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Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Old Japanese Concept Of Time - #3

Time is an invention of man.

Welcome the the third part in a series of inter-connected articles that will walk you, the reader, through the concept of Japanese calendars all the up to a country's shame. Uh... that would be Japan's shame.

This part of the seemingly never-ending story is about Japan's concept of time... it will lead into another story on Japan's clocks - up tomorrow. The inter-connected article list keeps getting longer and longer... this was initially going to be about clocks... but an explanation about time was needed first. 

If we listen to Einstein, Time is relevant to the observer. He said that in 1920... which was the year Taisho 9 in Japan, Year of the Metal Monkey in China.... or the year 5681 according to the Hebrews... and a long time ago for most of us... or maybe it's not that long ago. It's all relevant.

Anyhow... along with differences in what to call a particular year, the Japanese also had a different way of telling time relative to the so-called western clocks... the clocks we use today.

Determining the name of a year, decoding calendars, and now the simple concept of tracking time - the Japanese have gone about things in a way different from other cultures. It's not to say one is right or one is wrong... it's just the way it is.

However, after having to research years and calendars and now clocks, I can only state that I think Japan often went about things in a more complex manner than was necessary.

Isolation is not always a good way to move a civilization forward... and for Japan... it's way of life until 1868 was simple, relative to the industrialized world of Europe and North America 

If you thought something as simple as time would be straightforward to the Japanese, you thought incorrectly. 

Of course... as you shall learn, the Japanese concept of time is not wrong or outdated... how can a made-up concept be wrong? 

So... yes... time is an invention of man.

Before man invented it, time did not exist. It is a concept man has created as a measure of distance. That's the simple explanation. 

Let's look at Japan's concept of Time.

For some reason, old-time Japanese clocks ran backwards. Yes... they counted down. Okay, the reason for that is because of religion.

Let's start at the beginning. After the Earth cooled and dinosaurs came up out of the... okay... not that far back...

In Japan, time was counted backwards because time was counted by the burning down of incense sticks. Rather than use the term Japanese 'clock', I am using the term 'time-keeper'. A burning stick of incense is hardly a clock... it can be a way of keeping time, however.

Now... the next thing you need to know, is that Japanese time-keepers only used six numbers: nine, eight, seven, six, five and four. The numbers one, two and three were not used... why? Because 4-9 were what the Buddhist priest used when called to prayer. 1-3 were not used.

Thirdly, Japanese time-keepers counted back from sunrise... and if you are wondering that it is still 24 hours between sunrise to sunrise - you are correct... but the Japanese only utilized a time concept of 12 hours... And no... every one Japanese hour did NOT equal two Western hours.

There was a variation on the length of each Japanese hourly unit that made up its 12-hour day.

I told you the Japanese like to make things more confusing than it actually needed to be.

Since each hour had a differing length, it's my GUESS that Japan didn't utilize the concept of minutes or seconds.

Hence the term 'chotto matte' does not mean 'just a second', it means 'just a moment'. It;s not as defined.    

So... a 12-hour day... and Japan only uses six numbers.... well... there are six daytime hours and six nighttime hours. 

And... if that wasn't enough for you, Japan assigned a Japanese zodiac symbol to each of these 12 hours. 

Here's a 'chart' I pulled from Wikipedia and then added to: 

Zodiac sign    Zodiac symbol   Jap. Name    Jap. #   Strike   Solar time
Hare Ne no koku        六 6 Sunrise
Dragon Tasu no koku     五 5
Snake Mi no koku        四 4
Horse Uma no koku      九 9 Noon
Ram Hitsuji                八 8
Monkey Saru no koku      七 7

From dusk, the six nighttime hours were:
Zodiac sign    Zodiac symbol    Jap. Name   Jap. #   Strike   Solar time
Rooster Tori no koku      六 6 Sunset
Dog Inu no koku       五 5
Boar I no koku           四 4
Rat Ne no koku        九 9 Midnight
Ox Ushi no koku     八 8
Tiger Tora no koku      七 7

Interesting, eh? Midnight... the hour of the Rat.

Check out the 1850 AD Japanese watch in the photo above. It's for sale for $10,000: HERE. At the point where it would normaly be considered the 12-position... to the immediate right of it is the number six... in fact... the point on the hand is pointing at the number six. But... notice that to its immediate left, the next number (five) is very close... and then there is a greater than usual separation between five and four. 

So... as mentioned, Japanese hours were of varying length. Time is relative to the observer.

Also... the length of the hourly units varied with the seasons: the daylight hours were longer in summer and shorter in winter, with the opposite at nighttime.

Since the actual amount of real daylight varies throughout the year, the actual time Sunrise, Noon, Sunset and Midnight actually varies... and thus... if you have a clock... you would need to alter it on a monthly basis.

And with that... let's leave of on the Japanese concept of time and look forward to sometime tomorrow when we examine how old-time Japanese clocks work(ed).

See you later,
Andrew Joseph

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