Published By: Sreyanshi

The Uniqueness of Japanese Timekeeping

An hour was a unit of time that fluctuate regularly in Japan's ancient timekeeping system.

Japan evolved numerous distinctive ways of life as a result of its long isolation from the rest of the world throughout the industrial revolution. The technique of keeping track of time where the length of an hour varied every day was one of the oddest to our modern way of thinking. A "fixed hour system" is the term used to describe how time is now consistently kept track of. There are 24 hours in each day, and each hour lasts the same amount of time. Based on Babylonian numerology, we further divide each hour into 60 minutes of 60 seconds.

How was it so different?

Clocks are mechanical (and increasingly electronic) time keeping devices that work best with fixed time systems. A clock marks set periods of time using a pendulum, a spring, or—more recently—a quartz crystal. It is simple to count the minutes and hours of the day when the proper set of gears (or chips) are added. We presume that this is the only method to divide time since we have always used a set time system. A certain amount of time every hour isn't the most obvious method to quantify time, though, in an non mechanised, agrarian civilization. For a farmer, the day is the period of time from sunrise to sunset, and the night is the period of darkness.

What is futeijih?

It's normal to break up the day into several distinct times: dawn, midday, noon, early afternoon, mid afternoon, and sunset. And this was exactly how the time system in Japan operated. Instead of some predetermined period of time, what mattered was where we were in the day. Naturally, each period's length increased and decreased as the length of the day did every day. But from daybreak to noon, mid-morning was always 2/3 of the time. The Japanese term for this ad hoc timekeeping scheme is futeijih, also known as the "temporal hour system" or "seasonal time system." From the Edo Period until the modernisation of the Meiji Era, Japan utilised an unfixed time system.

Japan's Differing Time

A day was split into 12 halves, each known as an ittoki (一刻, one toki), based on the Chinese horoscope. Ittoki was once read as ikkoku. Six toki made up the day, which was defined as the period from dawn to sunset. The night, which lasted from dusk till morning, was broken up into 6 toki. The length of day and night is equal at the spring and fall equinoxes. However, the days are long in the summer and early in the morning in the winter. As a result, each toki has a distinct length during the day and at night. Additionally, it is influenced by the day of the year and the latitude, which varies greatly throughout Japan.

Still, this ittoki system was simple to understand without the need of automated timekeeping. It was sufficient to divide each person's day in half. Six toki every day meant three toki from dawn until noon and three additional toki from noon until dusk. But perplexingly, toki were tallied down twice daily from 9 to 4, rather than just 0 to 12. The times of the Buddhist prayer times precluded the use of the numbers 1-3. Before there were clocks, special incense sticks were used to count down the time as they burnt, so toki were counted down instead of up. There were other references to the hour using the Chinese zodiac animals. Ne no koku, or "hour of the rat," was midnight. Around two in the morning, or ushi no koku, many thought spirits would manifest.  During the time of ushi no koku, you went to a shrine and fastened a straw doll to a tree to cast a curse on someone. Even now, we still refer to an afternoon snack as oyatsu. Since 8 toki was early afternoon, or around 2 PM, the word literally meant "eight."

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