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Making Time

Astronomical Time Measurement in Tokugawa Japan

Yulia Frumer

Making Time

Yulia Frumer

272 pages | 10 color plates, 40 halftones, 5 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2018
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226516448 Published January 2018
E-book $45.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226524719 Published January 2018

What is time made of? We might balk at such a question, and reply that time is not made of anything—it is an abstract and universal phenomenon. In Making Time, Yulia Frumer upends this assumption, using changes in the conceptualization of time in Japan to show that humans perceive time as constructed and concrete.

In the mid-sixteenth century, when the first mechanical clocks arrived in Japan from Europe, the Japanese found them interesting but useless, because they failed to display time in units that changed their length with the seasons, as was customary in Japan at the time. In 1873, however, the Japanese government adopted the Western equal-hour system as well as Western clocks. Given that Japan carried out this reform during a period of rapid industrial development, it would be easy to assume that time consciousness is inherent to the equal-hour system and a modern lifestyle, but Making Time suggests that punctuality and time-consciousness are equally possible in a society regulated by a variable-hour system, arguing that this reform occurred because the equal-hour system better reflected a new conception of time — as abstract and universal—which had been developed in Japan by a narrow circle of astronomers, who began seeing time differently as a result of their measurement and calculation practices. Over the course of a few short decades this new way of conceptualizing time spread, gradually becoming the only recognized way of treating time.   

Note on Names and Translations

1. Variable Hours in a Changing Society
2. Towers, Pillows, and Graphs: Variation in Clock Design
3. Astronomical Time Measurement and Changing Conceptions of Time
4. Geodesy, Cartography, and Time Measurement
5. Navigation and Global Time
6. Time Measurement on the Ground in Kaga Domain
7. Clock-makers at the Crossroads
8. Western Time and the Rhetoric of Enlightenment

Appendix 1: Hours
Appendix 2: Seasons
Appendix 3: Years in the nengō System
Appendix 4: The kanshi-, or e-to, Cycle
Review Quotes
Dagmar Schäfer, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin
“Brace yourself for a most thought-provoking journey through time in premodern Japan. This book forces historians of science and technology to think more deeply about what they think they already know about modernity and time practices before and while the global system of commerce and exchange tightened its grip in the nineteenth century. Historically brilliant and beautifully written, Frumer unfolds how and why astronomical time-space relationships came to matter in Tokugawa and Meiji scientific minds and public life. I literally felt the ambiguities of time come to life in her rich account, in relative and absolute terms. One emerges from reading it inspired and positively provoked, realizing the lived truth of Einstein’s theory: time indeed flows at different rates for different systems.”
Federico Marcon, Princeton University
“Well-researched and original in its interpretation, this history of timekeeping in early modern Japan introduces an aspect of Japanese culture and knowledge production that has been only scantly covered in traditional scholarship. Making Time is a major, outstanding contribution to both East Asian cultural history and the history of science.”
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