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Measure It In Japanese Part II


Measure It In Japanese Part I

A guide to Japanese weights and measures

by Dean Wayland


The following is a list of the key traditional Japanese units of measure known as the SHAKKANHŌ system, which was in use from the 8th to the 20th centuries. During this period obviously the values for each measure varied depending upon where and when, and what purpose it was being used for. Some hardly changed, while others got a make over, especially when money was involved. By the end of the SAMURAI era in 1868 it had long achieved a degree of reasonable stability, so in 1891 this system was given exact metric values. It is possible that some of the tiniest units are 1891 add ons, and were not available earlier, research continues.

Be aware that the figures for the equivalent British "Imperial" values are not exact, as they have had to be rounded off., and that these Imperial measurements are in the units as standardised in the British "Weights & Measures Acts" of 1824 and 1825, and must not be confused with the seemingly similar systems in use during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At some point I will be adding these old English measures to the web site.

Where Japanese words contain a long vowel I have rendered it with both a macron, a bar over the letter, as well as the common alternative spellings. Remember, forgetting to use the macron or the longer spelling will change the meaning of the word. Also, of the Japanese words on this page only SHAKKANHŌ may be found elsewhere written with a hyphon: SHAKKAN-HŌ or SHAKKAN-HOU.

Do not panic about the liberal number of KANJI characters spread throughout the tables and notes, you are not expected to learn them, nor will there be any tests! They are there to help you see that where for example when two units of measure have what appears in English script to have the same name, the presence of different KANJI will distinguish them for you. For example the word SHAKU has several different meanings such as 尺 for linear length, and 勺 for both volume as well as area. Context is your clue to separating the last two!

A Part II which lists units of length as an ideal reference for when reproducing historical objects can be found at Measure It In Japanese Part II . However, note that Part II is still a work in progress.


Multiples of = Unit = Metric = Imperial
- 1 SHI 糸 [1] 0.00303mm 0.000119291"
10 SHI 糸 1 MŌ, MOU 毛 or 毫 0.0303mm 0.00119291"
10 MŌ 毛 or 毫 1 RIN 厘 0.303mm 0.0119291"
10 RIN 厘 1 BU 分 3.03mm 0.119291"
10 BU 分 1 SUN 寸 30.3mm 1.19291"
6 SUN 寸 1 ATA 咫 [2] 181.8mm 7.1582"
6 SUN 寸 1 KANEJAKU 曲尺 [2] 181.8mm 7.1582"
10 SUN 寸 1 SHAKU 尺 [3] 303mm 11.9291"
1.25 SHAKU 尺 [2] 1 KUJIRAJAKU 鯨尺 [4] 378.75mm 14.9114"
6 SHAKU 尺 [3]
10 ATA 咫 [2]
10 KANEJAKU 曲尺 [2]
1 KEN 間[5]
1,818 mm 71.57480"
5.9645 ft.
6 SHAKU 尺 [3] 1 HIRO 尋[6]
1,818 mm 71.57480"
5.9645 ft.
10 SHAKU 尺 [3] 1 JŌ, JOU 丈 3,030 mm 9.941 ft.
60 KEN 間 1 CHŌ, CHOU 町 109.08 m 119.29 yds
36 JŌ 丈 1 CHŌ, CHOU 町 109.08 m 119.29 yds
36 CHŌ 町 1 RI 里 [7] 3.92688 km 2.4452 miles

[1] The SHI 糸 is probably a 1891 addition to the SHAKKANHŌ system, put in when the units were given exact metric values.

[2] 181.8mm - this is the original shorter SHAKU introduced from China in the 8th century, now more often referred to as either ATA 咫 or 曲尺 KANEJAKU meaning metal SHAKU after the L shaped set square used by carpenters, hence its other name of "carpenter's SHAKU" so as to distinguish it from the later longer SHAKU 尺 (303mm). It was based upon the nominal distance between the tip of the thumb and the tip of the middle finger of an outstretched hand. It was defined as 6 SUN or 181.8mm. A 'standard' TATAMI mat which was 1,818 x 909 mm in size, was in this older unit 10 x 5 SHAKU 尺, whereas later using the common larger SHAKU it measured 6 x 3 尺. This older measure has been preserved by carpenters for both length and for their square area version of this old SHAKU, which is 6 x 6 寸 SUN or 181.8 x 181.8 mm. See the 'area' table below.

