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Japanese punctuality began in modern times

by Richard Meckien - published May 11, 2016 11:35 AM - - last modified Jun 17, 2016 03:18 PM
Rights: Original version in Portuguese by Sylvia Miguel.

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History of Time and Calendar in Japan

Circadian Clock System in Peripheral Tissues of Mice

Truth and Time in Brouwer’s Intuitionism

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During the workshop In Search of Interdisciplinary Dialogue, sponsored by the Waseda Institute for Advanced Studies (WIAS) as part of the second phase of the Intercontinental Academia (ICA), several experts met in Tokyo on March 14 to discuss interdisciplinarity between different kinds of knowledge.

Masashi Abe

Abe: "Japanese punctuality is not restricted to trains."

Professor Masashi Abe, from the WIAS, has addressed aspects of the Japanese calendar and the relationship of the Japanese people with time. History of Time and Calendar in Japan was the title of the lecture, which focused on how the modernization of the calendar has transformed the temporal culture in Japan, leading to one of the most punctual people in the world.

Abe said that foreigners visiting Japan get very impressed by how everything there is timely. In fact, this is true. To confirm this assumption, one just has to cite the high-speed rail network (shinkansen) between Tokyo and Osaka as an example. Despite having a territory that is usually battered by earthquakes, the transport has an average delay of 30 seconds, according to the professor.

"But punctuality is not restricted to trains. The Japanese are also very punctual. People are always anxious not to be late to their appointments. In general, they arrive 10 or 15 minutes before the scheduled time. Therefore, time regulates the life of the modern Japanese citizen. But it has not been like this forever," said Abe. By the end of the 19th century or during the Edo Period (1603-1868), many Europeans visited Japan and always complained about the Japanese being late.

There was a reason for it. Ordinary citizens had no mechanical watches. The clocks of the temples or towers had to beat 12 times a day to announce time. Time was measured by incense clocks, never by mechanical ones. This was a type of clock traditionally used in China, and then adopted by Japan and some Asian countries. It consisted of burning incense that allowed to have an idea of minutes, hours or days at a particular rate of combustion.

In the Edo Period, day and night were sectioned into six parts, with each part of the evening having a different length in relation to the day. In addition, the duration of each period of time also changed depending on the different seasons. There was no precise division of seconds and minutes. The smallest unit of time was the shihamtoki, representing a quarter of a session (tokki), or approximately 30 seconds, said Abe.

But in 1868 the Tokugawa Shogun family lost power. It was the beginning of the Meiji Era (1868-1912). The new government abandoned the traditions and began Japan's modernization. They changed clothes, the educational and health systems, dances, paintings, architecture and food, partly reflecting the Western culture of the United States and Europe.

The Japanese abandoned the traditional calendar and the old time system in 1872. The week was divided into seven days and the day into 24 hours. The smallest units of time such as minutes and seconds were also introduced.

"From that, through the educational, social and military systems, the Japanese began to be taught how to be punctual. Moreover, in the Meiji Era, citizens adopted mechanical watches," the professor said.

Abe also showed a brief history of the old systems used in a more distant past. During the Kofun Period (centuries 3-7) the Chinese calendar was introduced in the country. This system was used in China since the 2nd century B.C. In 554, a Chinese expert was sent to introduce the calendar among the Japanese. In 602, the Chinese calendar was taught to children of the Japanese elite. In 604, the system was being used on a large scale, introduced by Empress Suiko (554- 628). In 660, Emperor Tenchi reached to build a water clock. But to modern times, the Chinese system prevailed.

Biological clock and the relationship with the genes

Yu Tahara

Tahara studies oscillations of the biological clock in mice via a non-invasive method.

Circadian Clock System in Peripheral Tissues of Mice was the theme of the presentation by Professor Yu Tahara, also from the WIAS. Tahara presented the results of research conducted in the laboratory led by Professor Shigenobu Shibata at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology of the School of Advanced Science and Engineering at Waseda University.

