A nice translation of this article into the Belorussian language has been made by our friend Bohdan Zograf and may be found here.
In the past few years, since this page has been up, we have been asked a number of questions related to the History of Japanese Astronomy , Astronomical Lore, Amateur Activities and other aspects of Asian Astronomy. We have set up this page to try to answer some of the more frequently asked questions as well as a few which weren't frequent but nevertheless of possible interest to a broader audience. If you have a question about Astronomy in Japan that you would like us to try to answer, please contact Steve Renshaw. Of course, if you have corrections or other comments, these are most welcome.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot translated about Japanese star lore, astronomical history, or amateur activities. Sky and Telescope often runs articles on special events or discoveries that have occurred in Japan, and academic journals certainly report results of research by professional Japanese astronomers and historians of science. In general, the following should provide a good start for delving into the astronomical heritage and history of Japan:
Chamberlain, B.H. (trans.) (1981) The Kojiki: Records of Ancient Matters (Tuttle Edition). Charles E. Tuttle Co., Tokyo.
Philippi, D.L. (trans.) (1995) The Kojiki: Records of Ancient Matters. University of Tokyo Press, Tokyo.
Sansom, G.B. (1973) Japan; A Short Cultural History. (Tuttle Edition). Charles E. Tuttle Co., Tokyo.
Sansom, G.B. (1974) A History of Japan to 1334. (Tuttle Edition). Charles E. Tuttle Co., Tokyo. (Sansom's other books in this 3 Volume Series are also valuable for later periods in Japanese History.)
There are countless small Histories of Japan, but we have found the above to be scholarly sound and thorough.
Barnes, G.L. (1988) Protohistoric Yamato; Archaeology of the First Japanese State. Ann Arbor, Michigan, University of Michigan Press.
Farris, W.W. (1998) Sacred Texts and Buried Treasures; Issues in the Historical Archaeology of Ancient Japan. Honolulu, Hawaii, University of Hawaii Press.
Sugimoto, M. and D.L. Swain (1989) Science and Culture in Traditional Japan. Charles E. Tuttle Co. Inc., Tokyo.
Ho, P.Y. (1985) Li, Qi, and Shu; An Introduction to Science and Civilization in China. Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong. (A shorter introduction to Needham's work.)
Krupp, E.C. (1997) Skywatchers, Shamans, and Kings; Astronomy and the Archaeology of Power. John Wiley and Sons Ltd., New York.
Tyler, R. (1987) Japanese Tales. New York, Pantheon Books.
Kato, S. (1979) A History of Japanese Literature (3 Volumes). Tokyo, Kodansha.
Lu, D. (1997) Japan; A Documentary History (2 Volumes). New York, London, M.E. Sharpe.
Perhaps one of the best sources in English on ancient Chinese astro-cartography is Sun, X. and J. Kistemaker (1997) The Chinese Sky During the Han; Constellating Stars and Society, New York and Netherlands, Brill. History, analysis, and charts are included in this volume. Another source is Staal, J.D.W. (1984) Stars of Jade: Calendar Lore, Mythology, Legends and Star Stories of Ancient China. Writ Press, Decatur, Georgia. However, caution should be used with this book as it is an English translation of Schlegel's German translation of an early Chinese coordinate system. Further, in our opinion, Staal spends so much time with an agenda of proving the antiquity of Chinese Astronomy that he may miss essential aspects and meanings of Chinese characters. Other supplementary sources in English for understanding Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Astronomical Charting are the books listed above by Needham and Nakayama.
There is sometimes the perception that the skies of Japan must somehow be different. Reality, of course, is that increased urbanization has continued to encroach upon observation sites. Too, rain and humidity can often discourage even the most diligent of observers in Japan. However, a few things probably contribute to the success Japanese amateurs have had in the past few decades. Not all areas of Japan are necessarily light polluted, despite what satellite photographs show. There are indeed (especially in Fall and Spring) nights of steady though not necessarily the darkest of skies, all of which, however, find many amateurs out looking, even in the depths of cold. Many will drive two to three hours to relatively light pollution free zones. As can be seen in reports of amateurs in the astronomical literature of Japan, many observers simply have great tenacity and patience together with a long tradition of observation, respect, and appreciation for celestial phenomena. Probably most important, however, is that those who do make "discoveries" keep consistent and disciplined observing schedules. The same could be said, of course, for "successful" observation in any culture.
