Science, the South Pole, and the Japanese expedition of 1910–1912

Science, the South Pole, and the Japanese expedition of 1910–1912

Feature Endeavour Vol. 35 No. 4 Science, the South Pole, and the Japanese expedition of 1910–1912 William R. Stevenson III* Meguri 1-13-9, Hirakata...

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Science, the South Pole, and the Japanese expedition of 1910–1912 William R. Stevenson III* Meguri 1-13-9, Hirakata City, Osaka 573-1171, Japan

In November 1910, Shirase Nobu (1861–1946) sailed from Tokyo Bay aboard the Kainan Maru as part of an international race for the South Pole. The Japanese had no history of polar exploration and looked to British precedence to compensate for their lack of experience. Following the British example required that they include a scientific dimension to their venture. It is clear, however, that Shirase and his men had little scientific understanding. Nevertheless, on failing to reach the Pole, science became the central aim of the expedition and the primary means to declaring their efforts a success. In September 1909, Robert Peary returned from the Arctic claiming to have raised the Stars and Stripes above the North Pole. The South Pole now became the most significant point on the planet yet to be reached by humankind. This is not to say that no one had tried. Ernest Shackleton came back from the Antarctic only months earlier, having suffered a four-month journey across the ice that left his party in a state of crippled starvation. He failed to reach the Pole, but he pushed further south than all previous expeditions and stopped just short of the goal. These polar feats triggered an international race to finish what Shackleton had begun. As is well known, a Norwegian expedition under Roald Amundsen and a British expedition under Robert Scott led the way. The Norwegians were the first to reach the South Pole, arriving in late 1911, and the British—though they would all die in a desperate dash north—arrived a few weeks later in early 1912. What is largely forgotten is that there was a third expedition in the Antarctic that had also hoped to reach the Pole: a Japanese venture under the leadership of a low-ranking Army reservist named Shirase Nobu (1861– 1946) (Figure 1).1 In January 1910, only months after learning of Peary’s claim, Shirase presented the Japanese Imperial Diet with a petition for his proposed South Pole expedition. It read, I believe it is the proper course of action to boldly accept this challenge [of polar exploration]. . . . The powers of the world ridicule the Empire of Japan, saying we Japanese are barbarians who are strong and brave in warfare, but timid and cowardly when it

§ This research was conducted as an affiliate of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Kyoto), and is part of the author’s doctoral dissertation, ‘The Spirit of Adventure: Japanese Exploration and the Quest for the South Pole’ (University of Hawaii, 2010). *Corresponding author.Stevenson, W.R. III ([email protected]) 1 Japanese names appear in the traditional order of family name preceding given name. Available online 4 February 2011

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comes to the realm of science. For the sake of bushido we must correct this regrettable situation. . . . For this reason, from July or August of this year, I humbly propose to follow the plan detailed below. I will set out to explore the Antarctic accompanied by scientists of various specializations. In addition to scientific contributions, within three years I vow to raise our Japanese Imperial flag at the South Pole and to solve this most formidable challenge of the world.2 With these words, Shirase triggered a debate over exploration and its place in the development of a modern Japanese state. Starting in the Diet, the debate worked its way into newspapers and magazines, took the stage in public lectures and rallies, and quickly spread to the far corners of the empire. Center to the debate were questions of meaning: What was the nature of exploration? Of what merit was a march on the South Pole? What would an Antarctic expedition accomplish? The Japanese had no history of polar exploration, so for answers Shirase and his supporters turned to European and American precedence, choosing in particular the example of Shackleton and his recent 1907–1909 endeavor. This decision required that the Japanese adopt a British philosophy of modern exploration built around the pursuit of science. The meaning and role of science was, however, subject to wide interpretation, and perhaps none interpreted it as broadly as Shirase and his men. As the following pages will show, the explorers had little scientific training and quickly found themselves at odds with Japan’s scientific community. Circumstances nevertheless dictated that science become increasingly important to the expedition following their departure for the south, and by the time the explorers returned to Japan, science had become central to the expedition’s search for relevance and legitimacy. Beginnings Shirase proposed his expedition in the final years of the Meiji Era (1868–1912), a period of modernization and development that began with the overthrow of the former Tokugawa Shogunate (1603–1868). An overriding goal of the Meiji leadership was to save Japan from European and American imperialists who seemed to be devouring the world with cannons in one hand and poppy seeds in the other. To avoid the fate of China’s Qing Dynasty, which had twice capitulated to the British in the Opium Wars, the 2 Shirase Nobu, ‘Nankyoku tanken ni kakawaru seigansho’ (January 1910), Shirase Nankyoku Tankentai Kinenkan, Akita.

