A History of Japanese Mathematics

By David Eugene Smith; Yoshio Mikami | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI.
Seki Kōwa.

In the third month according to the lunar calendar, in the year 1642 of our era, a son was born to Uchiyama Shichibei, a member of the samurai class living at Fujioka in the province of Kōzuke.1 While still in his infancy this child, a younger son of his parents, was adopted into another noble family, that of Seki Gorozayemon, and hence there was given to him the name of Seki by which he is commonly known to the world. Seki Shinsuke Kōwa2 was born in the same year3 in which Galileo died, and at a time of great activity in the mathematical world both of the East and the West. And just as Newton, in considering the labors of such of his immediate predecessors as Kepler, Cavalieri, Descartes, Fermat, and Barrow, was able to say that he had stood upon the shoulders of giants, so Seki came at an auspicious time for a great mathematical advance in Japan, with the labors of Yoshida, Imamura, Isomura, Muramatsu, and Sawaguchi upon which to build. The coincidence of birth seems all the more significant because of the possible similarity of achievement, Newton having invented the calculus of fluxions in the West, while Seki possibly invented the yenri or "circle principle" in the East, each

____________________
1
Not far from Yedo, the Shogun's capital, the present Tōkyō.
2
Or Takakazu. On the life of Seki see MIKAMI, Y., Seki and Shibukawa, Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker-Vereinigung, Vol. XVII, p. 187 ENDō, Book II, p. 40; OZAWA, Lineage of Mathematicians (in Japanese); HAYASHI, History, part I, p. 43, and the memorial volume (in Japanese) issued on the two-hundredth anniversary of Seki's death, 1908.
3
C. KAWAKITA, in an article in the Honchō Sūgaku Kōenshū, says that some believe Seki to have been born in 1637.

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