Some "discoverers" maintain web pages, but these are most often completely in Japanese, and an e-mail address may not be evident if your browser does not support Japanese or Chinese characters. For some, a search of their name in English may bring results. It should be noted that in Japan, as elsewhere, personalities of "astro-phenomena" hunters differ considerably. There are some who have egos that keep their presence (on the Internet and elsewhere) continually visible, who seek as much of the spotlight as they can, and who let us know everything about their life from potty training onward. Contact with them may be disappointing unless you can show how such ego will be enhanced by your work. Other "discoverers", from their initial successes, make it clear that it is the phenomena, not their effort in discovery, that is important. These individuals may go on to write educational materials, articles about the efforts of others, or they may use their discovery as an inspiration to pursue further education in astronomy and/or astrophysics. If your purpose in contact is in line with these goals, they will generally be happy to correspond with you. Still others may shy away from the spotlight and go on with their lives, jobs, and love of astronomy and observation. People in this latter group may be a bit more difficult to locate. In any regard, if you can't find an e-mail address for the person you want to contact, please write to Steve Renshaw, and we'll do our best to get you in contact.
Astrology as practiced in China, Korea, and Japan varied in history and across these cultures. However, one commonality was that one's astrological fate depended upon a complexity of events surrounding ones birth including geographic location, associated earthly and heavenly events, and perhaps most importantly, the year in which birth occurred. The placement of the sun in a particular moon station at birth was seldom used in a significant way, and planetary movement in general was seen as contextually bound not only by celestial location but earthly context as well. Seeing Chinese Geomancy and the study of astrological divination procedures as merely one road to understanding the more interesting aspects of Asian (specifically Japanese) culture as it related historically with the sky, we are in no position to nor do we desire to offer any astrological advice. There are plenty of web pages devoted to astrology which may be searched for such information. If you want to know the animal sign corresponding to the year you were born, you can look at the chart in our Happy New Year in Japan article. 2000 is the year of the dragon. Count counterclockwise around the circle until you come to the year you were born... that's your critter.
Among others, an excellent source for learning to do your own calculations is Dershowitz, N. and E.M. Reingold (1997) Calendrical Calculations. Cambridge University Press.
There are also several software packages which provide calendar information for a number of systems used in modern and ancient times by many cultures. We have found the following particularly valuable:
Scheffler, A.O. and P.P. (1991) CalMaster2000: Dates, Holidays, and Astronomical Events (Available from Zephyr Services, Pittsburgh, PA.). While DOS based, CalMaster2000 is one of the few calendar programs that actually tries to deal somewhat with the eccentric nature of the Japanese lunar calendar as well as that of the Chinese. One can choose "true astronomical reckoning" in calculations or other methods. For modern dates (from about the 17th century onward), "true astronomical reckoning" will generally give an accurate date (especially for the Chinese Calendar). As we find that there are additional programs which deal well with Asian lunar reckoning systems, we will post them here.
Chinese/Japanese/Korean Lunar New Year for 2002 is February 12; for 2003, it will be February 1 in Gregorian terms.
Please see response to 5 above. If you do have a Gregorian date and wish to know the Chinese/Korean/Japanese lunar date, or you have a birthday or other date in Chinese/Japanese/Korean lunar calendar form and want to know the Gregorian or Julian equivalent, please feel free to write e-mail to Steve Renshaw. We'll do our best to accurately calculate this for you.
