In a brief interview today, Dr. Yamanaka, who was born in 1962 in Higashiosaka, Japan, said that he had trained as surgeon but “gave it up because I learned I was not talented.” Having seen how little the best surgeons could do to help some patients, he decided to go into basic research and did postdoctoral training at the Gladstone Institutes in California.
“When I came back to Japan in the 90s I suffered from a disease which I called PAD — post-America depression,” he said. Another Japanese Nobel prizewinner, Susumu Tonegawa of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has criticized the lack of research freedom given to scientists in Japan. Dr. Yamanaka said that there were still some problems, but that conditions had become much better since Dr. Tonegawa moved from Japan. Dr. Tonegawa won an unshared Nobel Prize in 1987 for discovering the basis of antibody diversity.