EARLY MODERN JAPANESE TIMEKEEPING

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EARLY MODERN JAPANESE TIMEKEEPING

Post by koimaster » June 9th 2020, 10:45pm

We’ve previously discussed ancient water clocks in the context of equation of time complications, and that is where the history of watchmaking in Japan begins; in the 7th century with water clocks made for the Japanese nobility. During the Edo period (1603-1868), when Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate, it experienced a new wave of arts and culture and imported mechanical clocks from abroad, in spite of isolationist policy. Some highly specialized Japanese artisans started making their own clocks after a while, but the true beginning of the Japanese watchmaking industry coincides with the Meiji Restoration. A period of industrialization in Japan that brought economic growth and internationalization that closed the curtains on the Tokugawa period – starting in 1868.

The clockmaking industry that started up in the latter half of the 19th century, under Emperor Meiji, was centered around Nagoya, the capital of Aichi Prefecture. The city had 64% of the dozens of clock factories in the country at the time. The other centers were Osaka, which was also known as a center for blacksmithing and somewhat naturally made the transition to a watchmaking hub, and Tokyo. Osaka and Tokyo were already clearly secondary hubs, however, with Osaka having 13% of the active companies in the country and Tokyo 11%. However, only 11 of these companies were founded before 1890 and only 3 of those 11 survived into the 20th century, namely: Tokyo Clock Co., Hayashi Clock Co. (Nagoya), and Osaka Clock Co. (Seiko or Hattori & Co. only started making clocks in 1892).

One of the earlier examples of a clock factory was a company opened in 1875 in Tokyo by Kaneko Motosuke, but that ceased activities after a few years (you’ll notice this becomes a trend). In 1877, another attempt was made by a Mizunoi Kazuzo, who was a trader that worked with Swiss watchmakers and was able to import parts and know-how, but his venture also ended in the 1890s. He notably tried to expand from clocks to pocket watches in the 1880s and even sent his son to study at the Watchmaking School of Le Locle which was something many other Tokyo merchants were doing at the time, in an attempt to own the means of production for their clock companies.

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