Friday, November 18, 2011

The Japanese Theoretical Physicist and Poet, Jun Ishiwara

The cover of the book "Pioneer of Science Journalism: Biography of Jun Ishiwara."

The book entitled "Pioneer of Science Journalism: Biography of Jun Ishiwara" [1] was published recently, and I read a review of it [2]. The reviewer, Atsuko Tsuji, first writes as follows:
The name "Jun Ishiwara" seems to be unfamiliar to many people. So, the title of the book "Pioneer of Science Journalism" might be somewhat misleading.
I am quite familiar with that name, thus probably being one of the few such people now. "Nihon Shokokumin Bunko)" (a series of books for children) was published in 1936, and its revised edition was issued after World War II. Then I was in the sixth grade of the elementary school or the first grade of the junior high school and liked to read that series. The author of its seventh volume "Mysteries of the World" (1948, Shincho) was Jun Ishiwara. I learned atoms and molecules from that book. In addition to the effect of this book, Hideki Yukawa's winning of the Nobel Prize (1949) made me walk on the way to physics.

The aforementioned review article continues as follows:
As noted at the beginning by the author, he was one of the best theoretical physicists. In the early twentieth century, he first published first papers in Japan on relativity and quantum theory, which brought about a revolution in physics, and led discussion in the country.
This description reminded me of the fact that one of Ishiwara's article (written in German) was included in "History of Physics in Japan, Vol. 2: Reference Materials" [3]. In this book, Ishiwara's paper [4] is introduced by the following words:
This is the work in which Ishiwara (1881–1947) generalized the quantum rule independently of W. Wilson and A. Sommerfeld.
The same paper has also been mentioned in Ref. 5. Reference 3 also includes Ishiwara's two articles written in Japanese [6, 7].

The reviewer then writes, "He is also a tanka poet. . . ." After that, the following statements come:
It is even a surprise that the name of such a scientist is little known.
The love affair of Ishiwara, who had a wife and children, became a scandal, and he retired from the professorship at Tohoku Imperial University at the age of 42. Is this related to the unfamiliarity of him to people? After retirement, he pulled himself from research and became a person to discuss and communicate about science.
Ishiwara's love affair, together with his activities as a poet, is described in some detail in "Wikipedia" [8].

The review concludes by the sentence, "His life and words give us great suggestions about how the present-day science and scientists should be." I certainly want to read the book reviewed.

  1. S. Nishio, "Pioneer of Science Journalism: Biography of Jun Ishiwara," (Iwanami, 2011) In Japanese.
  2. A. Tsuji, "True scientist who discussed how physics should be," Asahi Shimbun (November 13, 2011) In Japanese.
  3. Physical Society of Japan, ed., "History of Physics in Japan, Vol. 2, Reerence Materials" (Tokai University Press, 1978) In Japanese.
  4. J. Ishiwara, "Die universelle Bedeutung dse Wirkungsquantums," Tokyo Sugaku Buturigakkai Kizi, Ser. 2, Vol. 8, pp. 106–116 (1915).
  5. H. Rechenberg, "Quanta and Quantum Mechanics," Chapter 3 in Twentieth Century Physics, Vol. 1, L. M. Brown, A. Pais and B. Pippard, ed. (Institute of Physics, 1995). pp. 143–248. (See p. 175 for Ishiwara.)
  6. J. Ishiwara, "Impression of Einstain," in Einstein and Relativity, J. Ishiwara (Kaizo, 1921) pp. 137–160. In Japanese.
  7. J. Ishiwara, "Earthquakes and science education," in Modern Natural Science, J. Ishiwara (1924) pp. 133–152. In Japanese.
  8. "Jun Ishiwara," Wikipedia, Japanese edition (November 16, 2011).

(A correction for Ref. 5 made on August 23, 2012.)


Arjen Dijksman said...

Thank you for sharing this review. I asked myself the question why Ishiwara is sometimes translated as Ishihara. Are w and h about the same sounds in japanese transliteration?

Ted said...

Arjen, thanks for your reading, and commenting on, this post. In Chinese characters, Ishiwara is written as 石原. The first character 石 means a stone and pronounced as ishi. The second character 原 means a field and pronounced as hara when it stands alone. However, when it comes after another character to be combined with it and make a new word, the pronunciation not always but often is changed to wara. So, it is difficult even for Japanese people to know how to pronounce 石原. In the case of Jun Ishiwara, we find that ishiwara is the correct pronunciation from his name written in Roman characters on his academic papers.