Shinobu Ishihara is a Japanese ophthalmologist and surgeon who invented the so-called Ishihara Plates for testing color blindness.
Ishihara graduaes medicine in 1905 on a military scholarship and immediately after that joins the Imperial Japanese Army as a physician, serving primarily as a surgeon. He later changed his specialty to ophthalmology. In 1908 he returned to the University of Tokyo, where devoted himself to ophthalmological research. In 1910 he becomes an instructor at the Army Medical College. There, in addition to seeing patients, he conducted research on “battlefield ophthalmology” and how to select senior soldiers. While working at the Military Medical School, he was asked to design a test to check servicemen for color vision abnormalities. His assistant was a color-blind doctor who helped him test the signs. The first cards were hand-painted by Ishihara in watercolors using the symbols of the hiragana.
Ishihara’s color blind test
His name is known worldwide for the color blind test images he created in 1918. Even today, his test remains the only choice in the world. Ishihara developed a Japanese visual acuity diagram and near-point apparatus that are currently widely used in Japan. He also makes a significant contribution to the study of trachoma and myopia.
In 1908, Ishihara entered the postgraduate course in ophthalmology at the Imperial University in Tokyo, where he studied the class of Prof. Jujiro Komoto. He then studied in Germany with professors Wolfgang Stoke, Theodor Axenfeld and Karl von Hess. Ishihara was appointed professor and chairman of Prof. Komoto in the Ophthalmology Department of the Imperial University of Tokyo in 1922 and served until March 1940.
Ishihara leads a very modest life, with no interest in material possessions. He was highly revered by his students, who after his retirement built a house near a hot spring on the Izu Peninsula. There he served as the country’s doctor, running clinics for his neighbors without asking for payment. As was the custom in those days, patients left their victims grateful for home-made products and small sums of money. After covering his expenses, Ishihara returned all the remaining money to the villagers. These funds were used to build a library and classroom for the children of the village, thanks to a tribute to the highly respected benefactor who came to live among them until his death in 1963.