0160-9327/$ – see front matter ß 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.endeavour.2010.11.002

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Figure 1. Photograph of Shirase Nobu in army uniform. Courtesy of Shirase Nankyoku Tankentai Kinenkan (Akita).

new leadership chose to embrace the institutions and technologies they believed had so empowered the West. Military technology topped the list, but the sciences were not far behind.3 By the end of Meiji Era, the Japanese had their own scientific research facilities that were run by their own scientists who had been trained in their own universities. Several of their number had even risen to international prominence with, for example, geophysicist Tanakadate Aikitsu (1856–1952) being nominated in 1910 for a Nobel Prize in physics.4 This was the same year that Shirase proposed his Antarctic expedition. Despite the work of Japanese such as Tanakadate, most of Shirase’s generation had little scientific background. Shirase began his schooling prior to the educational reforms of the Meiji Era, so even though he recognized that science was part of the modern world, his comprehension of scientific aims and processes was largely superficial. Exasperating this deficiency was what appears to have been a general lack of interest in scientific matters. There is, in fact, nothing to indicate that Shirase ever even learned the basic scientific rudiments needed for polar navigation. British precedence nevertheless made it clear 3 This is not to say that Tokugawa Era scholars were ignorant of the scientific developments that were taking place in Europe and elsewhere. It was, however, only after the beginning of the Meiji Era that modern sciences were broadly applied to Japanese society, revolutionizing the way in which Japanese viewed and organized the world around them. 4 James R. Bartholomew, ‘Japanese Nobel Candidates in the First Half of the Twentieth Century,’ Osiris 2nd series, vol. 13 (1998): 238–284, p. 240.

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that science was part of polar exploration, and Shirase was quick to understand that when said with enough amplitude and frequency, phrases such as ‘scientific progress’ had the power to turn heads and open purses. The result was that Shirase continued to appeal to the scientific contributions of his proposed expedition without ever specifying what those contributions might be. The only scientific explanation in his original petition was, ‘There is no need to write at length about the great contribution of exploration to the scientific world, for the proof is in Columbus’s discovery of America and in Stanley’s exploration of Africa.’5 Shirase used Shackleton’s venture as the blueprint for his own plan, mining Japanese newspapers and periodicals for details of the British expedition. This meant that errors in the Japanese press were repeated in Shirase’s own writing and details that failed to appear in newspapers were similarly absent from his own proposals. For example, it is clear from early sources that Shirase did not initially realize the Antarctic was inaccessible during much of the year, nor did he know that it would be impossible to arrive on the continent and push for the Pole within the same season. (In general, expeditions could only access the Antarctic from January to February, forcing sledge parties to lay depots in the winter and wait until the following October or November to begin a march on the Pole.) Errors and ignorance aside, Shirase based much of his plan on what he did learn from Shackleton’s expedition, including his choice of supplies, methods of travel, and even an expedition route. Indeed, Shirase originally planned to launch his expedition from the British base at McMurdo Sound, which would have placed him in the literal tracks of Shackleton and running directly alongside Scott (Figure 2).6 By the summer of 1910, a number of Japanese scientists began to speak critically of the expedition. In terms of logistics, they pointed out errors in the original plan and argued that the use of McMurdo would be an affront to the British and a breach of international etiquette. Shirase, in response, made several changes that included abandoning McMurdo in favor of a stretch of unexplored coast named Edward VII Land. These same critics also began to voice their opposition to the expedition’s singular focus on the South Pole. Without a strong scientific arm, they argued, the expedition would be an expensive but ultimately worthless adventure. Critics of the plan included key persons in both the Tokyo Geographical Society and the Japanese Imperial Navy. This was unfortunate for Shirase, for the equivalent institutions in Great Britain and the United States were well known for shaping their nations’ own polar histories. Like the Royal Geographical Society on which it was modeled, the Tokyo Geographical Society (est. 1879) held regular meetings, produced their own geographical journal, and even created their own honorary medal.7 Recipients included A.E. Nordenskio¨ld following his navigation of the Northeast 5

Shirase, ‘Nankyoku tanken ni kakawaru seigansho’ (January 1910). Several of Shirase’s notebooks that include clippings and copies of newspaper articles detailing the expeditions of Shackleton and others are preserved at the Nankyoku Tankentai Kinenkan in Konoura, Akita. For an example of the McMurdo plan see, Asahi shinbun (Tokyo), 1–2 July 1910. 7 For details on activities of the Tokyo Geographical Society, see the society’s publication Journal of Geography, or Chigaku zasshi (started in 1889). 6

