Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: James Yamazaki Interview
Narrator: James Yamazaki
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Van Nuys, California
Date: February 4, 2005
Densho ID: denshovh-yjames-01-0036

<Begin Segment 36>

TI: But we're in Cincinnati, and you said after about a year, you were made this job offer to study the atomic bomb survivors. And then you and Aki decided, yes, that's something that you would want to do. And so I'm just curious, as you were getting ready to go to Japan, what were some of the things to get ready? I mean, how would you prepare?

JY: Yes, that was the crucial, the main question: what should we study? Because very little is known about the effect on children. They knew it involved the cell structure, so one of the first things was what would it do to the growth and development of a child as a whole? And for that they suggested perhaps go to Harvard to study under a Dr. Stewart, and a doctor, the head of our hospital, Dr. Weeks, who asked me to consider going to Japan, made arrangements for us to go there. And then there was ongoing, as one of the main research objectives at the children's hospital in Cincinnati, was the effect of the environment on fetal development. So this was not just on the child development, but starting from the fetus, so getting at that level. And they had done research in that area with radiation, albeit an initial one, but with striking findings.

TI: So who did that? Cincinnati or Harvard?

JY: In Cincinnati. But I was first, thought maybe we could do a study of development at Harvard, because there's a world-renowned researcher on that area.

TI: So it sounds like you had a year, and you took this year to really, in some ways, find as much information as you could on these topics.

JY: Before going to Japan.

TI: Which was really valuable, because although there wasn't that much, there was, there were some studies.

JY: Yes, at least something to go on, some basis to conduct studies in Japan.

TI: And I imagine, by you just finding everything on this topic and reading it and talking to the people who studied it, you were quickly one of the experts in this area.

JY: Oh no, I wouldn't go that far at all. [Laughs] No, it was just being introduced to that area, just getting a little flavor of what lies ahead.

TI: But there was just so little.

JY: That's right. Well, there was a lot known, but nothing in the concrete way as how it would affect the whole individual, this child or the fetus. And it's crucial in that...

TI: Well, I would think that... so we're late '40s. This must have been really cutting edge stuff, because at that point, the power of, nuclear power and atomic war possibilities was really on everyone's mind in terms of the possibility of that. And so probably this kind of work, there's a lot of interest by not only medical people, but government and military people also?

JY: Well, the interesting thing was they were asking the investigators to think up what to do in Japan. And so not knowing anything about it, we had to probe to see who to contact to see what we might, could be developed in Japan. And then this thing about this interest in Cincinnati by Dr. Joseph Warkeny on the effect of the environment on fetal development was his main field of interest, such as the effect of lack of vitamins, and that initiated a whole area of information that wasn't known before. And he was a very kind and helpful person, and so he laid the groundwork of how to establish a meaningful study. And he had done studies on the effect of radiation on the developing fetus, which was quite striking.

TI: So that's great. So it sounds like you got lots of generous support.

JY: Oh, he was extremely generous. He insisted I... for example, he said, "You've got to get a feel for this." So he asked me to go through all the records at the Cincinnati General Hospital of pregnant women and what was the outcome of their diabetes. And so in between our work as residents, that was the kind of information I was gathering.

TI: But it's great because he recognized the importance of this work.

JY: Oh, yes, absolutely, and that it be done in a very meaningful way.

TI: Well, with his interest, did he ever consider going to Japan and joining you in doing this?

JY: Well, he was the kind of person who would sit down with you and help you translate a German article from five to eight o'clock in the evening. Yeah, just having, let's say, "Please, there's a paragraph here or two that I didn't quite get," and he'd show me. I didn't understand the whole article. During that night's work, he'd spend the time to show me why I didn't understand. He was that kind of a person.

TI: Were there any other doctors or mentors that helped you get ready for Japan in terms of either information or advice?

JY: I think there was this Dr. James Neal at the University of Michigan, had the first Department of Human Genetics in the country. And the National Academy of Sciences asked me to visit him to get some background as to the role of a pediatrician in these genetic studies. And he eventually was the first director of these studies in Japan. And he outlined a study that was commented on by top geneticists in the country, that this was a situation that, biology that had to be investigated, though he felt the possibility of finding some results was unlikely because of the small number of survivors that received a large dose of radiation. But they said that every, studies of radiation effects on every plant and animal. And plants and animals studied revealed an adverse genetic effect. So this was a study that had to be done.

TI: Okay, good.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2005 Densho. All Rights Reserved.