The start of the Watches industry in Japan can be traced to the mid-16th century. The first mechanical clock in Japan is believed to have been one that, in 1551, Spanish missionary Francisco de Xavier presented to feudal lord Yoshitaka logo2Ohuchi of Suo — the old name for the eastern part of what is now Yamaguchi Prefecture. A Japanese Christian mission that visited the Pope in
Rome then returned home with a clock for Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Other mechanical clocks followed. The oldest clock still in existence was a gift from Spain to Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu — now at the Toshogu Shrine, on Mt. Kuno, Shizuoka Prefecture. Around 1600, at a combination educational-vocational school called the “Seminario,” in Shiki, on Amakusa Island, Nagasaki Prefecture, Christian missionaries taught Japanese how to make clocks, organs and astronomical equipment.
This was the start of the watch manufacturing in Japan.In the Edo Era, many highly ornamental clocks were crafted, called wadokei (literally “Japanese clocks”). They were unique in that, in the old Japanese time system, time was not measured in equal units (such as hours) as it was in Western countries. A day was divided into the daytime and the nighttime, in accordance with sunrise and sunset, and each was further divided into six segments. Time corresponded to the position of the sun, but the six daytime segments were not the same length as the six nighttime segments (other than at the equinoxes). Those segment lengths, moreover, changed slightly every season. The Edo Era saw many master clock makers. Famous masters included Sukezaemon Tsuda, in the early Edo Era; Kichirozaemon Kono and Riemon Hirota, in mid-Edo; and Hisashige Tanaka (commonly known as “Karakuri” Giemon) and Norichika Ohno, all working for the government to produce wadokei. Among these Japanese clocks were yagura-dokei, clocks on high stands to accommodate the weights; shaku-dokei, wall-mounted clocks with calibrations jpanese1below, the time read from the position of the weights; and makura-dokei, spring-driven clocks that could be placed on shelves or cabinets. Yagura-dokei, in particular, reached a very high level of technical sophistication, with complex multiple functions, including chimes, alarms and calendars.
When in 1872 the Meiji Cabinet, in Ordinance No. 453, adopted the solar calendar in place of the lunar calendar then in use in Japan — by which December 3, 1872, became January 1, 1873 — it followed naturally that old “Japanese time” system would also come to an end. On the other hand, with technology actively introduced from the West, the foundation for a modern horological industry in Japan was being built.
That modern industry began with the manufacturing of wall clocks (called bonbon-dokei) by Kingen-sha, in Azabu, Tokyo, in 1875; followed by Yujiro Nakajo, in Aichi Prefecture, around 1885; and Jisei-sha (which became the Hayashi Tokei Factory), headed by Ichibei Hayashi, in 1887. Wall-clock production occurred mainly in Nagoya, which, since Edo Era, had been a distribution center for timber coming down the Kiso River, and where there were many distinguished carpenters and craftsmen working in wood and metal.
Records indicate that Tokuzaburo Ohno, leading apprentice of Norichika Ohno, made by hand the movement and case for a pocket watch in 1879. In 1894, the Osaka Tokei Manufacturing
Company, using production equipment obtained from a U.S. firm and under the guidance of an American engineer, began making pocket watches with lever escapements — some several hundred units a month. Other factories to produce wall clocks, table clocks, alarm clocks japan2and pocket watches soon sprang up. By the end of the Meiji Era, there were more than twenty factories throughout Japan turning out about 3.8 million timepieces annually.
Although the industry at that time was typically handicraft manufacturing (in contrast to the mass production systems already established in the United States), technical skills improved and would serve as a driving force in future development. The next big step was the production of wrist watches, which began in the 1920’s, the latter part of the Taisho Era. The Japanese horological industry was dormant during the Second World War and its production capacity converted to military needs. After the war, the industry recovered along with the economy aided by a boom in special procurements for the Korean War. The government supported the industry, as part of national industrial policy, to improve the quality of watches and clocks, establishing a private-sector production technology research institute and inaugurating a domestic watch-quality competition. In 1956, the first domestic self-winding wrist watches were marketed. As income levels rose, timepieces, always considered relatively expensive, became essential elements of fashion and demand for timepieces grew. In 1946, immediately after the war, total production of wrist watches, pocket watches and wall clocks had been approximately 700,000 units; by 1961 — only 15 years later — it was 1.7 million units.
As production shot upward, the horological industry experienced a major technological revolution. Electronics appeared on scene, powered by batteries rather than springs and pendulums. Following a brief period of interest in vibrating tuning forks and electro-magentic balances, the world’s first quartz clocks and watches — “Made in Japan” — were marketed in 1967 and 1969, respectively. Quartz timepieces did not require winding but also were dramatically more accurate.
Mechanical timepieces had an accuracy of plus-or-minus between 10 seconds and one minute per day; quartz timepieces, plus-or-minus 20 seconds per month — almost 100 times better. That
technological revolution stimulated another in production systems, leading not only to remarkable boosts in productivity, but new demand as well. In 1979, japan359.7 million wrist and pocket watches, and 43.5 million alarm and wall clocks were domestically manufactured — total production of more than 100 million units that made Japan the world’s largest timepiece producer.
Efforts have long been concentrated on improving accuracy and reliability. Today, they are focused as well on creating products that help preserve global resources and protecting consumers from adverse environmental effects. For example, watches with an automatic power generating system or solar power system require no battery replacement and cases and bands are being made from anti-allergy materials. Clocks and watches, once just instruments for knowing the time, now range from creatively designed fashion accessories for individuals, to essential components in a diverse array of medical, telecommunications and other high-technology wearable information equipment.
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