Do you know what this means?
First, let's break down the kanji:
So, you can plainly see this means "during 4-6 hours"! Easy.
But the real meaning is equally easy.
What is 4 x 6? 24.
How many hours are there in a day? 24.
Simply multiply 四 (four) x 六 (six) to get the 24 hours (時) in a day. The 中 simply means "all throughout" the day.
In other words, this means "all the time."
"always" or "around the clock" or "day and night"
四六時中 means "always, all day, anytime."
- 四六時中 always; all day; anytime
- いつも always
- 一日中 all day
- いつでも anytime
- 意味 meaning
The 4 (四) x 6 (六) equals 24, which represents 24 hours.
- X かける times; multiply
- ＝ イコール equal
- 時間 time; hour
- 表しています expressing; indicating
Originally, up until the Edo period, it was called "二六時中 (Two-Six All the Time)," but
- もともと originally
- 江戸時代 Edo period
- 二六時中 Two-Six All the Time (an old way of expressing "all the time")
- 言っていました was saying; used to say
- が but; however
with the introduction of the 24-hour system in the Meiji period, it changed to "四六時中."
- 明治時代 Meiji period
- ２４時間制 24-hour system
- 導入される to be introduced; to be implemented
- という such a
- 言い方 way of saying; expression
- 変わりました changed; transformed
Until the Edo period, one day was divided into 12 刻 "koku," with one "koku" being approximately 2 hours.
- １日 one day
- １２刻 12 koku (old Japanese time system)
- こく koku (an old unit of time)
- 区切っていました was dividing; was separating
- 約 approximately
- ２時間 two hours
Edo Period Version
As Yumi mentioned, it wasn't always "4x6." In the Edo period, this saying was 二六時中.
But that's "2 x 6" and only comes to 12!
During the Edo period in Japan, a day was divided into 12 periods known as "刻" (koku) which followed and were named after the 12 animals of the zodiac. This system of time-keeping was different from the modern 24-hour system we use today.
A single "刻" (koku) is approximately equivalent to two hours in the modern system, however, it's important to note that the length of a koku would change throughout the year. This is because the system divided daylight and night-time into six equal intervals each. As the length of daylight changes with the seasons, so too did the length of each koku.
For example, in the summer, when the days are longer, each of the six daytime koku would be longer than two modern hours, and each of the nighttime koku would be shorter. In the winter, the situation would be reversed, with shorter daytime koku and longer nighttime koku.
With the advent of the Meiji period and increasing Western influence, Japan switched to the more universally applied solar day, which led to the adoption of the 24-hour system that's used in most of the world today.
And that is why it changed from 二六時中 to the modern 四六時中!
Want more of these word origin lessons?
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