Photo/Illutration In this photo taken in March 2006, Masatoshi Koshiba, center, poses for a photo with children while taking a walk near his home in Tokyo's Suginami Ward. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The report card Masatoshi Koshiba got from the University of Tokyo in spring 1951 had only two A grades, 10 B's and four C's.

Decades later, the Nobel laureate physicist had a copy of this card projected on a screen when he gave a talk at his alma mater, explaining, "Nobody believes me when I tell them that l graduated at the bottom from this university's Department of Physics."

Learning of Koshiba's death on Nov. 12 at the age of 94, I re-read his autobiography and was reminded of the many adversities he faced in his younger years.

He contracted polio as a child, which shattered his dreams of becoming a soldier like his father or a great musician like Tchaikovsky.

He kept failing school entrance tests. During his university days, he supported his family by working as a private tutor and taking on various odd jobs, including one from the U.S. forces in Japan.

At a junior high school where Koshiba taught for a while, he came up with this test problem: "State what would happen if 'friction' ceased to exist from this world."

The correct answer he expected was, "Blank test paper."
He stunned his students by explaining that in the absence of friction, the tip of a pencil would simply glide over the paper, rendering writing impossible.

After winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002, Koshiba gave many talks to children.

"Doubt what you read in your school textbooks, always hold an egg of research in your heart," he urged them. "Think of how you'd hatch the egg of your aspirations."

His greatest achievement lay in his observation of cosmic neutrinos.

Being no physicist myself, I still have no idea what substance from 160,000 light years away reached the bottom of the ground in Gifu Prefecture, or how.

Still, every time I hear about a Nobel Prize, the first thing that pops in my mind's eye is Koshiba's beatific smile.

Japan was in the midst of "the lost two decades" back then, and the hope and encouragement Koshiba gave the nation was beyond evaluation.

Yesterday, I strolled along Koshiba's beloved walking path in Tokyo's Suginami Ward.

A gigantic egg gleamed atop a monument bearing the words "Universe, Human, Elementary Particle" and "Cherish Your Dream" engraved in Koshiba's handwriting.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 14

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.