July 7, 2023

What Does 四六時中 Mean? Meaning and Etymology

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Do you know what this means?


Kanji Breakdown

First, let's break down the kanji:





So, you can plainly see this means "during 4-6 hours"! Easy.

Er... No.

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"

Yumi's Commentary











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!

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