[3] 303mm - is the normal longer regular 尺 SHAKU.

[4] The unit of cloth width known as the KUJIRAJAKU 鯨尺 (378.75mm) is a 'modern' KIMONO fabric width. Loom widths during the 16th century were much wider, closer to 400~450mm. So if the KUJIRAJAKU 鯨尺 unit existed at that time it would have been of a wider dimension. KUJIRAJAKU 鯨尺 means "whale SHAKU", as the rulers used in the clothing industry were made of baleen or "whale whiskers". FYI other rulers were made of ivory or brass.

[5] The KEN 間 was another carpenters measure, and is still in use for both length and area. In this latter role it uses the same KANJI, but you would just say 'X' KEN by 'X' KEN, and together with the context, your meaning would be clear - hopefully.

[6] The HIRO was a measure of depth when at sea, just as the English Fathom.

[7] At a much earlier time (dates unknown) the 里 RI was only 6 町 CHŌ in length. This meant that it was just 658.8 metres long.

The words 毛 or 毫 MŌ, 厘 RIN and 分 BU translate as actual fractions rather than special unit names: 1/10,000th, 1/1,000th, and 1/100th of a SHAKU 尺 respectively.

The MŌ, RIN, BU, SUN, SHAKU, JŌ and CHŌ are the normal day to day units of measure that tend to be used in the field during SHŌGUN events. For example, weapon lengths are commonly expressed in terms of SHAKU and SUN, BU etc, while JŌ and CHŌ are typically used for combat/battle distances. The JŌ is roughly equal to ten feet or two Roman Paces that is two steps. BTW The Pace was originally five feet (1.524 metres), and there were 1,000 to the old Roman mile, which is shorter than the modern English one.

Depending upon whether you use metric or Imperial units of measure, or a mix, in your daily life, you can for rough work, regard the SHAKU as one foot or 30 centimeters, and the JŌ as ten feet or three metres While the CHŌ is 9% longer than 100 metres, it is close enough for range estimations, presuming you are used to giving such things.

Practitioners of KYUDO, Japanese traditional archery, typically shoot on an 9 JŌ range, that's a quarter CHŌ or just under 28 metres, which is roughly the maximum reach of our lower power bows as used in our combat archery.

See also Measure It In Japanese Part II .

JŪ RIŌ Weight

The MŌ and the RIN were most probably added to the SHAKKANHŌ system during 1891 when all units were given clearly defined metric values.

Multiples of = Unit = Metric = Pounds (lbs) = Ounces (oz) = Grains (gr) [1]
- 1 MŌ 毛 0.00375 g 0.000008267 lbs 0.000132277 oz 0.0578713 gr
10 MŌ 1 RIN 釐 or 厘 0.0375 g 0.00008267 lbs 0.00132277 oz 0.578713 gr
10 RIN 釐 or 厘 1 FUN 分 0.375 g 0.0008267 lbs 0.0132277 oz 5.78713 gr
10 FUN 分 1 MONME 匁 [2] 3.75 g 0.008267 lbs 0.1323 oz 57.8713 gr
10 MONME 匁 1 RYŌ 両 [6] 37.5 g 0.08267 lbs 1.323 oz 578.713 gr
100 MONME 匁 [2] 1 HYAKUME 百目 [4] 375 g 0.8267 lbs 13.2277 oz 5,787.13 gr
160 MONME 匁 [3] 1 KIN 斤 600 g 1.323 lbs 21.164 oz 9,259 gr
10 HYAKUME 百目 [4] 1 KAN 貫 [3] 3.75 kg 8.267 lbs 132.277 oz 57,871.3 gr
100 KIN 斤 1 MARU 丸 [5] 30 kg 66.1579852 lbs
100 KIN 斤
2 MARU 丸
1 KO 箇 [5] 60 kg 132.315970 lbs
100 KIN 斤
2 MARU 丸
1 TAN 擔 [5] 60 kg 132.315970 lbs

[1] The grain (gr) is now defined as 1/7,000th of a pound, or exactly 0.06479891 grams, there being 453.59237 grams to the pound. Likewise there are 437.5 grains or 28.349523125 grams to a single ounce. The pound is defined as exactly 453.59237 grams.

