I’ve never felt the uncertainty of time as acutely as when I started planning for the trip to Japan. I didn’t want to put too many activities, or too few, into a single day, but it was really hard to estimate just how much time we would spend in 1 place. Would we get bored early? Would we take a lot of time to walk around? How long would we spend doing certain activities?

I never really understood what Einstein meant about the relativity of time before, when he said that time was relative to what we were doing. He probably meant it as a joke (“When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute — then it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity!”) but recently I’ve fully comprehended what he meant. After all, we’ve been living for most of our lives based on our clocks, and yet why don’t we ever know what the time is without checking it? No one has been able to say with any degree of confidence what time it is without referring to the clock. How many times have you glanced at your clock and gone, “oh dear, it’s this time already?” Indeed, time is quite difficult to grasp, even though we would expect to have gained some proficiency in it with our eighty years in the world.

What can you do in a minute? You’re fairly sure you can do more than get up and take a mug of water, but probably less than the time you need to take a shower. 10 minutes is the time some people can run 2.4 km in school (the boys, that is) and yet it is only the duration of 2 songs. 3-hour seminar classes seem to drag on for ages, but you can spend 3 to 4 hours easily in a karaoke and think there wasn’t enough time to sing all the songs you wanted — but isn’t each song only about 5 minutes? As we grow older, we take the uncertainty of time for granted. Classes and recreation are regarded with different metric systems.

This doesn’t really solve the problem, though. After all, look at the (increasing) number of people coming late for appointments. We simply don’t know the precise amount of time we need for transport unless we specifically measure it. But of course, you may argue that time is there to serve us; we’re not slaves of time. We don’t have to do everything to the precise second, of course, but it does mean even greater uncertainty. When someone says they will be there at 11.25 am, do they actually mean 11.30? 11.40, even? Some people would even leave the house at 11.25. It’s all part of a culture which has accepted that time is only a reference.

So how much time should I set aside for each location? Time doesn’t tell.


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