UTokyo’s marine laboratories Japan’s key centers for waterfront research and education

February 25, 2022

The ocean and UTokyo
A collection of research and educational activities related to the birthplace of all life

The year 2021 marks the start of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, a major campaign to advance the science of the ocean, which is the birthplace of all life and sustains the lives of organisms on Earth. This year, the University of Tokyo welcomed as its new president a scientist who has lived and worked with the ocean. From engineering, physics and biology to agriculture, law and economics, we introduce UTokyo’s ocean research and marine education activities as illustrated by examples from various fields.

Japan’s key centers for waterfront research and education

UTokyo’s marine laboratories

The presence of a center of activity near the sea is of critical value in pursuing marine research and education activities. The University of Tokyo’s three laboratories in Misaki, Hiratsuka and Hamamatsu have long served as sites for promoting marine research at the University. We asked scientists most familiar with the sites to introduce them to us.

“Learning about life from marine wildlife” at a lab in Misaki

Marine Biological Station, Graduate School of Science
By Manabu Yoshida
Associate Professor, Graduate School of Science

The Graduate School of Science’s Marine Biological Station (known as the Misaki Marine Biological Station, or MMBS) was set up in 1886, only ten years after the founding of the University of Tokyo, in the area of Misaki on the southwestern tip of the Miura Peninsula in Kanagawa Prefecture. The Miura Peninsula faces the Sagami Bay, home to some of the world’s richest animal diversity in terms of both quantity and number of species. Back in those days, biology was taxonomy. The observation of a wide variety of marine life contributed to the understanding of the classification system of living organisms, and in turn to the understanding of the process of animal evolution. Subsequently, the focus of research at the laboratory shifted from taxonomy to embryology, physiology and molecular biology, but MMBS has consistently pursued research aimed at understanding the evolution and diversity of animals based on our understanding of a wide variety of marine organisms. MMBS serves as an important hub for the study of marine organisms, not only for research by its staff, but as a facility for joint usage, supplying experimental materials and accepting visiting researchers widely. The observation of an extensive variety of marine organisms contributes to education in systematic taxonomy. To this end, MMBS annually accepts more than 20,000 users outside the Station for both research and educational purposes, including university and high school students for practical training. In cooperation with Miura City, MMBS also conducts outreach activities including nature observation classes for the general public and pearl cultivation projects for elementary school students. In 2020, the former main building (the Memorial Building) and the aquarium, which had been symbols of MMBS for more than 80 years, were demolished due to age, and a new educational building was built to replace them. In addition to state-of-the-art laboratories, the new building houses an exhibition room, conference rooms, collaborative laboratories and a water tank room, setting the stage for the open use of the Station. With the motto “Learning about life from marine wildlife,” MMBS will continue to pursue research and educational activities on a diverse range of marine animals.  

Materials illustrating the history of MMBS can be found in the exhibition room of the educational building.
The Memorial Building and Rinkai-maru (research boat) before the demolition of the building.
From the educational building inauguration ceremony in August 2020

Offshore platform for ocean research

Hiratsuka Oceanographic Experiment Station, Ocean Alliance Collaborative Research Organization
By Changkyu Rheem
Professor, Institute of Industrial Science

The Hiratsuka Oceanographic Experiment Station consists of the Hiratsuka Offshore Experiment Tower (Hiratsuka Tower), which is a research facility for oceanographic observation located 1 km off Hiratsuka in Sagami Bay with a depth of 20 m, and support facilities on land.
Built in 1965, the Hiratsuka Tower (then known as the Marine Observation Tower) is one of the few rare offshore platforms in Japan. The tower has played a key role in collecting oceanographic data for more than 55 years, mainly in the area of wave observation. It was transferred from the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention to the University of Tokyo in 2009 as a facility to advance new marine research. The Ocean Alliance Collaborative Research Organization launched the Hiratsuka Offshore Experiment Tower Program and manages the site. The organization effectively leverages the tower as a platform for ocean experiments and as a research and education facility for equipment development and oceanographic observation. Inside the tower, there is space for installing observation equipment and for conducting observation work. It also comes equipped with electricity and communication facilities. On land, there are facilities for the management and analysis of observation data, laboratories, conference rooms, etc., and a boat that operates between land and the tower.
Since its establishment, the Hiratsuka Tower has been observing oceanographic phenomena (such as waves, water level, water temperature and currents) and meteorological phenomena (such as wind, air pressure, air temperature, humidity and rainfall). The tower has also used image data from live cameras and consolidated them into a database. In cooperation with Kanagawa Prefecture, the observation data is distributed in real time on the Internet (https://www.hiratsuka-tower.jp/). The data is used for the fisheries industry, marine leisure, weather analysis, marine accident analysis and the design of coastal structures. Operating costs are funded by contributions from users of the facilities and data. Anyone can use the facilities and data as long as their activities are in line with the purpose of the establishment of the facility, and users are invited widely.  

