Heliocentric System in Japan


Heliocentric System in Japan

Ioni Lazarov, BGA


The determinant perception/concept in the feudal Japan at this time has been the Neo-Confucianism of the Chinese scientists Ju Si (1130 – 1200) and Van Yanmin (1472 – 1529), that is presented and popularized by the works of the Japanese scientists Yamadzaku Ansay (1618 – 1682), Kaybara Ekken (1630 – 1714), Nakea Todzhu (1608 – 1648), Kumajawa Banjan (1619 – 1691). It consisted of a special frame of metaphysical and scientific principles, opened to new ideas and hypothesis. In addition, Yamaga Soko (1622 -1685) and Ito Jinsai (1627 – 1705) form the so-called ancient science.

When the Western ideas made their way to the Eastern culture, the so-called Dutch science (rangaku) that at the beginning reflected the Neo-Confucianism categories, has been formed. The heliocentric theory falls within its scope and starts to consolidate its position. The performance of the Dutch science provokes lots of critics towards the Neo-Confucianism, the ancient science and the Buddhism itself.

The full understanding of the Western ideas happens during the Meiji Restoration (1868 – 1912), that falls outside our scope of interest as the adoption of the heliocentric system happens at the time of Tokugawa period. After the initial popularization of the Western science and later in the early Meiji period the enthusiasm towards natural science begins to grow.

During Tokugawa period (1600 – 1867) Japan closes itself for the external world. That was the time when the united nation has been formed. Only certain places had the possibility to trade with China, Korea and Holland as a representative of the western countries. The Western culture gains popularity in the feudal Japan with the military technique and surgery at first and astronomy later on.

The different conceptualization of the world reflects in the atheistic view of Ando Shyoeki in his book “The real acting laws of Nature” in 1751. Ando represents in a pacific way his discontent towards the feudal ideology: “My principles do not require military force” (Vaga michi-wa hey-o kataraju). His idea of “self-motion” (”self-movement”) and “mutuality” (gonsei) emphasizes in the mobility and mutability of the Nature the relativity of all things and phenomena. Ando also says: “God conducts the delicate way of the five elements. He constantly calculates”. The resources, where Ando gets inspiration from, are Neo-Confucianism. He did not regard God, being the Creator of the world, but a guarantee by the calculations he does.

In 1720 Shogun Yoshimune canceled the abolition of books import, except the religious type of literature. In 1740 started the intensive learning and translating in Dutch as well as the presentation of the western natural facts – the Dutch science. Greater attention has been paid to surgery, pharmacy, mapping, navigation and last but not least to astronomy.

A real excitement in the Natural Sciences caused the heliocentric system of Copernicus. The theory has been presented for the first time by the translator Motoku Inoshin in his work “Explanations about the Solar Theory” in 1794. The translator Shidzhuku Tadao published in 1798 the “Book of the new Calendar”, where the heliocentric theory has also been presented. In the annexes of the book, the theory of the luminous bodies’ origin has been presented. Kant’s cosmogony hypothesis for solar system’s origin from the initial cosmic cloud carried out in 1755 and later developed by Laplace in 1796 served as a basis for his book.

In 1778 the pamphlet “Story of the western countries” written by the famous mathematician Honda Toshiaku has been published. It witnesses the Copernicus’s theory. Honda insists on the development of astronomy, geography, navigation in the country as a main prerequisite for the Japan’s development as a naval country/force.

Not only had the translators started popularizing the heliocentric theory, but also the famous friends – the astronomer and the mathematician Miura Baen (1723 – 1789) and Asada Goryu (1734 – 1799). “It’s been considered for a hundred years in the west that the Sun is static and the Earth knows no peace; all the bodies go round the Sun.”, says Miura. Asada combines both the facts from the Chinese and the western astronomy and starts an individual research with the self-made telescope and soon after that creates a new calendar, based on the heliocentric system. Asada has also worked on the metaphysical system, which he named jori – “the logic of things”, that was accepted by Miura himself. Asada notes that the observation and the experiment itself also have some limits and should be interpreted on a larger scale in compliance with the metaphysical system: only the overall vision guarantees the right knowledge. For instance, “it seems the Sun and the Moon go West, but actually they go East”.

Yamagata Banto publishes the “Instead of Dreams” in 1817, where could be found a chapter dedicated to astronomy. Yamagata manages to combine both the principles of Neo-Confucianism with the Dutch Science and to explain it through Chu Hsi’s categories, where the Natural Science is called clarifying the essence of all things (kyurigaku) or Nature-introduction (rigaku); the physics they called “the science for all things”. Yamagata also said: “the knowledge of things through enlightenment in its wider sense – this is a science for the Universe”, and “it is necessary that enlightenment for all things is achieved, as it happens in the Western countries”.

Sato Nabuhiro (1769 – 1850), influenced by the Shintoist Hirata Itzutane, claimed that as the Sun is in the “center of the Universe”, and Japan is the land of the Gods of the Sun, logically Japan is in the centre of all countries on the Earth.


The most significant fact about the popularization and the recognition of the heliocentric system in Japan is the one that it has never been forbidden or persecuted. Actually it is approved quickly and convincingly, compared to Europe, where it originates from and is been victimized by the Vatican. There is a tolerance established in Japan for all the theories and philosophies – they have never been enforced upon or obstructed. Moreover the astronomy has proved its potential in elaboration of a precise calendar and theory of navigation.

The recognition of the heliocentric system is also bind together with the politics, although in a manner, different from the one in Europe. The consolidation of the heliocentric system in Japan does not lack the dramatics of the ideological clash between the Neo-Confucianism and Dutch science.


In two centuries time the Japanese, in return, with the help of Iwamoto Kaoru, Honinbo Kunwa in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1992 establish the European Go Cultural Center. That Center initiates the popularization of the heliocentric game Go, which is played on 361 crossed points, corresponding to the Sun’s Year.



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