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Tetsuo Koyama: Home

Tetsuo Koyama

Tetsuo Koyama Self Portrait

Image: Tetsuo Koyama, Self Portraits


To avoid food shortage, NYBG's senior curator Tetsuo Koyama believed one must look into plant resources. Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, Tetsuo Koyama acquired his Bachelors, Masters and Doctorates degree at the University of Tokyo. Having joined the Garden in 1963, he published 40+ books, 100+ scholarly articles and taught in many universities around the world - Europe, Asia and America.

Fluent in multiple languages: English, Spanish and Chinese, NYBG's former President William C. Steere rendered Koyama's multilingual translation services. In 1975, the Emperor of Japan Hirohito and Empress Nagako went on a United States tour and visited the Garden where Koyama served as an interpreter. Koyama assisted the Emperor by translating Japanese accounts, documents and botanical notes. Reported by the New York Times, the Emperor's visit occurred three years after the Japanese American Newspaper, "New York Nichibei" published an article about Dr. Steere. The published article stated the Japanese government decided to decorate Dr. William C. Steere with the Order of the Sacred Treasure of Second Order Merit award. Honored for his efforts in the sciences, Steere traveled to Japan to receive the award in 1972.

Tetsuo Koyama and Emperor of Japan

Image: Tetsuo Koyama and Japan's Emperor Hirohito (Left), William C. Steere with Tetsuo Koyama and Japan's Emperor Hirohito, 1975 (Right)


Koyama also became close friends with NYBG's horticulturalist, Isao Adachi. During NYBG's traditional Japanese Chrysanthemum exhibition, Koyama witnessed Adachi's frustrations and devotion to managing and maintaining a total of 1,000 chrysanthemums stating, " I understand the pain and the struggle. I'm sharing it with him. This is his life. He puts his whole soul into it" (Rimer, 1983). Helping to publicize the annual Chrysanthemum event, Koyama worked alongside Adachi, supporting him  to cultivate a greenhouse experience for visitors to enjoy.

Committed to the Garden, Koyama received a 5-year, $1 million dollar endowment fund from various contributors such as the Japanese banks, power and automobile industries. The funds granted Koyama to spearhead a research program which focused on the lack of scientific information on Asian plant life. Serving as a senior curator and Director of Asiatic Programs, Koyama's research focused on Cyperaceae as well as water chestnut and canna lily families. His botanical expeditions and taxonomic and anatomical research on the South American sedges prepared him to create a monograph, a book of about 1200 pages with 380 plates. A member in many scientific organizations (i.e. American Society of Plant taxonomists, Japan Society of Plant Taxonomists) and procuring a medallion by the rector of the University of Helsinki, Koyama's dedication to study plant resources in Asia is highly regarded at NYBG.

Image: Tetsuo Koyama botanical expedition  1967