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Figure 2. Photograph of Shirase’s notebook containing newspaper articles on British methods of polar exploration. Note that he has circled all figures and dates. The image in the photographed article is of Scott’s snow tractor. Courtesy of Shirase Nankyoku Tankentai Kinenkan (Akita)

Passage, as well as the Central Asia explorer, Sven Hedin. But while lavishing foreign explorers with accolades and ornaments, the Japanese society was only too eager to belittle the ambitions of their own Shirase. Their journal would faithfully report on the polar activities of Scott, Amundsen, Wilhelm Filchner (Germany), JeanBaptiste Charcot (France), and Douglas Mawson (Australia), but never once mention the aims and achievements of Shirase and his men. Shirase’s critics did not necessarily oppose an attempt on the South Pole. Rather, they simply wanted such a dash to be one small part of a larger scientific enterprise, reasoning that with a strong scientific program the success of the expedition would not be dependent on the formidable task of racing the British to the heart of the continent. These concerns were only reinforced when, in early August 1910, two members of the British Antarctic expedition arrived in Kobe en route to New Zealand. Their names were Cecil Meares and Wilfred Bruce, and they were on their way to rendezvous with Scott, having just secured nineteen ponies and thirty-one dogs from the Asian continent. Meares was an adventurer and explorer who had most recently been mapping the western highlands of China’s Sichuan province. Bruce was Scott’s brother-in-law. The two men were barely on speaking terms when they arrived in Japan, but they were in agreement on at least one thing, and that was the inadequacy of the Japanese plan. When interviewed by the Japanese press, Bruce commented that ‘the South Pole is not just something that you go and pick up.’ Polar exploration, he explained, takes money, time, and expertise. He went on to compare the two expeditions, reminding the Japanese that Shirase’s proposed budget was only a tenth of Scott’s, and that as far as he knew, the Japanese had none of the experts in the fields of biology, geology, geography, meteorology, and photography that would accompany his own party. He called the Japanese plan a ‘mistake,’ and said that without any specialists the expedition would be of no value.8 At the same time, there were many in Japan who supported the proposed expedition. This support often took the form of attacks on the Japanese scientific community. 8 Mainichi Denpo¯, 6 August 1910 (quoted at length in Tada Keiichi, Nankyoku tanken shiroku (Tokyo: Keiseisha, 1912), 201); Japan Herald (Yokohama), 12 August 1910.

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An Army general named Tsuchiya Mitsuhara, for example, contrasted the scientific community with his own soldiers, saying that in the same way his men were always prepared to die, so too scientists must ‘be prepared to die for the cause of their work.’ By not joining Shirase, he reasoned, Japanese scientists had disregarded their true calling in favor of a ‘comfortable livelihood.’ Making a similar argument before the House of Representatives, Kokubo Kishiichi declared that, ‘in truth, no men are more feeble minded than scientists.’ The expedition does not even need them, he declared, for ‘anyone can record meteorological conditions . . . and bring back fossilized things or indigenous wildlife specimens.’9 Shirase had in fact attempted to recruit scientists shortly after announcing his expedition plan. By the summer of 1910 he had won the backing of some of Japan’s most wellknown and influential leaders, including former prime ¯ kuma Shigenobu. In addition, through public minister O subscriptions he had already acquired a good portion of the support needed to fund the venture. A popular Japanese newspaper, the Asahi shinbun, led the way in soliciting funds. Many other newspapers and journals also joined the cause, including overseas Japanese-language publications such as Shin sekai (San Francisco), Hawai shokumin shinbun (Hilo), and Nippu jiji (Honolulu). In terms of crew, hundreds of students, soldiers, and adventurers were begging to join the expedition, with some even showing their sincerity by brushing their requests in blood. But even though there was widespread support for the cause, there was not a single scientist among the volunteers. Why was this the case? A Tokyo University professor suggested that with so few scientists working in Japan, none were willing to throw away the security of respectable employment to join a poorly funded and highly dangerous venture.10 Fortunately, in early August, a letter arrived from a scientist who offered his services on the condition he be well-compensated. Shirase immediately agreed and newspapers announced that they finally had a qualified scientist who would conduct research in the areas of meteorology, magnetism, and biology. His name was Takeda Terutaro¯ (1879–1925). Yet, despite the hype, Takeda was no researcher. His governmental file shows that he worked as a professor’s assistant until the age of nineteen, at which time he taught at various secondary schools, relocating on almost an annual basis. He then mysteriously retired at the age of twenty-four and did not resurface until his application to join the Antarctic expedition some eight years later. Nevertheless, Takeda was all that Shirase had, and so it was with one under-qualified scientist that the Japanese departed for the Antarctic. They sailed from Tokyo on November 29, 1910 (Figure 3).11 9 Asahi shinbun (Osaka), 17 July 1910; Dai Nippon teikoku gikaishi vol. 8 (Tokyo: Dai nippon teikoku gikaishi kanko¯kai,1928), 696. 10 For recruits see, Asahi shinbun (Osaka), 15 July 1910. For professor’s comment, Asahi shinbun (Tokyo), 2 July 1910. 11 For Takeda see, Asahi shinbun (Osaka), 7 August 1910. A second scientist named Awane Tetsuzo¯ (b. 1870) joined the expedition a few days after Takeda. Like Takeda, Awane spent most of his career prior to the expedition teaching at various secondary schools. He taught mathematics, but according to the press his areas of ‘expertise’ were surveying astronomy, and photography. With Awane, Shirase had two scientists. However, on the evening prior to their departure Awane went missing, apparently convinced by relatives that the Antarctic was no place to die.

