Sacred Mathematics: Japanese Temple Geometry


The prints and text of Sacred Mathematics: Japanese Temple Geometry tell a delightful story about mathematics and its expression, but there’s a little subtext which may help illumine current debates about education. From this review comes this quote:

[M]athematician Yoshida Kōyu published a collection of twelve unsolved challenge problems.  These problems were taken up and solved by readers who, in turn, posed their own challenge problems.  Thus, a popular wave of problem solving and posing developed, based mainly on the solutions of complex geometric configurations and situations involving circles, ellipses and other common geometric curves.  These problems were solved by people from all social strata

In short, this was accomplished not by Imperial Edict, but a grassroots effort which drew forth the participation of people of all strata. Where were these numerous mathematicians trained? In dojos – often little one-room school houses; the word “dojo” simply means “school.” While some dojos received patronage from high-ranking officials, they were generally not considered to be functions of the government itself. Yet they were widely accessible to the general public – much as today’s karate studios are – and were effective in delivering high-quality education.


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