Search This Blog & Get A Rife

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Japanese Timepieces - #4

Welcome to the fourth installment of a thread I've unraveled from the sweater in my brain that begins with the examination of how the Japanese concept of time was different 150 years ago, and continues through to an embarrassment of a nation in an industry it believed itself to dominate even two years ago.

The curtain is rising - it's time to start the show.

Having last looked at how the Japanese calculate time, let's now look at the concept of Japanese time pieces... watches and clocks.

Nowadays in 2012, the average Japanese person will have a watch or use their portable phone or even their iPad as their sole means of telling time. It's basic - 24 equal hours in a day... and 60 equal minutes in an hour, and we can tell exactly what time it is.

But, in the days pre-1873, the concept of telling what time it was in Japan was a bit more cumbersome. Because the country followed more of a lunar calendar, time also followed a lunar schedule. Daytime hours were actually longer in the summer than the night time hours, and conversely, in the winter months, night time hours were longer than the daytime hours.

It meant that sunrise each day was different, as was noon, sunset and midnight... that's all true of course... but the Japanese required their time pieces... their clocks to show that there was a difference... which made for some very interesting time pieces.

So... let's take a look at the inner workings of the Japanese time piece, because in order for a clock to show differing lengths of time for different days, some impressive clockwork needed to be created.

Known as a wadokei, the Japanese mechanical clock had to be specially fashioned from the 'westernized' way of building a clock, so that it could tell traditional Japanese time.

Back in the 15th century, it is supposed that either the Dutch merchants or Jesuit priest were the ones to introduce mechanical clocks to Japan.

Known as a lantern clock design, they lacked a pendulum or a balance spring - which is fine because neither were used in Europe at this time. As such, when Japan decided to isolate itself in 1641, Japanese clock makers were forced to expand on these lantern-clock designs all by their lonesome. That means the European influence on Japanese clocks was over.

As such... having a European design clock... the Japanese needed to create a way for it to actually show traditional Japanese time keeping.

If you would like a refresher course on just what the heck traditional Japanese time keeping is, read this blog I wrote HERE.

As mentioned time and time again, Japanese time keeping had constantly changing lengths of hours. This posed a problem for clock makers - but not really, because they found a way to pull it off.

In order to show the daily changing hours, Japanese clocks were made to look like a pillar clock design.

This is a vertical timepiece that actually lacked a clock face, with the actual time indicators attached to a weight that descended in a track. These clocks were heavy and bulky and often sat on tables or shelves that would allow the weights to drop down below them.

There were movable time indicators that sat alongside the track of the weight and its indicator. When the clock was wound, the indicator was moved up the track back up the track to the appropriate marker.

That's pretty confusing... so let's take a look at a video that shows one of these clocks - with a gentleman explaining how it works.

Now... because such a clock wasn't exactly small enough for the average person to carry about with him (or her), Japanese clock makers devised a spring-driven time keeping system (independently from the Europeans who were doing the same thing - remember, Japan had already isolated itself from the rest of the world).

These spring-driven clocks were about the size of a large watch, and could be carried about in an inro pouch (see photo below).
These 'pocket watches' utilized a clock face, which was something the Japanese clock makers utilized from the European clocks they had been exposed to prior to the isolation policy of 1641.

If you take a look at the photo at the very top, you can see that it had movable hours around the rim of a 24-hour clock dial. Others had multiple clock faces that could be changed with the seasons.

That beautiful clock up above is a complex bastard. It shows the type of time keeping we are used to nowadays PLUS it shows the old-style of Japanese time telling.

The inner rings on the clock show the modern 24-hour clock with the numbers written in Japanese kanji.

It get's a bit bizarre here. The left side of the clock shows the morning hours, while the right side shows the PM hours. If you look closely, the thicker of the two small hands counts the minutes (60 of them), while the thinner of the two small hands counts the seconds (60 of them). Okay... that's not to bad. The larger of the three hands tells the hour. Check it out. It's between the five and six, so according to this style of time keeping, it is between the Japanese numbers of 5 and 6 (not sure what I am talking about... that large hand is pointing at the 9 position... the two symbols it is pointing at are the 5 and 6 as written in Japanese). As well... since the large hand is pointing to the left side of the clock face, it is in the morning. It is 6AM.

Okay... even I can figure that out. But wait... what the hell are those symbols on the two larger outer rings... the most outside ring and that black-looking ring just inside of it...

That black inner ring marks the of temple chimes denoting time (the number of chimes ranges from four to nine)... again, you can see what that might mean in the previous blog (look at the chart): HERE.

You'll notice that it is six chimes for sunrise, nine for noon, six for sunset and nine for midnight. In Japan, they counted backwards... 6-5-4-... and since they didn't use the 1-2-3 at the temples, it started up again 9 and continued in descending order as: 9-8-7-6-5-4-9-8-7-6-5-4 ad infinitum.

As for the largest, most outer ring... that showed the signs of the Japanese zodiac, which represented each hour. In this case, it is pointing at the Hare... it is The Hour Of The Hare...Ne no koku... which means it is Sunrise - 6th hour of the morning.

Okay... that wasn't so bad, either. Basically, this watch can tell you what time it is in three different ways...

Here's something I bet you didn't notice. Take a look at the watch face again... and look at the outer most ring. The symbols denoting the zodiac signs are spaced far apart for the upper hemisphere (top) of the watch, but are crammed together on the bottom hemisphere of the watch. It's tough to see in the photo... but essentially the zodiac units are smaller (not as thick) on the bottom. It is because the signs on the bottom represent the night time units, while the upper ones represent the day.

But can this be true? shorter nights? Surely this isn't true... night time during the winter (the darkness) is actually longer... so how can this be correct? Well... watches of this ilk actually came with additional face plates, so that you could change them to ensure you got the correct time during the current season.

If it was the winter time and the nights were longer, you could place a different outer dial that showed the night segments wider and thus longer...

Okay... enough of that. Next, we're going to take a look at something I have always been interested in... the automaton.... and just why the hell I felt the need to discuss the old Japanese concept of time to talk about automatons. Not sure what an automaton is - I'll tell you soon enough.

Andrew Joseph

No comments:

Post a Comment