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Naumann and Sanshiro Pond

  • Gaku Kimura (Professor, Department of Earth and Planetary Science)
Figure 1

Naumann (photo credit: Fossa Magna Museum) and the present day Sanshiro Pond

Heinrich Edmund Naumann was the first German professor of geology at the University of Tokyo. Professor Naumann was employed by the Department of Geology of the Faculty of Science in 1875 (8th year of the Meiji era), at the young age of 20. His name is connected in Japan with the so-called "Naumann elephant (Nauman zo)". Naumann elephants are believed to have lived on the Japanese archipelago at a time in the past and to have become extinct.

While in Japan, Naumann created a geological map of the Japanese archipelago that showed the kind of rocks normally found in Japan. He was also involved in establishing a Geological Survey for the exploration of unexploited resources in Japan.

After returning to Germany, Naumann lectured on Japan in various places. However, he described Japan as "a barbaric country that would not become civilized even after a hundred years." Ogai Mori — Japanese physician, translator, novelist and poet — was furious when he heard Naumann's comments on Japan during his study-abroad days in Germany, and this led to heated debate in the German press. This story is one of the famous anecdotes about Naumann.

The secret of how Naumann managed to make a geological map of the Japanese archipelago during his short stay — ten years — can be found in the Sanshiro Pond, the popular name for this pond that derives from Soseki Natsume's famous novel "Sanshiro." In the novel, Sanshiro Ogawa (the hero of the novel) on his first day as a student at the University of Tokyo was looking from the corner of the pond at a lady standing on a hill holding a fan. And the boardwalk around the pond, which is located in the center of the University where people can contemplate, was also one of the things that made the name of the pond. The official name of the pond is "Ikutokuenshinjiike (育徳園心字池)," and it was part of the garden of Kaga Domain's Edo residence (Edoyashiki) during the Edo Era.

When it was carefully-maintained during the Edo period, the Sanshiro Pond must have been part of a Japanese garden filled with the elegance of old Japan (furyu) such as an island in the middle of the pond, a stone bridge by the roadside, and an artificial waterfall. An indispensible ingredient that multiplies the elegance is well-arranged garden of stones.

In the Edo Era, every Edo residence of each Domain had a garden, and in each garden, there were always special stones that were delivered from the territory of each Domain. And a domain-employed professional gardener always looked after the garden. Naumann must have learned from the Sanshiro Pond that in Edo (Tokyo) there were as many such gardens as the number of Edo Domains, even after Edo became Tokyo at the beginning of the Meiji Era. It is said that Naumann analyzed all the garden stones placed in the Edo Residences of the famous Domains. There is also a legend that in the old Department of Geology, Naumann plotted the locality of one stone after another on the Map of Japan that had already been completed by Tadataka Ino (Japanese surveyor and cartographer, 1745 – 1818).

Rocks and minerals like blue crystalline schist (weathered garden stones that later became oddly-shaped rocks), red-colored chert, and milky-white limestone must have been highly appreciated. By simply plotting the areas from where the above-mentioned stones originated on the Map of Japan, a geological map that is now called the "Sanbagawa Belt (belt-shaped distribution)" can be made. And a major fault called the "Median Tectonic Line," which pegs out the northern side, emerges. Naumann must have learned about Japan from the Sanshiro Pond.

The history of contradiction between the one-sided influence of the Western culture and the Japanese traditional culture, about which more than a hundred years ago Ogai Mori and Soseki Natsume were seriously worried, still remains etched into Sanshiro Pond. Now, the University of Tokyo is aiming at developing a global campus, and I look forward to seeing in what way the University will take advantage of this pond that at one time in our history was left unattended.

*This article was originally written as the 3rd story for the "Science Essay" — a column of the School of Science Newsletter.