Tahara studies the expression of genes in biological clocks of mice. He has established a methodology to capture in vivo images from the bioluminescence in genetically modified tissues. A special high-resolution camera captures images of different tissues and organs.

His research group has developed an imaging protocol that easily measures the biological rhythms in individual mice in a non-invasive and longitudinal way. Thus, it is possible to detect the circadian oscillations (or biological rhythm) of tissues such as kidney, liver and submaxillary gland.

"It used to be necessary to sacrifice mice after an injection of luciferin in order to remove the tissues and carry out the analysis. Now this is no longer necessary. The method also allows longitudinal studies," he said. Luciferin is the substrate of luciferase, an enzyme capable of catalyzing biological reactions, transforming chemical energy into light energy. Thus, it is possible to record images of the behavior of cells and tissues of interest.

The researcher said that he puts the mice in a dark place and injects the enzyme every four hours throughout the day. After 10 minutes of each application he takes photos of the tissue, obtaining a series of images which indicate the increase and the decrease of biomass in different regions of the body according to the lightness at which the mice are submitted.

In this study, Tahara verifies the importance of light to the biological clock, or the incidence of what he calls "entrainment". The concept relates to adjusting the biological clock phases to different environmental conditions for the organism's survival. The researcher also studies the action of insulin, caffeine, physical exercise and stress on the circadian clock. Studies of insulin are associated with fish oil administration in the diet of mice. According to him, this improves the sensitivity of the metabolic substance.

The research has shown that caffeine has a high impact on the modulation of the biological clock, according to the scientist. The administration of caffeine in the morning showed no change of the biological cycle of mice compared to the control group. But eating at night before sleeping prolonged the awake cycle, ie, caused a delayed biological clock. The scientist cited research showing that this change also occurs in humans. "Coffee has the ability to wake up and also change the circadian clock. So the message is do not drink coffee at night before bed," he joked.

The effects of food on the biological clock make up a branch of study called chrono-nutrition. According to Tahara, research on nutrition conducted so far have focused on what and how much we eat, that is, the necessary items and the proper amount of food for each meal. "But now new research tell us when to eat, that is, the right time for meals. This is the new strategy with regard to nutrition," he said.

Tahara studied the same variables taking the age factor into account. With age there was a decrease of the REM-sleep period. The results also indicate that none of those factors influenced the biological rhythm of aged mice as much as food.

Ryota Akiyoshi

Akiyoshi has spoken of the relation of mathematics to other fields of knowledge, such as philosophy.

Brouwer's Intuitionism

The philosophy of mathematics from the point of view of Dutch mathematician Luitzen Egbertus Jan Brouwer (1881-1966) was the subject presented by Professor Ryota Akiyoshi, from the WIAS.

In the lecture Truth and Time in Brouwer's Intuitionism, Akiyoshi analyzed the tension between what is mathematical truth and what is a mind construct. He explained conceptual problems on logic and philosophy, and interdisciplinary aspects.

According to the professor, the object of philosophy can be anything: language, knowledge, mathematics, physics, biology and so on. Mathematics or logic, therefore, have been a central topic in philosophy since Aristotle. With the development of language and, consequently, mathematics, philosophy of mathematics deals essentially with the origin of mathematical objects.

Platonism seeks to address this issue by showing that there is an abstract and immutable world that contains all the mathematical elements. As assumption, all mathematical objects already exist, but not all have been discovered yet. The role of the mathematician would be to find objects that have not been discovered yet in this abstract and unchanging world.

On the other hand, part of the mathematical community did not accept the ideas of Platonism and disagreed with classical mathematics. The antagonism to Plato was called constructivism, the intuitionism being the best known branch of this intellectual tradition. It was believed that a mathematical object exists from the moment when a mathematician can build it in their mind.

Professor Akiyoshi also showed some essential concepts of intuitionistic logic, including the sequence of choices and the notion of creative subject.