The dawn of the week

This is a follow-up to my Néojaponisme post (and related No-sword post) about the introduction of the Western calendar to Japan. The question: What about days of the week? The answer: Obtained from Meiji kaireki: "Toki" no bunmei kaika 明治改暦 「時」の文明開化 ("The Meiji calendar modernization: The bunmei kaika-tion of 'time'"), a book published in 1994 by Okada Yoshirō 岡田芳朗.

Let me start with Okada's conclusion, from page 274:

週休制は官庁・学校・軍隊など公的機関に始まり、大企業や貿易関係会社を中心に、都市部で普及したが、中小企業や特に地方では太平洋戦争後になってからやっと普及しはじめ、ことに昭和三十年代の経済大発展期を経てようやく全国的に行なわれるようになった。[...] 週休制の採用は勤労と有給休暇日という、経済的側面が強く、社会全体の構造の変化が必要であった。

The weekly-rest system [i.e. the system where rest days were determined by day of the week rather than "days with a date ending in 1 or 6," as was typical up until this point] began in government, schools, the army, and other public institutions, then spread to metropolitan areas, particularly in large corporations and companies involved in foreign trade. However, it was not until after World War II that it finally began to spread to small and medium-sized companies and especially rural areas. The economic miracle of the late 1950s and early 1960s was when the system finally became standard nationwide. [...] The adoption of the weekly-rest system had a strong economic effect with respect to labor and paid holidays, and required a change in the overall structure of society.

It seems that the first people in Japan to adopt "the week" (as something other than a divinatory tool) did so because they had no choice: they were dealing with European or American traders in Yokohama, or they were working alongside "hired foreigners" in government, education, or the military. It made no sense for them to turn up to work when your trading partners or co-workers were taking the day off, or vice versa.

Okada doesn't mention why the Meiji government didn't just write "must work on Sundays" into their contracts for hired help, but the religious component was probably a factor. Back then more Christians took the Sabbath seriously. In any case, if all of your external consultants say "a seven-day week with 1.5 days off is the only way to run a government/army/school," eventually you're going to start to believe it.

Anyway, this led to a situation where "the government and the people have different days off" (官民其休日を同じふせず), which in turn caused mutual indolence when they saw each other slacking off on work days (相見て互いに惰心を生ず).

The above quotations, by the way, are from the Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbun in the tenth month of Meiji 5, before the calendar had even gone solar. So the week-system issue was to a great extent independent of the solar-calendar issue.

Anyway, in Meiji 7 the government declared Saturday afternoon and Sunday the official holidays in all schools and, a few months later, public offices. (Kanagawa prefecture had already done this locally — they had that port full of foreigners to deal with, after all.) After that, it began to percolate down through the rest of society, finally saturating Japan after WWII as noted above. The end.

Popularity factor: 5


Since Michinaga's "week" (or
"which planet for which day," really) and the equivalent over in Europe (well, at least if we calculate backwards from now--I have no clue as to how well the week was kept in the medieval 欧米, just have some pioneer examples of people losing track) match up, it might not have been a difficult system to pull over. Unlike that whole months beginning not on the full moon thing. I mean, what's up with that?

Just why foreigners cared about which day was the Fire Planet day or the Sun's day might have been mysterious. But then they had that electricity thing going, and we all know that tengu invented that!

(What I'm not sure of, and I don't have the time and resources to check, is whether the planetary 7-day cycle was kept properly in all calendars up through Edo. I might be able to confirm it for Mishima-reki, when I go take a look at some of those. Ise-goyomi seem to be harder for me to find, for some reason.)


So the correlation of planets giving names to weekdays is a recent thing in Japan?


Nope, they've had it since Heian times (imported from the western lands via the Silk Road, natch), but they didn't think of a "week" as a practical unit of time (that is, no-one would say "well, let's meet again next week" or whatever). The applications were esoteric: calendar-based divination, etc.

Using the week the same way the west does, i.e. as the next unit of time larger than a day, is a recent thing and what I'm talking about here. The interesting thing is (and here addressing MMS's comment) that Okada at least seems to believe that the days-of-the-week were kept synchronized with Europe for that entire millennium! I suppose when you have multiple people tracking the system for error correction, and there's little irregularity in the first place, that's possible, but still pretty mindblowing.


Well, once you had a library that was good enough, the 宿曜経 supposedly gave the equation (I'm going by Yano Michio's word here, as I can't yet make heads or tails of the math in that sutra). And there might even be that information in some of the calendar making manuals--that's next week work to find out.

Incidentally, for awesomeness' sake, the official calendar licensed by Ise for Meiji 8 and 9 (at least as publisehd by the Osaka calendar distribution company), mark Sunday and <b>Wednesday</b> especially. The Meiji 10 example (Tokyo/Osaka calendar sales company) moves to marking Saturday and Sunday especially. In Meiji 12 the special line for Saturday and Sunday is removed to make room for a chart of moonrise and moonset.

At least this is the case for the calendars I looked at in an Ise archive. I don't know how much regional variation there might have been, but these calendars come from Osaka, Tokyo, and Ise itself, and they seem to be pretty stable in content. With a very few, very interesting, exceptions....

I suppose if I were to pursue this, my next step would be the records of the National Observatory, if they survive.


And, as a side note, I have fun blowing people's minds with the fact that the days of the week in <i>Midokanpakuki</i> match up with Europe. I have yet to find any evidence Michinaga knew what to do with that information... (He couldn't even keep his change-of-seasons straight, according to Momo Hiroyuki.)

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