Japan

The evolution of Japan's culture proceeded differently from that of China and Korea due mainly to its relative isolation from mainland Asia, and indeed parallels have been drawn between Britain and Japan, although the latter's isolation was much greater: Japan is separated from Korea by ~185km across the Straits of Tsushima, whereas the Straits of Dover are less than 34 km wide. Much of its early culture was therefore developed indigenously (Fairbank, Reischauer, and Craig 1989, p. 324ff). Nevertheless, Palaeolithic cultures reached Japan in at least two waves, the first of which occurred between 100 and 200 millennia ago.

The Jomon was the earliest neolithic culture; it appeared about 11000 b.c. and was characterized by a rich and highly distinctive pottery and by mounds of shells. The Japanese neolithic started earlier than did any other neolithic culture and extended later than did most. The people were deep sea fishers and probably whale hunters who lived in pit houses. The Yayoi culture appeared in the 3rd century b.c. and over the next two centuries expanded over much of the country. These people possessed iron and bronze artifacts, pursued agriculture, developed irrigation methods, and had wheel-made pottery. Chinese coins and bronze mirrors from the Han dynasty attest to cultural links with China. In the third century a.d., funerary tumuli began to be erected by this culture, and the type of jewelry buried in them suggests a strong influence of the Silla kingdom of present-day Korea.

Among prehistoric structures with possible astronomical usage are the stone circles (actually somewhat irregular ovals of about 10-m thickness) of Nonakado and Manza at Oyo and similar structures at Hokkaido and Omachi in Nagano. Hawkes (1974) cites an approximate date of these structures of the 1st millennium b.c. and attributes them to the late Jomon culture, whose pottery has been excavated at the site, along with stone axes and vessels. The Nonakado structure consists of two not-quite concentric ovals (of differing major axes), the outermost of which has dimensions ~41.5 m E-W x 38.5 m N-S. The rings have various structures: stone pillars, centered in small round cairns, and lines of stones in arcs or square patterns. At the south side of the larger oval, an incomplete (three-sided) square is located just to the west of the N-S axis, and to the east of this axis lies a pentagon with the vertex directed opposite to the center. Between the inner and outer rings, about 8 m from the center, and located ~55° west of north from the center of the ovals, is a 4.5-m standing stone surrounded by a cairn that contains elongated incumbent stones radiating from the central pillar. This configuration is surrounded by long stones extending around the circle. The structure is referred to as a "sundial," and indeed, the declination of the Sun at midsummer setting on a level western horizon would be ~24°4. The Manza structure, located on the same high river bank, is similar, with a similarly placed "sundial," but with a slightly larger outer ring.

A stone circle near Hokkaido is held sacred by the Ainu; this site too contains Jomon pottery. The Yayoi tumuli builders erected kofun tombs, elaborate oblong chambers of massive, rough stone, in a keyhole design, earlier, and with a long rectangular shaft and a round chamber later, and overlayed the structure with mounds of earth. One that has been thoroughly excavated is the Ishibutai Kofun at Asuka-murijima, Takaichi-gun. It was surrounded by a bank 82m in diameter and by an inner ditch. The inner tomb dimensions are 7.7 x 3.5 x 4.7 m. Larger imperial tombs and smaller tombs belonging to nobles of various ranks are known. At this writing, as far as we know, there has been no systematic study of the astronomical significance of these structures.

Steven Renshaw and his collaborators (Renshaw 1996, private communication)30 have created a repository of articles on aspects of ancient Japanese astronomy. Among the most relevant articles are identifications of the Japanese asterisms of the 28 lunar mansions (sei shuku) and their associations. Renshaw and Saori Ihara describe four "palaces," which correspond to the four seasons, each containing seven lunar "stations" or mansions. As in China, the animals and colors associated with these seasons are the Azure Dragon of the east with spring, the Red Bird of the south with summer, the White Tiger of the west with fall, and the Black Tortoise of the north with winter. The earliest reported use of these associations in Japan is at the Pine Tree Burial Mound (Takamatsu Zuka Kofun) dated to the 7th century a.d. The associations are rendered plausible by associated charts. The spring rains come from the east, and three of the mansions in this "palace" are in Scorpio; six of the seven

30 See also the Japanese astronomy Web site, www2.gol.com/users/ stever/jastro.html, for an attractive series of illustrated articles with star charts.

mansions constitute various parts of the Dragon. The horns of the Dragon are a and Z Vir, for example; the heart of the Dragon consists of a, o, and t Sco; and the tail includes e, h, 0, m, l, and v Sco. The historical background of Japanese astronomy in particular, including its roots in Chinese astronomy, is treated extensively in S. Nakayama (1969).

One of the earliest references to Japanese calendrics is in the Nihongi, "Chronicles of Japan" (Engl. tr. by W.G. Aston 1896), where it is noted (pp. 68, 72) that the emperor in 533 a.d. requested Korean experts in calendar-making as well as medicine and divination. Such experts, including a professor of calendrics, did arrive, beginning the following year, from the Korean state of Paekche. And as late as 602 a.d., Korean help on astrology and calendars was still being welcomed. In 604, the traditional lunar Hi-oke calendar was supplanted by the Yuan Chia Li calendar, attributed to Ho Chieng-Thien [~443 a.d.] (Needham 1959, p. 391, fn d), and from then on, intercalation to achieve harmony between solar and lunar calendars would be needed. According to Nakayama (1969, p. 10), the time-keeping system of the Chinese was adopted in 628, and a water clock was constructed at this time. Chinese-style calendars were subject to several revisions between 690 and 861.

There is no mention of any working Japanese observatory until 675. Education in astrologically based astronomy and calendrics began to be regulated by the Taiho civil code of laws in 702.

Buddhist cosmology and astronomy were introduced to Japan from China as Korean influence waned. The items that came at that time included the cosmic diagrams called mandalas (cf., §9.1.2.1). The most complex mandala we have seen is that of the Garbhadata or Taizoukai mandala published with a preliminary commentary by Nishiyama (1999). This Chinese Buddhist mandala is said to have been brought to Japan from China in 806 a.d. Over 300 deities seem to be represented. The ruling deities of the 28 lunar mansions appear, as do the nine planetary lords and the 12 signs of the zodiac. Interestingly, comet (ketu) and meteor (Nirghataketu) are also represented, generically (recall that in India, Ketu is a deity, one of the nine planets). This is a good integration of ideas that originate as far west as Mesopotamia with Indian and Chinese concepts. The cosmos is laid out with east at the top.

This concludes our treatment of Old World astronomy. We discuss next the astronomies of the Pacific and regions of the Western Hemisphere.

0 0

Post a comment