Time. Official and educated japan is now entirely European and commonplace in her manner of reckoning time. Inquisitive persons may, however, like to take a peep at her earlier and more peculiar methods, which are still followed by the peasantry of certain remote districts. Old Japan had no minutes, her hours were equivalent to two European hours, and they were counted thus, crab-fashion:—
|9 o'clock (kokonotsu-doki),||our 12||o’clock A.M. and P.M.|
|8 o'clock (yatsu-doki),||,, 2|| ,, ,, ,, ,,|
|7 o'clock (nanatsu-doki),||,, 4|| ,, ,, ,, ,,|
|6 o'clock (mutsu-doki),||,, 6|| ,, ,, ,, ,,|
|5 o'clock (itsutsu-doki),||,, 8|| ,, ,, ,, ,,|
|4 o'clock (yotsu-doki),||,, 10|| ,, ,, ,, ,,|
Half-past nine (kokonotsu han) was equivalent to our one o clock, and similarly in the case of all the other intermediate hours, down to half-past four which was equivalent to our eleven
o'clock. But the hours were never all of exactly the same length, except at the equinoxes. In summer those of the night were shorter, in winter those of the day. This was because no method of obtaining an average was used, sunrise and sunset being always called six o clock throughout the year. Why, it will be asked, did they count the hours backwards? A case of Japanese topsy-turvydom, we suppose. But then why, as there were six hours, not count from six to one, instead of beginning at so arbitrary a number as nine? The reason is this: three preliminary strokes were always struck, in order to warn people that the hour was about to be sounded. Hence if the numbers one, two, and three had been used to denote any of the actual hours, confusion might have arisen between them and the preliminary strokes,—a confusion analogous to that which, in our own still imperfect method of striking the hour, leaves us in doubt whether the single stroke we hear be half-past twelve, one o'clock, half-past one, or any other of the numerous half-hours. Old-fashioned clocks, arranged on the system just described, are still sometimes exposed for sale in the curio-shops. They were imitated, with the necessary modifications, from Dutch models, but never passed into general use.
The week was not known to Old Japan, nor was there any popular division roughly corresponding to it. Early in the present reign, however, there was introduced what was called the Ichi-Roku, a holiday on all the ones and sixes of the month. But this arrangement did not last long. Itself imitated from our Sunday, the copy soon gave way to the original. Sunday is now kept as a day of rest from official work, and of recreation. Even the modern English Saturday half-holiday has made its way into Japan. Sunday being in vulgar parlance Dontaku, Saturday is called (in equally vulgar parlance) Han-don, that is, "half-Sunday," while Wednesday is Naka-don, or "mid[-way between] Sunday[s]."
But to return to Old Japan. Her months were real moons, not artificial periods of thirty or thirty-one days. They were numbered one, two, three, four, and so on. Only in poetry did they bear proper names, such as January, February, and the rest are in European languages. The year consisted of twelve such moons, with an intercalary one whenever New Year would otherwise have fallen a whole moon too early. This happened about once in three years. Japanese New Year took place late in our January or in the first half of February; and that, irrespective of the state of the temperature, was universally regarded as the beginning of spring. Snow or no snow, the people laid aside their wadded winter gowns. The plum-blossoms, at least, were always there to prove that spring had come; and if the nightingale was yet silent, that was not the Japanese poets fault, but the nightingale's.
Besides the four great seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, there were twenty-four minor periods (setsu) of some fifteen days each, obtained by dividing the real, or approximately real, solar year of three hundred and sixty-five days by twenty-four. These minor periods had names, such as Risshun, "Early Spring;" Kanro, "Cold Dew;" Shōkan, "Lesser Cold;" Daikan, "Greater Cold." In addition to this, years, days, and hours were all accounted as belonging to one of the signs of the zodiac (Jap. jū-ni-shi), whose order is as follows:
Ne is short for nezumi, the real word for "rat." In like manner, u stands for usagi, and mi for hebi. I is not an abbreviation of inoshishi, the modern popular name for a "boar," but the genuine ancient form of the word. The Japanese have also borrowed from Chinese astrology what are termed the jik-kan, or "ten celestial stems," a series obtained by dividing each of the five elements into two parts, termed respectively the "elder" and the "younger brother" (e and to). The following series is thus obtained:—
|Ki no E,||Wood—Elder Brother.|
|Ki no To,||Wood—Younger Brother.|
|Hi no E,||Fire—Elder Brother.|
|Hi no To,||Fire—Younger Brother.|
|Tsuchi no E,||Earth—Elder Brother.|
|Tsuchi no To, ||Earth—Younger Brother.|
|Ka no E,||Metal—Elder Brother.|
|Ka no To,||Metal—Younger Brother.|
|Mizu no E,||Water—Elder Brother.|
|Mizu no To,||Water—Younger Brother.|
The two series—celestial stems and signs of the zodiac—being allowed to run on together, their combination produces the cycle of sixty days or sixty years, as sixty is the first number divisible both by ten and by twelve. The first day or year of the cycle is Ki no E, Ne, "Wood—Elder Brother, Rat;" the second is Ki no To, Ushi, "Wood—Younger Brother, Bull;" and so on, until the sixtieth, Mizu no To, I, "Water—Younger Brother, Boar," is reached, and the cycle begins again.
