a look back in time
Like much else in recent Japanese history, modern clockmaking and watchmaking can be traced back to the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when the Emperor Meiji took power from the last Tokugawa Shogun, ending nearly 300 years of rule by the Tokugawa clan.
In the years following the Meiji Restoration, Japan began to adopt some aspects of Western culture and technology. The first domestic pocket watch was produced by the now defunct Osaka Watch Company in 1895.
One retailer of foreign imports was K. Hattori & Co., Ltd, established in 1881 in Tokyo’s Ginza district by Kintaro Hattori. In 1892, Hattori established Seikosha Co., Ltd. to manufacture wall clocks, followed by pocket watches three years later. Finally, in 1913 Seikosha made the first Japanese wristwatch, the Laurel.
K. Hattori & Co., the longest-established Japanese watchmaker still in business, is the forerunner of today’s Seiko Holdings Corporation and its subsidiaries and sister companies. Seiko, together with Citizen, now dominates the Japanese watch industry. The country’s third major Japanese manufacturer, Orient Watch Co., is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Seiko.
Citizen was a relative upstart compared to Seiko. The predecessor of Citizen, the Shokosha Watch Research Institute, was established in 1918, producing its first pocket watch, named “Citizen”, in 1924. Eventually the company was renamed Citizen Watch Co., Ltd. in 1930, with the brand’s first wristwatch coming a year later.
Today both Seiko and Citizen are multibillion dollar public corporations, with a string of subsidiaries in multiple businesses, as is the habit of large Japanese companies. Citizen not only makes watches, but also thermometers, blood-pressure monitors, mobile phone hinges and even pachinko ball dispensers.
Seiko and Citizen each produce several hundred million watches and movements annually, the bulk of which are basic and made in China and other countries where production costs are low.
Seiko’s founder Kintaro Hattori (above) established a watch retail business in Tokyo in 1881 In 1892, Hattori set up Seikosha to make wall clocks