel from Capetown to Rhodesia to several cities all the way to Cairo, and collect samples of agricultural soil, staples, some maize, or corn, and products made of these agricultural products such as corn flakes or cereals. And so I collected a bunch of them from each stop, and sent them back to the U.S.
Sfraga:Did he explain to you why he wanted these samples?
Takahashi:Yes. And through research seminars and papers, I knew exactly what they are after.
Sfraga:And were there others? Were you aware of others that were called in the middle of their other researches to go and research this area?
Takahashi:No, I don't think so. I happened to be the first geochemistry boy who went to the southern hemisphere. I happened to be in that area.
Levin:So at about that time you were looking more at agricultural products. Because I know in the early years they were collecting actual bone samples.
Takahashi:Right. Yes, Kulp wanted to have bones.
Levin:And did he ask you to bring back a bone or two?
Takahashi:I do not remember whether his requests were that explicit, but I knew exactly what he wanted. And I did not want to end up in trouble with the local authorities. As a matter of fact, I ran into a little problem with Egyptian authorities because —
Takahashi:— Well, it's because I collected soil. And they immediately thought that I may be hiding something, archaeological specimens and things like that. So I had to go to whatever their bureaucracy was and open the bags and do the things.
Levin:What did you tell them at that point when they asked, why do you have this soil? Or did they ask you?
Takahashi:Yes. Well, I just told them straight. You know, probably they didn't understand the radioactivity, Strontium 90 and things like that. But no point in lying about it.
Levin:Were you given a special clearance to work on this project? Project Sunshine? Or were you already started at it when it had been declassified?
Takahashi:Oh, I don't know whether at that point it had been declassified. I don't think that was a classified research. Of course, the collecting samples could be done by a non-security cleared person like me. Larry was a master of funding manipulations, so that no problem in paying me from some of his funds.
Levin:I know the geochemists at Lamont were dubbed the theochemists for their religious views, many of them having come out of Wheaton College. Did you notice any of that?
Takahashi:Would I be sued if I tell you the truth?
Levin:No. Because we have heard from other people.
Sfraga:It's fairly well known that they were known as theochemists. [Cross talk]
Takahashi:Yes. I'm probably one of the few who came into the Geochemistry group from outside of the Wheaton College channel. And yes, the change of the atmosphere. Well, compared to the geophysics group at that time who resided in Lamont Hall. Yes, very different. And Kulp's laboratory was such that, you know, nobody swears, nobody smokes, nobody drinks. If you make a mistake and spill acid or something, people didn't say anything. Maybe perhaps a prayer. And no cursing, no swearing.
Levin:Perhaps a prayer? They would pray over the acid?
Takahashi:I don't know. I don't remember. But not only the Wheaton College people, but also many of the technical staff, including janitors, Kulp hired them from the Nyack Mission School. Now is that called, I don't know, Nyack College? I think it's a fundamentalist school. And many of the technicians, part-time technicians, came from there. That essentially gave a very strong Christian fundamental atmosphere at Geochemistry.
Sfraga:So he was very involved in cultivating this idea here, this religious idea?
Takahashi:How much he was involved, I don't know. However, he has, you know, invited groups of theologians to discuss the radioactive dating methods and the interpretation of the Bible, particularly with regard to the eight days of Genesis.
Sfraga:I'm wondering, did he ever discuss or did you ever think — wonder about perhaps the conflict here between the religious beliefs of this group and then some of the research that was going on this Strontium 90, in terms of collection of either sand or bones or tissue samples?
Sfraga:Was the conflict ever — was there ever a conflict?
Takahashi:I don't believe so. Probably other people can describe Larry's behavior much better than I can. But, oh for the successful business, he was ready to cast off the religious belief any time.
Levin:What was — I'm interested, because what was your own religious background?
Takahashi:I was raised with the Buddhism tradition, but the Protestant Buddhism. And the Buddhism went through, you know, some very similar evolution to Judaism as well as Christianity. And they very progressive to conservative sects. And my family was one in the Protestant groups. And historically that group caused a lot of problems in feudal Japan. It was essentially strong in the northern part of Japan and among the farmers. The farmers got together and they raised banners, and they rebelled against high taxation by local authorities. [Laughter]
Sfraga:So they were the renegades?
Takahashi:Yes. They won in many cases.
Levin:When you were then in this environment, this Christian, overtly Christian environment, did you feel any pressure, maybe a missionary zeal aimed at you?
Takahashi:No. No. Not at all. No recruiting or anything like that. The environment in Geochemistry was very scientific and professional. Religion was totally out. I'm thankful for that.
Levin:Are you a practicing Buddhist?
Takahashi:I am not practicing, and am not a firm believer. [Laughter] But later on I married a Christian girl from Pennsylvania. But she is not a firm believer either. So that essentially my family is — I would say agnostics.
Sfraga:Did you do any additional work with Project Sunshine after that one?
Takahashi:No. That was all I had. So I collected samples and wrote a report about where the samples came from. That's it.
Sfraga:Did you return to the Vema right after that or did you come back to the States?
Takahashi:Yes, I came back to States, as a matter of fact, for re-entry to the United States as an immigrant. I had to go through the change from student visa to permanent immigration visa. And that's where Columbia helped me a great deal. And they hired an immigration lawyer. I think Kulp paid for me. The lawyer turned out to be very good lawyer. And when I arrived at the Cairo U.S. Embassy and met one of the officers, and he asked me, who was this lawyer.
Levin:Who was this lawyer?
Takahashi:I forgot his name, but I remember that he looked like Perry Mason [Raymond Burr]. So when I stopped in at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and this officer in charge of my case asked me the name of this lawyer in New York City, because he was so impressed by his letters and documents. And he said, he, as a matter of fact, made a number of copies of his letters and circulated them through the embassy as an example. And thankfully, because of this excellent lawyer, I had the royal treatment at the U.S. Embassy and didn't have any problem. And so then I re-entered the United States as an immigrant through New York City. But that time, I guess 1957 — '57 or '58 — when I came back, U.S. immigration laws were quite different. The Japanese had a strict quota, only two hundred fifty persons allowed per year. And the waiting period was twenty-five years. And then there was a special quota for technically desired persons. So, I went to the top of the pile. Because of this lawyer that Columbia hired, I didn't have to wait at all. And other Japanese immigrants, I have heard, waited for twenty-five, thirty years, still could not get U.S. citizenship or a green card.
Sfraga:What would have happened if you would have returned on the Vema?
Takahashi:Oh somewhere I have to go through, pick up a U.S. entry visa.
Sfraga:Was the cable from —
Sfraga:Kulp. Was it in a sense, hurry and do this now? Was there some sense of urgency? Or was it while you're there, we'd like for you to do this?
Takahashi:Yes. Essentially, I was working for Kulp. So that whatever my boss says, yes I'll do it. And this cable was a five-page instruction, detailed instructions, including here's three thousand dollars, pick it up at the Thomas Cook office in Capetown. So that's why I never thought about coming back to U.S. aboard the Vema.
Levin:Did you have doubts though perhaps if you want to go through with it, if you wanted to make the U.S. your permanent home? Was there a conflict at all in your mind?
Takahashi:To become a U.S. permanent resident and eventually a citizen? Yes, there was a major question I asked. If Pearl Harbor occurs once more again, which side am I going to fight for? And I came to a conclusion. Okay, if Pearl Harbor is attacked, I'll be standing on the American side and defending Pearl Harbor.
Sfraga:That's — that's very interesting.
Levin:It must have been very difficult.
Sfraga:And very difficult. Why? What motivation? I'm very interested in how you came to that conclusion.
Takahashi:It was. Yes, I can answer that. Many years ago, a Japanese magazine interviewed me, and, you know, the main topic was how people felt when they changed their citizenship, mainly of loyalty. Well, I think one very strong factor was Declaration of Independence. I went to Philadelphia, and read the Declaration of Independence. And I remember, that was a cold day in the winter. The tears came out in my eyes. And I was so moved: "During the course of the human history, it is necessary sometimes to do the blah, blah, blah." And just to think of the British Empire at that time against a rag tag colonial force and forcefully speaking up in such a way. And I was very moved by that. So that is one of the reasons why I said, hey, this is a country I'd like to —
Levin:And yet this was also the start of the Vietnam War.
Takahashi:This is before the Vietnam War. So I would say time wise at the early 1960s.
Sfraga:In a time of much social upheaval in this country.
Takahashi:Probably just before. Yes. A lot of things were happening of course. But, yes, I don't think Vietnam, which was not in full swing as yet at that time.
Sfraga:So that's one, but there must have been other motivating factors. Of course, that's a very powerful document, even to us who are born in this country. It's an incredibly powerful document. But there must have been other reasons.
Takahashi:Yes, I think a free and fair competition in all phases of American life. Sure some of the individual systems didn't work and some officials took bribes, etc. I was impressed by the way whole society is running. And certainly, let me see, yes in 1966 I received citizenship. And when I re-entered, in 1959 I received a green card. And so there were six years to think through this issue. Yes, of course, I met with my future wife and she's from Pennsylvania. And I fell in love with her. Certainly, you know, where my heart and political views came together.
Sfraga:How did your family in Japan feel?
Takahashi:Oh they interfered not at all with my decision making.
Sfraga:So that must be because of the relationship that your family had with the United States through your father early on? There already was a connection between your family and this country.
Takahashi:I don't think my mother ever felt that she lost her son to another country. She probably felt, you know, she gained another country.
Levin:What did — what did you think of the American programs to rebuild Japan after the war?
Takahashi:Oh that was one of the most successful cases in probably the course of human history. If I was to say it, I have to quote my sister. When MacArthur's military government was established in Japan, one of the first things that they did was to give, by twisting the arm of the Japanese government, women their right to vote. There, Americans got fifty percent of the votes. [Laughter] Rather than the throwing anti-American dissidents into the jails or beheading them, the occupational government essentially dealt with them. It took time and let history sort the things out. And that part worked out very well.
Levin:In the '60s, of course, you had the upheavals, and you also had the start of the environmental movement as big in even the mind of the public. Rachel Carson comes out with Silent Spring. Do you remember reading Silent Spring when it came out?
Takahashi:I think I did. The other one I read. Something about the sea.
Levin:The Sea Around Me.
Levin:Do you remember discussing with others?
Takahashi:Well, in the case of Rachel Carson, I'm a little bit prejudiced. Carson came to interview Maurice Ewing. And somewhere Carson ruffled Maurice's nerves or whatever. Maurice didn't agree or something, and he was told me over lunch. That goddamned b—-! [Laughter] Expletives deleted. But, he didn't like Carson at all. So, okay. I did not. I quickly read Sea Around Us, but I was not too impressed by it.
Levin:Do you remember talking about the environmental movement in general?
Takahashi:That was probably one of the earliest, what probably the earliest, yes, environmental movements. No, I was not a strong environmentalist at the beginning. Still, to this date, although I study carbon dioxide and I'm aware of dangers of a runaway global warming. But yet I'm not totally committed to say that was a bad thing. Because of the economic, social feedback, or reaction, response to the global warming is that negative or positive? I'm not quite sure.
Sfraga:In what terms?
Takahashi:Well, as the globe becomes very warm and we lose ice in Greenland and Antarctica, and the sea level goes up we will certainly lose the fertile lands in Texas and Bangladesh and, yes that is bad. On the other hand, shifting of rain belts and getting two degrees warmer, is this really negative to the human being? I'm not quite sure.
Sfraga:Are there others, other or your colleagues who feel the same way? Have you discussed this with them? Understanding that there's conflict?
Takahashi:Yes, I think it's — Everybody respects everybody's feelings. And, you know, juries is still out on getting warmer or not. But even though it becomes warmer, I cannot crank up the fervor as much as [Al] Gore has. When AI came to geochemistry for a consultation on global changes, five of us met with him. Somebody said this global warming mayor may not occur. I was surprised by Gore's reaction. He said, "As a politician, if I don't do anything right now, it's wrong." If there is a threat of the global warming and some chance that it's going to harm the United States, he has to act, and he considered that not acting is a sin.
Levin:Did you see it sort of as, maybe a national security issue as well? Harms the U.S. or was it more —?
Takahashi:Yes. It's national security, including national economy. But in that statement I saw his eyes sparkle. So I really felt that he believes that he must act.
Sfraga:Did you get a sense from him that perhaps science should be a willing partner in this? The political side of global change.
Takahashi:Oh yes. Definitely. That's what he was looking for. But, you know, I was very impressed by the way he approached the problem. He was preparing for his speech to the Rio Conference that time. And he came to us to test whether his speech is scientifically correct or not. And after he heard a ten minute spiel from each of us, he said, "I'm going to give a speech, and stop me anytime if you judge what I said is inaccurate?' So essentially, he gave a one-hour scientific seminar to five of us. We stopped him here, and said, it's too strong, uncertain, that's not proven, or something like that. And Gore corrected his speech here and there and asked us if it is okay. And we said, yes, that's fine, and he left Lamont with a speech approved by scientific experts.
Sfraga:Do you remember specifics as to what he — remember any of those?
Takahashi:I don't. I wish I had recorded the whole thing.
Levin:How did you judge the scientific capability? Do you think he really understood the science behind it?
Takahashi:Oh yes. I think so. I think so.
Sfraga:So it was not just a speechwriter writing a speech that he was going to give? He actually understood the scientific —?
Takahashi:I think that, yes. And also Gore was tutored by Roger Revelle, who died a few years ago at an age of close to 90. Roger was my role model. He was the director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1960s. A powerful character, you know. He is politically strong, scientifically strong, and UCSD [University of California, San Diego] has a college named after him, the Revelle College. And after I finished my post-doc at Lamont, Scripps invited me to join them. So I went to Scripps for a year, year and a half, and Roger Revelle was the director there, and I got to know him. Then, later on, I served on many national and international committees with him, and began to know him much better, and he was my role model.
Sfraga:Interesting. How is that dynamic with you leaving Lamont and Columbia, an institution that you had a great deal of connection to, to go to Scripps, another research institute? Was there any sense of not being loyal? Was there a sense from the staff here or from, or from —
Sfraga:— colleagues. Yes, Ewing. Any sense that you were jumping ship? No pun intended.
Takahashi:Well, no. [Laughter] I guess I kept the Lamont appointment at that time. So essentially I didn't feel abandonment or whatever.
Levin:Was it more of a sabbatical?
Takahashi:No. My position was whatever, junior research scientist or something like that. And it was not a tenured professorship.
Sfraga:Would you have liked to have stayed here, or if there was something to work out? In other words, if they were able to work out a position here at Lamont, would you have stayed? Or were you looking to go somewhere else perhaps?
Takahashi:Well, the mentality of the 1960s or 50s is very different, because money is abundant, and you don't have to hang onto one place. It's natural to move on to wherever your scientific interest leads.
Levin:What drew you to Scripps? What advantage do you think you'd have by making that —?
Takahashi:No. Well, I started doing ocean CO2 research and the Scripps people liked my research accomplishments. Roger said they wanted me to start an ocean C02 program and work with Charles Keeling together. And so, I didn't think of any institutional loyalty or anything.
Levin:Resuming after a quick break. And we had gotten into Scripps, but just to draw you back for one more question. Al Gore had come to Lamont. Do you know why he came to Lamont as opposed to Woods Hole or another institution?
Takahashi:Oh, I think he went to Harvard and us. Harvard is, of course, where he went to school, at that time, Roger Revelle was there. After he retired from Scripps, Roger went to Harvard for ten, fifteen years as a professor. And that's where, you know, Al Gore took Roger's course on Global Population and Environment. Gore said to us that he was at the Harvard and talked to such and such scientists. I assume that he made some corrections to his original speech as a result of their suggestions. Now he's giving a revised talk to us. So, maybe he learned from Harvard that, if he wanted to learn about particularly about carbon dioxide issues, he should come here. W ally [Broecker] and [George] Kukla and a bunch of others are specialized in the change of climate. But I must say that I was very impressed by Gore's mental capacity and depth of understanding of the topic.
Levin:Interesting. Okay so when you got to Scripps, of course, you're working under Revelle, who's another strong leader, big leader in oceanography. How did his leadership compare to, say Ewing's? How did they compare? How were they similar or different?
Takahashi:Oh, both of them are similarly powerful men. They talk to you for thirty minutes outlining general concepts, the kind of the thing we should understand. I say yes sir. [Laughter] Later, I come back, and give them my manuscript. They return it with some comments and questions. That's about all that happens.
Sfraga:And you indicated that Revelle was your mentor.
Sfraga:In what way did he shape your research, your professional career?
Takahashi:Revelle's influence came much, much later in my career. When I — I would say during the last fifteen years. For a long period of the time when Revelle was teaching at Harvard, I didn't see him. But after he retired for the second time, from Harvard, and returned to Scripps, then he became sort of more freewheeling, a country gentleman and appeared in various meetings. And that's where I served at the several international and national meetings with Revelle. And these were specifically on the C02 issues in oceans and the future course of atmospheric C02 levels. And here's a ninety-year old scientist, still functioning and is sharp as a tack, and logically he can keep up, not only keep up, but sometimes outrun us in the prime of our professional life. And there I began to feel that, hey, there's life after age sixty, or maybe eighty. [Laughter] And he took a liking to me and my wife, and, you know, I got to know him personally. And he told me several things, all histories of Southern California, including the time of the fishing industry in Monterey, Steinbeck. And I was immediately encouraged just because I was looking for and groping myself with a question of life after sixty. That sort of thing. Roger gave me really strong guidance. I didn't ask him what to do or anything, just by looking at him, that was an inspiration to me.
Sfraga:But that was a concern. Maybe not the sixty, the number sixty was a concern, but what do you after perhaps, you have done so much in your career, and you reach a certain point. Did the question come to you, what else, not [?] I could do, but can I keep up this pace of what I've begun?
Takahashi:Yes, that's right. Yes. Well, you know, humans have a series of crises every ten years: age forty crisis, fifty crisis, sixty crisis. And I think, to me, the age sixty crisis was the big one. And that's where I found inspiration by looking at Roger.
Levin:What did you notice, were there any differences in the way Scripps was run, or, not just from the director's point of view, but just the way the institution developed, anything from the buildings, the layout?
Takahashi:Oh yes. Those two institutions are very different. Night and day in operations and styles. And Lamont is still in the family atmosphere. We began to lose that family atmosphere, but it certainly was when Ewing was the director. Under Doctor Ewing, everything was a single unit. Whereas Scripps is a sort of collection of — accumulation of small fiefdoms. We joke about it: if you're a graduate student of the Professor [Harmon] Craig, he is, or he or she is not allowed to talk to, openly, to the graduate student of Professor [Edward] Goldberg, etc. etc. And many of us observed that kind of fiefdom system, and we say that we must avoid becoming a collection of fiefdoms at this institution. I don't know whether the younger generation feels that strongly. But if you talk to a bunch of old timers at Lamont, we all feel that the Scripps system is something which we don't want to import here.
Levin:So even when you were in geochem at Lamont, you still felt part of the larger Lamont community? You didn't feel at all separated, having gone?
Takahashi:Well, particularly in case of me. I worked closely with Ewing from the day one. [Laughter] So I felt very strongly, identified myself with Ewing in my earlier days from postdoctoral time. First I would say 1960s through 70s, my research was very much influenced by Maurice Ewing and his research agenda.
Sfraga:So you had here at Lamont more of a collegial atmosphere in terms of perhaps interdisciplinary, multi-disciplinary research. Where then — and correct me if I'm wrong — and then perhaps at Scripps it was more myopic in scope where perhaps different fields didn't talk to each other. Did you find the atmosphere here at Lamont more conducive to collaboration?