[2] In older transcriptions of Japanese script the word MONME was written MOMME, and sometimes as just ME.

[3] The KAN 貫 is the same as the 貫目 KANME.

[4] The word HYAKUME 百目 simply means 100 MONME.

[5] Reference for EDO era weights: "Copper in the Early Modern Sino-Japanese Trade" Edited by Keiko Nagase-Reimer, Ruhr-University Bochum. NB: the KO 箇 may or may not be a Japanese unit of measure, the book was unclear.

[6] The 両 RYŌ was the weight of a gold coin of the same name.


Multiples of = Unit = Metric = Imperial
- 1 SAI 才 1.804 ml
1.804 cc
0.5090685952 fluid drams [1]
0.0636335744 fluid ounces
10 SAI 才 1 SHAKU 勺 [2] 18.04 ml
18.04 cc
5.090685952 fluid drams [1]
0.636335744 fluid ounces
10 SHAKU 勺 1 GŌ or GOU 合 180.4 ml
180.4 cc
50.90685952 fluid drams [1]
6.36335744 fluid ounces
0.318167872 pints
10 GŌ 合 1 SHŌ 升 1.804 litres 1,804 cc 63.6335744 fluid ounces
3.18167872 pints
0.39770984 gallons
10 GŌ 合 1 MASU 升 [3] 1.804 litres 1,804 cc 63.6335744 fluid ounces
3.18167872 pints
0.39770984 gallons
10 SHŌ 升 1 TO 斗 18.04 litres
18,04 cc
31.74 pints
3.9770984 gallons
4 TO 斗 1 HYŌ 俵 [4] 72.16 litres
72,160 cc
15.9083936 gallons
10 TO 斗 1 KOKU 石 [5] 180.4 litres
180,400 cc
39.770984 gallons

[1] The fluid dram is defined as 1/8 of a fluid once, and there are 20 fluid ounces in a pint, which weighs 1.25 pounds (1 pound 4 ounces). A fluid dram is therefore exactly 3.543690390625 millilitres/cubic centimetres. The Pint is defined as 568.26125 millilitres/cubic centimetres.

[2] Note that the SHAKU for capacity and area use the same KANJI character 勺, context indicating the difference. This is distinct from that used for the linear 尺 SHAKU.

[3] The MASU is a small square wooden cup used for serving SAKE or for measuring out dry rice etc.

[4] The HYŌ 俵 meaning straw bag was a generic non-unit of measure for the most part. However for rice it was given this set value of 4 TO 斗.

[5] The KOKU also served as the unit of measure for wealth in medieval Japan, as the SAMURAI recieved their stipends in the form of either the coin value of, or an actual KOKU of rice. One KOKU was supposed to be the volume of rice that was required to feed one person for one year. Many years ago I conducted an experiment with some imported Japanese short grain rice, and the results were that 1 KOKU weighed in at 138.7 kg (305.8lbs), or 379 grams (13.37 ounces) per day, which is to all practical purposes 375 grams or 100 MONME 匁 or 1 HYAKUME 百目. This was valued at 1 RYŌ of gold late in the 16th century.

William Adams, in his letter dated 1611, recounted that he and the rest of his crew were given an income of about "two pounds of rice" per day, which is roughly 2.4 KOKU, which he valued at about 70 ducats a year. See Will Adam's letter by clicking HERE.


The available data regarding the measurement units for area tend to be almost always expressed in square units. However, not only are many of these units not actually 'square' in the real world, people generally find such figures a meaningless abstraction. So in the absence of data I have calculated the most likely 'shape' and dimension of the area unit, as this is far easier to visualise. You will note that most are not square but rectangular. This shape was selected either because that's what the system appeared to dictate, but more because this was an agricultural society, and long thin units would seem to be more sensible. However, I could well be wrong, and some units lend themselves to several interpretations.

