Jokichi Takamine

The name « Takabio » is a tribute, both to Jokichi Takamine and to biology, the science of life.

Jokichi Takamine is known as the godfather of American biotechnology (1). This Japanese man was a pioneer in enzyme engineering; he also discovered adrenaline. He used his genius to develop biotechnology and to promote the economic consideration of his discoveries.

Tradition as a source of innovation: miso soup

Miso soup is a traditional Japanese dish. It is prepared from dashi and miso. Dashi is a broth of kombu algae; its taste is so different from sweetness, saltiness, sourness or bitterness that it has spurred research by the Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda. He named this fifth flavour « umami ». He was the first to make the connection between the umami flavour and glutamate.

The second primary component of miso soup is miso, a paste made from fermented soybean. Jokichi Takamine was very interested by this fermentation process. It is caused by Aspergillus oryzae, which is to Japan what roses are to England, or thistle to Scotland. This fungus is used to saccharify rice, a process required in the brewing of sake, and for soybean fermentation, to produce miso and soysauce. In 1890, Takamine found out that the amylolytic activity of koji (the fungus’s must) was superior to that of malt. In 1894, he patented its use in the US. These inventions made the industrial production of enzymes possible.

Historical context

Jokichi Takamine’s career occured during the Meiji Era in Japan and during the Reconstruction Era in the US. At the time, Japan was undergoing modernization, opening up to the West, and the United States were working to heal the damage caused by the Civil War, and were on the verge of global industrialization and expansion.

Synthetic chart of Jokichi Takamine’s biography
Jokichi Takamine, one of Japan’s ten great inventors

In 1985, the Japan Patent Office commemorated the centennial of its industrial property system by selecting ten inventors. Jokichi Takamine was among these (the third one on the third row, starting from the top left). Kikunae Ikeda, who discovered the fifth flavour was also selected (the second one on the second row, starting from the top left).

In 2009, the Japan Enzyme Association (JAE) published a history of enzyme engineering. The book begins with a biography of Jokichi Takamine, the first man to industrialize the production of microbial enzymes in 1894.


Jokichi Takamine is still topical nowadays because of the findings of his research, and also because of his reasoning. He was inspired by a traditional Japanese dish - miso soup. He applied the same traditional fermentation techniques to new fields of experimentation. He was also smart enough to protect his work with patents and to promote it by becoming a true entrepreneur.

This is what every University and Researcher hopes for: economic development and success.

His path as an entrepreneur
His path as an entrepreneur
Application of Western technologies

Jokichi Takamine started his business career in Japan. In 1887, he left Japanese administration. He then practiced what he learned on fertilizers in Scotland (1879-1883) and during a trip to the United States in 1884. With help from the government and support from Japanese investors, he created the first phosphate plant: the Tokyo Artificial Fertilizer Company.

Once it had been set up, he left Japan once again in 1887, to visit fertilizer plants in Europe, before going to the USA for his honeymoon, to visit more plants and to study the American patenting system. When he returned to his homeland, he started a new line of work based on his knowledge.

Application of traditional Japanese enzymes

In 1889, on the eve of a new American trip, knowing he wasn’t going to be competitive in the fertilizing sector, he decided to turn the concept around. Instead of using Western technologies to upgrade Japanese products, like what had been done with fertilizers, he used traditional Japanese processes with American products. His first project was distillation.

With the money he earned from the phosphate plant, he created his own private laboratory in Japan, and worked there on the enzymes derived from Aspergillus oryzae, used in the brewing of sake.

In 1890, with a new patent for amylase production, he moved with his family and settled in the United States. After noticing that the koji enzymes were cheaper and more active than the malt enzymes (obtained from barley fermentation), he had the idea of using them in the distillation process.

He created the Takamine Ferment Company in Chicago to produce his enzymes and sell them to brewing companies and distilleries. The Peoria distillery launched a whiskey named Bonzai. The distillery burnt out soon after, probably not by accident since local Companies were quite unhappy with Takamine’s improvements.

Using the patents
In 1886, Jokichi Takamine was promoted to the head of the Japan Patent Office. The first laws on industrial property were introduced in Japan in 1885. During his 1887 honeymoon trip to the USA, he studied the American patenting system, and used it back home to protect his work.
In 1894, ruined since the Peoria incident, the chemist focused on enzymes. He widened the range of application for his discovery, and applied it to the pharmaceutical field. He patented the production of takadiastase (an amylase), and sold it in 1897 to Parke-Davis. They in turn successfully marketed the takadiastase for digestion issues. Takamine became a Consultant for them, and with their support created a new private laboratory in New Jersey: the Takamine Laboratory, where he would later isolate adrenaline.
In 1900, he met with J.J. Abel; inspired by his work, he decided to upgrade the crystallization and purification process of adrenaline, that Abel had achieved in 1897. He patented his method and published several articles on the subject. Like before, he let Parke-Davis take care of the marketing part.

Using the patents

Jokichi Takamine's 1894 patents

US Patent
525.819 Preparing and making fermented alcoholic liquors
525.820 Preparing and making Taka-Koji
525.821 Preparing and making Moto
525.822 Preparing and making Taka-Moyashi
525.823 Process of making diastasic enzyme
525.824 Taka-Koji ferment and process of preparing and making same
525.825 Alcoholic-ferment mash
First patenting laws
USA 1790 Patent act
France 1791 Law of Jan.7th, 1791 on
property copyrights for inventors
Japon 1885 Patent monopoly act
The invester

With the royalties he had earned from adrenaline and takadiastase marketing, Takamine invested in Japan and took part in the economic growth of his homeland. Financing Sankyo Pharmaceutical, he invested in various industries: aluminium, asbestos, bakelite, caustic soda...

Takamine invested time as well as vast amounts of money to promote the relations between Japan and the USA. He created the Nippon Club of New York, the Japan-America Society, the Japan Club and the Japanese Association of New York. He also joined several scientific societies: the American Chemical Society, the Chemical Society of England, the Chemical and Physical Research Society of Japan...


Samurai Takamine Jokichi. Poster of the play, performed in New York City on April 10th-11th, 2009. Courtesy of TKO Entertainment.

To know more

(1) Adrenalin and Cherry trees, American Chemical Society, 2001


In Search of Dr. Jokichi Takamine and the Origins of Industrial Mycology, inoculum


The Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, 1922, vol14, n°10 Siteweb

Jokichi Takamine, noted Chemist, dies, The New York Times, 1922


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