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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gaijin Invents Seismograph In Japan

It almost seems sad that I should learn something - a major something - about the history of Japan, and of the history of the world by watching a non-history or non-science television show... a television program that is Canadian in origin and is popular, but not hugely popular in Canada and has probably very little following elsewhere around the world.

The Murdoch Mysteries is one of my favorite television programs and books and is a detective series set originally at the end of the Victorian era, but has now progressed to the Edwardian era of 1902 Toronto.

I should probably not also admit that my other pleasure is watching Elementary... a modern-day Sherlock Holmes show... but mostly because Lucky Lui stars in it. I would sleep with your wife just for the chance to smell Lucy's shoes. Ahhh, yes... I love Lucy.

But I digress... as I am wont to do - because what the hell, this is my blog. Anyhow... I love mysteries and detective shows... which is probably why I like digging up information about, well, everything.

It was while watching an episode of Murdoch Mysteries last night that I learned that the seismograph... an instrument used to detect and measure earthquakes was actually created by an Englishman while in Japan.

It was built by John Milne in 1880... and despite building what is believed to be the first seismograph and identifying the same fault line that would later become the epi-center of the March 11, 2011 9.0 Magnitude earthquake that helped destroy the northeastern coast of Japan... his is a name that few people today NOT involved in the study of geology and seismography have ever heard of.

Let's correct that collective ignorance together, shall we?

Born in Liverpool, England on December 30, 1850 (died July 31, 1913), John Milne was a geologist and mining engineer... and I'm going to mist over some of his academics until we get to the early 1870s

Milne was hired for the summer period of 1873 and 1874 to work as a mining engineer to explore the great country of Newfoundland and Labrador (now a part of Canada, as of 1949) to seek out coal and mineral resources.

Canadian connection notwithstanding, Milne spent time in Newfoundland writing scientific papers on how ice and rock interact with each other, and after visiting Funk Island, wrote about the Great Auk, a large, flightless bird that had gone extinct globally perhaps a decade earlier.

When I was a wee lad in Grade 3, I wrote a science project on the Great Auk - which doesn't mean much, but obviously it does to me if I can still remember this fact. I have no recollection of what I had for lunch yesterday… probably because I haven't had it yet as I write this. Retroactive memory loss.

In 1875 Milne was hired by the Meiji government of Japan to come as a foreign advisor and professor of mining and geology to work out of the Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo from March 8, 1876.

Milne might have arrived sooner, but despite his adventures in such rugged climes as Funk Island, the poor man suffered terribly from sea sickness and tried to spend as much of it as possible on land... which meant traveling nearly one year to get to Tokyo.

Milne must have liked Japan, because he was there for a very long time.

It was in 1880 when, after a decent earthquake had struck Yokohama, Milne, and two other British scientists—Sir James Alfred Ewing, Thomas Gray—began to study seismic activity in Japan.

After founding the Seismological Society of Japan, the same society funded the invention of the seismograph - with Milne generally being accepted as the true inventor.

This horizontal pendulum seismograph - like all true seismographs - was used to detect and measure the strength of earthquake. In fact, his instrumentation allowed him to detect different types of earthquake waves (such as the faster Primary wave, the slower Secondary wave), and estimate velocities.

These three gaijin (foreign) scientists also were quite free with their talents, and trained Japanese students in geology. In fact, Sekiya Seikei (surname first), one of their students became the very first ever professor of seismology in the world at the Imperial University. As well, Sekiya's successor, Omori Fusakichi (surname) refined Milne's instruments to better detect and record finer vibrations.

Japan in the 1870s was a time of strife… as the elite in Japan, fearful of losing rank and honor amongst the masses that they had enjoyed while the shogun was in rule, still put forth an intense Japanese patriotism… in order to protect itself from the sudden appearance of foreign things, people, ideas and ideologies in the country.

As such, there was a fair bit of racism… but none of that would stop John Milne.

In 1881, at the Reinanzaka Church (a Christian church) located in Tokyo, he married Horikawa Tone (surname first), who is described as being a geologist… which must have been quite a phenomenal achievement not only for a woman, but for a Japanese woman, in that era.

Because god has an ego (if we are to believe the actions of human beings), the Japanese were not so thrilled with the marriage of one of their own to a gaijin… something I can tell you is still not always looked upon with favor even today.
Tone and John Milne.

Tone's father was Horikawa Jokei, and he was the high mucky-muck leader of the Ganjo-ji Buddhist temple in Hakodate. Naturally, the family was a very devout Buddhist family… which only added to tensions.

I was engaged to a Japanese teacher of English whose father was the high mucky-muck leader of all the junior high principals in the northern part of the province where we lived. Unlike Milne who was a brilliant, brilliant man, I was the clown-prince of assistant English teachers on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme… which explains why he got married and I didn't. Even though I was/am waaaaaaaay better looking than Milne. Waaaaaaay better.

As another aside, years later when Mr. and Mrs. Milne were about to return to England… they remarried at the British Consulate in Japan… which now made Tone a naturalized British citizen and formalized their marriage.

