Joji Sakurai: First Chemistry Professor at Tokyo University

Joji Sakurai: First Chemistry Professor at Tokyo University

Author: ChemViews

Joji Sakurai was born in 1858 to a samurai family in Kanazawa, Japan. At the age of 13, he enrolled at Daigaku Nanko, a forerunner of Tokyo University. This institution of Western learning had been set up a few years prior by the Japanese Ministry of Education as part of the changes brought about by the Meiji Restoration. During this period, the shogunate-based government was replaced with a modern government ruled by the Emperor and enormous changes to Japan’s political and social structure took place. The new education system employed foreign teachers to train promising Japanese students, who would then go on to be the first generation of Japanese professors.

Sakurai studied a preliminary course at Daigaku Nanko for three years, before taking a two-year course specializing in chemistry under the supervision of the English chemist, Robert William Atkinson. He was then sent by the Meiji government to study at University College London, UK, from 1876–1881. There, he studied under Atkinson’s mentor, Alexander William Williamson.

At the age of 23, Sakurai returned to Japan to take up a position as a lecturer at Tokyo University. The following year, he was appointed as the first Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Tokyo University.

He went on to help found the Japanese national research institute RIKEN and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences (JSPS).


Joji Sakurai is the answer to Guess the Chemist (9), which gave details about Sakurai’s role in the foundation of RIKEN and the JSPS.

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