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Ancient Astronomy in the Kinki Area of Japan

By Steve Renshaw and Saori Ihara

March, 1997


A visitor who has only a few days to spend in some of the ancient cities of Japan will be overwhelmed by the large number of beautiful temples, shrines, and gardens which are still preserved. Unfortunately, the changing winds of history and modern urban development have obliterated many of the sites and relics of ancient astronomical activity in Japan. However, the Kinki region (which includes not only the large metropolis of Osaka but Kyoto, Nara, and the Asuka area to the south), can provide the traveler with some glimpse of a past in which astronomical observation played a central role in affairs of state as well as the day-to-day life of ordinary citizens. In a sense, as one travels from Kyoto toward Asuka in the south, pages of history are turned back to the beginnings of centralized government in Japan and the influence of Chinese culture on Japanese life. When looking into Japan's ancient past, it must be remembered that most celestial observation was done for astrological and divination purposes, and most methods of observation and calculation came from Chinese and Korean influences; astronomy as a modern "Western" science was slow in coming and really only found its place in the 20th century.

[Kinki Area with Ancient Palace Outlines]
The Kinki area of Japan showing outlines of some of the ancient capitals and interconnecting routes, virtually all of which have now become a part of the urban landscape.


Ancient Astronomy and Geomancy in Kyoto, Japan

Geomancy and Imperial Position in Nara, Japan

Astronomy Among Ancient Tombs and Relics in Asuka, Japan


References

Aston, W.G. trans. (1972) Tuttle Edition Nihongi; Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to 697 A.D.. Charles E. Tuttle Co., Tokyo.

Hall, J.W. (1971) Tuttle Edition Japan from Prehistory to Modern Times. Charles E. Tuttle Co., Tokyo.

Kasahara, K. (Ed.) (1995) Nippon no Rekishi (The History of Japan). Kodansha, Tokyo.

Morton, W.S. (1994) Japan; Its History and Culture. McGraw-Hill, New York.

Sansom, G. B. (1973) Tuttle Edition Japan; A Short Cultural History. Charles E. Tuttle Co., Tokyo.

Sansom, G. B. (1974) Tuttle Edition A History of Japan to 1334. Charles E. Tuttle Co., Tokyo.

Shinmura, I. (Ed.) (1994) Koujien. (Japanese Etymological Dictionary). Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo.

Uno, S. et al (1991) Nihon Zenshi (Japan Chronik). Kodansha, Tokyo.

Walters, D. (1989) Chinese Geomancy. Element Books Ltd., Longmead, Shafttesbury, Dorset.


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Steven L. Renshaw

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