As if geology, mining, seismology and training of students weren't enough Milne began studying the anthropology in 1882 by way of his study of the Ainu, Japan's indigenous people from the northern part of Japan. He tried to create theories on where the Ainu came from.

Japanese protective patriotism (Buy Japanese) still had concerns about the intermarriage of its Japanese with gaijin.

In 1892, Japanese statesmen Kaneko Kentaro (surname first) discussed the whole intermarriage thing with fellow racist and British philosopher Herbert Spencer. Kaneko says that the topic of intermarriage is "now very much agitated among our scholars and politicians."

Now… just because one person say something doesn't make it gospel… uh… unless it's Jesus, Muhammed or Moses or, Buddha help me, whomever you want to worship.

(Spencer, who was already of the belief that the mixing of races was bad, told Kaneko that intermarriages between foreigners and Japanese should be forbidden. Which I believe is something he said not to protect the sanctity of the Japanese race, but the sanctity of the White, Christian race.)
John Milne (centre) with Russian seismologist Prince Boris Galitzin and his wife Tone.

If it bothered Milne, who knows…

(Me: Jewish grandmother, Catholic mom, Protestant dad, born of India(n) parents in England, was engaged to a Buddhist, married an atheist, and don't follow any religion except the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club.)

Now… everything I've read about Milne acknowledges that his home, library, observatory and many of his instruments were destroyed in a fire on February 17, 1895.

And… rather than rebuild and continue, he and his wife decided to move back to England.

I wonder if there was anything racist involved with regards to the fire… and if not, why did they decide to leave Japan for the supposed safer confines of England? I'm just asking.

But it certainly wasn't everyone… unless there was some embarrassment and guilt involved, but in early June of 1895, Milne was commanded to meet with Japanese Emperor Mutsuhito…

On June 20, 1895 Milne resigned his posts and then returned to England.

House and everything burned down. Check.
Emperor tells you to come up and see him sometime - now. Check.
Milne resigns all his jobs.
Milne and Japanese wife leave the country.

Conspiracy? What conspiracy?

Here's the guilt thing. After arriving home in England with his newly legal Japanese wife, Milne received word that the Emperor of Japan had awarded him a very rare distinction (at the time), the Order of the Rising Sun, Third Class - along with a pension of ¥1000.

That's an amazing honor - even though I think my lunch today cost ¥1500.

The award was in recognition of the academic and intellectual exchange (was that what I was supposed to be exchanging as a JET in Japan? I just exchanged body (bawdy) fluids) and some seismic disturbances in the bedroom... by farting.

Too little too late? Or was it "get the heck out you defiler of Japanese women - oh, and to show our politeness and profound regret for having your home burned down, please accept this medal"?

Again… it could simply be a string of bad luck, wanting to try something new, and a grateful Emperor.

Let's say it was the later. "So long and thanks for all the fish!"

Milne and his Japanese wife moved to the Isle of Wight in the English Channel, an islet that is part of England… and I suppose it's where you live if you don't want to live in England but still want to be considered English.

They were accompanied by an assistant, a Japanese fellow named Hirata Shinobu (Shinobu? What was he, a ninja?) who it seems has been reduced to a mere footnote in history. Never be an assistant to a famous guy who won't be famous after he dies…

Anyway… it appears as though Hirata was not only an assistant for the Milne's, he was also good company for Tone, as they could at least converse in Japanese.

While in England, the Tokyo Imperial University named Milne a professor emeritus - an honorary position given to a superior professor after they retire… so… the university liked him… and the Emperor tolerated him…

As a world-shaker soul taker, Milne was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1887 and then managed to persuade the Society to fund 20 earthquake observatories around the world - all equipped with his horizontal pendulum seismographs.

These observatories were placed in England (seven); Russia (three); Canada (two: one in Victoria and I bet that hurt and one in Toronto - which is what I learned on The Murdoch Mysteries mentioned at the beginning of this blog); three in the eastern US; and one in Antarctica.

These stations would send him data (must have been pretty boring in Toronto with not a lot of seismic activity), with which he collected for 20 years at his headquarters on Wight Island, the global headquarters of earthquake seismology.

In 1898, Milne (with W. K. Burton) published Earthquakes and Other Earth Movements, which came to be regarded as a classic textbook on earthquakes.

He continued his seismic work until the end, when he died of Bright's disease on July 31, 1913.

His wife Tone - and I assume his assistant Hirata - eventually left England, returning to Japan in 1919 before dying in 1926.

The Milne's did not have any children, so we unfortunately have no prodigy pounding the virtues of the family line and their earth-shaking invention… which is probably why so few people know of the achievements of this interesting man.

So… the next time you wonder how strong an earthquake was - and then find out - you can thank John Milne.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Caption for topmost image: Milne horizontal pendulum seismograph. One of the Important Cultural Properties of Japan. Exhibit is in the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo, Japan. Photo is by Momotarou2012, and taken from the Wikipedia Commons section.

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