Chonosuke Okamura, Visionary
NOTE: This is an abridged version of the original article. For the full version, in all its glory or lack thereof, see the print magazine.
Time was, if one was interested in natural history he did it for the enjoyment of it. There were no professional natural-historians in the world -- or at least they were not paid for the job. Gentlemen of leisure cast about the natural world, indulging themselves in the ins and outs of living things and the ups and downs of evolution. Some made startling and worthwhile contributions to science; most were deemed eccentric amusements for the rest of the world.
The Great Discoverer
Okamura did no less than discover the Silurian Period beginnings of all vertebrate life, including humans, 425 million years ago. Nearly everything he found was a new subspecies, whether the species was extant or extinct. Some examples are Gorilla gorilla minilorientalis (gorilla), Canis familiaris minilorientalis (common dog), Homo sapiens minilorientales (humans), Pteradactylus spectabilis minilorientalis (pteradactyl), and Brontosaurus excelus minilorientalus (a dinosaur).
(Did I mention, that they were all diminutive, discovered through the eyepiece of Okamura's microscope? In his description of the mini-man, he wrote, "There have been no changes in the bodies of mankind since the Silurian period . . . except for a growth in stature from 3.5 mm to 1,700 mm.")
Big Thoughts from Little Things
Using slabs of polished limestone from Mount Nagaiwa in Iwate Prefecture, Okamura scrutinized the surfaces with a microscope. There he saw tiny shapes, which most geologists have thought to be mineral grains and the fossils of tiny foraminifera and coral fragments. But Okamura discerned that the figures resemble millimeter-sized remains of many modern animals, including human beings. He had discovered, in a world older than Lilliput, the beginnings of vertebrate evolution. He unwittingly revealed inherent flaws in both Darwinian and Creationist worldviews.
He found the beginnings of modern culture, too: his "protominimen" show evidence of solid work ethics, art crafting, social nobility, theological beliefs, and hairdressing.
Okamura also saw dragons, horrific denizens of the mini-world of Mount Nagaiwa. He illustrated one disturbing example of the "Head of a miniman in the alimentary canal of a dragon." All of these things are meticulously documented in his profusely illustrated Japanese-and-English Period of the Far Eastern Minicreatures (1980), New Facts: Homo and All Vertebrata Were Born Simultaneously in the Former Paleozoic in Japan (1983), and an illustrated book (1983?) entirely in Japanese. His life's work has been summarized in the Annals of Improbable Research (in vol. 1, no. 4 and in vol. 2, no. 4), and more widely acknowledged in book form in English, German and Italian (Abrahams, 1997, 1999). Chonosuke Okamura was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for Biodiversity in 1996 (AIR 3:1).
Where to Find Okamura's Works
The following institutions in the United States hold copies of the original "Reports of the Okamura Fossil Laboratory." We urge you to visit them:
Readers from outside the Unites States are urged to help us compile a complete international list of Okamura sites. (Please e-mail the info to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
2. "New Facts: Homo and All Vertebrata Were Born Simultaneously in the Former Paleozoic in Japan," Chonosuke Okamura, Original Report of the Okamura Fossil Laboratory, no. 15, 1983.
3. [Something entirely in Japanese.] Chonosuke Okamura, privately published, 1983?
4. The Best of Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), Marc Abrahams (ed.), W.H. Freeman and Co., New York, 1997.
5. Abrahams, Marc (ed.). Der Einfluž von Erdnužbutter auf die Erdrotation: Forschungen, die die Welt Nicht Braucht Best of Improbable Research, Marc Abrahams (ed.), translated by Dr. Gabriele Herbst, Birkh■user Verlag, Basel, 1999.
6. Abrahams, Marc (ed.). La Scienza Impossibile; Il Meglio degli "Annals of Improbable Research," Marc Abrahams (ed.), translated by Sylvie Coyaud, Garzanti, Milano, 1999.
© Copyright 2000 Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)