A Great Star has Fallen: Mourning the Loss of Former President Hisashi Kobayashi

Prof. Hisashi Kobayashi, former President of Friends of UTokyo, Inc. (FUTI), has passed away on March 9, 2023 (JST) at the age of 84. The death of such a significant figure came as a surprise. As he was dean emeritus of Princeton University’s School of Engineering, flags were flown at half-staff for a week at the university. We mourn the loss of Prof. Kobayashi who devoted himself to the establishment and growth of FUTI.

Born in 1938 in Tokyo, after graduating from Toyama High School, he attended the University of Tokyo, receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1961 and master’s degree in 1963 in electrical engineering.  Subsequently, he was engaged in designing radars at Toshiba, Inc. before receiving a scholarship from both the US and Japan in 1965 to study at Princeton University where he earned his PhD degree in only two years. For the next 15 years, he worked for the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, and, for four years after that, led the initiative to establish and serve as the first director of IBM Research – Tokyo. In 1986, he was appointed Sherman Fairchild University Professor at Princeton University, where he also served as Dean of Engineering from 1986 to 1991. His exceptional mathematical ability and unparalleled focus have enabled him to solve a succession of problems which led to countless accomplishments. For example, for his work on dramatically increasing the speed at which a computer can record on a hard disk, he received the Technology Award from the Eduard Rhein Foundation in Germany in 2005 and the C&C Prize from the NEC C&C Foundation in 2012.

After Friends of UTokyo (then Friends of Todai) was founded in 2007 in New York with the initiative of then UTokyo President Hiroshi Komiyama (2005-2009), Prof. Kobayashi was instrumental in the early stages of its development while serving as FUTI’s president from 2011 to 2015. The scholarship program which started in 2011 was also initiated by Prof. Kobayashi. With youthful passion and enthusiasm, he devoted himself to helping the young generation in Japan and the US to become global leaders of the future, thus laying a strong foundation for the organization.

With the exception of the short period in the last days of his life, Prof. Kobayashi led such a healthy life that he did not have a need for a family physician. It was his plan to enjoy his retirement in Honolulu, but one day at his residence he suddenly became ill.  Although, with the help of several friends, he was able to receive cutting edge treatment at the University of Tokyo Hospital, it was not enough to bring him back. It is with deep admiration and gratitude that we reflect upon his significant contribution to the digital age and the exceptional vigor with which he lived life.

Prof. Kobayashi’s vision and belief for FUTI will remain and live on. In this time of sorrow, we would like to turn our feelings of grief into encouragement and hope. He will be remembered forever in our hearts and prayers.