Asakusabashi in Tokyo’s Taito ward is known nowadays as little more than a wholesalers’ town—albeit with some famous Japanese doll shops in Asakusabashi, just two stations south of the tourist center of Asakusa, and one station east of the electronics and nerd culture mecca of Akihabara.
However, until about 170 years ago, Asakusabashi was scientifically and technologically one of the most important places in Japan thanks to the astronomical observatory that used to be here, and which included offices for the study of the latest scientific literature from overseas.
|Kuramae 1-chome intersection (with signboard for Asakusa Observatory at foreground left)|
In the late Edo era, a little west of this spot, was an astronomical observatory on a road running through an area comprising the whole of Asakusabashi 3-chome 21-24 banchi, and part of 19-, 25- and 26-banchi. Besides astronomical observation, it also hosted other pursuits such as calendar-rule research, surveying, compilation of topographical data, and the translation of Western books.
The observatory was known as Shitendai or Asakusa-tenmondai, and was transferred here in 1782 from Ushigome-waradana (current day Fukuromachi in Shinjuku ward) and rebuilt. It was officially named Hanrekidokoro-goyoyashiki ("The Imperial Office of Calendar Making") which, as the name suggests, was part of the government office, the Tenmongata, for working out the calendar. Astronomical observations were required to ensure calendar accuracy.
|Signboard for site of old Asakusa Observatory, Taito ward, Tokyo.|
Katsushika Hokusai was an ukiyoe painter active during the final years of the Edo era, in the 1850s and 1860s, one of whose most famous works was the Fugaku Hyakkai ("100 Scenes of Mt. Fuji") series. One of the scenes, Torigoe no Fuji ("Mt. Fuji from Torigoe") depicts the Asakusa Observatory in the foreground, with an armillary sphere on top, and Mt. Fuji in the background.
|Torigoe no Fuji ("Mt. Fuji from Torigoe") by Hokusai|
Another observatory was built at Kudanzakaue (present day Kudankita, Chiyoda ward) in 1842, but both were abolished in 1869, in the second year of the modernizing Meiji era.
Read more about Japanese history.
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