He was born in Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture, Japan the son of a physician, moved to Kanazawa in next year and educated in Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo, graduating from the University of Tokyo in 1879. He did postgraduate work at University of Glasgow and Anderson College in Scotland. He returned to Japan in 1883 and joined the division of chemistry at the department of agriculture and commerce.
He learned English as a child from a Dutch family in Nagasaki and so always spoke English with a Dutch accent.
In 1884 he married Caroline Field Hitch, with whom he had two children. Takamine continued to work for the department of agriculture and commerce until 1887. Leaving, he founded the Tokyo Artificial Fertilizer Company, where he later isolated the enzyme Takadiastase, an enzyme of rice malt, from his research in rice fermentation for the production of sake.
In 1894 Takamine emigrated to the United States. He established his own research laboratory in New York City, but licensed the commercial production of Takadiastase. In 1901 he isolated and purified the hormone adrenaline (the first effective bronchodilator for asthma) from animal glands, becoming the first to accomplish this for a glandular hormone.
The Emperor of Japan honored Takamine with an unusual gift. In the context of the 1904 World's Fair, the Japanese government replicated of an historical Japanese structure, the "Pine and Maple Palace" (Shofu-den), modelled after the Kyoto Imperial Coronation Palace of 1,300 years ago. This structure was given to Dr. Takamine. He had the structure transported in sections from Missouri to his summer home in upstate New York, seventy-five miles north of New York City. In 1909, the structure served as a guest house for Prince and Princess Kuni of Japan, who were visiting the area. Although the property was sold in 1922, the reconstructed structure remained in its serene setting. In 2008, it still continues to be one of the undervalued tourist attractions of New York's Sullivan County.