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Figure 4. Japanese explorers in furs, prior to their departure. Shirase is seated in the middle. Standing at the far right is Tada Keiichi. Courtesy of Shirase Nankyoku Tankentai Kinenkan (Akita).

Figure 3. Photograph of Takeda Terutaro¯. Courtesy of Shirase Nankyoku Tankentai Kinenkan (Akita).

The voyage12 The Japanese explorers still hoped to beat the British to the South Pole. Leaving in late November nevertheless meant they would be hard-pressed to reach the Antarctic during its brief summer season. Shirase originally intended to sail in August, but the debate over the role of science and difficulties in finding an appropriate ship had forced numerous delays. Poor weather caused the expedition to fall further behind schedule with the result that the Japanese did not cross the Antarctic Circle until March 3, 1911. A few days later the cry went out, ‘Land!’ It was the Admiralty Mountains. The explorers sighed their relief and began to plan their arrival, even preparing the boats for landing. Yet temperatures continued to drop and the waters surrounding their ship, the Kainan Maru, started to freeze.13 The Japanese initially attempted to navigate several open channels, but these too iced over, forcing Shirase to order a quick retreat north. The continent, though in sight, would remain just out of reach. Shirase gathered his men and explained that ‘a single setback did not mean failure,’ and then announced they

12 Unless otherwise cited, voyage details are based on three volumes: The official expedition account, Nankyokuki (1913), Shirase’s first autobiographical account, Nankyoku tanken (1913), and Tada Keisuke’s published diary, Nankyoku tanken nikki (1912). 13 Kainan Maru can be translated as ‘opening the south’ or ‘southern pioneer.’ The 204 ton ship was launched in early 1910, and spent one season in the North Pacific prior to being purchased by Shirase and his supporters. 14 Shirase, Nankyoku tanken, 163–164.

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would sail for Sydney and prepare for a second attempt the following year (Figures 4 and 5).14 The Japanese arrived in Sydney on May 1, 1911. The initial reception was less than cordial. When Shirase requested they be allowed to winter in the city harbor, the leading paper, The Bulletin, accused the Japanese of being spies, explaining that ‘the pole that Nip is apparently keeping his eye on is the one that grows above the fortifications at Sydney’s sea entrance.’ Another Sydney paper wrote that the ‘man in the street’ has concluded that ‘the Japanese secret service department had more to do with [the expedition’s] dispatch than ambitions in the way of Polar sprinting.’15 Australian suspicions were in part a response to Japan’s recent military victories over the Chinese in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895, and over the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. Japan had clearly entered a period of national expansion, and many Australians feared that Japanese ambitions extended to Australia’s own territorial waters. At the same time, other prejudices were also at play, including those indicated by the subheading of the above-mentioned newspaper, The Bulletin. It read, ‘Australia for the White Man.’ Roughly a week passed before the city came to terms with the Japanese presence. No one contributed more to this effort than Australian geologist Edgeworth David (1858–1934). Not just an accomplished scientist, David was also a seasoned explorer. He was with Shackleton in the Antarctic and led the first ascent of Mt. Erebus as well as the first sledge journey to reach the vicinity of the South Magnetic Pole. These accomplishments made him as experienced in polar exploration as one could hope to become, and being of generous character, he eagerly shared much of his knowledge of the Antarctic with the Japanese. He invited them to various events, treated them as peers, and began to speak publicly in their defense. According to Shirase, he praised the Japanese for braving the Antarctic at a time of year when ‘Westerners would hesitate,’ and he 15 The Bulletin (Sydney) 18 May 1911; Sun (Sydney), 15 May 1911, in Kusunoki Ko¯, compiler and editor, Soto kara mita Shirase nankyoku tankentai (Tokyo: Nihon kyokuchi kenkyu¯kai, 1993).

