Wadokei Operation

Use and Accuracy

By the Keicho era (1596-1616), several clocks had been installed in Edo Castle.  An essay, Okina-Gusa, in Nanban Saras by Izuru Niimura, (1926) describes the clock rooms in Edo Castle.  According to the essay, there were many clocks in Edo Castle at the time of Hidetada, the second shogun, who ruled from 1605 to 1623, but the clocks did not run uniformly. They were therefore of no convenience until Dai-toku-in, Hidetada’s wife, ordered the use of one clock only, to strike and show the time. Thus unified, time became consistent for Edo Castle.

Later, in the Kansei era (1624-1643), during the rule of Shogun Iemitsu, there was a clock room, or tokei-no-ma, in the castle, with a group of night watchmen; the tokei-no-ma-gumi.

The Kokumin No Nihon-Shi (History of the Japanese People) by Shinji Nishimura, explains that after Hakuseki Arai incited a revolution against misgovernment, he recommended to Shogun lenobu, that 50 members of the tokei-no-gumi be discharged between 1711 and 1716. Accordingly, it can be observed that the clock rooms were a fairly large system with many officials involved.

Several important factors in Japanese culture had a significant affect on the popularity, use, and positioning of wadokei in the Tokugawa period.

  • Clocks were treated like Western automatons; as instruments of amusement, not function.
  • There was little need for a clock in the life of most of the people. The majority of Japanese people worked all day and went to bed at nightfall. There were no coach services, nor railroads and no contact with the outside world.
  • Dignified Japanese culture of the elite classes, considered it abhorrent to measure the time of visitor’s arrival, duration of stay, or departure. Clocks were therefore never present in meeting or public rooms.
  • Japanese houses were constructed to withstand earthquakes and rooms were separated by thin sliding doors covered with paper or fabric.  Accordingly, it was not possible to hang clocks on walls or have them standing on tatami mats.
  • Further, the style of Japanese houses meant that they were furnished very sparingly as people did not overtly demonstrate their wealth (in total contrast to Victorian England).

Clock-Makers and Clock-Doctors

Another factor affecting usage was that wadokei required a ‘clock doctor’ to adjust for temporal time. Early single foliot clocks required a clock-doctor to make day/night and seasonal adjustments at daybreak and nightfall, resulting in the clock-doctor(s) having to be a member of staff of the owner. The double foliot clock reduced this need with adjustments only being required two-weekly for seasonal adjustment. The development of shaku-dokei saw similar changes, with the need for a clock-doctor diminishing from the early adjustable marker clocks, through the use of interchangeable dial plates and the namagata dialled clocks, which required two weekly adjustments. Finally, in the last decades prior to the end of the Edo period, the waricomo dialled clocks and watches allowed simple adjustment of the hour markers.

The need for a clock-doctor would have been influenced by the use being made of the wadokei.  Where this was for temples, daimyo palaces, places of work, and the like, then the accuracy brought by a clock-doctor would be a necessity.  Where the clock was a novelty used as a form of automaton, then accuracy would not be as important.

Abuse of indicated time

Towards the end of the Edo Period, as larger workshops made an appearance for trades such as tailoring, clocks were used to regulate working hours. However, there are reports that employers adjusted the hour markers of their shaku-dokei to stretch the working hours of their employees. Presumably, the workers had the alternative of reducing their working hours if given the opportunity!