Why did a Japanese lord in the 16th century reject the gift of a clock?

With Shōgun getting stellar reviews and big ratings on Hulu, feudal Japanese culture is back on our collective radar. The juice of this limited series is exploring the enormous cultural and political differences between the Japanese and the Europeans. Sometimes those differences are huge and obvious. But sometimes those differences are perfectly captured in the small, in the surprising—not just in what they do, but how they think.

This article about the Japanese view of time and time pieces in the 16th century provides a perfect example. A Jesuit priest offered Lord Nobunaga a beautiful clock as a gift, but the gift was rejected. Why?

To start, the clock may simply not have made any sense to him. Oda Nobunaga was raised in a culture that told time in a different way: the hours he lived by were variable rather than fixed. In Japan's traditional timekeeping system, the day was divided into nighttime and daytime portions, which were each subdivided into six intervals. In summer, the night hours grew shorter, and the daylight ones grew longer; in winter, the pattern reversed.

Reminds me that even for those with the best of intentions, it can be challenging to truly understand other cultures. You really have to be open to seeing things in a whole new way.

See also: 1860s photos of the last Samurai