Digital Collections

Oral history interview with Tatsuya Hirano

  • 2002-Dec-11 – 2002-Dec-13

Tatsuya Hirano was born and raised in Chiba, Japan—a fishing village and an agricultural suburb of Tokyo—the youngest of three siblings. Hirano's father was a civil servant who educated local farmers about methods in agricultural production, obtaining his doctoral degree later in life and, after retiring from civil service, becoming faculty at the University of Tokyo; his mother was a housewife. Hirano's childhood, according to him, was rather typical; he had an early interest in the arts (he liked drawing and carpentry). He excelled in school and decided to pursue a college education in science. He entered Kyoto University intending to study physics, but interest in contemporary advances in molecular biology pulled him much more in that direction. He was unaffected by his professors during college, as, according to Hirano, undergraduate education in Japan was much more self-directed than instructor-led. In this spirit, graduate students, unlike in the United States, usually stayed at the same university for their graduate degree as their undergraduate and only applied to a specific lab in which to work for graduate study (unlike the rotation system in the United States); Hirano remained at Kyoto University and worked in Mitsuhiro Yanagida's laboratory on the genetics of chromosome structure in fission yeast. Since there were no postdoctoral positions available in Japan, and even fewer faculty positions, Hirano decided, like many of his fellow graduate students, to undertake a postdoctoral fellowship abroad. Wanting to broaden his experience in his field, Hirano decided that he wanted to work in the United States and chose to study with Timothy J. Mitchison—someone Hirano considered one of the brightest cell biologists of his age—at the University of California, San Francisco. Hirano worked on chromosome condensation and the condensin complex in Mitchison's lab, all the while adjusting to American life and culture. From there, he accepted a position at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, where he continued his research on condensin and cohesion. During the interview, Hirano talks about his wife's role in his lab (she worked as a technician in several Japanese and American labs before joining his own), and balancing his career with his family life. In addition, he regularly compares the American and Japanese scientific systems, talking about the "brain-drain" issue and its impact on Japanese science. As the interview concludes, Hirano discusses the impact of cultural diversity on science; his mentoring style and its relationship to the mentoring he received; the privatization of science; and the role of the scientist in public policy. At the end of the interview, he speaks more about how he met his wife and about her career; the future direction of chromosome dynamics; and being an award recipient of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Access this interview

By request 1 PDF Transcript File and 8 Audio Recording Files

Fill out a brief form to receive immediate access to these files.

If you have any questions about transcripts, recordings, or usage permissions, contact the Center for Oral History at

PDF — 264 KB