150 Years Department of Chemistry, University of Tokyo

150 Years Department of Chemistry, University of Tokyo

Author: Vera Köster, Cover image designed by Shuzaburo Shibi

This year, the Department of Chemistry of The University of Tokyo is celebrating its 150th anniversary. To commemorate this occasion and to honor the department’s tradition of excellence, the latest issue of Chemistry — An Asian Journal is a special issue dedicated to this anniversary, featuring top contributions from international scientists closely linked with the department.

Founded in 1861
The University of Tokyo was established as Japan’s first modern university in 1877. 16 years earlier the Department of Chemistry in the University’s School of Science was established. During that time, following the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy in Japan in 1853, the Tokugawa shogunate abandoned its isolationist policy and opened Japan to foreign countries. Subsequently, driven by the need to learn from foreign countries, it founded an institute for Western learning named Bansho Shirabesho. The Department of Chemistry was initially opened as the Chemistry Department (Seirengata) in this institute.

The Bansho Shirabesho was renamed several times, and finally, in 1877, it was integrated with other research institutes to form a modern university.


Early Founding of Chemical Society
Japan founded one of the earliest chemical societies. Following the United Kingdom (1841), Germany (1867), and the United States (1876), in 1878 the Chemical Society — the present Chemical Society of Japan — was founded by the faculty and students of the University of Tokyo. Mitsuru Kuhara (1856–1919) was inaugurated as the first chairman of the society. He was one of the first graduates of the Department of Chemistry, and, at that time, was an associate professor at the age of 22.


First Japanese Professor
In 1882, aged 24, Joji Sakurai (1858–1939) became the first Japanese professor in the Department of Chemistry. Sakurai established RIKEN and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and served in high positions, including President of the Japan Academy.

Graduate Students Today

Today the classes for graduate students are all given in English. Supported by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the Department is implementing a program to enable graduate students to study overseas on a short-term basis and is organizing lecture tours for young researchers with a view to developing researchers with international communication abilities, a broad view, and first-class research abilities.



► Special Issue: Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Department of Chemistry, The University of Tokyo
     Chem. Asian J. 2011, 6 (7), 1629–1895.

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