So is that 21 or 22?

Until yesterday, there were 19 Japanese Nobel Prize winners. Then there was the news last evening that 3 Japanese people had won the physics prize for their invention of the blue LED, bringing the total up to 22 (I heard that on NHK and several other TV stations).

This morning, I learned that one of the three, Shuji Nakamura, is from Japan but he became a naturalized American citizen in about 2001. Since Japan doesn’t allow dual citizenship, that means that actually any headlines should read, “2 Japanese and 1 Japanese-born American” are sharing the prize.

I’m still seeing this headline, though:

“Nobel Physics Prize Goes to 3 Japanese” (from Yomiuri online)

You can hear the wake-up call that Mr. Nakamura got here (with transcript) and on SoundCloud:

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 7.50.55 AM

I like this interview because 1) he sounds so happy, and 2) it’s a great example of how your English does not need to be perfect. His English is far from perfect, and yet he’s speaking comfortably and being understood. And he won a Nobel Prize!!

He also has some good advice for students:

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 7.56.38 AM

The story I heard, one which is confirmed at least partially on Wikipedia, is that Nakamura discovered the LED (or at least helped to discover it) when he was working at a small company in Japan. The company stopped subsidizing his experiments because it was costing them too much, but he continued on his own. When he discovered the blue LED, his company gave him a bonus: ¥20,000 (about $200). He sued them and eventually won a larger settlement but apparently felt some bitterness and decided not only to live and work abroad, but to give up his Japanese nationality.

That’s the story I heard, anyway.

It would be a great research project. And I can think of many, many discussion questions, including:

  • Should the prizes be given to the people and their country of birth, or their country of citizenship?
  • Should Japan change its laws and allow dual citizenship? (Yes! Yes! Yes!)

At least one of the English-language news articles I’ve seen has gotten it right: “…award to Japanese researchers Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano and naturalized U.S. citizen Shuji Nakamura.” (from ABC News). Let’s see how the media, Wikipedia, and the official Nobel site record it.


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