Note that the table is divided in to two parts. This is because in 1594 HIDEYOSHI TOYOTOMI the then ruler of Japan engaged in a little creative accounting. Not wanting to be seen to be putting up land taxes directly, he instead altered the definitions of the area of the land upon which taxes were raised! Thus instantaniously land owners became wealthier, obviously they had all had a wonderful and miraculous wind-fall to their personal land holdings. Needless to say HIDEYOSHI taxed it appropriately...

Multiples of = Unit = Metric = Imperial
c.700 ~ 1590 SHAKKANHŌ
- 1 SHAKU 勺 or KANEJAKU 曲尺 [1] [3]
6 x 6 寸 SUN
181.8 x 181.8 mm
330.5124 cm2
7.157480" x 7.157480"
51.22950 sq.in.
0.355760 sq.ft.
10 SHAKU 勺 or KANEJAKU 曲尺 [1] 1 GŌ or GOU 合
6 尺 SHAKU x 6 寸 SUN [2]
1 間 KEN x 6 寸 SUN
1,818 x 181.8 mm
0.3306 m2
71.57480" x 7.157480"
3.55760 sq.ft.
0.3952895 sq.yds.
5 GŌ 合
50 SHAKU 勺 or KANEJAKU 曲尺 [1]
1 JŌ or JOU 畳 [4]
6 x 3 尺 SHAKU [2]
1,818 x 909 mm
1.652562 m2
71.57480" x 35.78740"
17.7880 sq ft.
1.97644770 sq.yds.
10 GŌ 合
2 JŌ 畳
100 SHAKU 勺 or KANEJAKU 曲尺 [1]
1 間 KEN [4]
6 x 6 尺SHAKU [2]
1,818 x 1,818 mm
3.305124 m2
71.57480" x 71.57480"
35.5760 sq.ft.
3.952895 sq.yds.
10 GŌ 合
2 JŌ 畳
100 SHAKU 勺 or KANEJAKU 曲尺 [1]
1 BU 歩 [4]
1 x 1 間 KEN
6 x 6 尺SHAKU [2]
1,818 x 1,818 mm
3.305124 m2
71.57480" x 71.57480"
35.5760 sq.ft.
3.952895 sq.yds.
360 BU 歩
360 KEN 間
1 TAN 段 or 反 [5]
1 町 CHŌ x 6 間 KEN
109.08 x 10.908 m
1,189.84464 m2
0.118984464 hectares
119.29 x 11.929 yds.
1,423.0423460 sq.yd.
0.2940 acres
3,600 BU 歩
3,600 KEN 間
10 TAN 段 or 反
1 CHŌBU, CHOUBU 町歩 [5] [6]
1 x 1 町 CHŌ
109.08 x 109.08 m
11,898.4464 m2
1.18984464 hectares
119.29 x 119.29 yds.
14,230.4232 sq.yds.
2.94017 acres
Post 1594 SHAKKANHŌ Tax Related Reforms by HIDEYOSHI TOYOTOMI
100 SHAKU 勺 or KANEJAKU 曲尺 [1]
10 GŌ 合
2 JŌ 畳
1 KEN 間
1 BU 歩
1 TSUBO 坪 [5]
1 x 1 間 KEN
6 x 6 尺 SHAKU [2]
1,818 x 1,818 mm [2]
3.305124 m2
71.57480" x 71.57480"
35.5760 sq.ft.
3.952895 sq.yds.
30 BU 歩
30 KEN 間
30 TSUBO 坪
1 SE 畝 [3]
30 x 1 間 KEN
180 x 6 尺 SHAKU [2]
54.54 x 1.818 m
99.15372 m2
59.6456 x 1.988 yds.
118.5754528 sq.yds.
0.0244990 acres
300 BU 歩
300 KEN 間
300 TSUBO 坪
10 SE 畝
1 TAN 段 or 反 [5]
1 町 CHŌ x 5 間 KEN
1 町 CHŌ x 3 丈 JŌ
109.08 x 9.09 m
991.5372 m2
0.09915372 hectares
119.29 x 9.940 yds.
1,185.86862 sq.yds.
0.2450 acres
3,000 BU 歩
3,000 KEN 間
3,000 TSUBO 坪
10 TAN 段 or 反
1 CHŌBU, CHOUBU 町歩 [5] [6]
1 町 CHŌ x 50 間 KEN
1 町 CHŌ x 30 丈 JŌ
109.08 x 90.9 m
9,915.372 m2
0.9915372 hectares
119.29 x 99.4083 yds.
11,858.686 sq.yds.
2.4501 acres

