Last updated

The koku () is a Chinese-based Japanese unit of volume. 1 koku is equivalent to 10 to ( ) or approximately 180 litres (40 imp gal; 48 US gal), [lower-alpha 1] [1] or about 150 kilograms (330 lb) of rice. It converts, in turn, to 100 shō and 1000 . [2] One is the volume of the "rice cup", the plastic measuring cup that is supplied with commercial Japanese rice cookers. [3]


The koku in Japan was typically used as a dry measure. The amount of rice production measured in koku was the metric by which the magnitude of a feudal domain ( han ) was evaluated. [4] A feudal lord was only considered daimyō class when his domain amounted to at least 10,000 koku. [4] As a rule of thumb, one koku was considered a sufficient quantity of rice to feed one person for one year. [5] [lower-alpha 2] [lower-alpha 3]

The Chinese equivalent or cognate unit for capacity is the shi or dan (Chinese :; pinyin :shí, dàn; Wade–Giles :shih, tan) also known as hu (; ; hu), now approximately 103 litres but historically about 59.44 litres (13.07 imp gal; 15.70 US gal).

Chinese equivalent

The Chinese shi or dan is equal to 10 dou (; dǒu; tou) "pecks", 100 sheng (; shēng; sheng) "pints". [9] While the current shi is 103 litres in volume, [10] the shi of the Tang dynasty (618–907) period equalled 59.44 litres. [9]

Modern unit

The exact modern koku is calculated to be 180.39 litres, 100 times the capacity of a modern shō . [11] [lower-alpha 4] This modern koku is essentially defined to be the same as the koku from the Edo period (1600–1868), [lower-alpha 5] namely 100 times the shō equal to 64827 cubic bu in the traditional shakkanhō measuring system. [16]

Origin of the modern unit

The kyō-masu ( 京枡 , "Kyoto masu "), the semi-official one shō measuring box since the late 16th century under Daimyo Nobunaga, [17] began to be made in a different (larger) size in the early Edo period, sometime during the 1620s. [18] Its dimensions, given in the traditional Japanese shaku length unit system, were 4 sun 9 bu square times 2 sun 7 bu depth. [lower-alpha 6] [18] [13] Its volume, which could be calculated by multiplication was: [11]

1 koku = 100 shō = 100 × (49 bu × 49 bu × 27 bu) = 100 × 64,827 cubic bu [18] [lower-alpha 7]

Although this was referred to as shin kyō-masu or the "new" measuring cup in its early days, [18] its use supplanted the old measure in most areas in Japan, until the only place still left using the old cup ("edo-masu") was the city of Edo, [19] and the Edo government passed an edict declaring the kyō-masu the official nationwide measure standard [17] in 1669 (Kanbun 9). [19]

Modern measurement enactment

When the 1891 Japanese Weights and Measures Act  [ ja ] was promulgated, it defined the shō unit as the capacity of the standard kyo-masu of 64827 cubic bu. [15] The same act also defined the shaku length as 1033 metre. [15] The metric equivalent of the modern shō is 24011331 litres. [20] The modern koku is therefore 240,1001331 litres, or 180.39 litres. [21]

The modern shaku defined here is set to equal the so-called setchū-shaku (setchū-jaku or "compromise shaku"), [22] measuring 302.97 mm, a middle-ground value between two different kane-jaku standards. [lower-alpha 8] [23] [22] A researcher has pointed out that the (shin) kyō-masu  [ ja ] cups ought to have used take-jaku which were 0.2% longer. [12] [lower-alpha 9] However, the actual measuring cups in use did not quite attain the take shaku metric, and when the Japanese Ministry of Finance had collected actual samples of masu from the masu-za  [ ja ] (measuring-cup guilds) of both eastern and western Japan, they found that the measurements were close to the average of take-jaku and kane-jaku. [28]

Lumber koku

The "lumber koku" or "maritime koku" is defined as equal to 10 cubic shaku in the lumber or shipping industry, [29] compared with the standard koku measures 6.48 cubic shaku. [6] A lumber koku is conventionally accepted as equivalent to 120 board feet, but in practice may convert to less. [30] In metric measures 1 lumber koku is about 278.3 litres (61.2 imp gal; 73.5 US gal).

