If you’re a watch lover, and you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Tokyo, you must check out the Seiko Museum in Ginza. We’re back from our adventure out East, and it was a fantastic time. There was plenty of amazing food, the people were super nice, and our team even got pulled off the street to be featured in a Japanese TV show, but that’s a separate story. Today, I want to tell you about one of the coolest, watch-nerdiest things we did during our stay in Tokyo: visiting the Seiko Museum.
The Seiko Museum is a multistory building covering the multifaceted history of the watch giant from its founding to the present. As it’s located in the Ginza neighborhood of Tokyo, it’s very close to the Seiko flagship store and its other boutiques, making it easy to squeeze a lot into one afternoon.
The Seiko Museum: Melted Pocket Watches
The first thing that caught my eye was the mass of melted pocket watches that look like a Giacometti sculpture. They are from 1923, and were recovered from the Seikosha factory following the Great Kantō earthquake. Earthquakes are not uncommon in Japan, and the fact that they named this one “great” goes to show how much damage it caused.
The pocket watches belonged to customers who had sent them to the repair shop of Kintarō Hattori, the founder of the K. Hattori & Co. watch dealership and Seikosha, which would later become Seiko. Kintarō garnered trust and respect by replacing each damaged pocket watch with a new version. One month later, K. Hattori & Co. recommenced their wholesale watch business, and Kintarō got a temporary facility up and running to manufacture Seikosha timepieces. Approximately one year later, with facilities at full speed, and some positive press surrounding the company, Kintarō launched the first wristwatch bearing the Seiko name.
Every good story has its ups and down. This melted jumble of metal signifies how Seiko quite literally rose from the ashes to become the powerhouse brand they are today.
Wadokei for Seasonal Time
We sometimes take for granted how orderly our calendar system is with its regular intervals of seconds, minutes, hours, and days. Japan was pretty late to adopt a fixed 24-hour system, and the Seiko Museum has a cool collection of clocks operating on Japan’s seasonal time system.
During the Edo period, before Japan adopted a Gregorian calendar system in 1873, they relied on wadokei, traditional Japanese clocks operating on a seasonal time system. Much of the mechanics for these came from Europe, but the way they displayed time was very Japanese, and very complicated.
Under the seasonal system, there were six units of time for day and six for night. Each unit was known as a toki. Due to the shifting seasons, the length of each toki was always changing, as was the length of each day and night. And, as any Grand Seiko fan knows, Japan has a lot of seasons (24 to be exact). So owners of these wadokei clocks had to constantly adjust the operating speed and the position of the hands on the dial. Just think: here we are, sometimes complaining about having to wind a manual watch in the morning.
Funky Vintage Seiko
Let’s not forget the funky vintage stuff displayed on the top floor of the Seiko Museum. Here, you’ll find a buffet of colorful chronographs, and the kinetic chronograph that Jay Leno loves with its four separate dials. You’ll see character clocks for Godzilla and Ultraman, along with the Seiko TV watch from 1982 that allowed (or kind of allowed) wearers to watch television on the small screen on their wrist. This is not a technology that really caught on, which makes it even more fun when you look at it as a 1980s time capsule.
You’ll also see plenty of watches exemplifying Taro Tanaka’s Grammar of Design, which prioritizes sharp angles and clean design elements. What personally sent me down the rabbit hole were the weird watches that break all these rules and have fun doing it.