80 Famous People – Hideyo Noguchi

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Hideyo Noguchi (born Seisaku Noguchi, 1876, in Fukushima Prefecture), was a bacteriologist whose primary accomplishment was the discovery of the cause of syphilis. While he also claimed to have made other discoveries as well, most of his research has been discounted as slipshod, faulty or outright wrong. The wiki entry states that part of the problem was Noguchi’s insistence on working alone, combined with the Rockefeller Institute’s flawed peer review system, but the Ijin mook places emphasis on his having been part of a tight-knit team (which may have been made up for a Japanese readership). In any event, he’s revered as a researcher in Japan, and was the only scientist to have their portrait on the 1000 yen bank note. One of the defining moments of his life was when he fell into the cooking fire in his family’s home at age 1 1/2, and severely burned his left hand. His fingers were mostly gone. In 1883, his school raised the funds to have a Japanese surgical specialist restore about 70% of the mobility to his hand. One side-effect of this surgery was that Noguchi became determined to become a medical doctor. Both his father and his grandfather were layabout drunks, so his mother worked the family rice fields to support Seisaku and his older sister. In return, SeisakuĀ  was devoted to his studies and was able to get into Tokyo medical school based on the recommendations of his teachers. He traveled to the U.S., where he was a research assistant to Dr. Simon Flexner at the University of Pennsylvania working on anti-snake venoms. Flexner became the first director of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in 1901, and Noguchi followed him there. At the Institute, Noguchi (who had changed his name from Seisaku to Hideyo at age 21) isolated the syphilitic spirochete, for which he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1913 and several times more over the next few years. Later work involved Yellow Fever, which he thought was caused by a bacteria. His vaccine was only partly effective, so he studied in Ecuador, and then in Accra, Gold Coast, (now Ghana) to find out where he’d made his mistake. In Accra, he contracted Yellow Fever himself and died in 1928. Some time later, his team realized that the disease is caused by a virus, which was too small to be seen in the microscopes of the day. He is buried in NYC’s Woodlawn Cemetery.

(Ken Wolf’s mother, leader of the Wolf Gang, comes down with Yellow Disease.)

The intro manga has the Wolf Gang, led by Ken’s mother, invading Youichi’s and Mami’ house to capture Merrino once and for all. Naturally, one of the gang members yells out that they have to stop, but this time it’s because he’s just received a report that the Wolf People back home on the Wolf Planet are being decimated by a horrible contagious disease. The symptoms include turning yellow, developing a fever and collapsing. As he describes them, he too turns yellow and falls over. Ken’s mother contracts the disease as well, but is saved by Mohea, who uses a special curative scarf that had just been created in the last volume (the one on Rockefeller, which I didn’t buy). Scarves are shipped to the Wolf Planet and everyone gets well again. In the wrap-up, the third member of the gang is revealed to be the Wolf Planet President, and Ken’s father (to the shock of both Ken and his mother). Ken’s father declares the end of the hostilities between the Wolves and the Sheep, and everyone shares some delicious Earth rice crackers (Merrino and Ken’s father both agree that Earth has the best food).

The main manga is drawn by Yumehito Ueda (character designer on Idol Master relations, Sento Josai Masurawo, True Tears). He favors a big forehead, pointy little chin design that makes Noguchi look half-starved. It’s nothing like the well-fed look Noguchi has in all the photos. The backgrounds are good, though.

(Hideyo gets Yellow Fever and dies. Note his left hand in panel 2.)

The story starts out with Seisaku attempting to help his mother in the fields, but his crippled left hand prevents him from using any of the tools. He gets ridiculed by his neighbor for not being able to catch a ball. But, he’s good at studies, and assists both the neighbor and his own older sister, Inu, with their homework. One day, one of his teachers suggests that he visit Doctor Kanae Watanabe, who had studied surgery in the U.S. The school raises money for the the surgery, and eventually Seisaku is able to hold an apple in his left hand for the first time. In gratitude, he decides to become a doctor, and Watanabe allows him to stay in the clinic to help out with the staff work while studying for the medical school entrance exams at night. Before going to Tokyo, he carves a vow into the wall of the house that he’d graduate as a doctor or never come back home. He does graduate, changes his name to Hideyo (there was a novel written about that time where the main character is a loser named Seisaku. In kind of a shock, he decided that he needed a better name; “Hide” is the character used for “England”, and “yo” is “world”) and goes to America where he forces himself onto Doctor Simon Flexner. He starts out working on snake anti-venom at the University of Pennsylvania. Then, when Flexner is picked to be the first director of the newly-created Rockefeller Institute, Noguchi follows him and starts working on infectious diseases. After 15 years in the U.S., he received a letter from his former neighbor with a hand-written note from his mother stating that she misses him. Struck with homesickness, he sailed back to Japan to visit with her for 2 months. He returned to the U.S., promising to see her again soon, but she died 3 years later. At one point, his research team members give up for the night and Noguchi stays in the lab – they ask him if he ever takes time out to sleep at all. The story fast-forwards to 1928, in Accra. Noguchi is in bed with Yellow Fever. His last words are “I don’t understand”. He dies and the team redoubles its efforts to complete his work. They finally discover that Yellow Fever is caused by a virus, not a bacteria, and the story ends with the narrator telling everyone that the present-day researchers have been inspired by Noguchi’s hardworking ethic.

The textbook section describes Seisaku’s upbringing in a tiny rural town, the accident with the fireplace, and how the entire town pulled together to pay for his surgery. There’s some mention of his time spent at university and later research labs. Sidebars talk about the surgeon Kanae Watanabe, the teacher Shisakae Kobayashi, researcher Morinosuke Chiwaki, Simon Flexner, and Noguchi’s mother, Shika. There is a brief discussion of the problems with Noguchi’s research that surfaced immediately after his death, but a lot of it is kind of swept under the rug by saying that technology at the time was unable to detect viruses. The last two pages describe other disease researchers, including: Robert Koch, Shibasaburo Kitasato, Alexandre Yersin and Kiyoshi Shiga.

(Post cards: Hideyo, left, and Hideyo and Shika, right.)

Comments: It’s a bit too much to expect a Japanese publication to address the darker side of a national hero when the audience is Japanese children. But, the emphasis on Noguchi’s connection to his mother, his devotion to solving the world’s ills, and the claim that he worked closely with his U.S. team is poured on a bit thick. The artist’s interpretation of Noguchi as a starved brainiac doesn’t really work, either. If you want the pictures in the textbook section, then this volume is ok. Otherwise, you really should get a fully-researched biography on him in English.

Note: The series is almost finished. There’s German pianist Clara Schumann and then American astronaut Neil Armstrong. I’m only going to get the Armstrong volume. There’s no mention of the series being extended any further, so I’m assuming that the Merrino storyline will wrap up in issue 80 as well. It’s been a good run, and I’ve enjoyed reading about a number of the featured people. If a similar series pops up, I’ll check it out. Otherwise, this blog is probably going to slow down a lot more in the near future. Gakken isn’t releasing much of anything new anymore (the next kit is some time in September, and then we won’t see anything else until maybe December or January), and I’m not doing much in Java right now. I do have articles planned for the PAiA Fatman synth, and the HackMe Rock-it 8-Bit synth, but I don’t have either of them fully troubleshot, so there’s maybe only 3 article’s worth of material right now. And no plans for mods of the Otona no Kagaku Planetarium kit. (The Rockit kit was missing parts, and the designer may take 2-3 weeks to mail replacements to me.)