These things, especially the lunar calendar, still largely influence the daily actions of the people. The peasantry scrupulously observe the traditional times and seasons in all the operations of agriculture. For instance, they sow their rice on the eighty-eighth day (Hachi-jū-hachi ya) from the beginning of spring (Risshun), and they plant it out in Nyūbai, the period fixed for the early summer rains. The 210th. and 220th. from the beginning of spring (Ni-hyaku tōka and Ni-hyaku hatsuka, generally coinciding with our 1st and 10th. September respectively), and what is called Hassaku, that is, the first day of the eighth * moon, Old Calendar, are looked on as days of special importance to the crops, which are certain to be injured if there is a storm, because the rice is then in flower. They fall early in September, just in the middle of the typhoon season. St. Swithin's day has its Japanese counterpart in the Ki no E Ne, mentioned above as the first day of the sexagesimal cycle, which comes round once in every two months approximately. If it rains, it will rain for that whole cycle, that is, for sixty days on end. Again, if it rains on the first day of a certain period called Hassen, of which there are six in every year, it will rain for the next eight days. These periods, being movable, may come at any season. Quite a number of festivals, pilgrimages to temples, and other functions depend on the signs of the zodiac. Thus, the mayu-dama, a sort of Christmas tree decorated with cakes in honour of the silkworm, makes its appearance on whatever date in January may happen to be the "First Day of the Hare" (Hatsu-U).
We have said that official Japan has quite Europeanised herself so far as methods of computing time are concerned. The assertion was too sweeping. Although the Gregorian calendar has been in force ever since the 1st January, 1873, she has not yet been able to bring herself to adopt the Christian era. Not only would the use of this era symbolise to the Shintō Court of Japan the supremacy of a foreign religion;—it would be derogatory from a political point of view, the fixing of the calendar from time to time, together with the appointing of "year-names," having ever been looked on in the Far East as among the inviolable privileges and signs of independent sovereignty, much as coining money is in the West. China has its own year-names, which it proudly imposes on such vassal states as Thibet. Japan has other year-names. The names are chosen arbitrarily. In China the plan was long ago introduced of making each year-name coincide with the reign of an emperor. This has not hitherto been the case in Japan, though an official notification has been issued to the effect that reigns and year-names shall so coincide in future. Either way, the confusion introduced into the study of history may be easily imagined. Hardly any Japanese knows all the year-names even of his own country. The most salient ones are, it is true, employed in conversation, much in the same way as we speak of the sixteenth century, or of the Georgian and Victorian eras. Such are Engi (A.D. 901—923), celebrated for the legislation then undertaken; Genroku (1688—1704), a period of great activity in various arts; Tempo (1830—1844), the last brilliant period of feudalism before its fall. But no one could say offhand how many years it is from one of these periods to another. In 1872 an attempt was made to introduce, as the Japanese era from which all dates should be counted, the supposed date of the accession of Jimmu Tennō, the mythical founder of the Imperial line; and this system still has followers. Jimmu's reign being held to have commenced in the year B.C. 660, all dates thus reckoned exceed by the number six hundred and sixty the European date for the same year. Thus, 1905 is 2565.
The following is a list of the year-names of the past century:
|Kyōwa, ||1801—1804. ||Ansei, ||1854—1860.|
The present year, 1904, is the thirty-seventh year of Meiji. Astrologically speaking, it is Ki no E Tatsu, "Wood—Elder Brother, Dragon."
Books recommended. Japanese Chronological Tables, by William Bramsen. This work has an elaborate introduction to the whole subject; and the tables are so arranged as to show, not only the European year, but the exact day to which any Japanese date, from A.D. 645 onwards, corresponds. Shorter tables, sufficient for most purposes, will be found in the Introduction to Murray's Handbook for Japan.
- A corruption of the Dutch Zandag.
- Short for kane, "metal."
- In Japanese, nengō.
- It may be asked: Why not take Kyōwa as equivalent to 1801—3, Bunkwa as equivalent to 1804—17, and so on in every case, instead of counting the final and initial years of each period twice? The reason is that no new name ever came into force on the 1st January. In most cases the year was well-advanced before it was adopted.