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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 2017

Department of History, Freie Universität Berlin E-mail:


When European clocks first arrived in seventeenth-century Japan they generated a commotion. The highly complex but also very precise instruments had been brought to Nagasaki by the Dutch East India Company that monopolized the sparse and highly regulated trade between Japan and Europe for more than two centuries. As an expression of the technological sophistication achieved in early modern Europe, mechanical clocks were hi-tech products of their time. They operated with a spring to store the energy, and their making required highly developed skills in casting and metalwork. The new technology made it possible to emancipate the measurement of time from sunshine and to achieve an evenness of temporal rhythms, not only during the day, but also at night.

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* For comments, criticism, and suggestions, I am especially grateful to Aleida Assmann, Frederick Cooper, Shruti Kapila, and Martin Mulsow. This work was supported by an Academy of Korean Studies (KSPS) Grant funded by the Korean Government (MOE) (AKS-2010-DZZ-3103).


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61 Quoted in On Barak, On Time: Technology and Temporality in Modern Egypt (Berkeley, 2013), 11.

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80 Quoted from McMahan, David L., “Modernity and the Early Discourse of Scientific Buddhism,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 72 (2004), 897933, at 901CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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82 Ogle, “Whose Time Is It?”, 1402. For a vivid account of how modern technology shaped debates about ritual time see the analysis of the impact of the telegraph on defining the beginning and end of the Ramadan in Ogle, The Global Transformation of Time, 149–76.

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