Historic use

The exact measure now in use was devised around the 1620s, but not officially adopted for all of Japan until the Kanbun era (1660s).

Feudal Japan

Under the Tokugawa shogunate (1603–1868) of the Edo period of Japanese history, each feudal domain had an assessment of its potential income known as kokudaka (production yield) which in part determined its order of precedence at the Shogunal court. The smallest kokudaka to qualify the fief-holder for the title of daimyō was 10,000 koku (worth ¥ 705.53 million (2016) (equivalent to ¥719.91 millionor US$ 6.6 million in 2019) [31] ) [32] and Kaga han, the largest fief (other than that of the shōgun ), was called the "million-koku domain". Its holdings totaled around 1,025,000 koku (worth ¥ 72.3 billion  (2016) (equivalent to ¥73.77 billion or US$ 676.77 million in 2019) [31] ). Many samurai, including hatamoto (a high-ranking samurai), received stipends in koku, while a few received salaries instead.

The kokudaka was reported in terms of brown rice (genmai) in most places, with the exception of the land ruled by the Satsuma clan which reported in terms of unhusked or non-winnowed rice (momi ( ). [33] Since this practice had persisted, past Japanese rice production statistics need to be adjusted for comparison with other countries that report production by milled or polished rice. [6]

Even in certain parts of the Tōhoku region or Ezo (Hokkaidō), where rice could not be grown, the economy was still measured in terms of koku, with other crops and produce converted to their equivalent value in terms of rice. [34] The kokudaka was not adjusted from year to year, and thus some fiefs had larger economies than their nominal koku indicated, due to land reclamation and new rice field development, which allowed them to fund development projects.

As measure of cargo ship class

Koku was also used to measure how much a ship could carry when all its loads were rice. Smaller ships carried 50 koku (7.5 tonnes, 7.4 long tons, 8.3 short tons) while the biggest ships carried over 1,000 koku (150 tonnes, 150 long tons, 170 short tons). The biggest ships were larger than military vessels owned by the shogunate.

The Hyakumangoku Matsuri (Million-Koku Festival) in Kanazawa, Japan celebrates the arrival of daimyō Maeda Toshiie into the city in 1583, although Maeda's income was not raised to over a million koku until after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600.

In fiction

The James Clavell novel Shōgun uses the Koku measure extensively as a plot device by many of the main characters as a method of reward, punishment and enticement. While fiction, it shows the importance of the fief, the rice measure and payments.

Explanatory notes

  1. 180 litres (4.9 imp bsh; 5.1 US bsh)
  2. A koku of brown rice (unpolished rice) weighs about 150 kilograms (330 lb). [5] [6] White rice (milled rice, polished rice) weighs about the same (150g per gō). [7] But 1 koku of brown rice would only yield 0.91 koku of milled rice (white rice) [6] after processing (seimai ( 精米 )), i.e., removing the rice bran).
  3. Apparently 1.8 koku (1 koku and 8 to) was actually required for nourishment by a man each year, according to the conventional wisdom documented in a "home code" (kakun  [ ja ]) of a certain merchant family in the Edo period. [8]
  4. Each shō was determined to measure 1803.9 cubic centimetres (millilitres) [12] or 1.803906 litres. [13]
  5. The Edo Period koku was roughly 180 litres or 5 bushels. [14]
  6. sun = 110shaku and bu = 1100shaku respectively.
  7. Also =100 × 64.827 cubic sun. [13]
  8. Between the common people's Matashiro-jaku, 302.37 mm and the bakufu 's official Kyōho-jaku 303.36 mm. [23] The matashirō-jaku又四郎尺 devised by a carpenter [22] is a type of the carpentry scale was the commoner's type of 曲尺 (kane-jaku/kyoku-jaku/magari-jaku). [24] [25]
  9. One type of take-jaku is the aforementioned Kyōho-jaku [26] which came into use in the Kyoho era (1716-1736). [27]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sake</span> Alcoholic beverage of Japanese origin

Sake or saké, also referred to as Japanese rice wine, is an alcoholic beverage of Japanese origin made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove the bran. Despite the name Japanese rice wine, sake, and indeed any East Asian rice wine, is produced by a brewing process more akin to that of beer, where starch is converted into sugars that ferment into alcohol, whereas in wine, alcohol is produced by fermenting sugar that is naturally present in fruit, typically grapes.

