Shunkichi Kimura (1866-1938) studied quaternions during his stay in the U.S. from 1893 to 1896. In particular he deepened and widened his understanding of quaternions.
Kimura was first introduced quaternions by one of Scottish teachers who were working in early Meiji Japan. These teachers were former students of Peter Guthrie Tait (1831-1901) at Edinburgh University. Tait had developed quaternions to apply to geometry and physics. One of his key ideas was that quaternions transform vectors as operators. Taitʼs students taught Japanese students, including Kimura, only Taitʼs style of quaternions aiming at application to physics and engineering.
But in the U.S. Kimura found that quaternions were not only operators for transformation of vectors but also the expanded complex numbers. He recognized the need for more exchange between scientists interested in quaternions and allied systems of mathematics, and hoped promoting quaternions as pure mathematics. So he proposed for an “International Association for Promoting the study of Quaternions and Allied Systems of Mathematics” in 1895. His enthusiasm for quaternions as pure mathematics was his primary motive of this proposal.
Because of difficulty of finding a president and secretaries, only in 1899, after Kimuraʼs return to Japan, was this association established by Scottish and Irish scientists and it remained active for fourteen years. Kimuraʼs proposal for this association also shows how productive he was during his three year study in the U. S.
The Imperial College of Engineering (ICE, or Kōbu-Daigakkō) in Tokyo, founded in 1873 under the auspices of the Ministry of Public Works, was one of the most prominent modern institutions of engineering education in early Meiji Japan. The college offered seven (later eight) courses in engineering. A total of 211 students graduated from ICE in seven times commencements during 13 years of operation until its merger with the contemporary University of Tokyo in 1886. Historians have recognized that ICE offered better engineering education than other colleges, such as the University of Tokyo and the succeeding Imperial University, because ICE offered higher-level practical training under governmental enterprises.
Focusing on the closure of ICE, this paper reappraises its educational role in Meiji Japan. It shows that the government established ICE not because of the demand from industry, but to train engineers and professors to substitute for foreign employees, a process that was largely complete by around 1882. At the same time, there were two major failings in the educational system: (i) Higher educational institutions were completely separated from lower schools. The level of the original curriculum of ICE was too high to recruit capable candidates. (ii) Meiji Japan lacked a comprehensive plan for technical education. The government totally ignored the training of foremen and technicians. Given these two shortcomings of the Meiji educational system, ICEʼs superiority was insignificant. Facing financial difficulties, the government had no choice but to close it.