OSAKA — A bronze bust of Koenraad Wolter Gratama, a 19th-century Dutch chemist considered to be the father of Japanese chemistry, will be erected this fall in Osaka, where he began Japan’s first organized teaching of the science.
Tetsuo Shiba, professor emeritus of Osaka University, said the bust of Gratama (1831-1888) was commissioned as part of events to commemorate 400 years of ties between Japan and the Netherlands.
“We wanted to honor Gratama for pioneering chemistry in Japan and being a bridge in Japanese-Dutch ties,” Shiba said, adding that although Japan is in Gratama’s debt, his role is often forgotten.
The 8.6 million yen cost of the bust was shouldered by chemists and people working in activities related to the celebration of Japan-Netherlands ties.
In April, Dutch Crown Prince Willem Alexander and descendants of Gratama attended a completion ceremony for the bust, which is now temporarily housed at Osaka University.
The 80-cm-tall bust shows Gratama sporting a mustache and dressed in a suit and tie.
In 1866, Gratama arrived in Nagasaki to teach chemistry at the invitation of the shogunate.
Three years later, he was asked by the new Meiji government to be an assistant principal at a newly established national chemistry school in Osaka. There, he began what was to be the country’s first-ever organized teaching of chemistry.
In 1871, he returned to the Netherlands after his contract expired, but he left behind a crop of pupils who were to become pioneers in Japanese chemistry.
Among them were Jokichi Takamine (1854-1922), who isolated adrenaline in crystalline form from bovine adrenal glands, and Kikunae Ikeda (1864-1936), who developed a commercial seasoning product now known as “ajinomoto” (monosodium glutamate)
The national chemistry school later relocated to Kyoto, where it evolved into the current Kyoto University.
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