Kunihiko Kodaira, who died on 26 July 1997, was the outstanding Japanese
mathematician of the post-war period, his fame established by the award of the Fields
Medal at the Amsterdam Congress in 1954.
He was born on 16 March 1915, the son of an agricultural scientist who at one
time was Vice Minister of Agriculture in the Japanese Government and had also
played an active role in agricultural developments in South America. Kodaira studied
at Tokyo University, taking degrees in both mathematics and physics. From 1944 to
1951 he was an associate professor of physics at the University. His PhD thesis was
published in the Annals of Mathematics ,
and it immediately attracted
international attention. Essentially this filled a significant lacuna in the basic theorem of
W. V. D. Hodge on harmonic integrals. Kodaira had worked on this for many
years but, because of the war, his research was carried out in isolation from the
international community and did not become known until much later.
Hermann Weyl, who had been a keen supporter of Hodge's work, realised the
importance of Kodaira's thesis, and arranged for him to come to the Institute for
Advanced Study in Princeton in 1949. This was the start of Kodaira's 18-year
residence in the United States, a fruitful period which saw the full blossoming of his
research, much of it in collaboration with Donald Spencer. Kodaira spent many years
at Princeton, divided between the Institute and the University, but the years 1961–67
were more unsettled, seeing him successively at Harvard, Johns Hopkins and finally
Stanford. In 1967 he returned to a professorship at the University of Tokyo, where
he remained until the normal retiring age. From 1975 to 1985 he worked at
Gakushuin University, where retirement restrictions did not apply.