Both the Kojiki and Nihongi mentioned in 1 above carry versions of Japan's creation myth(s). These compilations were probably made in order to provide a principle of unification around imperial rule. Various "domains" of the country at the time had different versions of "creation", and these two writings attempted to combine sometimes contradictory mythologies into something the country as a unified political system could accept. The influx of Buddhism in the early C.E. was adapted and modified within indigenous social, political, and religious systems, thus creating a somewhat complex (especially to Western eyes) religious "consciousness", but in general lacking the moral overtones of many Western and Near Eastern religions. Most modern Japanese citizens tend to view early mythology as just that, and while even scientists may go to shrines and temples, very few people make it a concrete base for "belief" about creation.
Religion has generally not been used as a reason to reject science in any period of Japan's history (pragmatics seem to have had more of a hand in such development or non-development). In modern times, there are few if any debates about teaching (for example) scientific principles of evolution in school, and such a "debate" would/does seem patently absurd to most people in Japan. Relative to events which periodically arise in the U.S., rational/empirical methods do not seem to be in any danger of becoming "extinct" due to religiously motivated legislation in Japan. Prior to WWII, myths mentioned in the Kojiki and Nihongi were certainly used for political purposes. However, perhaps Japan learned the hard way that taking ones cultural myths/religions too seriously can lead to extraordinarily tragic results.
There has been speculation about the astronomical significance of several sites in Japan. Perhaps most notable are the Akita stone circles in Akita Prefecture and the stone fixtures of Sakafune Ishi and Masuda Iwafune in the Asuka area. Amateurs and some professionals have at times been almost obsessed with trying to find alignment properties at these sites. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Akita stone circles probably had ritual significance; speculation has centered around the idea that they may have been used in a gnomon like fashion to determine solstices or as crude "sundials". So far, no corroborative evidence has emerged to support these speculations, and no one has really been able to show methods of such use by Jomon builders of the sites.
The Asuka sites were apparently built at a time when Chinese Geomancy was starting to be used to align buildings, palaces, and temples with celestial north. With all the "real" alignment going on at the time as a functional part of the culture's development and integration of continental methodologies and cosmologies, one almost wants to ask "Why the obsession with these rocks?" For years, broken tombs whose fallen rocks appear to have alignment properties, carved animal images on rocks, carvings of connected human figures, and a variety of artifacts have intrigued visitors to Asuka. As research is funded and evidence emerges, the sober reality generally indicates a rather simple explanation for most of these artifacts, but at the same time, in their simplicity, the complex development of Japanese society and culture.
Perhaps the greatest commonality these sites have with Stonehenge is that each has managed to develop cult followings and pilgrims ranging from "true believers" in Japanese anime based on the historical areas to "new age" mystics, few having any idea of the historical social and cultural milieu in which the sites were built.
Chiro is a very common name given to pet dogs in Japan. The "special" Chiro that is legendary among amateur Japanese astronomers is the name of the pet dog of acclaimed astrophotographer Akira Fujii whose photos have appeared in Sky and Telescope and numerous other publications. Chiro accompanied Fujii on numerous outings as well as to star parties and other "astro-meetings". In addition, Fujii used Chiro as both the mascot and pen name for a series of introductory books in astronomy primarily aimed at younger astronomers. There is no relation with Pluto's moon which is named "Charon". Further, as far as we can tell, there is not even an indirect connection to asteroid 2060 Chiron.
There are many historical/cultural sites in Japan, and most any city or small town will have structures which give a strong sense of Japanese culture. Unfortunately, such structures are also generally hidden or at least obscured by Japan's burgeoning urban sprawl and all the "high rise" development that accompanies such. Hence, the traveler looking for ancient astronomical sites corresponding to the grandeur of, for example, Mayan civilization, may be somewhat disappointed. On the other hand, travelers interested in relations of astronomy and culture may find a strong sense of this in many places of Japan. Some idea of interesting sites in the Kinki area can be gleaned from our article on Aligning Earth and Sky. Travelers to Kyushu may also want to visit the old city of Dazaifu for a view of this ancient provincial capital of Western Japan (laid out in similar geomantic fashion). In general, the most significant aspects of ancient astronomy can be seen in the alignment of Buddhist temples, old capital cities, and other structures built using infused Chinese Geomancy. Regardless of the meandering nature of streets in most all Japanese cities, one can quickly orient themselves to directions when visiting a temple due to this ancient alignment practice. The same should not be assumed, however, with regard to Shinto shrines which are often aligned according to natural contour and landscape rather than with celestial reference.