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Figure 5. Kainan Maru, the Japanese ship (Nankyokuki. Tokyo: Seiko¯ zasshi-sha, 1913).

even referred to them as ‘courageous explorers who were without equal in the world.’ Whether or not David spoke such gracious words, it is clear that he did commend the Japanese on their attempt, and he saw to it that the Japanese explorers knew far more about the Antarctic on leaving Sydney than they had known at the time of their arrival.16 The Japanese began their second voyage to the Antarctic on November 19, 1911. They were short on supplies and Shirase knew they had no chance of catching Amundsen or Scott, both of whom had spent the previous winter on the ice. As a result, they revised their plan and abandoned the race for the South Pole. This left a gaping hole in the Japanese plan, for the expedition had been designed, funded, and promoted with the Pole as its primary objective. The solution was to quietly revamp the venture as a scientific enterprise with scientific goals. Shirase and his party reached the Antarctic in mid January, just one day prior to Scott’s arrival at the South Pole. Amundsen had already visited the Pole and would soon be back on the Antarctic coast. The Japanese, of course, knew nothing of these developments. Their focus was strictly on landing a party on the ice and saving themselves the humiliation of the previous year. Like the Norwegians, they chose the Bay of Whales as their base. (The inlet was part of the Great Ice Barrier, located between McMurdo in the west and Edward VII Land in the east.) On arriving, Shirase and six others went ashore. Two of the six would remain on the Bay of Whales to take meteorological observations. The others, including Shirase and Takeda, would push further south. Preparing food for only twenty days, setting no particular destination, and indicating no clear purpose, the five explorers set out across the ice. Was the journey purely symbolic? Was it meant to show that the Japanese were indeed capable of marching on the Pole? Period sources provide no clear answer, but perhaps the best and simplest ex16 For biographies of David see, David Branagan, T.W. Edgeworth David: A Life (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2005); Mary David, Professor David (London: Edward Arnold, 1937). For a defense of the Japanese: The Bulletin (Sydney), 25 May 1911. For Shirase quote: Shirase, Nankyoku tanken (1913), 189–190.

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planation is that after two years of planning, promoting, and essentially breathing the idea of conquering the Pole, Shirase needed to satisfy his appetite and taste for himself what it was like to travel across the frozen wild and raise a flag above unclaimed ground. According to the official expedition account, the Japanese traveled across the ice for eight days and reached 80850 S on January 28, 1912. They there hoisted the Rising Sun flag, naming all they could see Yamato Yukihara, or ‘The Yamato Snowfield’ (Figure 9). Meanwhile, the Kainan Maru sailed towards Edward VII Land where the Japanese made the first recorded landing at a place called Biscoe Bay. Two parties went ashore in search of rocks or other specimens, and one of the two groups succeeded in climbing the ridge of the Alexandra Mountains. They erected a plaque that read ‘Greater Japan Antarctic Expedition Coastal Party Memorial,’ and then returned to the ship having been gone a little more than a day. With this, the Kainan Maru once again sailed to the Bay of Whales where Shirase, Takeda, and the other members of the ‘dash party’ were waiting. Reunited, the Japanese headed north and began their long voyage home. The return The explorers returned to Tokyo in June 1912. Their intended year on the ice had turned into a mere twenty days, and rather than march into the heart of the Antarctic they barely breached its outer gates. They were now faced with two challenges. First, much of the world still believed the Japanese explorers had been aiming for the South Pole, which meant that Shirase had to convince the public that the Pole had not been their destination and that failing to reach the Pole had no bearing on the success of their mission. Second, the explorers needed to explain what they had been after and what it was that the expedition had achieved. They needed, in short, to give their expedition some sort of appreciable meaning. Once again, science was the key. According to Takeda, the expedition scientist, the Japanese solved two mysteries of the Antarctic that had long baffled polar explorers from around the world. The first had to do with the nature of ice. During their brief stay in Sydney, David supposedly asked the Japanese to study the way in which ice formed in the Antarctic. Polar scientists had proposed various theories to explain the origins of Antarctic ice but, according to Takeda, none were in agreement. Erin von Drygalski (Gauss expedition of 1901–1903) claimed that ice in the Antarctic was formed from the sea; Otto Nordenskjo¨ld (Antarctic expedition of 1901–1904) wrote that it was formed from snow; and Edgeworth David (Nimrod expedition of 1907–1909) argued that it was formed on the continent, much like a mountain glacier. Takeda would now add his own theory that he hoped would settle the matter once and for all.17 The primary ice feature in the Antarctic, according to Takeda, was the Great Barrier, also known as the Ross Ice Shelf. Contrary to David’s glacial theory—which is the correct explanation— 17 Takeda’s scientific report is serialized in, Asahi shinbun (Tokyo), 22–26 June 1912.

