NAOMASA YAMASAKI

1870-1928



Naomasa Yamasaki is one of the central figures in Japanese Geography. Although he was not the first Japanese geographer, he played a large role in establishing the discipline in Japan. In doing so he created the Japanese school of geography. Naomasa Yamasaki is responsible for not only founding the Department of Geography at Tokyo University, but also for founding the Nippon Chirigakkai, the Association of Japanese Geographers. Because of the influence of his ideas, studies, hard work, and accomplishments on Japanese geography, Naomasa Yamasaki can be considered the most distinguished geographer of modern Japan (Tsujita, 1977,113).

Naomasa Yamasaki's early life and education did not imply a career in geography. He was born in what was then Asaki Mura (Asahi village), now part of Kochi City on Shikoku Island, on the 10th of March, 1870. He lived a comfortable life in his early years, and in 1887 entered the Third High School in Kyoto. While in high school he developed an interest in archeology which eventually led him to write several papers for the Anthropological Journal of Japan. In 1892 he enrolled in the Geology Department at the Tokyo Imperial University. Upon graduation, he began teaching geology at the Second High School at Sendai in northern Japan.

In 1898 things changed for Yamasaki. He received a grant from the government of Japan to study for four years in Europe as a geographer. This grant was the beginning of his career as a geographer and world traveler. He traveled widely, meeting many distinguished thinkers in the discipline of geography, and absorbing their ideas. He was able to attend the International Congress of Geography in Berlin (1899) and the International Congress of Geology in Paris (1900), as well as assisting Johannes Rein (1835-1918) in a second edition of his Japan, nach Riesen und Studien.

He was also able to visit with Albrecht Penck (1858-1945) in Vienna. Penck was very influential on Naomasa Yamasaki. The record of Yamasaki's studies and his teaching clearly reflects Penck's own wide range of interests (James and Martin, 1993, 294). It is thought that Penck advised Yamasaki to study the evidence of glaciation in Japan (Tsujita, 1977, 113). Also, Penck's lectures on the regional geography of the Netherlands and Belgium sparked Yamasaki's interest in regional studies.

Upon his return to Japan, Naomasa Yamasaki began to apply what he had learned during his European travels. He began to spread the ideas, techniques, and methodologies used by European geographers in Japanese education. Because of this he began to advance through the Japanese academic system. In 1902 he became the Professor of Geography at a respected college for the training of high school teachers, Tokyo Higher Normal School. That was followed by appointment to the first chair of geography in the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Tokyo Imperial University in 1911. In 1919 he was became the first chairman of an independent Department of Geography at Tokyo Imperial University. This was especially noteworthy because the establishment of a geography department in the capital city of Japan gave the discipline a large dose of recognition.

As part of his introduction of European geographical ideas to Japanese education, Yamasaki presented many lectures on the regional geography of Asia and Europe. This eventually led to the establishment of regional geography as part of the curriculum in many Japanese universities. Yamasaki's interest in regional geography eventually led him to produce, with the help of Denzo Sato and others, his greatest work - Dai Nippon Chishi (The Regional Geography of Great Japan). This was a ten volume, 10,000 + page effort that took twelve years to create (1903-1915).

Naomasa Yamasaki also carried out studies on glaciation in Japan during his teaching. His studies elicited much enthusiasm among Japanese geographers and in 1910, Yamasaki was invited to become a correspondent to the Geographical Society of Finland. He was later honored for his glacier studies by the geographical society's of Berlin and Vienna, and by the American Geographical Society in New York.

Yamasaki's teachings and writings were enhanced by his travels. Starting in 1910, he began traveling abroad nearly every year. In the latter part of 1922 he began an eight month journey encompassing Asia, Western Europe, Central Europe and North and South America to study the effects of the first world war on various countries. In 1926 he published an account of his travels called Seiyo mata Nanyo (The West and the South Seas).

After his major excursion in 1922-1923, Naomasa Yamasaki accomplished many things in Japan. In 1925 he founded the Association of Japanese Geographers by the first publication of its journal Chirigaku-hyoron (Geographical Review of Japan). In 1926 he organized the Third Pan-Pacific Science Congress in Japan. As part of the preparations for this gathering, Yamasaki published a thirty-six volume guide to Japan consisting of several thousand pages.

He was later commissioned by the Ministry of Railways to publish a similar guide. This guide, Nippon Annaiki (The Japan Guide Book), contained eight volumes and was published during the 1930's after his death. Naomasa Yamasaki died from a heart ailment in 1928.


Naomasa Yamasaki can be considered the greatest and most influential geographer of Japan, if not the rest of Asia. His contributions to the field of geography changed the way in which Eastern Asia looked at geography. The Japanese regard him as the "father" of Japanese geography. A young man of Japan once said, "We feel as if we had lost our father in the scientific world." Not only known for his studies, also for his teaching ability.



Dr. Naomasa Yamasaki's positions and offices:


Dr. Naomasa Yamasaki's contributions:

Dr. Yamasaki's papers:

These are only a few of his works. Most of his research was not translated into English. Also, there was only mention of these articles within the sources that we could find.

Dr. Yamasakižs books:

Due to lack of translated material and the inability to find his works, here is a partial list of some his publications.


Works Cited

Due to the lack resources, the resources that are included are few but are of only a few articles that were written in English.

"Obituary: Naomasa Yamasaki." Geographical Review. July, 1930. Vol. 2, No. 2, p. 342.

James, Preston E, and Martin, Geoffrey J. 1993. All Possible Worlds. 3rd edition. New York. Wiley and Sons.

Tsujita, Usao. 1977. Naomasa Yamasaki. Geographers Biobibliographical Studies. Vol 1, eds. T.W. Freeman, Marguerita Oughton, and Phillipe Pinchemel. London. Mansell Publishing.

Vaughan, T. Wayland. "Naomasa Yamasaki." Science. November 11th, 1929. Vol. LXX, No. 1815, pp 347-48.


Submitted by Brian Welde (University of Missouri) and Mark Eiseman (Valparaiso University).



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