New Kyurizukai
Dr. Okuda took up playing the piano and basketball as pursuits under the influence of his elder brother and sister. Although he took up neither pursuits on his own will, he was able to experience joys that could be appreciated only through continually engaging in them. The power to persistently continue pursuits was nurtured through piano and basketball. This combined with the power to look at things objectively – a capacity developed through constant changes in his environment – led to his worthy achievements.

What was your childhood like?
      I was born in Fussa City of Tokyo as the youngest child of three – a brother seven years older and a sister five years older than me. Under the influence of my brother and sister, I began to take lessons on the piano at the age of four and continued the pursuit until 27 years of age when I found employment. Since both my brother and sister had been playing the piano since childhood, I took playing the piano for granted. It was only after entering an elementary school that I found to my surprise that many of my schoolmates do not play the piano. It’s no exaggeration (Laughter)! Aside from piano, I often enjoyed playing mah-jongg with my family members.
      After having served as a high school teacher, my father became a university teacher, teaching sociology of education at the faculty of literature of a private university. In his daily life he made it a rule to come back home at 6:00 p.m. He often invited his students for a reading circle or drinking party; he looked really happy.
      Watching my father’s behavior as an example, I came to make up my mind to become a university teacher at some time. In reality, the lifestyle as a science/engineering course faculty member is much different from that of a humanities course. Contrary to my initial expectations, I’m now leading an extremely busy life. I wish I could notice this difference before it’s too late (Laughter). My home is close to my campus, so I make it a rule to go back home once to have supper with my family and then return to the campus to work further.

Let me ask you about your school studies.
      My parents told me to study mathematics and Japanese closely because both subjects are fundamental. However, I don’t remember them forcing me to study too hard. If I remember correctly, I had little difficulty in school studies from elementary through junior high school years. I was admitted to the Tokyo Metropolitan Tachikawa High School. Soon after that I decided to choose the science and engineering course. That said, chemistry was the only favorite scientific subject; physics was totally hard to deal with. I was good at handling statistical data. When playing baseball with friends, for example, I kept complete records of my teammates’ batting averages and batting order beforehand and used the data to map out a plan to defeat the opposing team (Laughter).
      When I was a junior in high school, I began to think about what I should do in the future. I wanted to do something useful for people, such as solving environmental problems. So I was inclined to choose the industrial chemistry course at a college. It was when Mr. Ohmachi, my chemistry teacher, advised me, saying “If you want to advance to the applied chemistry course, you should seriously study the basics at your college.” Accepting his kind advice, I entered the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, of Tokyo Metropolitan University.
      Incidentally, as a high school junior I didn’t consult my parents at all about what course and what college to choose because both were staying in the U.K. for one year due to my father’s research requirement. By that time my elder brother was already independent as a full-fledged member of society. I was living with my elder sister who was then just in the first year as a full-fledged member of society. I owe much to my sister who took good care of me with everything.
      Upon entering the university, I belonged to the basketball team. Basketball was a pursuit I had engaged in from junior high through senior high school. Day after day of hard practice made me so exhausted that I somehow attended classes but was always sleeping at the front row of the classroom. Thinking back on those days, I’m terribly sorry for my teachers. As a teacher myself now, therefore, I’m trying to make my classwork as interesting as possible to prevent my students from getting sleepy.
      To tell the truth, I took up basketball also thanks to the influences of my brother and sister. My true interest was in baseball, but I chose basketball after all. Whether playing the piano or basketball, I didn’t choose them on my own will. But it was by the power of my will that I have continued the pursuits for years to date, of which I’m a bit proud.
      As a member of an adult team, I’m still continuing this sport at a pace of once a week, mainly on Sundays. I also have an experience of teaming up with students of the Department of Applied Chemistry and winning the Keio Gijuku Presidential Cup in a Keio-wide basketball tournament. Although I least expected I would continue basketball up to this age, it’s true that I become prone to break down my health unless exercising on a regular basis. So I’d like to continue this sport in the years ahead.
      As for piano, up until 27 years of age I had performed in a piano concert three times a year. More than once I had become inclined to give up piano, but it became increasingly difficult to give up. It was partly because the number of male pianists was very limited and partly because by that time I had become more or less an object of admiration among small boys and wanted to meet their expectations (Laughter). Later I joined a jazz band and fusion band, where I was responsible for the keyboard part. I continued these activities up to the age of 32 before leaving Japan to study in the United States. Our original band even released two CDs from an indie label. Furthermore, I performed several times on live house stages and on the occasion of our Yagami Campus Festival. Due to my extremely busy work schedule, I’m now suspending these musical activities.
      Influences of my brother and sister are extending to my research activities. My elder brother is an X-ray system engineer working for an analytical equipment manufacturer. As such, he once offered a suggestion for my studies. Instead of the conventional acid decomposition/ICP-MS system, I successfully developed an analytical method based on “energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence (EDXRF) spectroscopy.” This is a multi-element simultaneous X-ray spectrometry system to analyze metallic constituents in PM2.5, which enables accurate analysis easily and quickly. He suggested the use of this system in my research.
      Due to its relatively low sensitivity, this system had been deemed inappropriate for microanalysis until then. To overcome this drawback, I exerted my ingenuity for improvements. The resultant system was found well capable of dealing with 15-or-so elements, exhibiting the efficiency of analyzing one sample in approximately 15 minutes. Thanks to this research achievement, I was honored with the “Research Paper Award 2014” from the Japan Association of Aerosol Science and Technology and the “Technological Development Award” which is the 4th Steel Foundation for Environmental Protection Technology Award for grant-in-aid research results. I’m grateful to my brother because about half of these achievements are credited with him.
      Due to these circumstances, I was invited to my brother’s company to deliver a lecture. It was totally unthinkable that my brother and I would have a work-related link – a curious coincidence indeed.