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Takeda argued that the Barrier was formed by layers of snow falling onto sea ice. In the Arctic, he explained, landmass prevented the formation of large ice barriers, but in the Antarctic, where there is less landmass, the region was better suited to such structures.18 Takeda claimed that in the case of the Great Barrier, the accumulation of snow eventually produced a shelf that rose more than thirty meters in height. Accordingly, he reasoned that a cross-section of the Barrier would demonstrate this accumulation in the form of thin layers of ice that he named nenso¯, or year layers. Sea ice was a different matter. Takeda explained that he and the others originally believed sea ice appeared when oceans began to freeze, and that it was because of this thinking that they turned back on their first failed attempt to reach the Antarctic. He realized their supposed error on the second voyage when he witnessed the way in which the Great Ice Barrier calved into the sea. These observations convinced Takeda that sea ice formed when the Barrier began to melt, not when the ocean began to freeze. Based on this find, he concluded that their decision to turn back during their first voyage had been a poor choice. The second mystery that Takeda claimed to resolve was geographical. He explained that during his first visit to Sydney, David invited him to a ‘private gathering’ with Douglas Mawson. David was working on a geological map of the Antarctic and collecting information from polar scientists from various expeditions. During the visit, the two Australians began to debate whether or not Edward VII Land was connected to the Antarctic continent. David felt that it was; Mawson believed that it was not. They asked Takeda for an opinion, but the Japanese scientist declined to comment having no experience in such matters. Six months later, following his brief visit to the Antarctic, he declared that the Japanese expedition had discovered Edward VII Land to be an island. What the Japanese did not know at the time was that the Norwegians had come to the opposite conclusion. Amundsen discovered a range of mountains on his journey to the Pole that ran east to west across the Antarctic. Combining this knowledge to the results of a separate eastern sledge journey, the Norwegians concluded that Edward VII Land was part of the continent. On learning of the Norwegian report, Takeda wrote it off as conjecture. After all, as he explained to David, the Japanese sailed roughly 150 miles along the Great Ice Barrier and found no evidence that it was connected to the rest of the Antarctic. In addition, the Japanese who went ashore at Edward VII Land and climbed the Alexandra Mountains claimed to have seen nothing but an ice-field on the far side. He reasoned that if the land was connected to another body it would only be by a narrow stretch to the far east of the Alexandra Mountains, which would rule out the possibility of it being part of the Antarctic continent. The more probable explanation, he concluded, was that Edward VII Land was an island with a circumference no greater than two or three-hundred ri (800–1200 km) (Figure 10). 18 All of this might have sounded good, but Takeda’s argument was already contradicting known facts. By 1912, it was widely accepted that the Arctic had only limited land mass, and that the Antarctic was a continent, or close to it.

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Unfortunately, the Japanese scientist was wrong on all counts: ice shelves are glacial, sea ice forms when temperatures drop, and Edward VII Land is indeed part of the Antarctic continent. Worse than just being wrong, Takeda’s most vocal critic was fellow expedition member and secretary to Shirase, Tada Keiichi (1883–1959). Within six weeks of returning to Japan, Tada published two volumes on the expedition: Nankyoku tanken shiroku (a personal record of Antarctic exploration; July 1912) and Nankyoku tanken nikki (Antarctic exploration diary; August 1912). Taken together, the volumes provided the public with over a thousand pages of unfettered detail and criticism. He followed these up with an Antarctic expedition trial.19 Tada was convinced that Takeda was a phony who proclaimed himself to be a world-class scientist after only a few conversations with David. He believed that if the theories of Takeda or any Japanese explorer were to receive recognition, they should be able to withstand outside scrutiny. The ‘trial’ was intended to do just that. He invited Takeda to meet him for a public debate on August 15, 1912 that would be officiated by three well-known lawyers. As might be expected, neither Takeda nor anyone else from the expedition bothered to show. Undeterred, Tada took the stage and, before a packed audience, declared that the supposed achievements of the expedition did not even amount to the first syllable in seiko¯, the Japanese word for success. Tada began by debunking Takeda’s theory of ice formation. Based on his own observations, and using a language already familiar to the Japanese, he explained that sea ice appears gradually, making thin roundish shapes that resemble sembei, or rice crackers. As temperatures continue to drop, these sembei shapes join together to create an ice with the consistency of mochi, or pounded rice. This mochi ice finally hardens to form a thick plane of ice that covers the surface of the sea. Tada’s ‘rice ice’ description is what the British called ‘pancake ice,’ and it showed that he clearly had a better grasp of ice formation that his expedition’s chief scientist, Takeda (Figures 7 and 8).20 Tada then criticized Takeda’s geographic claim. He admitted that Edward VII Land might indeed be an island, but Takeda’s argument, he explained, was based on speculation, not exploration. The scientist, as he correctly pointed out, had never been within sight of Edward VII Land. His sole evidence rested on the untrained observations of the expedition steward, Nishikawa Genzo¯ (1887–1925), which had been made from a single ridge climb and without the aid of a field glass. Tada rightfully argued that in approaching Edward VII Land from the south, the Norwegians were better positioned to view its relationship to the rest of the continent. It thus made more sense, in his view, to support the Norwegian explanation.

