A museum showing the history of the clock
Seiko Museum ticks clock history in the collection
♣ Outlook of Seiko Museum
I visited the Seiko Museum in Sumida ward, Tokyo last year. The Museum is placed along the Sumida River about 10 minute walk from the Mukoijima Station of Tobu line. The famous “Mukojima Hyakaen Garden”, an authentic Japanese style garden, is located near the museum.
The “Seiko Museum” (formerly called Seiko Clock Museum) was set up in 1981 as a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Seiko Company. And it has done the major refurbishment in April 2012 and transformed to the full-fledged pubic industrial museum at that time.
The main aim of the establishment is said to acknowledge the development history of clock and watches in Japan as well as in the world. So the museum is displaying huge number of various Japanese precious clocks, old and new, worldwide historical clocks, world famous watches beside Seiko’s own watches, as well as Seiko’s company history.
The museum isn’t so big in size, but the collection was amazingly rich and attractive. The outline of the museum was the following.
♣ Scene of Exhibition Hall
The Museum has the three floors in the building. The first floor is allocated for the exhibition of historical clocks of around the world from ancient time to present day.
The second floor is assign for the information space of Seiko’s company and its historical products. There many types of clocks and watches produced in Japan are also displayed.The third floor is allocated for the library and conference room.
Among these exhibitions, the most valuable and attractive collections would be the Japanese historical clocks produced in Edo period since the 17 & 18 century which are known as “Wa Dokei” (Japanese traditional clock).
(Note: The Contents of major exhibits can be accessible by http://museum.seiko.co.jp/en/knowledge/history/index.html
♣ “Wa-Dokei” and Japanese Historical Clocks
When referring the Japanese clock history, the first mechanical clocks were brought into Japan in the 17th century from Portugal by the hands of missionaries. After that Japanese craftsmen has challenged to produce clocks by showing unique talent with specific mechanical style, and finally succeed to create the original clocks by themselves. It had a special time management system to adjust the time with several units following the sunrise to sunset time zone called “Seasonal Time System” by using special foliot balance (a mechanism of reciprocal motion) . The clock was named “Wa-Dokei”. It could inform the seasonally corrected time to the people to manage their social daily life. The Wa-Dokei is, even in the present view, also appreciable with its artistic nature too, as well as the elaborate mechanical function. We can see the excellent technology level in the old days by viewing the collection of the Seiko museum.
However, the Japanese calendar time has switched to Western solar calendar in 1873 by the Meiji government. Then “Wa-dokei” became no longer used since that period. And the methods of production of the clocks were changed to the new Western technologies using coil springs and gears. So the most of the former Japanese clock production was abolished, but the technology and craftsmanship which was fostered in the “Wa-dokei”, could survived and inherited to the new generation of Japanese manufacturers.
Anyway, many clockmakers have entered into this new clock business with their own initiatives and tried to compete with the foreign makers. In this catching up process, the Japanese clock makers brushed up their skills, particularly precision mechanics nurtured in the traditional “Wa-dokei” technology. These challenging footsteps could clearly observed in the Seiko museum collections.
♣ Seiko’s Technology Development
Among these efforts of the clock makers in Japan, the track record of “Hattori Tokei Company” (currently become “Seiko”) was significant. The company has played a leading role in the clock making throughout the development days.
The chronological chart at the second floor corner of the museum clearly shows how the Seiko’s clock and watch technology has been developed, as well as showing the development of Japanese clock and watch industries as a whole. In the museum collection, the evolvement of Seiko Company’s business is pictorially explained at the panel. We couldn’t resisted to impress much on the Kintaro Hattori’s vestiges as a Seiko’s founder and techno-entrepreneur by seeing his annals on the board panel.
(Note) Refer to: http://museum.seiko.co.jp/en/history/index.html
♣ World Precious Clock and Watch Collection
The display of historic and aesthetic “Clocks” produced by the world watch producers in the museum is also extremely wonderful and superb. The artistic watches for French aristocracy in the 18 century, such as decoration watches, big bell clocks, and wall clocks are particularly valuable among them. In the collection, the museum will show us how variety of clocks and watches were existed in the world and how human has been enthusiastic to produce the time keeping tools.
Furthermore, we could also realize how the time counting things have been essential in our social life and culture in the history. We can see this fact in the collection that the tireless effort of
humankind has been done to develop the time keeping technology for the sake of fulfilling that desire to acknowledge accuracy of time. The Japanese clock collection in the museum is also interesting. There found many types of pendulum clocks, wall clocks from old to mew, pocket watches with various size and artistic home-use clocks in the museum exhibition. These sophistication seems to reflect of the progressing Japanese mechanical technology since the Meiji period. Through the observing these collections we could trace the Japanese clock producing history along with their businesses and technologies by our own eyes.
♣ Epoch making appearance of Quarts watch
In these watch and clock development history, the epoch making would be the emerging of the “Quatz” system watch. This successful development would indicate that Japanese makers had already attained the high standard of clock and watch technology in the world. This quartz technology brought us the ultra-accurate level of time management, and, as a result, the Japanese watches could be taking a landslide share in the world market in 1980s.
In the museum, the technical explanation about Quartz mechanism is explained in detail, such as how it has developed, what mechanism is installed there, in addition, how the time counting technology was built of the digital watch era, and how the affordable watches became so popular among the people in Japan than ever before.
Note: You can see the moving internal structure of the watch! Seiko Museum “VR simulator of watch“ by visiting: http://app-review.jp/news/312100
The watches are now the personal accessory goods too. We could feel such transformation of time management technology in the exhibition of the museum well.
♣ Current Position of Japanese Watchmakers in the World
Regarding to the watch technology and businesses, Japanese makers, including Seiko, have once dominated
the world market because of quartz, but, in recent years, the value of well-designed mechanical watch was going to revive, and the luxury watches made by the Clock Meister, such as Switzerland watchmakers, became enthusiastically appreciated among people and showing dominating position in the high end worldwide watch markets now.
Japanese watch makers are looked being positioned in the behind in the global market in this field, if compared with famous brand makers like Swaziland manufactures, even they still they are keeping certain shares in the middle end market. However, Japanese makers like Seiko and likes, now have started to produce high-end brand watch products, for example, the watches embodied superior functionality, light and strengthen, solar powered quartz watch mixed mechanical function, such as “Grand Seiko” and others, it might be a positive signs of revivals of Japanese watchmakers even in the high end market.
♣ My last Impression of Visit
As a matter of fact, for me the visit the Seiko Museum was a quite experience to enrich my knowledge about the history of time management tools in Japan as well as in the world, technology and mechanism of clock and watches, and the evolvement of watches and clock manufacturing businesses. Also these were probably related with the practical technology development of “Monodukuri” and industrialization process in Japan as a whole. I have realized by visiting the Seiko Museum that the dynamism of business and technology which are evolving from one to another in the history, in addition to know how mechanical engineering of clock and watch technologies fostered in the process.
I felt that this time of visit was quite educational for me in this meaning.
- 季刊 iichiko “Cultural technology of Japanese clocks” (Winter 2017 no.133)
- The world of Japanese traditional clock (Seiko Museum pub.)
- Seiko Museum Guide with additional leaflets (Seiko Museum 2017)
- History of timekeeping devices
- Art of Time (Seiko: http://www.seiko.co.jp/artoftime/index_en.html)
- (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_timekeeping_devices )
- 「図説 時計の歴史」 (ふくろうの本) 有澤隆
- 「機械式時計大全」 本間誠二 （誠文堂新光社）