Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften

Calendar and Time in Japan



The project goes back to the 1990s and initial funding from the German Research Council (DFG, 1997-2001) to analyze printed calendars of Japan’s early modern period (17th to 19th centuries). After publishing some results of these investigations (see below publications (3) and (4)), I began with the second phase that has the more ambitious goal to cover not only calendrical documents from all historical periods but also to look more closely at the context and how calendars shaped the time perception of the people who had used them. A Japan Foundation Research Fellowship allowed me in 2008 and 2009 to start with this at the University of Kyoto and the project gained considerably in momentum with a grant from the Leverhulme Trust to conduct research at the University of Cambridge and the Needham Research Institute (2011-14). During these productive years at Cambridge I also had the opportunity to spend annual research periods at the Historiographical Institute at the University of Tokyo which were also beneficial for gaining a solid understanding of calendars and the context in which they had been used from the 7th to 19th centuries. Since autumn 2014 I am based in Berlin where I am at present writing up chapters of a book-length study on the initial phase of time reckoning in Japan up to the 10th century. Besides that, I am developing digital tools and working on a database on Japanese calendars and chronology that will go online at some point to supplement the research published successively by more conventional methods.


Studies on calendars tend to take time and this project is no exception. It is – in a double sense - longue durée research that is driven by two objectives: it will firstly provide new insights into the few political and cultural turning points in Japanese history, and secondly it will enhance our general understanding about calendar and time in premodern societies and the processes by which a comparatively complex form of knowledge such as Chinese calendar formats and calculation systems was adopted, assimilated and finally transformed by new groups of users that emerged within an island society untroubled by foreign invasion and blessed with an abundance of written sources that have survived from all historical periods.


Publications related to the project (with titles translated into English)

  1. „Eine Dynastie, zahlreiche Herrscher und Ären: Japans Chronologie im historischen Überblick“, in: Vom Herrscher zur Dynastie. Zum Wesen kontinuierlicher Zeitrechnung in Antike und Gegenwart, ed. by Harry Falk, Bremen: Hempen, 2002, p. 240−254. (“Historical overview on Japanese Chronology”).
  2. “Auspicious Days in the Japanese Stock Market. Predictions Examined by a Cultural Historian”, Japonica Humboldtiana, Vol. 9, 2005, p. 205−214.
  3. „Japanische Lunisolarkalender der Jahre Jōkyō 2 (1685) bis Meiji 6 (1873). Aufbau und inhaltliche Bestandsaufnahme”, Japonica Humboldtiana, Vol. 10, 2006, p. 5−89. (“Japanese Calendars of the years 1685 to 1873: Construction and content”).
  4. „Japanische Lunisolarkalender der Jahre Jōkyō 2 (1685) bis Meiji 6 (1873). Zeicheninventar”, Japonica Humboldtiana, Vol. 11, 2007, p. 53−78. (“Japanese calendars of the years 1685 to 1873: usage of Kana and Chinese characters”).
  5. “Ōbei ni okeru Nihon no rekibunka 欧米における日本の暦文化”, in: 第二回天文学史研究会集録  (“Proceedings of the Second Symposium on the History of Astronomy”), ed. by National Observatory of Japan国立天文台編, 2009, p. 7−9. (“Western language studies on the Japanese calendar”).
  6. „Sechs Fragen an den Kalendermeister. Ein Zwiegespräch über die Wahl günstiger Tage und Richtungen aus einer Enzyklopädie für divinatorische Zwecke (ôzassho) der späten Tokugawa-Zeit“, Japonica Humboldtiana, Vol. 13, 2010, p. 27−46.(“Translation of passages from a household encyclopaedia (ôzassho 大雑書) of the 19th century on the calendar and auspicious days“).
  7. „‘Erläuterung der Kalenderreform‘(Kaireki ben) von Fukuzawa Yukichi”, in: En – Nexus. Japanische Episoden übersetzt für die Ökumene, Klaus Kracht zu Ehren aus Anlaß seiner Emeritierung, ed. by Michael Kinski et al, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2013, p. 127−138. (“Translation of Fukuzawa Yukichi’s ‘Explanations about the calendar reform’ (Kairekiben 改暦弁)”.


Some more recent presentations and lectures related to the project

“The adoption of Chinese calendars in Japan and their impact on seasonal poetry written in the 7th to 10th centuries”

Colloque international Calendriers d’Europe et d’Asie
École nationale des chartes, Paris, October 5, 2017

“Calendars as a medium for keeping personal diaries in 10th to 15th c. Japan”

Atelier Calendriers d’Europe et d’Asie.
École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, October 6, 2016

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

School of Oriental and African Studies
University of London, March 12, 2014

“On the history of calendrical documents in Japan with emphasis on Edo period”

Kyujanggak HK International Symposium for Korean Studies
Seoul University, Korea, August 23, 2013

“On the calendar culture of the Nara and Heian period” (in Japanese)

History of science society Japan, Kyōto section meeting
University of Kyōto, Japan, July 21, 2012.

“Edo-period calendars: history, styles, reading and drill“

PIIRS Graduate Student Workshop
Princeton University, Princeton New Jersey, April 8-9, 2011.