chapter  2
17 Pages

Academia–industry relations: interpreting the role of Nagai Nagayoshi in the development of new businesses in the Meiji period and beyond


As emphasized in the pioneering work of James Bartholomew, in the Meiji period the transfer of knowledge from scientists who had studied overseas was vital to the formation of science at Japanese universities and requisite to the emergence of modern industries.1 This was especially true in the case of the pharmaceutical industry, which employed what was then a new discipline, chemistry-particularly its practical applications-in the production of Western medicines. As aspiring entrepreneurs lacked practical knowhow, direct scientific supervision and guidance were of utmost importance to the emergence of pharmaceutical enterprises in the Meiji and Taisho-periods, though only a few of these scientists actually offered any hands-on assistance at production sites. At the same time, they provided indirect assistance through informal academiaindustry ties which also served as an important modernizing force. Both types of assistance contributed to the building of the economic and productive foundations of the modern Japanese empire. This chapter examines the salient characteristics of the earliest academia-

industry relations during the Meiji period and beyond by assessing the underappreciated role of one key scientist, Nagai Nagayoshi, and his efforts to assist in the development of pharmaceutical chemicals businesses. Best known today for his discovery of ephedrine, Nagai is also credited with having introduced pharmaceutical science to Japan, a focus that distracted from a deeper appreciation of his business involvement.2 As the first president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Japan, he did much to promote the study of pharmacy and educate pharmacists, a new vocation, while also endeavoring to raise their status vis-à-vis physicians.3 Given these exceptional achievements, studies of Nagai have tended to emphasize his contributions to science, especially pharmacy, rather than his role in assisting the development of new businesses.4 Yet Nagai’s early career expertise in the production of biomedicines was the principal reason why the Meiji government’s chief of medical affairs, Nagayo Sensai, summoned him to return to Japan from his studies in Berlin. The second reason why studies of Nagai’s contributions to business have

received less attention than those to science is that on the whole the fruits of

his commercial endeavors were-at least in the short term-mixed. The government-backed pharmaceutical companies, Dainippon and Naikoku, which received Nagai’s direct guidance and supervision both failed and were sold to the private sector. However, these failures were not due to any shortcomings on Nagai’s part but to poor government oversight. Once these enterprises were turned over to the private sector their performance improved, and one reason for Dainippon’s success in the long term is that while Nagai officially resigned from the company in 1893, his ties with management and hands-on assistance at production sites never ceased. A third reason why Nagai’s contributions to industry have not been explored

in depth is because historians have tended to focus on his direct participation in major projects formulated by the central government while making little if any mention of his efforts to provide scientific guidance to either existing businesses or new ones initiated by the private sector.5 One of the cases examined in this chapter describes Nagai’s attempt to rescue an indigenous industry, the Awa dye business, from foreign competition through technological innovation. Nagai also had informal ties during the Taisho-period with the founder of another Tokushima enterprise, Tomita Pharmaceutical Company, which has not been mentioned in any previous studies of Nagai. This enterprise is of note not simply for its connection to Nagai but because it provides a rare example of a successful business established by a private-sector entrepreneur that survived both the Meiji and Taisho-periods and remains a profitable firm today. Throughout his lifetime, Nagai became directly and indirectly involved in a

wide range of business activities, especially in Tokushima, his birthplace. Because his reasons for aiding businesses in Tokushimawere in part personal, his role differed from the one he played in service of the central government. Nonetheless, one can find much continuity in all his relations with businesses-both new and existing-and his motivations for assisting them through science and innovation. While previous studies of Nagai have drawn conclusions regarding his character and personality, few of these assertions have been based on his relations with business.6 Through an examination of accounts of persons with whomNagai came into contact I will assess Nagai’s motivations and aspirations for aiding in the development of business. In addition, I analyze some of the economic and political changes occurring during Nagai’s lifetime and the influence they had on his interest in both business and the formation of science in Japan.