Magic & Technology

“Sociologists have argued that the acquirement of an understanding of time is a prerequisite for the organisation of modern societies, which learn to control time technologically. Gu ̈nter Dux gives a clear distinction between primitive and modern concepts of time in Die Zeit in der Geschichte (Time in history, 1989, pp. 103–111, 196, 239), and likewise Maki Yu ̄suke in Jikan no hikaku shakaigaku (A comparative sociology of time, 1981, pp. 47–64). Both Dux and Maki refer to early anthropological field research in pre-modern societies by Claude Le ́vi-Strauss and Edward E. Evans-Prichard. However, this control of time is constantly being updated even in modern societies. When feudal Japan reopened in the 1860s after 220 years of seclusion, it required an update of the national Jo ̄kyo ̄ calendar, which the Tokugawa regime had introduced as early as 1684 in order to detach Japanese time measurement from the Chinese tradition. In 1798, the new Kansei calendar took Western methods of calculation into consideration, based on translations of Dutch writings. On 1 January 1873, political theorist Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835–1901) explained Western time to his fellow Japanese citizens, and the Emperor put the Gregorian calendar into effect on the same day (Coulmas 2000, pp. 113, 124). Japan quickly became the only non-Western society to undergo industrialisation and modernisation successfully. In 1895, the Wako ̄ Building in Ginza, an area of Tokyo, was erected: its famous clock was a public milestone marking the start of modernity in Japan. In the same year, H. G. Wells published his famous novel The time machine. In contrast to Mark Twain’s novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) about an involuntary time warp, it emphasised the technological control of time in modern society and triggered off the classical phase of the narrative.

“In Japan, residues of pre-modern concepts of time remain to the present day. Weddings and funerals are planned according to the rokuyo ̄ (six days) calendar, which came to Japan from China in the Muromachi Era and gained popularity in the Tokugawa Era (Coulmas 2000, pp. 306, 309). And a superstitious tradition about the effect one’s birth year has over one’s life caused the number of births to drop sharply in the years of the Fire Horse 1906 and 1966 (Akabayashi 2008). These old notions of time in Japan have, however, by no means impeded or delayed modernisation. With the emergence of the visual mass media after the Second World War, time travel soon became a widely popular science-fiction theme.

“In Japan, it was a manga series that provided the point of departure for the development of time travel topoi in popular culture. Fujiko F. Fujio’s Doraemon has entertained and fascinated Japanese children for several decades since the first episode in 1969, and it still occupies a daily spot on children’s television. The series is now available in multiple languages to a truly international following. The blue robotic cat after which the series is named has travelled back in time from the year 2112 to help 10-year-old protagonist Nobita with his homework. A mixture of robot and sorcerer, Doraemon has a magic pouch called the ‘fourth dimensional pocket’ from which he produces problem-solving gadgets and de- vices, as well as a dokodemo doa (be-anywhere-door). While most episodes take place in the present time, travel adventures also occur to the Mesozoic era of the dinosaurs or to the prehistoric Jo ̄mon era. Since the target audience is mainly children, whose thinking retains a form of animism, robot technology associated with the future easily communicates and interacts with cultures and societies of the past. In this context, magic and technology are identical or equivalent, as are the past and the future, pet and robot…”

Text: Ulrich Heinze, Time travel topoi in Japanese manga, Centre for Japanese Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 28 May 2012.

Image: Tokyo time travel map for iPhone, Cycling Tourism, Japan & Asia. “Tokyo time travel map for iPhone was released last month. This application has former editions of maps of Tokyo going back every 20 years. Because it links with GPS, I can see the old map in the present location. Shibuya was a farm village, and there was a waterwheel in the river beside me.”


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