Many prefectural museums house objects of earlier eras, and one may sometimes find an old telescope, celestial globe, map, or "sun clock" used by a daimyo or ancient calendar scholar. Unfortunately, little remains of any ancient observatory, and many relics known to be in possession of more ancient astronomers are listed as "missing". Some caution should also be mentioned relative to visiting star shrines. As mentioned in our article, the original meteorite relic may not be on the site (or may have only been imagined in the first place); and if it does exist, it may not be available for public view.
With all of this said, the "astro-traveler" can indeed get an idea of Japan's astronomical heritage with a bit of searching and perseverance. Many cities now provide information in English about local history and relics. These should be consulted for the particular area you plan on visiting.
Short answer: They may or the may not be. We have no way of knowing what "system" was used by creators of this anime. As indicated in our introductory article on Star Charts, moon stations or Sei Shuku represent some of the most complex aspects of Asian astronomy. Similar delineations may be found in many Asian cultures, and there is some evidence that there may be connections with ancient cultures of the Near East which also influenced development in the West. Yasui's 1699 star chart represents use of both circular (non-stereographic) and square (Mercator) projections of Asian constellations and moon stations. Stars comprising each constellation and selection of "key stars" for moon stations varied by time and culture. Such choice reflected changes in everything from political upheaval to a particular cartographer's aesthetic or purpose in divination, but perhaps most importantly change due to precession which rendered their use in celestial delineation and reckoning systems ineffectual. The chart we have used as an example contains delineations from a particular period of Japan's history, and it is obvious in comparing this chart to other Asian and specifically other Japanese charts, that there are differences. Readers may want to compare the maps from the Asuka tombs of Takamatsu Zuka (square) and Kitora (circular). These representations show direct influence from China via Korea, and it seems that usage of these systems in early Japanese history was probably more politically motivated than cosmological. Origins and meanings of very few of the names for Japanese versions of moon stations are known with any certainty, and the Chinese version/meaning was most often accepted by ancient diviners and calendar scholars of Japan.
Strangely, fans of Fushigi Yuugi seem to be more prolific in the West than in Japan, and a search for sites related to this anime will produce a variety of perspectives, most lacking any sense of the actual historical, social, and cultural heritage of Asuka or the cosmological base of Sei Shuku. Caution should be exercised by anyone perusing these sites looking for accurate information regarding the use and function of moon stations in the History of Astronomy in Japan.
This question may be a bit more complicated than it appears on the surface. The earliest extant literature in Japan (see 1 above) was written using a character system imported from China (or China via Korea). Literary works (poems, stories, history, etc.) were either written in Chinese or in Japanese using Chinese characters for sounds. By the Heian era, Japanese kana forms were firmly in place though primarily viewed as appropriate for use only by women (whose works by the way, such as Genji Monogatari or the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, are considered some of the greatest literature in the world). Of course, prior to and during WWII, the question of "Japanese uniqueness" was almost an obsession for citizen and scholar alike. While this has changed considerably in post-war Japan, it still seems to perhaps be too much on the mind of many Japanese.
