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Jyuuni-shi : Chinese Zodiac in Japan -Part 2- (For hour)

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/20 Traditional Culture , , , , ,

Japansese old hour system and “Jyuuni-shi”

In the old times, “Jyuuni-shi” was more commonly used, for directions, dates and hours.
In addition, Japanese hour system was totally different from the present one.
Now those customs are gone, but you can find the traces of them in some words.

 

[The word “oyatsu”]

If you have read my oyatsu post, you already know “oyatsu” means snacks between meals, usually eaten around three o’clock.
Why is the word used?

In Japan, people used to have meals only twice a day.
Of course that’s not enough especially for farmers, they had light meals at “Yatsu-doki” (around two o’clock) in the afternoon.

Until 1872, Japanese used a temporal hour system.
Divide daytime into 6 units, and night-time into 6 in like wise.

One unit is about 2 hours long.
Basic reference points were sunrise and sunset.
To be precise, 30 min before local sunrise was set as a basic point in the morning (called “Ake mutsu”), and 30 min before local sunset in the evening (“Kure mutsu”).
This means one daytime unit in summer was longer than one in winter.

Japanese old hour system

-Japanese old hour system with zodiac-
Silhouettes from Silhouette AC

 

From sunrise to sunset;

English Approx. time Japanese Zodiac
Morning six 5 to 7 o’clock Ake mutsu U (rabbit)
Five 7 to 9 Itsutsu Tatsu (dragon)
Four 9 to 11 Yotsu Mi (snake)
Nine 11 to 13 Kokonotsu Uma (horse)
Eight 13 to 15 Yatsu Hitsuji (sheep)
Seven 15 to 17 Nanatsu Saru (Monkey)
Evening six 17 to 19 Kure mutsu Tori (chicken)

 

Zodiac from sunset to sunrise;

  • Inu (dog) – Five, 19 to 21
  • I (boar)
  • Ne (mouse)
  • Ushi (cow)
  • Tora (tiger)

Please don’t ask me where one to three are and why nine comes after four.
Several possible reasons here.
Choose any one you like.

  1. One to three were used as the signals by the military and convents.
    According to “A Japanese Grammer” by J.J.Hoffmann, one to three were avoided to prevent a confusion because these strokes were used as the signals of the military and convent service.
  2. The custom of the Imperial court.
    The Imperial court stroke 9 times for “Kokonotsu” (nine) in the night, and 8 times for “Yatsu” (eight) in the night, so this was applied to the hour system.
  3. To make easier for people to know the time.
    Common people don’t have their own clocks.
    They knew the time by the sound of the bell(s) from temple(s).
    The bell was stroked three times at first to attract people’s attentions (called “sute-gane”, waste bell), then number of strokes for that hour.
    The interval between the first and second strokes was the longest, and the succeeding intervals got shorter so that people could know the time if they missed first few stroking sounds.
    One to three would be too short and very confusing with “sute-gane”.
  4. Unknown.

 

[Exact horse, horse after, horse before]

As you can see from the image above, the animal which represents the time from 11 to 13 is a horse.
In Japanese, the Kanji characters literally meaning “exact horse” are used for high noon.
For afternoon and before noon are “horse after” and “horse before”.
Gozen, Gogo, Shougo

 

[Ushimitsu-doki]

The two-hour unit was also divided into four, and people expressed more precise time using Chinese zodiac name and its divided unit like “Ushi-mitsu” (Third period of “Ushi” hour – from 2:00 to 2:30 in the night).

Ushi-mitsu

The word “Ushimitsu-doki” (“Ushimitsu time”) is often used in the expression “Kusa-ki mo nemuru Usimitsu-doki” (Around the time of Ushimitsu, when even plants fall asleep).
“Kusa” is “grass”, “ki” is “tree”, and “nemuru” is “fall asleep”.
Every living being is sleeping at “Ushimitsu-doki”, so dead quiet at least in the old times.
Usually used in (old) ghost / horror stories.
“Ushimitsu-doki” is said to be when ghosts, monsters, (evil) spirits, etc. become active.
It’s also the time for people to curse somebody.
If you are interested, check the word “Ushi no toki mairi”.

 

[Shigosen]

This word is from “Jyuuni-shi” applied to direction.

Houi - momotarou -

-Zodiac for directions-
Silhouettes from Silhouette AC

The Kanji character for “Jyuuni-shi” mouse can be read as “shi”, while horse as “go”.
“Shi” represents north, while “go” means south.
“Sen” is “line”, so literal “shigosen” is “north and south line”.
What do you think it is in English?

Shigosen

Mouse and horse silhouettes from Silhouette AC

 

 

Answer: Meridian.

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kara

A Japanese living in Okayama. A proud "Otaku"! Loves animals, snacks, manga, games (PC, iPad, Nintendo DS, PSP), foreign TV dramas, traveling and football (soccer).

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