Celebratio Mathematica

Shōshichi Kobayashi

Remembrance of Shōshichi Kobayashi

by Hisashi Kobayashi (Shoshi’s younger brother)

Rev­er­end Brochard and Rev­er­end Krantz, Ladies and Gen­tle­men.

On be­half of the Kobay­ashi fam­ily, I would like to ex­press our sin­cere thanks for kindly at­tend­ing the fu­ner­al ser­vice of my broth­er, Shoshi­chi Kobay­ashi.

Shoshi­chi was born on Janu­ary 4th, 1932 as the first child of our par­ents, Ky­uzo and Yosh­ie Kobay­ashi in Kofu City, Yaman­ashi Pre­fec­ture. Soon after his birth the fam­ily moved to Tokyo to start a busi­ness be­cause they found such an op­por­tun­ity was lim­ited in Kofu at that time, when Ja­pan was still in the midst of the Great De­pres­sion. The second son, Toshinori, the third son, Hisashi, that is me, and the fourth son, Hisao, were born three years apart. I am not sure wheth­er our par­ents planned to pro­duce chil­dren every three years, but this reg­u­lar peri­od­ic se­quence was in­ter­rup­ted dur­ing the war, so their fifth son, Kazuo, was born six years after Hisao. Un­for­tu­nately, Hisao died when he was only two years old, and Kazuo died soon after gradu­at­ing from col­lege. My second broth­er, Toshinori in Ja­pan, is re­gret­tably un­able to join us here today be­cause of his poor health.

Since Shoshi­chi and I were six years apart, I don’t re­call that we played to­geth­er as chil­dren. He has been al­ways my ment­or and role mod­el, and I am really for­tu­nate to have had such a great broth­er. He was ex­traordin­ar­ily gen­er­ous with his time in en­cour­aging Toshinori and me to ex­cel aca­dem­ic­ally.

As B-29 fight­er bombers began to threaten Tokyo in 1944, we fre­quently had to run in­to a “Bok­ugo,” or an un­der­ground shel­ter. Shoshi­chi was in his sixth grade at Ele­ment­ary School, and al­ways car­ried math­em­at­ics books and candles with him. In the spring of 1945, our whole fam­ily de­cided to evac­u­ate from Tokyo, and moved to Mi­n­ami-Saku, Nagano Pre­fec­ture. Shoshi­chi at­ten­ded Noz­a­wa “Chugakko” (or Middle School) there. In the Ja­pan­ese edu­ca­tion sys­tem at that time, en­ter­ing one of the eight so-called “Num­ber High­er Schools” was most com­pet­it­ive. Ad­van­cing from one of these Num­ber Schools to one of the Im­per­i­al Uni­versit­ies was less dif­fi­cult.

No. 1 High­er School (called “Daii­chi Koto Gakko” or “Ichiko” for short) in Tokyo was the most dif­fi­cult High­er School to get in­to. The middle school at that time re­quired five years of school­ing, but stu­dents were al­lowed to take an en­trance ex­am in their fourth year. But only a hand­ful of bril­liant stu­dents could pass the com­pet­it­ive ex­am. Shoshi­chi was suc­cess­fully ad­mit­ted to Ichiko in his fourth year at Noz­a­wa Middle School. This was an un­pre­ced­en­ted achieve­ment by any stu­dent at the Noz­a­wa Middle School, so Shoshi­chi be­came a le­gendary fig­ure of the School. At that time I was a fourth grader at Ele­ment­ary School. Our fam­ily was cel­eb­rated by every­one in the vil­lage.

In the fall of 1948, six months after Shoshi­chi entered Ichiko, our fam­ily fi­nally moved back to Tokyo. When he came home from his dorm­it­ory on week­ends, he of­ten took me to a “Fur­uhonya” (used book store) where he found ap­pro­pri­ate math books for me to study. I was ten years old, a fourth grader.

Around this peri­od he also taught me Franz Schubert’s Heider­röslein (Wild rose). I just mem­or­ized the song like a par­rot without know­ing any­thing about the Ger­man words. I can still re­cite the song from my memory. In fact this is one of the few songs for which I know the lyr­ics as well as the melody. (“Sah ein Knabe ein Röelein stehn, Röelein auf der Heiden, War so jung und mor­genschön. Lief er schnell es nah zu sehn, Sah’s mit vielen Freuden. Röslein, Röslein, Röslein rot, Röslein auf der Heiden.”)

