TOKYO—It was, admits American seismologist Robert Geller, a simple task: to complete a requisition to repair the departmental roof. But the fact that a nonnative member of the Tokyo University faculty was given this duty indicates the change in Japanese attitudes toward foreign scientists.

A 1982 law allows foreign nationals to teach at public universities. The law changed an interpretation of the Japanese constitution that required faculty, as government employees, to be "persons of Japanese nationality."

Shortly after the law was passed, British chemist George Hall was appointed a professor at Kyoto University. He was invited by Nobel Prize winner Kenichi Fukui to be part of a new graduate molecular engineering program at the university after Hall's early retirement from Nottingham University. In August 1984 Geller left Stanford University to become an assistant professor of geophysics at Tokyo University.

Hall and Geller are the only scientists in a group of...

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