19 Yomiuri shinbun (Tokyo), 16 August 1912; Tada, Nankyoku tanken shiroku, 352353. Although beyond the scope of this article, the Japanese expedition was plagued by personal disputes, including a rift between Shirase and Tada that resulted in Tada being relieved of his duties and crossed off the expedition roster. 20 I have supplemented the press description of the ‘trial’ with details taken from Tada’s Nankyoku tanken shiroku, 348–356.

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Figure 7. Pancake ice. Photograph by Ken Mankoff. Figure 6. Members of the expedition, with penguins. Shirase is seated at center right (Nankyokuki. Tokyo: Seiko¯ zasshi-sha, 1913).

None of Takeda’s theories made it into the official expedition account, Nankyokuki (Antarctic record; 1913). In fact, the volume gives little recognition to the chief scientist at all. Published by the Antarctic Expedition Supporters Association over a year after the return of the Kainan Maru, the account focuses on the day-to-day activities of the expedition. The original ambition of beating the Europeans to the Pole is played down, and the many conflicts that plagued the expedition are completely ignored. Compared to the spirited writing of Shirase and Tada, the account presents a rather dull rendering of the entire escapade. But attached to the work is a hefty tenchapter appendix dedicated to the various findings of the expedition. These include a complete list of collected specimens, a table of meteorological observations, a description of the expedition ship, an analysis of provisions, and finally a brief medical report. Those involved with the expedition assumed that Japanese would continue to explore the Polar Regions and much of the appendix is aimed at such future projects. It suggests, for example, certain changes in clothing, improvements in food preservation, and several sled modifications. Shirase’s men were also deeply impressed by the Norwegian use of skis, with the official account insisting the technique be studied by future explorers. These recommendations aside, the scientific research presented in Nankyokuki is minimal. Basic meteorological observations are listed without any conclusions, and while collected specimens are identified, most of the explanations clearly come from outside sources. Descriptions of penguin habitat and behavior, for example, include patterns of molting and reproduction that go far beyond the limited observations made by the Japanese. Similarly, while the party collected a number of rock specimens, the geological explanation is almost entirely taken from earlier European expedition accounts (Figures 6).21

21 The appendix only cites two sources, naming scientific studies from the Southern Cross expedition of 1888–1900 and the Challenger expedition of 1872–1876.

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In context, the brevity of their stay in the Antarctic limited what the Japanese could do, and with most of their energy spent on the dash south there was little room for any systematic study. At the same time, even if they had spent the full summer in one place, or even a full year at their Antarctic base, none of the members had the training to take advantage of their environment. The battle for

Figure 8. Sembei (rice crackers). Photograph by William Stevenson.

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Figure 9. Journey across the ice (Nankyokuki. Tokyo: Seiko¯ zasshi-sha, 1913).