In the spring of 1951, when Shoshi­chi star­ted his ju­ni­or year at Tokyo Uni­versity (Ichiko be­came Tokyo Uni­versity’s Ju­ni­or Col­lege), our par­ents fi­nally bought a house in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo. The house was big­ger than the one we ren­ted in Kichi­joji. So Shoshi­chi got out of the dorm­it­ory and lived with us. I was a good stu­dent and my par­ents were com­pletely happy with my per­form­ance, but Shoshi­chi was very de­mand­ing. He gave me an or­der that I should at­tend an Eng­lish class in the even­ing at Aoy­ama Gak­uin at Shibuya, three times a week. On days when I had no even­ing class, I some­times went to a loc­al movie theat­er with my friends to see cow­boy movies of John Waynes, and Shoshi­chi rep­rim­anded me, say­ing “Hisashi, you are wast­ing your time. You should study.”

Shoshi­chi gradu­ated from Tokyo Uni­versity at age 21. Dur­ing his seni­or year, he won a schol­ar­ship of the French Gov­ern­ment that gran­ted him gradu­ate stud­ies in France. So in the sum­mer of 1953, he left Yoko­hama by ship for France. But his role as my ment­or did not stop there. Be­fore he left for France, he bought for me a Ja­pan­ese trans­la­tion of “A Sur­vey of Mod­ern Al­gebra” writ­ten by Har­vard pro­fess­ors, Birk­hoff and MacLane, and in­struc­ted me that I should study one chapter per week and send him by air­mail my solu­tions of ex­er­cise prob­lems. He cor­rec­ted er­rors in my solu­tions and sent them back by air­mail. So he con­tin­ued to be my teach­er even after he left Ja­pan. He must have been very busy with his own study in France, but he was very gen­er­ous about spend­ing his time to edu­cate me.

After a year’s study at math­em­at­ic­al in­sti­tutes in Stras­bourg and Par­is, he moved to the U.S. in 1955, ad­mit­ted to the Ph.D. pro­gram of the Uni­versity of Wash­ing­ton in Seattle, where he re­ceived his Ph.D. in less than two years at age 24. Dur­ing this peri­od he told me that mas­ter­ing for­eign lan­guages was im­port­ant and that I should start study­ing Ger­man. So I was en­rolled in Takada Gaigo, a for­eign lan­guage in­sti­tute, near my high school.

In the spring of 1956 our par­ents re­ceived a let­ter from Shoshi­chi, an­noun­cing that he was go­ing to marry Ms. Yukiko Grace Ash­iz­a­wa. I was sur­prised to find that he was in­ter­ested in mar­ry­ing a wo­man, be­cause un­til then I thought all that he cared about was study­ing math­em­at­ics, and teach­ing math­em­at­ics to me. I don’t think he had any girl­friend when he was a stu­dent at Todai. His let­ter in­cluded a beau­ti­ful por­trait of Yukiko. I wrote him back, say­ing “I am happy for you, and I am im­pressed that you have found such a beau­ti­ful wo­man as your fu­ture wife. I will sup­port your de­cision, re­gard­less of our par­ent’s re­ac­tion.” Our par­ents seemed caught by sur­prise too. Our fath­er vis­ited the temple of the Ash­iz­a­wa fam­ily and was sat­is­fied to find that they had a dis­tin­guished “Haka” or grave. So the fath­er was con­vinced that Yukiko-san must be a daugh­ter of a re­spect­able fam­ily. Our fath­er was very proud of Kobay­ashi fam­ily’s an­cest­ors and im­press­ive “Haka.”

I think Shoshi­chi’s char­ac­ter changed sig­ni­fic­antly after his mar­riage with Yukiko-san. In al­most all pho­tos taken after the mar­riage, he is al­ways smil­ing or laugh­ing. I don’t re­call see­ing his smile of­ten when he was in Ja­pan. He was al­ways ser­i­ous look­ing. After he got mar­ried with Yukiko-san, he nev­er said any­thing crit­ic­al to me such as “Hisashi, you are wast­ing your time.” I am thank­ful to Yukiko-san for trans­form­ing Shoshi­chi to a well-roun­ded and tol­er­ant char­ac­ter.

I think that he has led a very happy and grat­i­fy­ing life, sur­roun­ded by his cheer­ful wife, two lov­ing daugh­ters, Sum­ire and Mei, a very thought­ful son-in-law, Phil Chou, and two prom­ising grand­sons, An­drew and Brendan. He would have writ­ten a few more books, were he able to live for sev­er­al more years, as we ex­pec­ted, but end­ing one’s life dur­ing sleep, as he did, is the most peace­ful way to de­part from this world. In this sense I am happy for him. We all miss him dearly, but Kobay­ashi’s the­or­em, Kobay­ashi’s met­ric, his fif­teen books and nu­mer­ous re­search pa­pers will be here to stay forever. He has had a great life, and we are proud of be­ing part of his life, and will cher­ish our fond memor­ies of him for many years to come.