Science and Technology Chronology of Japan before 1720

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Two points are on order to those students who assume “Eastern” research projects following completion of “Western” ones, falsely thinking that the transition is seamless, which is my fault. First, Europeans and East Asians studied nature for different outcomes. In Europe natural knowledge was studied as a ‘phenomenon,’ whereas in East Asia it was studied as a ‘portent’; important difference. For example, Sino-Korean-Japanese astronomy was calendrical. There was no observational astronomy independent of the astrological and calendrical arts. Natural knowledge was part of the paraphernalia of dynastic legitimacy, and its revisions a confirmation of the mandate of heaven. The same situation applied to eclipses, medicine, health, and earth quakes; all were studied to understand the effect on an emperor, not for their own sake.

Second, unlike on the other chronologies that end at 1600, the interface to modern science, the chronology for Japan goes up to 1720, when it finally rescinded the ban on Western books, for the first time Western knowledge on an advanced and professionally useful level was transmitted and had a decisive influence on the course of Japanese history. (Though, before the early nineteenth century, the impact of Western learning on Japan was nevertheless negligible.) A corresponding date for the Asian continent is on order.

Third, some books overly exaggerate the influence of Western books and of Westerners on Japan 1543-1854, and some wrongly apply the Chinese context to Japan. Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, the historical record suggests little or nothing in the way of impact. Japanese understanding of was on the whole quite shallow and was quickly forgotten after isolation edicts were enacted in 1639, one hundred years after encounters with foreigners. The tributary of Western knowledge never flowed into the mainstream of traditional Chinese-style knowledge in Japan. The introduction of Western knowledge amounts, at best, to a mere page in Japanese scientific history, which was categorically dominated by contemporary Chinese science. Westerners were too distant from Kyoto, had little encounter with specialists in mainstream Japanese scholarly life. Frequent relocations of their Jesuit educational institutions compounded Jesuit difficulties in trying to transmit Western knowledge to Japan. On Nagasaki, the Dutch were prohibited from bringing any books other than those related to navigation and medicine, and were not permitted to study Japanese. No more than nineteen Dutchmen were ever at Dejima at once, and nearly none were scientists. The Dejima Dutch community at Nagasaki (est. 1641) were not effectively utilized to explore Western learning and science until the eighteenth century, when Japanese attitudes towards the West were somewhat revised. Dutch intellectual influence was almost nonexistent, consisting only of offhand help on rare occasions related to Japanese inquiry of cosmology and surgery.

In China, the Jesuits made direct contact with the scholars in the capital and other intellectual centers, produced many important translations, including scientific works, and a few were even appointed to posts in the central administration. No such claim can be made for the Jesuit enterprise in Japan in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The isolation policy had the result of expulsion of non-Japanese Catholics, suppression of their native converts, and closure of the nation to most international intercourse. Adopting Western techniques was not as simple as importing ready-made goods. Certain elements in the performance of these skills were more or less different from the technical functions learned through use of Chinese-style techniques, and the new methods, such as Western nautical instruments, had to be learned the hard way through observation and trial and error. In Japan there were no organized institutes of instruction and the language barrier was formidable.

When Dutch learning was eventually popularized (Rangaku), it was monopolized by the Nagasaki interpreters at Dejima until finally broken around 1774.

  Context Science Technology Medicine
200 250-538 Kofun (Yamato) period Japan. Unified state begins with emergence of powerful clan rulers.      
400 501-894 Knowledge about literature, culture, technology, and divinity, among others, is mostly received from Korean peninsula (in absolute majority, 500-697).

538-710 Asuka period Japan.
    c. 500s Shitennoji Temple, Osaka, built; temple treats the public. Four medical facilities attached: Keidenin, Hidenin, Ryobyoin, Seyakuin. Influences Kofukuji Temple to build its own in 723.
600 600-894 Japan enters 'Chinese Wave' period; cultural importation of Chinese-style (i.e., Korean, Chinese) culture, customs, technology, unsaturated thirst for things continental.

646 Taika no Kaishin reforms. Strengthens imperial throne. With it initiation of sustained, systematic, and large-scale importation of continental culture accompanied by institutional changes.

670 University (Daigakuryo) established at Heiankyo for the express purpose of training high-level government officials. Courses taught: Confucian classics, pronunciation of Mandarin words, mathematics. University adds Chinese literature and law in 728, history in 808.

694 Imperial residence moved to newly constructed capital Fujiwarakyo; modelled after Changan in Tang China.
602 Earliest known record of serious effort by the Japanese to learn the astronomical arts.

c. 600s Yuan-chia li calendar introduced to Japan.

675 Astronomical observatory functions.
628 Tang Chinese system of time-keeping adopted in Japan. Water-clock constructed.  
700 701 Provincial colleges established, admission to government officials only.

701 Taiho code, the Japanese code of ethics in government. System modelled after Tang China.

710 Imperial residence moved to Heijokyo (Nara). Though emperors are Shinto chiefs, they patronize Buddhism in the belief that its teachings will bring about a peaceful society and protect the state.

710-794 Nara period Japan.

718 Yoro code. Ritsuryo seido formally established, modelled after Han, Tang, Goguryeo, and Shilla polities.

794 Ritsuryo severly weakened.

794 Imperial residence moved to Heiankyo (Kyoto) to escape domination of Nara's Buddhist establishment.

794-1192 Heian period Japan.
735 Ta-yen li calendar introduced to Japan, adopted in 764.