Shaku or Japanese foot is a Japanese unit of length derived from the Chinese chi, originally based upon the distance measured by a human hand from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the forefinger. Traditionally, the length varied by location or use, but it is now standardized as 10/33 m, or approximately 30.3 centimeters (11.9 in).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kyōhō</span> Period of Japanese history (1716–1736)

Kyōhō (享保), also pronounced Kyōho, was a Japanese era name after Shōtoku and before Gembun. This period spanned the years from July 1716 through April 1736. The reigning emperors were Nakamikado-tennō (中御門天皇) and Sakuramachi-tennō (桜町天皇).

Traditional Japanese units of measurement or the shakkanhō (尺貫法) is the traditional system of measurement used by the people of the Japanese archipelago. It is largely based on the Chinese system, which spread to Japan and the rest of the Sinosphere in antiquity. It has remained mostly unaltered since the adoption of the measures of the Tang dynasty in 701. Following the 1868 Meiji Restoration, Imperial Japan adopted the metric system and defined the traditional units in metric terms on the basis of a prototype metre and kilogram. The present values of most Korean and Taiwanese units of measurement derive from these values as well.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kuda-gitsune</span>

The kuda-gitsune or kuda-kitsune, also pronounced kanko, is a type of spirit possession in legends around various parts of Japan. It may be known otherwise as osaki especially in the Kantō region, and also considered equivalent to the izuna.

<i>Masu</i> (measurement) Square wooden box used to measure rice

A masu was originally a square wooden box used to measure rice in Japan during the feudal period. In 1885 Japan signed the Convention du Mètre and in 1886 converted all of its traditional measures to the metric system.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Niwa Nagakuni</span>

Viscount Niwa Nagakuni was an Edo period Japanese samurai, and the 10th daimyō of Nihonmatsu Domain in the Tōhoku region of Japan. He was the 11th hereditary chieftain of the Niwa clan. His courtesy title was Saikyō-no-daifu, and his Court rank was Junior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Musa-juku</span> Pre-modern Japan post-station along highway

Musa-juku (武佐宿) was the sixty-sixth of the sixty-nine stations of the Nakasendō highway connecting Edo with Kyoto in Edo period Japan. It was located in the present-day city of Ōmihachiman, Shiga Prefecture, Japan. Other kanji used to write "Musa" included 牟佐 and 身狭, but 武佐 became the official kanji in the Edo period.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kubota Domain</span> Historical state

Kubota Domain was a feudal domain in Edo period Japan, located in Dewa Province, Japan. It was centered on Kubota Castle in what is now the city of Akita and was thus also known as the Akita Domain. It was governed for the whole of its history by the Satake clan. During its rule over Kubota, the Satake clan was ranked as a Province-holding daimyō family, and as such, had the privilege of shogunal audiences in the Great Hall (Ohiroma) of Edo Castle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kishiwada Domain</span>

Kishiwada Domain was a feudal domain under the Tokugawa shogunate of Edo period Japan, located in Izumi Province in what is now the southern portion of modern-day Osaka Prefecture. It was centered around Kishiwada Castle and was controlled by the fudai daimyō Okabe clan throughout much of its history.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Zeze Domain</span>

Zeze Domain was a fudai feudal domain under the Tokugawa shogunate of Edo period Japan. It was located in southern Ōmi Province, in the Kansai region of central Honshu. The domain was centered at Zeze Castle, located on the shore of Lake Biwa in what is now the city of Ōtsu in Shiga Prefecture.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ōgaki Domain</span> Historical state

Ōgaki Domain was a fudai feudal domain under the Tokugawa shogunate of Edo period Japan. It was located in Mino Province, in the Tōkai region of central Honshu. The domain was centered at Ōgaki Castle, in what is now the city of Ōgaki in Gifu Prefecture. It was ruled for most of its existence by the Toda clan.

