Tokyo Mathematical Society

The Tokyo Mathematical Society

Japan had its own mathematical tradition of Wasan. This was essentially all of Japanese mathematics until the middle of the 19th century. However, after the Meiji Restoration in 1868 a unified educational system emphasizing Western learning was established throughout Japan. In 1862 Western mathematics, and not Wasan, became an official subject in the new schools.

In 1877 the first Japanese learned society, the Tokyo Mathematical Society, was founded. Wasan was at this time still dominant and 82 of the 114 founder members of the Society were of this traditional school. At the first meeting of the Society the importance of mathematics from the West (in contrast to Wasan) was acknowledged and the Society proposed to devote its efforts to promote Western mathematics.

The Tokyo Mathematical Society had two presidents, Kanda Takahira and Yanagi Narayoshi. The reason for having two presidents was that one was a Wasan practitioner, the other a Western style mathematician. Both played an equal role in running the Society. The Tokyo Mathematical Society published a monthly journal, the Journal of the Tokyo Mathematical Society. Kanda Takahira wrote the Introduction to the first issue, dated October 1877 (see [3]:-

Introduction to the Journal of the Tokyo Mathematical Society.

The object of the recent establishment of the Mathematical Society is to promote increasingly science. It means to enlighten people greatly by means of the principles of real learning. Because numbers are representations of the principles and without mathematical proofs the principles cannot be acquired, it is necessary to elucidate numbers if one wants to inquire into the principles closely. In this country, there have been not a few mathematicians from ancient times. On the occasion of the importation of Western learning, mathematics was greatly promoted and some eminent scholars came to unite the good of both the West and the East and to reform this science. Turning now to our past, the feudal era, samurai exclusively respected not the strength of their intelligence but that of their physical constitution. Confucian and Buddhist scholars all pursued the empty principles, not the real, useful principles. In particular, regarding arithmetic with contempt as a business of merchants, they set it aside. Although such an attitude has gradually come to disappear in modern times, it still remains. We do not mention common people. Even those people who are in civil or military service and who teach quite often disregard mathematics. To make matters worse they do not feel ashamed of their attitude. The reason is that they do not know that they cannot acquire the principles without the pursuit of numbers. On the other hand, those people who intend to reform this science only gather among themselves and do not let the general public know its usefulness. This is the very object of the Society. This Society has the object of letting the general public know mathematics by all means. So we have established the Society to pave the way for this object as far as we can. For this object the following are crucial:

That we collect mathematical books, ancient and modern, foreign and domestic.

That we necessarily answer questions whatever they may be.

That we openly ask the general public undecided things of the Society.

That we translate mathematical books of the West.

That we publish those books that have been already translated.

That we fix Japanese mathematical terminology.

That we publish the reports of the meetings of our society.

These are rough proposals so that the details should be discussed.

This time the first issue of the reports was accomplished. The title is the Tokyo Suguku Kaisha Zasshi
(Journal of the Tokyo Mathematical Society), which is being put into print. This is the intention of the establishment of the Society.

October 1877
Kanda Takahira

The journal consisted mainly of elementary problems that were being discussed by the members of the Association. These tended to be written in a Western style. There were also some difficult problems, often original, submitted in the traditional Japanese style which were incomprehensible to those trained in the Western style.

Chikara Sasaki writes [3]:-

As for the nature of the society, it should be noted that the Tokyo Mathematical Society was different from its Western counterparts. In the first place, it was private, and was not so well organized as the Paris Academy of Sciences, which accommodated scientific experts by providing them with pensions. But, at the same time, it was not a society of semi-amateurs , like the Royal Society of London of the eighteenth century. Secondly, the establishment of the society gradually accelerated the dissolution of institutional basis of wasan, because wasan was mainly taught in its guilds and was more or less as esoteric as the other Japanese arts. Now members of the society could openly discuss solutions of mathematical problems and methods.
The Society was reorganized and renamed the Tokyo Mathematico-Physical Society in 1884, and continued as such until 1945. Tomochika Kawakita (1840-1919) wrote in 1887 about the change of emphasis in the Society between the two different styles of mathematics [3]:-
The establishment of the Tokyo Mathematical Society in the autumn of 1877 was the beginning of meeting of mathematicians in our country. Seventy percent of the members of the society were those who had once studied Japanese native mathematics. But after the society was renamed the Tokyo Mathematico-Physical Society, it consisted mostly of men of Western learning. In contrast, the members of 'wasan' mathematicians were only twenty percent of them.
After World War II, the Society was split into the Mathematical Society of Japan and the Physical Society of Japan.

List of References (3 books/articles)

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JOC/EFR February 2018 School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of St Andrews, Scotland
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