Re: Western clocks in 19th century Japan - addendum

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Posted by Dmitry Goldgaber on November 07, 2002 at 00:41:37:

In Reply to: Re: Western clocks in 19th century Japan - addendum posted by Hans Olof Johansson on November 06, 2002 at 10:42:12:

: Dmitry,

: Trying to delve a little deeper into the history of clocks in Japan, I came across this description in Japanese Names and How to Read Them, by Albert J Koop and Hogitar?ada (Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1961), p 47-48:

: HOURS. - Un der the old system (abolished as from 1873 in favour of the Western chronology) the Japanese day was divided into two parts: (1) from sunrise to sunset, and (2) from sunset to the next sunrise. Each of these parts was divided into six equal 'hours' or, ra ther, intervals of two hours (more or less); these were called toki or, in comosition, -ji. Obviously, in winter the night 'hours' would be of greater length than the day 'hours', and vice versa in summer, the proportionate graduations being in practice calculated for the beginning of each half-month and remaining constant for that period.

: There is also an interesting footnote:

: Clocks were regulated in two ways: either the dial-signs were fixed and the movement regulated at inte rvals throughout the year, or the movement was constant and the dial-signs capable of being pushed backwards or forwards as required.

: The answer to your question why Kunichika depicted the clock like he did, could well be that he did so because the clock really looked like this. It may in fact be a Japanese 24-hour clock with Roman numerals, that have been adjusted for the actual time of daylight.

: Best regards,
: Hans Olof

Dear Hans Olof,
Believe it or not, but I thought about this possibility myself when I came across the following passage:

“Time is told differently in different parts of the globe, and it was a feature of Japanese time telling to assign six hours to daylight and six to darkness. This meant that, other than at the equinoxes, a day-time and a night-time hour were not the same, and that they fluctuated against each other throughout the year. Full time 'masters of clocks' (tokeishi) regulated the weights that hung from the gyrating spindles to retard or quicken movement. Not for nothing went the comic verse,

However cunningly made,
A clock's workings
Are just too many”


Timon Screech

Exhibition Review, 30 June 2000

Japan Time: Clocks, The Zodiac and Picture Calendars
British Museum
Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG
24 March-24 September 2000.

However, later on Internet I found a picture of another print from probably the same series. It showed a man (a Kabuki actor?) with a cape made from straw and the picture of the same clock. However, this time, the distribution of the hour marks (dots) on the clock face was correct, while the distribution of the numbers was somewhat skewed, but not as much as in my print. There were other differences: number 12 was correctly shown as XII, instead of IIX on my print, BUT number five V was still in the position of number 6. So, it looks that in the second print, the image of the clock was closer to the correct one, but still was not quite right. Now, if my print was made earlier than the print with a man in a straw cape, then one might think that Kunichika learned the face of the Western clock and draw it better in this print. It is hard to believe that a Japanese Ukiyo-e master was so negligent in drawing of an object. As we know, artists have a very sharp eye. However, if the print with a man with a straw cape and better picture of a Western clock was done BEFORE my print with a very skewed face of the clock, then Kunichika’s ability to draw a clock got worse. We know that later, in 1890 he made another print with a perfect face of the Western clock. That would indicate that he recovered.
And finally, the fourth explanation. According to some reports, Kunichika liked to drink. May be he was not totally sober when he draw these prints?

Thank you very much for the link. The information in the link is very valuable and I will read it very carefully.

I am still awaiting a copy of the book by Amy Newland. Can’t wait to see all his pictures with and without Western clocks.

All the very best,



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