Kumagusu Minakata was born in the castle city of Wakayama on April 15, 1867, the second son to a hardware dealer Yahei Minakata, 39, and wife Sumi, 30, and was raised with three brothers and two sisters.
Since childhood, he had had extraordinary interests in the natural world and demonstrated a marvelous memory. As early as at the age of seven he transcribed an encyclopedia. To develop his talent, Yahei, a self-made man, sent Kumagusu to the newly opened Wakayama Middle School (now Toin High), which was unconventional for a merchant family those days. Kumagusu’s thirst for knowledge was growing bigger as he at home recited the Chinese classics and transcribed the books that he had learned off by heart at a collector’s place.
That he transcribed Wakan Sansai Zue, an encyclopedia of 105 volumes, and Honzo Komoku, illustrated books of flora, in over five years is an extremely famous episode from this period. At school, however, he remained a low achiever. He was such a kid that finished lunch earlier and observed a frog or a crab in the empty lunch box.
After finishing middle school, he came to Tokyo in March 1883 and the following year entered the Preparatory School of Tokyo University. Among the colleagues were Shiki Masaoka, Soseki Natsume and Bimyo Yamada, who later became eminent figures of Japanese literature. Again Kumagusu was not interested in school and spent more time outside the university transcribing books in libraries, visiting zoos and botanic gardens, and collecting artifacts, animals, plants and minerals. At the news that Miles J. Berkeley, a world-famous British cryptogamist, and an American botanist Moses A. Curtis had collected 6000 species of fungi including slime molds, Kumagusu decided to produce an illustrated book that would cover more.
What with this and that, he didn’t study much at university. In February 1886, following a failure at the end-of-year exam, he came home and told father that he would go to America, Initially opposed Yahei finally gave in to his son’s enthusiasm and let him go.
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