“Rediscover My Brother Shoshichi,” Prof. Emeritus Hisashi Kobayashi




Hisashi Kobayashi, Younger Brother
Professor Emeritus, Princeton University




ShoshichiKobayashiI would like to express my sincere gratitude to Professors Ochiai, Maeda, and Tsuboi and other members of the Organization Committee who spent so much time preparing for the “Shoshichi Kobayashi Memorial Symposium” of the past four days, and for this “Memorial Reception” tonight, which is attended by more than one hundred people. Moreover, I feel deeply indebted to their kindness to invite us, the Kobayashi and Ashizawa families to this gathering. We feel much honored to meet with so many distinguished mathematicians of Japan and abroad with whom Shoshichi had the privilege to work. Dr. Noboru Naito, a classmate of Shoshichi’s at the junior high school, graciously travelled from Nagano City. Shoshichi in heaven must be also moved by all of this.

Here is a one page summary of the life of Shoshichi:

 Brief Biography of Shoshichi Kobayashi

1932.1.4 Born in Kofu City
1953 Received B.S. in Mathematics, University of Tokyo
1953-1954 Studied at Univ. of Paris and Univ. of Strasbourg on scholarship
1956 Received Ph.D. from University of Washington, Seattle
1956-58 Member, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
1958-60 Research Associate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1960-62 Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia
1962-63 Assistant Professor, University of California at Berkeley
1963-66 Associate Professor
1966-94 Professor
1994-2012 Professor Emeritus, Professor of Graduate School
2012.8.29 Died of heart failure, 80 years old

This past February, I was invited by the San Francisco Akamon-kai (the Alumni group of the University of Tokyo) to talk on “The life and achievements of Shoshichi Kobayashi.” Today, I would like to speak with the title “Rediscover my brother Shoshichi.” The reason why I use the term “Rediscover” is because I realized only recently, after his death, that I had not fully understood how Shoshich felt and what he aspired for when he was very young. I realized how different the world around Shoshichi, the first son of the family, and that around me, the third son, were, although we were raised by the same parents. I knew pretty much about his career listed in the second line and below in the above biosketch, but I was not well aware of what Shoshichi felt or thought in his youth and how he progressed between the first two lines, i.e., his first 21 years since his birth until he graduated from Todai (the University of Tokyo).

He published several essays in a Japanese journal “Mathematical Seminar” and elsewhere, but I read them for the first time only after he had passed away. Shoshichi was a quiet person like our mother, and did not say much even to us, his younger brothers, about his memories and stories of younger days. I wish I had read these essays while he was alive, then I could have asked more details. Since my childhood, Shoshichi has been my role model, teacher and the person I respected most among those I have personally known. He has been my hero, so to speak.

Shoshichi was born on January 4th in Kofu City, Yamanashi Prefecture as the first son of our parents. Soon after his birth the parents moved to Tokyo and opened a Futon (Japanese bed) store in Koenji, Suginami-ku. By the time I grew to the age when I could remember things, our parents moved the store to Kyodo, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo. Apparently Shoshichi liked mathematics since his childhood, but he had some difficulty with a homework assignment given when he was a fifth or sixth grader, in which the student was asked to compute the volume of the cone that can be created from a fan shape. He recalls this incident in his essay “Deeply impressed by a beautiful theorem” in the May 1973 issue of Mathematics Seminar.

First Step in Mathematics

“I recall my first encounter with mathematics was when I was in the fifth or sixth grade in elementary school, where I was given a homework assignment to evaluate the volume of the cone that can be created from a given fan shape. I gave much thought to this problem at home, but could not figure out how to evaluate the height of this cone. After I reached the point that I need to compute the height, given the hypotenuse and the bottom side of a right-angled triangle, but I could not go further. Therefore, I drew the triangle on a sheet of paper and tried to measure the height as accurately as I could.”

Fan shape
Fan shape


“Next day I felt relieved when the teacher told us that we did not have to work on that homework, since it was too difficult a problem. But the problem still bothered me, so I went to see the teacher during a break between classes. I still remember that the teacher taught me the Pythagorean theorem (at that time in Japan the theorem was called the “Three Square Theorem” instead). Since I was aware neither the existence nor necessity of a proof for such a theorem, I was deeply impressed by measuring the sides of various right-angled triangles and validating the theorem. The first step in mathematics is to get moved by a beautiful theorem. So perhaps this incident may have been my first step.”

In April 1944, Shoshichi entered a middle (or junior high) school. He writes about that period in another essay.