Honda Masazumi was a Japanese samurai of the Azuchi–Momoyama period through early Edo period, who served the Tokugawa clan. He later became a daimyō, and one of the first rōjū of the Tokugawa shogunate.

<i>Ikuchi</i> Yōkai

Ikuchi is a yōkai of the sea serpent type in Japanese legend.

Fujiwara no Tanetsugu was a Japanese noble of the late Nara period. He was the grandson of the sangi Fujiwara no Umakai, the founder of the Fujiwara Shikike. He reached the court rank of shō san-mi (正三位) and the position of chūnagon. He was posthumously awarded the rank of shō ichi-i (正一位) and the position of daijō-daijin.

This glossary of sake terms lists some of terms and definitions involved in making sake, and some terms which also apply to other beverages such as beer. Sake, also referred to as a Japanese rice wine, is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove the bran. Unlike wine, in which alcohol is produced by fermenting sugar that is naturally present in fruit, sake is produced by a brewing process more akin to that of beer, where starch is converted into sugars which ferment into alcohol.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hondōri Iwamura-chō</span>

Hondōri Iwamura-chō is the name of the town center of Iwamura in Ena, Gifu Prefecture, and was designated as one of the Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings on April 17, 1998. It is the merchant district of a former castle town that prospered during the Edo period as a political, cultural and economic center of the Tōnō region.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fukuchiyama Domain</span> Japanese feudal domain located in Tanba Province

Fukuchiyama Domain was a feudal domain under the Tokugawa shogunate of Edo period Japan, located in Tanba Province in what is now the west-central portion of modern-day Kyoto Prefecture. It was centered initially around Fukuchiyama Castle in what is now the city of Fukuchiyama, Kyoto.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Iyo-Yoshida Domain</span> Administrative division in southwestern Japan during the Edo period (1657-1871)

Iyo-Yoshida Domain was a feudal domain under the Tokugawa shogunate of Edo period Japan, controlling all of Tosa Province in what is now western Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. It was centered around Yoshida jin'ya, located in what is now part of the city of Uwajima, Ehime, and was ruled throughout its history by a cadet branch of the tozama daimyō Date clan. Iyo-Yoshida Domain was dissolved in the abolition of the han system in 1871 and is now part of Ehime Prefecture.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Komatsu Domain</span> Administrative division in southwestern Japan during the Edo period (1636-1871)

Komatsu Domain was a feudal domain under the Tokugawa shogunate of Edo period Japan, in what is now eastern Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. It was centered around Komatsu jin'ya in what snow part of the city of Saijō, Ehime, and was ruled throughout all of its history by a cadet branch of the Hitotsuyanagi clan. Komatsu Domain was dissolved in the abolition of the han system in 1871 and is now part of Ehime Prefecture.


  1. Hayek, Matthias; Horiuchi, Annick, eds. (2014). Listen, Copy, Read: Popular Learning in Early Modern Japan. BRILL. p. 195, note 39. ISBN   978-9-00427-972-8.
  2. 1 2 Cardarelli, François (2003). " Old Japanese Units of Capacity". Encyclopaedia of Scientific Units, Weights and Measure. Translated by M.J. Shields. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 151. ISBN   1-85233-682-X.
  3. Andoh, Elizabeth (2012). Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen: A Cookbook. Ten Speed Press. p. 136. ISBN   978-0-307-81355-8.
  4. 1 2 Curtin, Philip D. (2002) [2000]. The World and the West: The European Challenge and the Overseas Response in the Age of Empire (revised ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 159. ISBN   0-52189-054-3.
  5. 1 2 Francks, Penelope (2006). Rural Economic Development in Japan: From the Nineteenth Century to the Pacific War. Routledge. p. xvii. ISBN   1-134-20786-7.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Rose, Beth (2016) [1985]. Appendix to the Rice Economy of Asia. Routledge. p. 84. ISBN   978-1-31733-947-2.
  7. Yamaguchi, Tomoko 山口智子 (2017). "Mushi kamado de taita beihan no bussei to oishisa no hyōka" 蒸しかまどで炊いた米飯の物性とおいしさの評価 [Evaluation of physical properties and taste of rice cooked by steamed rice cooker, Mushikamado](PDF). Bulletin of the Faculty of Education. