The Long Journey Updated in October 2018
A Phonecall from Stockholm
It was around 6 pm on October 5, 2015. A call came through to Omura’s office at Kitasato Institute. It was from the Nobel Prize selection committee in Stockholm, Sweden. After confirming that Omura was at the other end of the line, the caller said, “For the discovery of the treatment of infections caused by parasites, we decided that both you and Dr.William Campbell of the U.S. will be recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.” It was a call to let him know that he was chosen.
“I solemnly accept the award,” replied Omura. When he communicated his will to accept, the caller said “Let us meet at the award ceremony on December 10." "I also look forward to that day,” Omura ended the friendly conversation and put back the receiver.
Professor Omura suddenly looked back on the long path he had been traveling on. No matter how painful, he gave everything to do his best. If there were unpleansant tasks, he was the first to tackle it. He swore that he will never imitate anyone and he strove to challenge despite failures or errors.
By cherishing encounters and by working honestly, Omura believed that good results will come. The words “sincerity can move heaven,” means that if you tackle everything with all your might, your efforts will definitely bring good results. “These words truly reflect my life,” Omura thought to himself.
For a second, Dr. Omura looked back into his past. He could clearly visualize Wesleyan University with its green lawn, brick buildings, and white dogwood flowers blooming. “Congratualtions, Satoshi,” he thought he heard Professor Tishler’s husky voice.
At that moment, Fumiko’s big smile reappeared in front of him. He had lost his wife from cancer 15 years ago. “Fumiko, Arigato. I got the Nobel Prize ...” Dr. Omura whispered to her in his heart and gathered his palms together.
Emphasizing Unity among the Research Team
Professor Omura emphasized team work among researchers. It was the most important thing when managing his laboratory. Extracting microorganisms in the soil, cultivating it, and deciding on the compounds produced by microorganisms, and discovering new useful substances from them─the research cannot be conducted alone. Each researcher must fulfill his or her respective role. Good results cannot be achieved unless team members worked together.
The Omura laboratory, found 13 new microorganisms, 476 new chemical substances, and 26 of which were developed into medicines. The discovery of Ivermectin, which was subject to the Nobel Prize was one of them.
Dr. Omura is a researcher who is also known for placing importance on words. He is a researcher who weighs empathy, always taking action by considering other people’s perspectives. When the Nobel Prize award ceremony was held, Dr. Omura delivered his Nobel Lecture. Nobel Lecture is a speech given by the recipient after the award ceremony. His speech had captured the audience.
He spoke of “Ichigo-Ichie” which literally means “One Encounter One Chance.” It is a concept inherited through Japanese tea ceremony. “My research method has always been influenced by the tenet One Encounter One Chance,” he explained in the Nobel Lecture.
Ichigo-Ichie is the spirit of tea ceremony which encourages you to interact with anyone in good faith as if it is the only chance you will ever meet because the exact circumstance at any given point in time will never happen again. It is important to seize the opportunity when it appears. “Whenever engaging in research, I had followed this spirit all along,” he concluded. His speech was received with a thunderous applause from the audience, and was also introduced by the media as one of the most impressive Nobel Lectures.
Professor Omura’s Originality
From research expenses provided by Merck, Professor Omura built a large hospital in Saitama prefecture. On the walls of this hospital he hung paintings collected from all over the country. To create a relaxing atmosphere for both patients and staff, he filled the hospital walls like a museum. People called it the "museum hospital." Not many hospitals are decorated with so many paintings.
Professor Omura is sometimes seen wearing the hat shown in the photo below. It was designed by him and has become his “signature” style. On the lapel of his jacket, he wears two pin badges. One is from the Japan Academy* and the other is called the Nira pin. The latter is a frog named Nira, a local mascot promoting the city of Nirasaki-shi in Yamanashi prefecture. It is "an imaginary frog that makes our dream come true with magical powers." Children in Nirasaki feel very proud of the Nobel laureate who is always wearing the Nira pin and more children are wearing it now.
*Japan Academy is “an organization that accords special recognition to researchers with the most eminent records of academic and scientific achievement.”