SOAS University of London

Japan Research Centre

The seasons, the moon, and the Chinese calendar in ancient Japan

Gerhard Leinss
Dr Gerhard Leinss (University of Cambridge)

Date: 12 March 2014Time: 5:05 PM

Finishes: 12 March 2014Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G50

Type of Event: Seminar


When establishing a centralised state in the late Asuka and Nara periods, the rulers of Japan adopted the continental time order including the Chinese lunisolar calendar. From a fair number of fragments that survived from an early period (689 to 848) we know that the calendars devised and distributed in the early Japanese state were at first faithful copies of successive Tang state almanacs which at that time were highly complex calendars of some size containing numerous cycles and entries to be used for planning activities according to Yin-Yang and Five Phases thinking. On the other hand, there is no evidence from administrative texts that this elaborate calendar performed any other function at the beginning than to ensure the coordination of activities within a centralised bureaucracy. It is only from early poetry (Manyōshū, Kokinshū) that we learn of the struggles of poets (and translators) with the double time structure and seasonality imported from the continent, and it was only from the tenth century onwards that diaries and prose literature of the Heian period reveal that the hemerological section of this calendar started to have an impact on the lives of courtiers in Kyōto. They tried to secure the success of their activities by following the advice given in these calendars which display at this stage for the first time features and elements not known from extant Chinese versions. The topic of this talk is to illustrate this several century-long process of adopting, assimilating and finally transforming a calendrical form originally taken over from a highly developed Chinese culture.

Speaker Biography

Gerhard Leinss is a Research Associate at the University of Cambridge, Department of East Asian Studies, and Senior Research Fellow at the Needham Research Institute. After teaching in Japanese Studies in Germany for more than two decades, he is presently engaged in a research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust “Culture and time: a history of the calendar in Japan before 1900” based in Cambridge.

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