The End for Wadokei

In 1868 Japan threw itself open to Western influences, which saw the end of the Tokugawa shogunate and the restoration of the Emperor.  However, it was not until 1 January 1873, after seven frustrating years, that Emperor Meiji was able to issue a decree whereby Japan was to abandon its ancient and complicated method of time measurement and adopt the simplified European system. The Meiji Decree eliminated all of the wonderful temporal hour clocks and watches of Japan in one fell swoop.

Familiarisation of Western Time

During the Keio days (1864-68) the people had become more accustomed to foreign time. On the 10th April of the 4th year of Keio (1868) when the very first issue of “Naigai Shimpo” – a Newspaper, appeared, a report is given as follows:

“The English Minister Satow (Takanawa, Tokyo) left for Yokohama by a steamer at 1 o’clock on the 3rd April.”

And in the 15th issue, reports:

“On the 2nd April at 12.15 p.m. the sound of a gun was heard. Believing some foreign vessel had arrived off the coast of Yokohama and was firing a salute, we took a “Sleeve Clock” (Pocket Watch) and found that the intervals of firing were irregular; some 3 seconds, 1 second, 15 second or 30 seconds.”

In the early Meiji days a letter mentions:

“Although the French was to meet the Governor of Tsushima tomorrow at No.8 Foreign Time as arranged yesterday, he would pay you his respects at No.l Foreign Time ———–“

In November of the 5th year of Meiji (A.D.1878) a proclamation was made by the Government and, in one of the Articles, mention is made of the change of the lunar calendar into the solar calendar to take place from January, and that the day was to be divided.

Encouragement to adopt Western Time


The Meiji government took significant steps in implementing its modernisation programme.  People were strongly encouraged to change, and considerable disquiet could be brought upon people who attempted to retain old customs.  This included the abandonment of temporal time wadokei and led to many being scrapped.

Some wadokei were converted to indicate 24 hour mean time (see example on right of shaku-dokei with 2 x 12 hour Roman Numeral dial from author’s collection).

Further, there was a high level of marketing of the modernisation programme.  Some objects carried the slogan ‘bunmei kaika‘, including the menuki (below), from the author’s collection, which are metal pin decorations that would be typically be used on tobacco pouches.  The text ‘bunmei kaiki‘ is a very stimulating phrase for researchers involved in early Meiji and translates as as ‘civilization and enlightenment’  or ‘cultural enlightenment’; in this case to the 12 hour Roman Numeral pocket watch.


Impact of Change from Temporal Time to Mean Time

All existing clocks and timepieces became obsolete and had to be converted or destroyed.  Before the Restoration the problems of measuring and dividing time had presented untold problems for Japanese clockmakers who responded, particularly during the 19th Century, with a variety of design and artistic execution unrivalled in the Western world.

The development and production in the Japanese clock industry that followed was divided mainly between two cities; Tokyo and Nagoya.  Factories in Tokyo specialised in pocket watches, wristwatches and table clocks, while wall clocks were produced in Nagoya.  In Tokyo production was concentrated in a small number of large factories, whilst in contrast, Nagoya had more than twenty finished clock manufacturers consisting of many small and medium-sized businesses.

There is no doubt that it was easy for a wadokei clockmaker in any district to understand the clock mechanisms and imitate the imported models.  It is worth noting that there were no clocks from Nagoya submitted to the 2nd Domestic Industrial Exhibition, held around 1880, though Motosuke Kaneko, Ichibei Kaneda, Tokusaburo Ono, Ichizo Mizuno and people from other districts exhibited their imitations of imported clocks.

The origins of machine tools suitable for clockmaking after the revival of trade (1854) are found in two government factories in different new industries.  An imported press was first used in Japan at the Mint in Osaka and an imported gear-cutting machine was first used at the Telegraph Agency in Tokyo.  Norichika Ono who worked for the Mint and Seisuke Tanaka at the Telegraph Office were former wadokei mechanics and were known for their skill with imported machine tools.

Until the Meiji era began, no clocks were made by machinery.  In the 8th year of Meiji (A.D.1875) a manufacturer by the name of Kinkosha started making clocks using a water mill as motive power.  Four years later (1879) several others followed, but all of them ended in failure.

In the 21st year of Meiji (1888) some parties attempted three times to establish a factory in Nagoya.  Three companies were organised in Tokyo: Tokei Kaisha, Seikosha and Osaka Watch Co.   The Seikosha met with remarkable success, but the great earthquake of 1st September, 1923 destroyed their 30 years of hard toil, machinery and all.