In 1879 the German biologist Ludwig H.P. Döderlein (1855-1936) accepted a teaching position at the Medical Department of Tokyo University. This period belongs to the Meiji era which represents the end of the Sakoku, or political isolation, and the opening of Japan to other countries. The Emperor Meiji, being fond of progress and modern science, invited many European specialists to Japan. Döderlein was the first biologist from Eastern Europe to stay in that country. During his two-year stint (1879-1881), he often visited the Enoshima peninsula and started buying fish on the market to bottle them for a collection. Later on he fished them himself, together with many other marine animals. He extensively explored the Sagami Gulf in the Tokyo area. In addition to marine fauna, he collected amphibians (including a giant salamander), mammals, birds, and many snakes. Despite poor conservation and travel conditions, he managed to bring back with him to Europe an extraordinary collection of more than 400 fish species, of sponges, crustaceans, crinoids, sea urchins, cnidaria, bryozoans, etc. In 1893 he was appointed Professor of Zoology in Strasbourg and simultaneously became curator of the Museum. He took the opportunity to hire specialists such as J. Thiele and F.E. Schulze (Porifera) and A. Ortmann (Decapod Crustaceans) to analyse his Japanese collections. In 1919, Döderlein had to leave Alsace and abandoned the major part of his collections to the Museum. They hold thousands of invaluable specimens, among which many are types, and they are still regularly investigated.
The Japanese consider that Döderlein was Japan’s first oceanographer. He is credited with having attracted worldwide attention of scientists to the extraordinary biodiversity of the Sagami Bay. In 1999, a group of Japanese researchers published a complete catalog of all his samples preserved in two European museums : the Museum für Naturkunde der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Musée Zoologique de Strasbourg («Preliminary Taxonomic and Historical Studies on Prof. Ludwig Döderlein’s Collection of Japanese Animals Made in 1880-81 and Deposited in Several European Museums», Ed. T. Nishikawa, Nagoya). Parts of his collections are also at the Zoologische Staatssammlung München and in Vienna.