Entering Chitose Middle School in 1944

“In April 1944, towards the end of the war, I became a freshman of Chitose Middle School in Tokyo. This school emphasized the military training, and all freshmen were sent to Karuizawa for the training. It was still cold in April with snow remaining. We stayed in a dormitory owned by some university of Tokyo, and marched on snowy roads. So the experience was quite different from the usual image of Karuizawa. We were divided into groups of ten students each, and the group leaders were 4th or 5th year students with good grades who intended to go to high schools and then universities. While I was discussing with our group leader at night in the dormitory, I began to think that I should also go to a high school after I graduate from the middle school.” (from “The Mathematician I luckily encountered: Mr. Muneo Hayashi: My Math Teacher in Middle School”)

It was a big surprise for me to find that it was not until he entered the middle school that he developed the idea of going to a high school, despite the fact that he was talented enough to be inspired by the Pythagorean Theorem. This is the first instance of “Rediscover Shoshichi.”

In the spring of 1945 when he became a second year student of the middle school, our family evacuated from Tokyo and moved to Minamisaku, Nagano-Ken, and the War ended soon after. Thanks to the kind people of Hiraga Village, the family stayed there until the fall of 1948. When Shoshichi became a fourth year student of Nozawa Middle School, the mathematics teacher was Mr. Muneo Hayashi, and his encounter with Mr. Hayashi turned out to be a giant step to nurture the mathematician Shoshichi.

Encounter Mr. Muneo Hayashi at Nozawa Middle School

“After the school hours, Mr. Hayashi taught me various mathematics. Matrices and matrix equations felt like magic. I was surprised to see that problems of analytic geometry became so simple.

On my way home from the school, I sometimes accompanied the teacher to go to the book store. It was a book store in a country side, but we found books such as “Theory of Functions” by Tanzo Takeuchi. I learned from him that there is a field of mathematics called “function theory.” Although it was the period when we felt hungry all the time, every day was exciting to me thanks to Mr. Hayashi who taught me new subjects of mathematics, one after another.” (From “Deeply impressed by a beautiful theorem” in the May 1973 issue of Mathematics Seminar Journal).

Just three weeks ago I succeeded in obtaining this portrait of Mr. Muneo Hayashi in his young days, thanks to the effort of Mr. Masayoshi Yanagisawa, a class mate of mine at Hiraga Elementary School.

Shoshichi’s Teacher, the late Mr. Muneo Hayashi
(He changed his name to Muneo Kurimoto after marriage)

With regard to the process that led Shoshichi to take the entrance examination of the Higher School Number One (or “Ichikoh” in Japanese abbreviation) when he was a fourth year at Nozawa Middle School, here is the story.

“I was raised in Tokyo ever since a few months after birth, so I was much eager to return to Tokyo. Even in 1948, three years after the end of the war, Tokyo was not fully recovered from the war damage. There were not enough houses, electricity, etc. People who were allowed to return to Tokyo had either jobs in Tokyo or had been admitted to high schools or universities in Tokyo. Our father returned to Tokyo, preparing for restarting his business there. Like parents of a majority of people of my generation, our parents did not receive higher education, so they depended entirely on the teacher regarding their son’s advancement to a high school. Luckily, my parents had no intention to let their first son take over the family business. So when Mr. Hayashi suggested that I should take the entrance examination of Ichikoh (or the Higher School Number One), I did not have any hesitation whatsoever, but to follow his advice.” (From “The Mathematician I luckily encountered: Mr. Muneo Hayashi, My Math Teacher in Middle School”).

It seems that Mr. Hayashi’s encouragement allowed Shoshichi to gain confidence to apply to Ichikoh, and our parents came to realize that their first son was talented enough to advance to Ichikoh and then Todai. Shoshichi must have been the pride and emotional mainstay of our parents who had lost everything in the war.

1948, April Admitted to Ichikoh (The Higher Number One School)
1949, April Admitted to Todai (Univ. of Tokyo)
Studied mathematics, Professor Kentaro Yano as his advisor
Prepared for the French Government Scholarship for graduate study

In 1948, Shoshichi succeeded in entering Ichikoh in his fourth year at Middle School (skipping the fifth year) and the following year, in 1949, he entered the University of Tokyo, under the new education system just introduced. In 1951, he advanced to the Mathematics Department, the Division of Sciences and studied with the late Professor Kentaro Yano (1912-1993), who encouraged Shoshichi to strive to win the French Government’s Scholarship. I was in a junior high school at that time, and I remember well that Shoshichi attended French classes at Athenee Francais and Institut français du Japon on his way home after a day of studying at Todai.

Girl Friend during Todai Days?








I think that Shoshichi met this lady at Athénée Français or Institut français du Japon. On the back of the photo she wrote something like “Work hard with good health.” In my speech of remembrance at Shoshichi’s memorial service of last September, I stated something like “Shoshichi did not have any girl friend.” Clearly this was an error on my part. I rediscovered Shoshichi in this regard.