Hiratsuka Offshore Experiment Tower 1 km off Hiratsuka.
Various types of equipment inside the tower.
Wave observation radar installed on the tower.

Located by the side of Lake Hamana

Fisheries Laboratory, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences
By Kiyoshi Kikuchi
Professor, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences


The Fisheries Laboratory is an affiliated facility of the Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, located on the shore of Lake Hamana in Shizuoka Prefecture. For many years, the University of Tokyo had a coastal facility in Misaki-cho, Kanagawa Prefecture, but because the topography of the area was not suitable for research on aquaculture and inner bay marine life, two fisheries laboratories were constructed in Aichi Prefecture around the time of the February 26 Incident (1936). In the midst of high economic growth in Japan (1950s to 1970s), the two laboratories were moved to their current location and integrated. The laboratory is said to have been very popular in those days as it allowed breeding experiments of marine life, attracting many students from Tokyo. Apparently, it was a time when Japan’s research on fisheries, including that at the University of Tokyo, was world-leading.  

Lake Hamana is located right next to the Fisheries Laboratory. Despite being called a lake, it is mostly filled with seawater. It is said to be the tenth largest lake in Japan in terms of size. The lake also serves as a “cradle” for baby fish and shellfish, and the young of fish often found offshore can be spotted here. The climate is mild (although the winds in winter are quite strong), and the area is spacious and pleasant.  

The Fisheries Laboratory currently has three faculty members (Kiyoshi Kikuchi, Sho Hosoya and Shotaro Hirase), and we cooperate with each other in our research work. We share a common interest in studying aquatic organisms and analyzing them using genomic and genetic approaches. There are also three technical staff members who are in charge of assisting with student training, operating the research boat, collecting, breeding and raising marine organisms and maintaining the facilities.  

Exterior view of the laboratory at Otome-en in Bentenjima.
The facility has over 100 experimental breeding aquariums. 
View of Lake Hamana at sunset from the laboratory.

Breakdown of specialties of marine researchers at UTokyo

20 Physical Oceanography
8 Marine Biology
7 Fisheries Oceanography, Biological Oceanography
6 Marine Environmental Engineering, Marine Ecology, Ocean Biogeochemistry
5 Marine Ecosystem Engineering, Underwater Platform Systems, Coastal Engineering
4 Ocean Photonics, Ocean Geochemistry, Marine Geology
3 Chemical Oceanography, Ocean Engineering, Marine Physiology, Marine Microbiology, Marine Microbial Ecology, Ocean Dynamics, Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering
2 Underwater Robotics, Marine Acoustic System Engineering, Marine Chemistry, Marine Renewable Energy, Marine Bioecology, Paleoceanography, Marine Environmental Studies
1 Coastal Oceanography, Marine Seismology, Marine Seismic Observation, Marine Transportation, Maritime Greenhouse Gas Reduction, Policies for Maritime Industries, Marine Mammalogy, Undersea Information Systems, Ocean-bottom Solid Earth Measurement, Broadband Ocean-bottom Seismology, Ocean-bottom Geology, Ocean-Bottom Electromagnetics, Sea Ice, Sea Surface Observation, Sea Surface Disasters, Marine Energy, Ocean Genomics, Ocean System Engineering, Oceanic Mantle Petrology, Marine Science, Oceanography, Oceanographic Seismology, Ocean Space Usage, Dynamics of Ocean Structures, Marine Bacteriology, Ocean Information, Marine Botany, Ocean Policy, Marine Life Geoscience, Marine Geophysics, Ocean Floor Geophysics, Ocean Civil Engineering, Ocean Material-recycling Climatology, Marine Conservation Policy, Elucidation and Technological Application of Ocean Current/Wave Mechanisms, Maritime Law, Deep-sea Engineering, Deep-sea Biology, Deep-sea Turbulent Mixing, Undersea Sensor Engineering, Comprehensive Seafloor Observation Engineering, Microbial Oceanography, Physical Oceanography, Molecular Marine Biology

The above is a list of the specialty areas of researchers who are members of the Ocean Alliance Collaborative Research Organization of the University of Tokyo. The list is limited to those who include the Chinese character “海” (meaning “marine,” “ocean,” “water” or “coast”) in the name of their academic specialty. Although it is difficult to capture the entire picture of the marine studies being conducted at UTokyo, this list attests to the diversity of such activities.

* This article was originally printed in Tansei 43 (Japanese language only). All information in this article is as of September 2021.

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