WaDokei: Attuning to Temporal Time
09.22.2014, 8:27 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

video: bohinic (This video demonstrates how the hour indicators are moved in proportion, from equal spacing at the equinoxes, to close spacing on one half and wide spacing on the other as the year approaches the solstices.  In reality, it would take a year to complete this revolution.)

In celebration the Autumn Equinox, we offer a reminder of the wadokei, also known as Japanese temporal time keeping.  Wadokei clocks divide a day into unequal temporal hours, composed of six daytime units (from local sunrise to local sunset) and six night time units (from sunset to sunrise), regardless of the season. In summer, the daylight hours are longer and the nighttime hours are shorter, and the opposite in winter. Only on on equinoxes, such as today, the hours are spaced evenly. Whereas on solstices, the clock would have half open spacing on one side and half closed spacing on the other.

On these days of equilibrium, perhaps what feels so good is the reality that the time of our body “clock” actually feels like what our mechanical/digital clocks communicate back to us. In contrast to say, December at 5pm in Eastern Standard Time, when it it feels as though night has, and will be lasting forever. Even iPhones ticking off the minutes of an even 24 hour clock get to feel “right” at least twice a year, on the equinoxes.

Back in the Muromachi period (approx. 1337 to 1573) the wadokei were invented. The history of their design is fascinating:

“[Wadokei] are divided into two sets of six units called “koku”. Each koku bears the name of one of the 12 noble animals of Japanese culture, from the rat to the boar, and were numbered in an unusual way. Midnight, the hour of the rat, was associated with number 9, while 6 represented dawn. The numbering continued, with the number 4 was the last koku before noon. As with midnight, number 9 also represented noon, and the sequence repeated itself along the afternoon and beginning of the night. Numbers 1, 2 and 3 were not used in Japan for religious reasons as they corresponded to the number of bell strokes used by Buddhist monks as a call for prayer. The crucial times in this seasonal system were the boundaries between daytime and nighttime. These points in time, at dawn and dusk, were defined as the times when three lines on a human hand became visible or invisible.” – From WorldTempus, 2012

In 1873 Japan adopted Western style timekeeping and surrendered this incredibly embodied daily attunement to seasonal variations for the detached linearity of 24 equal hours, 365 days a year. Where might we all be if things had gone the other way? What if the West had adopted temporal time? Might we better prepared to meet the planetary changes underway today? It’s hard to imagine that being more aware of changes in light and season, and having time actually reflect our bodily rhythms on a daily basis, wouldn’t scale up to aid us in keeping awareness of other, even larger earth forces inflecting our lives.  Temporal time certainly makes it harder to forget that we’re inhabiting a planet that’s rotating AND moving through cosmological space on a minute by minute basis. Who knows what else such clocks might help us remember or relearn today.

Luckily, not all hope is not lost. Contemporary designers have reintroduced the wadokei, just in case you’re curious.

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