736 Gnomon introduced. Rarely used until seventeenth century.

757 Institute of Divination uses Chinese calendrical texts and harmonics.

780 Wu-chen li calendar introduced to Japan, adopted in 858.
800 821 Private academy Kangakuin founded by the Fujiwara clan. Two purposes: prepare younger household members for the university’s entrance examinations or supplement education during university matriculation.

828 Buddhist priest Kukai founds Shugei Shuchiin academy for the public; closes in 845.

872 Kangakuin academy given official status as affiliate of the university.

894 Last kentoshi diplomatic mission to China.

894-1401 Japan enters semi-seclusion era; 'semi' as Buddhist priests permitted travel.

c. 950s University (Daigakuryo) suffers decline. Destroyed by fire in 1177, never rebuilt; academic staff appointments continue for some time.
862 Hsuan-ming li calendar adopted in Japan; used for 823 years until revisions in 1685.   920 Materia medica book Honzo wamyo is compiled by Fukane Sukehito.

984 Tamba no Yasunori compiles Ishinpo. He relies upon Sui and Tang medical treatises. Contents: clinical treatment, physiology, pathology, Taoist drugs, sexual hygiene.

c. 990s Study of medicine is monopolized as House Learning by the Tamba and Wake households. They dominate the Institute of Medicine, taking custody of medical scholarship and responsibility for health among the imperial family and ranking nobility.
1000 1192-1333 Kamakura period Japan. Military government established at Kamakura by Minamoto no Yoritomo. Emperor, as figurehead, remains in Kyoto with court aristocracy. c. 1000s Sukuyoji predicts solar and lunar eclipses.   1081 Tamba no Masatada compiles Irakusho, selection of emergency treatments.

1168 Monk Eisai introduces green tea to Japan.
1300 1334-1392 Nanboku-cho period Japan

1368 Ming dynasty severely restricts contact with outside world, including Japan

1392-1573 Muromachi period Japan. Muromachi at Kyoto becomes base for Shogun Ashikaga Takauji's new military government.
1400 1401 Ming China and Japan enter into Tally Trade, reopening formal relations.      
1500 1543 Japan enters period known as the 'Western wave,' gleaning knowledge from Westerners and Western books. However impact of Western knowledge via books and priests is negligible even into the 1800s. Interactions with all things foreign is banned in 1639 (Isolation Policy, 1639-1854).

1580-1657 Treatises by Fukiwara Seika and Hayashi Razan attempt to break unity of Confucianism and Buddhism.

1573-1603 Azuchi Momoyama period Japan. Oda Nobunaga starts process of reunification following a century of civil war; he is followed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598). Foundation of modern Japan is laid.
  1543 Yaita Kinbei (Kiyosada) replicates Portuguese arquebus following encounter at Tanegashima. By 1556 there are thousands of copies in Japan. 1558 Roman Church forbids Jesuit missionaries to practice medicine themselves, ordered to only apostolate full-time.

1596-1624 Handa Junan studies surgery in Macao, earliest known Japanese to study Western medicine abroad. Kurisaki Doki (1566-1651) studies surgery.
1600 1603-1857 Edo period Japan. Japan enters an age of peace and exacts isolation edicts.

1620-1640 Mathematical texts printed and promoted for public study.

1639 Japan announces major isolationist measures, continues to import knowledge from China until 1854.
1640 Significant jump in calendrical studies centered on Senmyoreki and Jujireki, leading to calendar revisions in 1685.

1643 Japanese read Kenkon bensetsu (Critical commentary on cosmography), from a Latin treatise. The shogunate accepts the scientific explanations of seasonal differences in day-length, solstices, eclipses, meridians, and earth's sphericity. Heliocentric theory is not mentioned in text.

1644 Citizens permitted to study the traditional computational system of the calendar. The Senmyoreki, of integral astronomical tables, with calls for adjustment, is made available to the public.

1684 The shogunate at Edo establishes the Tenmogata or Bureau of Astronomy. Tenmongata rivals the House Learning Tsuchimikado court astronomers.

1685 Jokyoreki calendar adopted as a result of the first calendar reform, established by Shibukawa.

1696 Miyazaki Yasusada publishes Nogyo zensho (Complete work on agriculture).
1618 Ikeda Koun compiles first known nautical manual derived from Western texts, Genna Kokaisho.

1639 Government manufactures mortars at Hirado under direction of Hans Wolfgang Braun; operation shut down by isolation edicts not long after.
1660-1670 Establishment of the Liu-Chang school of medicine, led by Aeba Toan.
1700 c. 1700 Shogunate endorses Yushima Seido as its official institute for Confucian studies, founding fifty-five official domain schools (hanko).

1720 Shogun Yoshimune relaxes ban on foreign books and Chinese translations of foreign books; western sources once again explored. This period is known as the "Western Wave II" (1720-1854). For the first time Western knowledge on an advanced and professionally useful level is transmitted to Japan and has a decisive influence on the course of Japanese history by the nineteenth century.

1720 Shogun Yoshimune sanctions Dutch-language study only among selected court scholars.
  1710 Publishers and books sellers in Japan estimated to number over 600. 1709 Keibara Ekken publishes Yamato honzo (Materia medica of Japan).

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