A Startling Encounter with Computers;
Participating in Hironaka’s Seminar
HUMAN DISCOVERY, July 26, 2023
Shaping the Future through Learning #3
Future University Hakodate: Professor Noyuri Mima
By Kyoko Kimura
Photo: Professor Mima returned to the youth math & science seminar initiated by Mr. Heisuke Hironaka (left) in the following year (1981, Kaga, Ishikawa Prefecture).
—The original instance of being dubbed a “trailblazer for science girls” occurred during her high school years.
Since elementary school, I had a knack for math and science. I even penned a script for a puppet show using triangulation for the school festival at Toyo Eiwa Jogakuin.
Thanks to a connection with the mathematics club advisor, I was able to visit IBM Japan’s headquarters, which was within walking distance from the school. February 8, 1977, marked a pivotal day for me.
When I entered my birth year and month into a computer, it printed a calendar instantly. Intrigued, I entered “December, 9999” to see the maximum output. The result appeared in no time.
This revelation was electrifying. I realized, “This is the path I must pursue!” I was certain that this machine would revolutionize the world, and I felt an overwhelming desire to work with computers. Even now, I hold onto the admission ticket and materials from that visit.
—After a year as a “ronin” (a student who has graduated high school but has not yet entered a university), I enrolled in the University of Electro-Communications (UEC).
I sought a university that offered computer science, and I was torn between UEC and a women’s university’s mathematics department.
My high school teacher cautioned, “No one has ever gone to UEC before; you shouldn’t either.” This only intensified my resolve to attend.
However, once admitted, I nearly gave up. My classmates, some of whom had been programming since high school, made me feel like a novice. Keeping pace with the classes was grueling.
Yet, I was unwilling to transfer. If I withdrew, I would have proved my high school teacher right. I remember the moment of enlightenment when a friend’s explanation enabled me to grasp a concept before the semester exam. I earned an “A,” while my friend, who had tutored me, received a “B.” He grumbled, “How come?”
—During her time at UEC, she joined a seminar initiated by Heisuke Hironaka, a Fields Medal winner, often likened to the “Nobel Prize of Mathematics.”
My father discovered a newspaper article announcing that Professor Hironaka was launching a camp seminar for fostering young talents in mathematical sciences, targeting 50 students from high schools to graduate schools. Intrigued, I applied and took part in the inaugural session in the summer of 1980.
The seminar aimed to involve many young minds, with only one representative from each high school and 20% female participation. The full cost, including lodging and transportation, was underwritten by the Hironaka Institute of Education.
The experience was invigorating. We debated mathematics into the late hours for several days, reveling in the freedom to focus without the fear of being labeled “different” as a woman like in middle or high school. I was invited back the next year, and among the original participants were now-prominent Professors Yasuyuki Kawashigashi and Yasuo Kuniyoshi of the University of Tokyo.
—Her future husband, Yoshiaki, also attended the seminar.
At that time, Mima, a graduate student at the University of Tokyo, participated in the third session. Post-seminar, Professor Hironaka gathered previous attendees in Tokyo and, using his Ebisu office, declared, “Do whatever you like,” granting us 3 million yen.
We would meet daily after classes to brainstorm uses for the funds and explore mathematical science issues. This group evolved into the “Yugen Club,” which remains active. Yoshiaki was instrumental in creating the organization’s magazine with funds from Professor Hironaka.
Upon reaching certain milestones in our studies, Mima suddenly proposed, “Please marry me.”
Already committed to studying at Harvard University in the United States, I refused twice. But when Mima said, “You can do whatever you like,” I agreed to marry him.
However, I eventually had to abandon my study abroad plans due to a lack of scholarship funding and embraced life as a full-time housewife.
(Editorial Board: Kyoko Kimura)