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When Keio University professor Masaru Tomita accepted an offer in 2000 to head a new science lab in the city of Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture, his fellow researchers — shocked at what they evidently considered his relegation to the countryside — warned him that his career was done for.

“They told me that no matter how hard I try, the lab will never succeed as long as it remains based in Yamagata,” Tomita recalled.

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