Yamakawa Kenjirō

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Yamakawa Kenjirō
Kenjiro Yamakawa 2.jpg
Baron Yamakawa Kenjirō
Born (1854-09-09)September 9, 1854
Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima, Japan
Died June 26, 1931(1931-06-26) (aged 76)
Citizenship Japanese
Alma mater Yale University
Scientific career
Fields Physics
Institutions Tokyo Imperial University
Kyushu Imperial University
Kyoto Imperial University

Baron Yamakawa Kenjirō (山川 健次郎, September 9, 1854 – June 26, 1931) was a Japanese samurai of the late Edo period who went on to become a noted physicist, university president, and author of several histories of the Boshin War. Though his name is commonly written "Yamakawa," he himself wrote it as "Yamagawa" in English.


Yamakawa was born as the third son to Yamakawa Naoe, a senior samurai of the Aizu Domain (present day Fukushima Prefecture). He became a member of the Byakkotai, a unit of the newly reorganized Aizu domain army composed mostly of boys aged 15 to 17 years, who fought in defense of Aizu during the Boshin War.

After the Meiji Restoration, through the mediation of the Zen monk Kawai Zenjun, Yamakawa was placed in the care of Chōshū retainer Okudaira Kensuke. Yamakawa was sent by the new Meiji government to study physics at Yale University, where he was the first student from Japan to graduate. On his return to Japan, he was posted to Tokyo Imperial University working as an assistant and interpreter, and became Japan’s first Japanese professor of physics in 1879. (There had already been several foreign professors, such as Thomas Corwin Mendenhall and William Edward Ayrton.)

During the Meiji and Taishō periods he helped found the Kyushu Institute of Technology in 1907 and served as president of Tokyo Imperial University (1901-1905 and 1913-1920), Kyushu Imperial University (1911-1913), and Kyoto Imperial University (1914-1915). He was later ennobled with the title of danshaku (baron) under the kazoku peerage system. Later in his life he was also a Privy Councilor (appointed in February 1923) and a member of the House of Peers.

He and his brother Yamakawa Hiroshi are known amongst historians of the late Edo period as authors of two monumental texts-- Kenjirō's being "Aizu Boshin Senshi," which catalogues the actions of his home domain during the war. He also authored several other history texts, including "Hoshū Aizu Byakkotai Jūkyūshi-den," which he wrote with fellow Aizu native Munekawa Toraji.

Yamakawa's sisters, Yamakawa Futaba (1844 – 1909) and Yamakawa Sutematsu (1860-1919), later Princess Ōyama Sutematsu (大山 捨松), are also well-known. Futaba, who fought in the Battle of Aizu during the Boshin War, later worked at the Tokyo Women's Normal School (東京女子高等師範学校, Tōkyō Joshi Kōtō Shihan Gakkō), the forerunner of Ochanomizu University. Sutematsu was one of five Japanese girls sent to the United States as part of the Iwakura Mission; she was the first Japanese graduate of Vassar University, and later became the wife of Imperial Japanese Army general Ōyama Iwao.


From the Japanese Wikipedia article


  • Baron (1 December 1915)


References and further reading[edit]

  • Hoshi Ryōichi, Yamakawa Kenjiro Den, Heibonsha, 2003 ISBN 4-582-83181-8
  • Marshall, Byron K. The Tradition of Conflict in the Governance of Japan's Imperial Universities. History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Winter, 1977), pp. 385-406
  • Yamakawa Kenjiro, Aizu Boshin Senshi. Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai, 1931.

External links[edit]