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Heading home: BioKyowa president Toshihiko Hirao reflects on his time in Cape Girardeau before moving back to Japan to retire
Throughout his career with BioKyowa, Toshihiko Hirao has bounced back and forth between Japan and Cape Girardeau. Now, after 36 years with its parent company, Kyowa Hakko, and serving as president of BioKyowa in Cape Girardeau since 2007, Hirao is returning to Japan to retire.
Hirao was part of the start-up-team as BioKyowa began operations in 1984.
It was his first trip to the United States, and he helped start the fermentation process for the essential amino acid Lysine the company produced.
Hirao, who has a chemistry degree from Toyko University, researched fermentation for 11 years before coming to Cape Girardeau as part of BioKyowa's start-up team. He grew up about four hours from Toyko, but will live there when he returns to Japan later this month.
"I learned many new things in the United States," Hirao said. "I've learned the many differences. Some are good, some are not."
He has mixed feelings about returning to Japan, he said. Hirao spent 15 years of his career in Cape Girardeau.
After his initial stint, he returned to Cape Girardeau in 1989 and stayed until 1997. His son and daughter attended school at Alma Schrader Elementary School and Cape Girardeau Central High School during that time. His wife, Miyako, studied teaching English as a second language at Southeast Missouri State University and completed her master's degree.
"When I was given an opportunity to return to Japan in '97, my wife and children didn't like going back to Japan," Hirao said.
Now, his children are both grown and working in Japan, where they finished their educations. He's looking forward to being closer to them.
During his time in the U.S., Hirao has enjoyed traveling around the country -- particularly trips to the Gulf of Mexico.
His favorite American food is fried catfish, which he said he's really going to miss when he returns to Japan.
"We have catfish there swimming in the river, but no one eats them," Hirao said. "We eat sea fish, salmon and shrimp. But the catfish is my most favorite food."
During his time here, Hirao has also become an avid Cardinals baseball fan and enjoyed going to a few games each year, as well as watching them on television.
"When I was young, I played high school and college baseball," Hirao said. "Many big companies in Japan have amateur baseball teams. I was hired as a part-time researcher, part-time ballplayer."
He played on Kyowa Hakko's amateur team during his first three years with the company and looks forward to playing in senior baseball leagues when he returns to Japan.
While he says he's looking forward to some relaxation in his retirement, he believes BioKyowa will continue to grow here in Cape Girardeau.
Construction is underway on a multimillion-dollar expansion at BioKyowa's Nash Road facility to boost its production of amino acids for the food and pharmaceutical industries.
"Our parent company is the second largest amino acid supplier in the world," Hirao said. "BioKyowa is the major producer of amino acid manufacturing in our group. We are seeking to be the top-ranked amino acid production facility in the world. I am sure BioKyowa has big potential to be that."
This latest expansion is paving the way for that to happen, he said. Cape Girardeau's plant has advantages over those in Asia, because the cost of production here is low, Hirao said. Electricity and raw materials cost less in the U.S., he added.
"The amino acid market is expanding globally," Hirao said. "Our parent company just announced a new plant in Thailand. It's expanding its capacity, but market growth is more than our capacity."
5469 Nash Road, Cape Girardeau, Mo.