Feb 22, 2012

"I'm Punctual." Punctuality and Modernization

When I learned the word "punctual" in high school, I thought that it was strange. In the Japanese language there is no single word that means "punctual", although of course we can explain the concept of "punctual" in Japanese; "時間に正確な". I feel the meaning of "punctual" is too much for a single word.

Wikipedia has the following to say about "Punctuality".

According to each culture, there is often an understanding about what is considered an acceptable degree of punctuality. Usually, a small amount of lateness is acceptable; this is commonly about ten or fifteen minutes in Western cultures. In some cultures, such as Japanese society, or in the military there basically is no allowance.

If it's true that punctuality is so important in Japanese society, why is there no single word meaning "punctual" in the Japanese language?

Punctuality is deeply related to the stage of industrialization. Before the Industrial Revolution the concept of "punctual" wasn't common at least among ordinary people. They didn't have to be punctual.

But after the Industrial Revolution, it became quite important for the owners of factories to insist on their workers being punctual. Workers had to front up for work at exactly the same time every morning. On the other hand farmers and fishermen don't need to keep time.

In fact before World War II Japanese people weren't always that punctual. I've read some articles written just after World War II, in which it was said that Japanese people needed to learn to be as punctual as Americans in order to modernize.

In developing countries (before World War II Japan was also a developing country) the public education systems make people punctual and they would turn to be good workers or soldiers.

So I imagine that the origin of the word "punctual" might be English, somowhere around the time of the Industrial Revolution. But when I looked up a dictionary, I found that the first known use of "punctual" was in 1675. So my hypothesis was wrong.

Anyway, I'm a modern Japanese, so I'm punctual.

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