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Culture and time: a history of the calendar in Japan before 1900

A Research Project Grant funded by The Leverhulme Trust

Principal Investigator: Prof Richard Bowring

Research Associate: Dr Gerhard Leinss



All societies around the globe began at one point in their history to structure time by using a calendar. The structuring of time is, however, not the sole purpose of a calendar. The historian von Brandt has observed that the systems used for time reckoning in historical societies are usually very complex and often express values and beliefs basic to these cultures in condensed form.

In this project we will investigate calendrical manuscripts and prints that survived on the Japanese islands in substantial numbers from all historical periods. Certain types will be classified based on distinctive and persistent features found among these artefacts; types displaying the same patterns will then be linked to groups of users and those major calendar houses that could issue a calendar. Using this method, we believe, it should be possible to connect the few calendrical types and forms that are documented to the people that have used them, and by looking at the periods in which they first appeared and the features they include, we can obtain some insight into when these groups began to have access to a calendar and what consequences this had for form, content and language. In this way, an investigation into these documents will provide a new perspective on time within Japanese culture and enhance our understanding of the relation between culture and time in other pre-modern societies.


Workshop on Time programme

HOME of pre-modern and early-modern studies at Cambridge