Japanese clock facts for kids

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JapaneseClock2
Edo period clock in collection of Tokyo National Science Museum.

The Japanese clock is a device made to tell the time according to Japanese tradition. These clocks were introduced to Japan via Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century. In 1612, the clock-maker of Philip II of Spain created a working timepiece which became a gift for Tokugawa Ieyasu.

One of the major features of the Japanese clock is that it has a mechanism for measuring unequal temporal hours. Usual clocks tells hours at same intervals, but in the Japanese traditional timekeeping practice, a day had six daytime units from sunrise to sunset and six night units from sunset to sunrise. The the Japanese clock was designed to adapt to this practice.

The traditional Japanese time system

1851Wadokei
Hisashige Tanaka's 1851 myriad year clock displays Japanese, equal hour, and calendar information
Myriad-Year Clock, made by Hisashige Tanaka, 1851, with western and Japanese dials, weekly, monthly, and zodiac setting, plus sun and moon - National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo - DSC07407
Myriad-Year Clock, made by Hisashige Tanaka, 1851

The typical clock had six numbered hours from 9 to 4, which counted backwards from noon until midnight; the hour numbers 1 through 3 were not used in Japan for religious reasons, because these numbers of strokes were used by Buddhists to call to prayer. The count ran backwards because the earliest Japanese artificial timekeepers used the burning of incense to count down the time.

In addition to the numbered temporal hours, each hour was assigned a sign from the Japanese zodiac. Starting at dawn, the six daytime hours were:

Zodiac sign Zodiac symbol Japanese numeral Strike Solar time
Hare 6 sunrise
Dragon 5
Serpent 4
Horse 9 noon
Ram 8
Monkey 7

From dusk, the six nighttime hours were:

Zodiac sign Zodiac symbol Japanese numeral Strike Solar time
Cock 6 sunset
Dog 5
Boar 4
Rat 9 midnight
Ox 8
Tiger 7

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Japanese clock Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.