It is virtually impossible, even in writings describing "unique" Japanese history or word usage, to distinguish what is indigenous and what is influenced by continental or other infusion. We discuss this further in our article "Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture in Japan; Paving the Way to Interdisciplinary Study" which will appear in Volume 14 of Archaeoastronomy; The Journal of the International Society of Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture and in "A Cultural History of Astronomy in Japan" which will appear in Astronomy Across Cultures: A History of Non-Western Astronomy published by Kluwer Academic Pub. There, we compare Japan to a lake fed by two springs. One spring may be considered that which is "indigenous". This spring in turn is fed by a second which includes continental and later Western infusions. We argue that the first spring has always been fed by the second (whether one looks at migrations which brought these islands' first inhabitants, interaction through later periods found in the archaeological record, or importation of ideas through the last several centuries). However, the second (whether from the Asian Continent, Pacific Islands, or the West and with the possible exception of the earliest inhabitants of Japan) has never had a direct route to that "consciousness" which forms the base of Japanese culture. Seen this way, it seems apparent that most any story told in Japan which has been imported will have its own "Japanese" flavor; likewise, any story which seems to have originated in Japan will undoubtedly show signs of influence (whether in form or content) from that second spring. The development and adaptation of star lore along with its relation to cultural development in Japan is one of the most fascinating areas of cultural astronomy.
The major publications for amateurs are Tenmon Guide, Skywatcher, and Gekkan Tenmon. In addition, the Oriental Astronomical Association has always encouraged membership of both professionals and amateurs. Its publication is titled The Heavens.
All of these publications are, of course, written in Japanese. Of the three geared toward amateurs, Tenmon Guide is probably most like Sky and Telescope. The other two are more like Astronomy. The Heavens functions a bit more like a professional journal. If you are interested in subscribing to any of the three amateur publications, the best way to go about it is to send them e-mail. Most will be happy to answer your English inquiry and will let you know their policy on foreign subscriptions, prices, mailing costs, etc.
Among the many star parties held each year in Japan, the most famous may be Tainai. Tainai is located in Kurokawa Village which is in northern Niigata Prefecture. This party is held in late to middle August every year. About 10,000 people attended in 1999. Activities include night sky observation, meeting and talking with fellow amateurs, visiting the many booths set up by astro-related companies, and an equipment auction. Other activities include barbecues and concerts. Anyone interested is most welcome to attend.
Another well known gathering of amateur astronomers is held in Hara Village in Nagano Prefecture. Somewhat smaller than Tainai, this star party is held from early to middle August and attracts many people who love the nighttime sky and want to participate in actual observing projects.
An interesting "year round" place to observe stars and meet others of like mind is Hoshi no Mura (Star Village) located near Yatsugatake Mountain in Yamanashi Prefecture. Hoshi no Mura and the location of the Hara Village Star Party are fairly close to one another. Mount Yatsugatake is about 1,000 meters above the sea level and is quite far from the light pollution of major cities. If you would like to plan a trip to Yatsugatake Nanroku Observatory and/or Hoshi no Mura, call 0551-38-3987 for reservations and more detailed information. Please be aware that the person you talk to at that number will probably speak Japanese.
Since there are numerous star clubs in Japan, the best place to get information is to periodically peruse the major astronomy magazines mentioned in 13 above. If you plan to stay in Japan for awhile, you should check these and begin to inquire locally about clubs and activities.
We will try to post dates of major star parties in the News and Activities section of the main page.
There are several telescope companies in Japan, and information regarding prices and availability may be found in numerous advertisements within the pages of magazines we have listed in 13 above. As far as we can determine, Takahashi's web page is completely in Japanese. The following major optical instrument makers have pages in English:
If your site has an English page and deals with aspects of Japanese or other East Asian Astronomy mentioned in the purposes outlined on the home page, we would be very happy to list your site. Such sites would include those of any amateur or professional in Japan, individual or group, whose page is of scientific and/or scholarly nature, of interest to other amateurs or professionals, and which includes astronomical information (including astrophotography) designed for a larger international audience. It would also include any non-Japanese based site which has information about Astronomy in Japan following the same guidelines. If you would like to have your page listed, please contact Steve Renshaw. In general, commercial sites with little information about Astronomy in Japan, sites entirely in Japanese, sites with questionable scholarship, or sites in English that do not concern Astronomical Activity in Japan/Korea/China will not be added. In the future, we may add non-Japanese English sites related specifically to scholarly work in Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture that are inclusive of East Asian study.
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