He was told that the examination for the French Government Scholarship was stiff and advised to make a first trial when he was a senior at Todai. To his and Prof. Yano’s surprise, he made it in his first attempt.

Front Row: Shoshichi (21) with Father Kyuzo (49) and Mother Yoshie (45), and Kazuo (7). Two girls on the left are cousins, Chieko and Kazumi Tanaka. Rear Row:   Hisashi (15), Uncle Eizo Tanaka, Toshinori (18), Aunt Tsune Yumoto, Cousin Minoru Tanaka
Prior to the departure to France(Summer of 1953)
Front Row: Shoshichi (21) with Father Kyuzo (49) and Mother Yoshie (45), and Kazuo (7). Two girls on the left are cousins, Chieko and Kazumi Tanaka.
Rear Row: Hisashi (15), Uncle Eizo Tanaka, Toshinori (18), Aunt Tsune Yumoto, Cousin Minoru Tanaka
Yokohama Sea Port










This photo was taken with our family and some of our relatives from Kofu. The photo on the right was of Shoshichi (21 years old) taken at Yokohama Sea Port、None of our family or relatives was sensible enough to bring a bouquet, so I guess this was a present from the girl friend.

After a year of study in France, he moved to the University of Washington, Seattle where he got his Ph.D. in less than two years. I was wondering all these years why he did not go to Princeton or Harvard, whereas he suggested me to go to Princeton later. He explains his situation at that time in another essay:

“In the year I graduated from Todai, I went to France from September until the summer of the following year. I studied in Paris and Strasbourg, France as a French Government’s scholarship awardee. Then Dr. Katsumi Nomizu who had got his Ph.D. in the U.S. and was visiting France for a year for research on differential geometry stirred me up, saying “Why don’t you study in the U.S. , instead of returning directly to Japan?” Since I needed about a year to make a doctoral thesis out of the results I got at Strasbourg, I became seriously interested in doing so. So I wrote to the University of Seattle in Washington where Prof. Allendoerfer who gave the first proof of the high-dimensional Gauss-Bonnet theorem was, and to the University of Chicago where Prof. Chern who found a better proof of the same theorem was, inquiring about the application and scholarships. At the same time I asked Professor Kentaro Yano of Tokyo and Prof. Charles Ehresmann of Strasbourg for letters of recommendation. No sooner had the application form from a secretary of the Department Chair’s office of Univ. of Chicago arrived than I received a letter from Prof. Allendoerfer of Seattle (the then Department Chair) stating that he would appoint me as an assistant. So I jumped at this opportunity, without thinking of anything!” (From “My teachers, my friends and my mathematics: the period when I studied in the United States” in Mathematics Seminar, July 1982).

Photo of Prof. Carl B. Allendoerfer  and Professor Kentaro Yano  in 1961
Photo of Prof. Carl B. Allendoerfer and Professor Kentaro Yano in 1961
May 11, 1957
Saint Mark Cathedral, Seattle, WA

This last photo is the photo taken in 1953 when Shoshichi got married to Yukiko Ashizawa when he was 25 years old. I saw such handsome Shoshichi, neither before nor after. This is another rediscovery of Shoshichi.

In recapitulating Shoshichi’s life from his childhood until his marriage, I believe that his encounters with his seniors at Chitose Middle School motivated Shoshichi to think about going to a high school. Mr. Muneo Hayashi at Nozawa Middle School discovered Shoshichi’s talent in mathematics and took time to personally nurture it. Professor Kentaro Yano encouraged him to study in France. Dr. Katsumi Nomizu egged Shoshichi on to study in the U.S. Professor Allendoerfer hired him as an assistant. Shoshichi’s friends who are here tonight and all of these wonderful encounters served as the sources of energy that drove Shoshichi to work as a mathematician for over fifty-five years. He led a fruitful life, blessed with a wonderful spouse and family.

Encounters with good seniors, good teachers and good friends are our irreplaceable treasure. By finding out what Shoshichi thought in his early days and how he grew up, I was convincingly reminded of the importance of our role to serve as “good seniors, good teachers” for the younger generation.

I am afraid that I have exceeded the time allocated by Professor Maeda. Thank you very much for your attention to my talk.

Finally, I would like to call your attention to the “Shoshichi Kobayashi Memorial Website” we recently set up to compile records and news about Shoshichi. Please visit www.ShoshichiKobayashi.com, and register your name and mail address. We will send you by email the “Newsletter about Shoshichi.”

(Translated by Hisashi Kobayashi and edited by Prof. Brian Mark)