Kojō Uēkata, credited by the Kojō-ryū’s written history as the style’s forefather, held the post of “Official of Almanacs” in the royal government organization of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. From a more than 3 centuries long inscrutable seclusion, details were just discovered that connect Kojō’s life to some of the brightest European scholars of the 17th century.
It relates to the Gregorian calendar of the West and the Chongzhen calendar of China. Both the innovative modern calendars had something in common: they were developed by Germans. That these work reached Okinawa already in the 17th century is intruiging in itself. It is even more astonishing that this author was able to link it to one of the most secretive Okinawan martial arts traditions in existence.
Wait for it.
Christophorus Clavius and the Gregorian Calendar
Christophorus Clavius (1538–1612) from Bamberg, Germany, was a mathematician and Jesuit priest at the Collegio Romano in Rome. Labelled the “Euclid of the 16th century” by his contemporaries, he is mostly known for the Gregorian calendar developed under his management, in effect since 1582 with the papal bull Inter gravissimas by Pope Gregory XIII., hence the name “Gregorian” calendar. He wrote a number of influential books on mathematics, calendars, astronomy etc., designed astronomical instruments such as sundials and is considered the originator of a scientific working method at the Vatican Observatory. Clavius entertained friendly relations with Galileo Galilei and they corresponded about new discoveries as regards the telescope. It was from Clavius’ school that Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) hailed, the first China missionary Jesuit.
Schreck, Schall, and the Chongzhen Calendar of China
Ricci translated Clavius‘ books into Chinese which was crucial for the development of science in China. When Imperial Minister Xu Guangqi (1562–1633) and others recognized the need for further calendar reform, it was Ricci who showed him the strength of the Western methods, including that of the Gregorian calendar.
Johannes Schreck (1576–1630) from Bingen in Germany was a Jesuit, China missionary and universal genius. He introduced numerous scientific terms of mathematics and mechanics into the Chinese language. In the early 17th century, together with Niccolò Longobardi and Chinese scholars, he wrote and translated several textbooks to Chinese for mathematics, mechanical engineering, medicine and astronomy. In 1629 imperial minister Xu Guangqi (1562–1633) entrusted Schreck and Longobardi with the implementation of the Chinese calendar reform.
Following Schreck’s demise in 1630 this project was continued by Johann Adam Schall von Bell and Giacomo Rho. Johann Adam Schall von Bell (1592–1666) was born in Lüftelberg or Cologne. He was a German Jesuit, scientist, missionary and Mandarin at the Imperial Court of China. In 1630 Imperial Court commissioned Schall and Rho to continue the complicated reform of the Chinese calendar.
In order to implement the reform, Schall had to translate Latin-written specialist textbooks into Chinese, build a school for mathematical calculations, and modernize astronomical instruments. German natural philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, optician and Protestant theologian Johannes Kepler in 1632 sent his Tabulae Rudolfinae (Rudolphine Tables) to Schall in Peking to support the calendar works. The accurate and comprehensive astronomical and planetary data by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546–1601) were also included. Brahe is recognized as “the first competent mind in modern astronomy to feel ardently the passion for exact empirical facts.”
In 1634 Schall built the first Galilean telescope in Beijing and in 1635 Schall’s calendar work was published – based on Western science, but in perfect line with the traditional Chinese requirements – and presented to the last Ming Emperor. Following a number of successful astronomical forecasts, in 1644 Schall was appointed Director of the Imperial Astronomical Institute and also once more edited his calendar work, which in 1645 was finally adopted as the official calendar of the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) under the names Shixian Shu (Book of Timing) and Xiyang Xinfa Lishu (Calendar According to New Western Methods). While this calendar was based on modern Western science, it maintained the traditional ideas of Chinese calendars, such as the 12 Earthly Branches (wait for it!).
Schall was followed by the Flemish Jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest (1623–1688), who developed a friendly relationship to Emperor Kangxi (rg 1661–1722). Verbiest succeeded above mentioned Johann Schreck and Adam Schall von Bell as Superintendent of the Imperial Calendar Office (zhili lifa 治理曆法), an office he held from 1669 to 1688. It was during Verbiest’s term of office that a Ryūkyūan man learned the new calendar methods and first introduced them to Ryūkyū. This man was Sai Chōkō (1656–1737), a government official of Kume village also known as Kojō Uēkata.
In 1679 the king ordered Kojō to study the methods of “creating calendars” in China. Kojō accompanied chief envoy Maegawa Uēkata Chōnen (Shō Shikō) to Fuzhou and studied this method in great detail. In 1682 he returned home. Kojō held the post of “Official of Almanacs”, given as siliguan 司暦官 in the official Ryūkyūan source called “Kyūyō”, which was written in Chinese. Kojō also revised the method of cutting blocks for printing, which apparently was also part of “the methods of creating calendars”. As a result he printed the “Almanac of Hours, Periods, and Seasons of the Great Qing” in 1682, which is the above described Chongzhen calendar. (Cf. Kyūyō, main text, Nos. 488, 1016, and 1039). According to the University of Ryūkyū, almanacs were the first works printed in Ryūkyū.
Besides this, Kojō Uēkata left behind a collection of Chinese poetry called “Kansō Kiji”. Interestingly, he is also credited as the original founder of the Kojō-ryū.
© 2016, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.