[1] The original linear SHAKU 尺 which became the ATA 咫 and the KANEJAKU 曲尺 [3] equals 181.8 mm. The square SHAKU 勺 and the square KANEJAKU 曲尺 equal 181.8 x 181.8 mm.

[2] The medieval/modern linear SHAKU 尺 equals 303 mm.

[3] As has been pointed out there are several varieties of "SHAKU". The original old linear SHAKU 尺 often later referred to as either ATA 咫 or 曲尺 KANEJAKU, was introduced from China in the 8th century. KANEJAKU means metal SHAKU after the L shaped set square used by carpenters hence its other name of "carpenter's SHAKU" and preserved by these artisans to this day. It was based upon the nominal distance between the tip of the thumb and the tip of the middle finger of an outstretched hand. This older unit of length was defined as 6 寸 SUN or 181.8mm, while the square SHAKU 勺 or square KANEJAKU 曲尺 were 6 x 6 寸 SUN (a SUN being 30.3mm). The 'standard' TATAMI mat measures 1,818 x 909mm which means that in the old linear unit they would have measured 10 x 5 SHAKU 尺. Whereas when using the later longer unit they measured 6 x 3 SHAKU 尺. However when describing its area, you use the square 勺 SHAKU, or square 曲尺 KANEJAKU, so a TATAMI is 10 x 5 = 50 勺 SHAKU or 曲尺 KANEJAKU. Just like the other carpenter's unit of measure the KEN, the square or linear KANEJAKU 曲尺 uses the same KANJI, context defining the difference. Be aware that the square SHAKU uses the KANJI character 勺 which it shares with the SHAKU for capacity, again context indicates the difference.

[4] For centuries the size of Japanese rooms were described in terms of the number of TATAMI mats they would take. The term used for this unit of area was the JŌ 畳 (1,818 x 909 mm). Two JŌ 畳 formed a square KEN 間, which was 6 x 6 SHAKU 尺 or 100 勺 SHAKU (area unit) or 100 of the square 曲尺 KANEJAKU, that is 1,818 x 1,818 mm, and was called the BU 歩. The BU was the unit used specifically to describe the area of agricultural land thus distinguishing it from the carpenter's square 間 KEN. In 1594 the 歩 BU was joined by two new units one of which was exactly the same size. This was the 坪 TSUBO which was exclusively used for expressing room or urban plot sizes, again so as to distinguish it from the carpenter's linear and square 間 KEN, as well as the agricultural 歩 BU. I suspect the 'need' for three terms describing the same unit of area had more to do with class attitudes, than to administrative necessity. The other new unit was an intermediate measure of area lying between the BU 歩 and the TAN 段 or 反 called the 畝 SE, of 30 歩 BU or TSUBO.

[5] Up until 1594 the standard TAN and CHŌ had been in use since the 8th century. TOYOTOMI HIDEYOSHI at that time had them reduced in size by 1/6th so as to increase the actual income from land taxes, without actually raising the tax rate per unit area of land. Thus he bought in an additional 20% more funds from the same amount of turf!

[6] The linear unit 町 CHŌ or CHOU appears to form the area unit 町歩 CHŌBU or CHOUBU by the addition of 歩 BU. However, often the area is expressed simply with the linear unit 町 CHŌ, much like the carpenter's units the 間 KEN and 曲尺 KANEJAKU.

NB: In many books the KOKU which is a unit of volume, is used to describe land values, this is not a unit of area, but a unit of productivity, that is the volume of rice that a given piece of land will grow.

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