science was, in short, lost before it even began. Nevertheless, Shirase and his supporters continued to refer to their venture as a scientific enterprise. Rather than provide a detailed explanation of their research—as Takeda has so clearly failed to do—they instead began to focus on the pseudo-scientific field of human performance. The Japanese had stood on the Antarctic. This was their great achievement. By pushing through the frozen seas in the smallest of crafts, by demonstrating superior skills in navigation, and by marching across the ice, the explorers proved the fine quality of Japanese men. In particular, Shirase and Takeda liked to cite their climb up the Great Ice Barrier as an example of what the Japanese could achieve. Takeda explained to one reporter that the Barrier had turned Shackleton and Scott away, but that the unique temperament of the Japanese had enabled them to make the climb in a matter of hours. To another reporter, he said, ‘According to Captain Amundsen, it took his party a month to land his provisions. Unfortunately, we had not much time and did it in two and a half days.’ Such achievements, according to Shirase and his supporters, were worthy of boasting before the world. And, while these accomplishments could not be measured in any empirical way, Shirase insisted that they ‘kindled the latent fire in the hearts of the Japanese.’22 Yet, if the Japanese had shown themselves to be such a capable race, why had they failed to outpace the British and Norwegians to the Pole? To resolve this discrepancy, Shirase and others went to great lengths to show that the Japanese had reached the Antarctic in spite of inferior equipment, doing so at only a fraction of the cost. The implication was that the Europeans had bested the Japanese, but they had only done so because of the uneven playing field, or perhaps an off-kilter ice field. The limited budget and the size of the ship were particularly emphasized. One of the first claims Shirase made on his return from the south was that the Japanese had set a record for reaching the Antarctic in the smallest of expedition ships. 22 Takeda Terutaro¯, ‘So¯ken o kimeshi nankyoku no bikan,’ Seiko¯ (June 1912): 71-73; New Zealand Times (Wellington), 12 April 1912; Asahi shinbun (Tokyo), 13 May 1912; Shirase Nobu, ‘The First Japanese Polar Expedition,’ The Independent vol. 73, no. 3331 [New York] (3 October 1912): 773.

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Figure 10. A close-up of Takeda Terutaro¯’s map of the Antarctic. The map was drawn to illustrate the achievements of the Japanese expedition. The red circle marks Yamato Yukihara (Yamato Snowfield) and the green kidney-shaped ‘island’ on the left is Edward VII Land. The Bay of Whales is labeled at the center of the map. McMurdo Sound is on the far right (Takeda Terutaro¯. Shinsen Nankyoku Chizu. Tokyo: Kobayashi insatsujo, 1912).

He explained that Shackleton’s Nimrod was 350 tons, Scott’s Discovery was 485 tons, Amundsen’s Fram was 400 tons, Scott’s Terra Nova was 700 tons, and Mawson’s Aurora was 560 tons. All of these ships dwarfed the 204 ton Kainan Maru, but the Japanese had reached the Antarctic despite the small size of their craft.23 In the end, Shirase and his men survived only twenty days in the Antarctic. Nevertheless, overcoming great challenges and obstacles, they managed to reach the Barrier, climb atop the shelf, and make a brief journey across the ice. In his preface to the expedition account Nankyo¯ kuma Shigenobu writes that kuki, former prime minister O since Captain Cook opened the southern seas in the mid eighteenth century there have been approximately thirty expeditions to the Antarctic. Of these, he claims, four were particularly deserving of attention. First there was 23 Asahi shinbun (Tokyo), 18 May 1912, 19 June 1912. The writer Yone Noguchi predicted such claims at the outset of the expedition. He wrote, ‘Nearly all of the explorers who succeeded or failed, started their work weighing the means more than the end; in fact, many of them have created even a great success out of their failure. We as Japanese wish for a triumph if possible, even before Captain Scott for our Shirase; but if he fail, that failure should be, we hope, a failure with success. Am I paradoxical? We have two things to contribute to the world in general by this Shirase expedition if we succeed, namely: ‘How cheaply such an adventure can be done.’ ‘What we found between the Pole and King Edward VII Bay.’ The Graphic (London), 14 January 1911, 62.

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Amundsen, then Scott, then Shackleton, and finally that of the Japanese.24 Shirase was of similar persuasion. In the name of science and discovery he had taken the Japanese flag further south than it had ever gone before. By doing so, he was convinced that he had joined the league of great explorers and proven the capacity of the Japanese before all the world. It was thus with great confidence that he declared, ‘were there another pole to be conquered, Japanese would be among the foremost in the dash.’25 Shirase did not live to see his nation launch another polar expedition. Yet only a few years following his death, the Asahi newspaper proposed that Japan once again sail for the Antarctic. This time they would go as part of an international scientific effort. The Japanese government

24 25

Nankyokuki (Tokyo: Seiko¯ zasshi-sha, 1913), 5. Shirase, ‘The First Japanese Polar Expedition,’ 773.

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soon took over the project and, in January 1957, a team of scientists arrived on the southern continent, establishing a research station that the Japanese have continued to occupy to the present. Today, Japanese scientists travel to the Antarctic aboard the Shirase, a state-of-the-art icebreaker launched in 2008. It is the second vessel to bear the explorer’s name, and it sails in the vicinity of several internationally-recognized features that have also been named in his honor: Shirase Glacier, Shirase Bank, and Shirase Coast. In being the first Japanese to march across the Antarctic, and in being the first to describe what it was that he saw and experienced on the ice, Shirase embodied a pioneering ideal that has continued to inspire explorers and scientists alike.