Takahashi:Oh yes. Definitely. And that sort of collegiality or inter-disciplinary atmosphere was created in earlier days by working on the same ship together. And, you know, in the close society of a small ship living together for a month, two months, you begin to know others very well. And, however, more recently that research ships are more nationalized and we have little chance to work with [Walter C.] Pitman or [Marcus] Langseth or those guys on the same ship. But it wasn't that way. Everybody worked on the Vema, and that's where the new ideas, friendships and family atmosphere were generated. And I'm sorry to see that this flavor is being lost from this institution. Maybe unavoidable because the Lamont organization has grown too big, and because the ocean research has become organized by national committees.
Sfraga:Is it a sense of the institution growing, or is it a sense of perhaps a different direction for the institution?
Takahashi:Different direction I think also. As a result of the expansion into different directions, we asked the scientists from other institutions to join us. So that, in other words, that broke up parochialism which existed. Everybody was Ewing's graduate student, you know, grew up from there to assistant professors. And that sort of period is gone. And we have more outward looking — and hence, we lost some features of the past. But unavoidable, I guess.
Levin:Whereas at Scripps, it wasn't everyone was Roger Revelle's graduate student? It wasn't that way?
Takahashi:It was not. No. Somehow, I don't know why, it's by a series of accidents I'm sure, they started going as separate, independent units.
Levin:Did Scripps, while you were there, did they actively pursue collaborations with Lamont?
Takahashi:No, not necessarily. Scripps mostly worked in the Pacific. We worked on a more global scale, the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and occasionally passed by each other.
Sfraga:Over the years, Scripps and Woods Hole, in particular, to the general public is much more visible. Perhaps more commercial, and I'll guard that word commercial, but a little bit more commercial in terms of cable network's documentaries, more popular Jacques Cousteau type of public outreach science education. Where really Lamont-Doherty is not as public, not as perhaps intrusive into documentary, popular science education. Is that — was that ever a concern among the scientists that you should not, should not be as popular, or do you see that as perhaps the future of all science institutes, that in order to survive maybe we may have to get a little bit more popular?
Takahashi:Yes. I think that, only recently, this institution began to be aware that such a thing existed as a television series and things which is useful, you know, for getting money or etc. Certainly public relationship, PR, has been totally neglected by this institution. I would say up to the '70s. Well, even after that.
Sfraga:Was it a conscious effort do you think? Or do you know a conscious effort not to go out after the PR, or was it just merely a fact of the Cold War that the funding was there for a lot of issues that you were looking into, and so therefore you really didn't need the PR?
Takahashi:Yes. I think we never been asked to actively campaign and our name was known enough within a closed circle of NSF, AEC and Navy. So we've done well. So it never occurred to me, or us, that a public relation is going to play an important role today. And also I would say that it reflects partially Maurice Ewing's personality. He was a General Patton. The hell with politics. Go, boys! Find interesting science.
Sfraga:Before we finish this segment of the interview, you said something before which was very revealing and that is that you went into this field instead of into engineering — more of a corporate structure — because you wanted to give something back to humanity. You saw this as a service that you must provide along with perhaps other great thinkers and scientists who must give something back to better all of mankind. In looking back now, after you're sixty, and realizing that there is life after sixty, do you feel that that has been accomplished? Do you feel that you have done that?
Takahashi:I don't, I never think that I have given back enough knowledge to the human community as yet. But throughout my life, I think that it is important to give something back to the system or areas where I got something out of it. I must return my debts to the society. Otherwise, the well of human society will dry up. Somewhere it's very strongly imprinted into my psyche. And I have been an associate director who served for fifteen years already. And why do I do that? Essentially I wanted to give my service back to the institution which coddled me when I was a young scientist. Yes, I would say it comes from my religious upbringing, partly that, from both Buddhism as well as partly from Christianity. Although I am not totally satisfied with myself, I will continue to provide my services for societal needs. And as broadly as possible, not particularly special interests, just the broadest part of society. But that's a very elusive objective.
Sfraga:Well, thank you. Thank you for the time. And we will continue this in the next session.
Session I | Session II