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Diplomatic devices : the social lives of foreign timepieces in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Japan

Angelika Koch (UGent)
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Abstract
The present paper explores the social lives of European timepieces as a particular set of objects in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Japan, when the archipelago first encountered the “Southern Barbarians” from Portugal and Spain. Rather than viewing them solely as instruments of time measurement or as decorative objects, I discuss clocks as actors that moved within networks of exchange primarily between Europe and Japan, but also, significantly, within East Asia and Japan itself. Along their trajectory, these devices assumed shifting and at times contradictory meanings for various actors; this is particularly true in view of the fundamental clash between European and Japanese systems of time-reckoning, which essentially rendered early European-style mechanical clocks ‘timeless’ in Japan, with its equinoctial system of variable hours. For Jesuit missionaries and foreign emissaries who brought these early devices to Japan, they were timekeepers, objects of ecclesiastical use, paragons of European ingenuity, and above all diplomatic tools that granted access and established connections with the Japanese ruling elite. For the Japanese, by contrast, these global objects assumed meaning within their highly developed local gift-culture as desirable novelty items, particularly within the socially volatile environment of the unification of the country under Tokugawa control. My contention is that these microhistories of exchange help us understand why mechanical clocks did not have the same ‘revolutionary’ effect on time-reckoning in Japan as they did in Europe; the social lives of these objects strikingly illustrate the power imbalances in diplomatic negotiations that made Japan impervious to coercion by the European powers.
Keywords
Philosophy, History and Philosophy of Science, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Social Sciences (miscellaneous), nanban, Jesuits, clocks, Ieyasu's clock, gift culture, Christian century, Japan 1550-1650

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MLA
Koch, Angelika. “Diplomatic Devices : The Social Lives of Foreign Timepieces in Late Sixteenth- and Early Seventeenth-Century Japan.” KRONOSCOPE-JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF TIME, vol. 20, no. 1, 2020, pp. 64–101.
APA
Koch, A. (2020). Diplomatic devices : the social lives of foreign timepieces in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Japan. KRONOSCOPE-JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF TIME, 20(1), 64–101.
Chicago author-date
Koch, Angelika. 2020. “Diplomatic Devices : The Social Lives of Foreign Timepieces in Late Sixteenth- and Early Seventeenth-Century Japan.” KRONOSCOPE-JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF TIME 20 (1): 64–101.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Koch, Angelika. 2020. “Diplomatic Devices : The Social Lives of Foreign Timepieces in Late Sixteenth- and Early Seventeenth-Century Japan.” KRONOSCOPE-JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF TIME 20 (1): 64–101.
Vancouver
1.
Koch A. Diplomatic devices : the social lives of foreign timepieces in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Japan. KRONOSCOPE-JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF TIME. 2020;20(1):64–101.
IEEE
[1]
A. Koch, “Diplomatic devices : the social lives of foreign timepieces in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Japan,” KRONOSCOPE-JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF TIME, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 64–101, 2020.
@article{8663152,
  abstract     = {The present paper explores the social lives of European timepieces as a particular set of objects in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Japan, when the archipelago first encountered the “Southern Barbarians” from Portugal and Spain. Rather than viewing them solely as instruments of time measurement or as decorative objects, I discuss clocks as actors that moved within networks of exchange primarily between Europe and Japan, but also, significantly, within East Asia and Japan itself. Along their trajectory, these devices assumed shifting and at times contradictory meanings for various actors; this is particularly true in view of the fundamental clash between European and Japanese systems of time-reckoning, which essentially rendered early European-style mechanical clocks ‘timeless’ in Japan, with its equinoctial system of variable hours. For Jesuit missionaries and foreign emissaries who brought these early devices to Japan, they were timekeepers, objects of ecclesiastical use, paragons of European ingenuity, and above all diplomatic tools that granted access and established connections with the Japanese ruling elite. For the Japanese, by contrast, these global objects assumed meaning within their highly developed local gift-culture as desirable novelty items, particularly within the socially volatile environment of the unification of the country under Tokugawa control. My contention is that these microhistories of exchange help us understand why mechanical clocks did not have the same ‘revolutionary’ effect on time-reckoning in Japan as they did in Europe; the social lives of these objects strikingly illustrate the power imbalances in diplomatic negotiations that made Japan impervious to coercion by the European powers.},
  author       = {Koch, Angelika},
  issn         = {1568-5241},
  journal      = {KRONOSCOPE-JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF TIME},
  keywords     = {Philosophy,History and Philosophy of Science,Astronomy and Astrophysics,Social Sciences (miscellaneous),nanban,Jesuits,clocks,Ieyasu's clock,gift culture,Christian century,Japan 1550-1650},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {1},
  pages        = {64--101},
  title        = {Diplomatic devices : the social lives of foreign timepieces in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Japan},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/15685241-12341454},
  volume       = {20},
  year         = {2020},
}

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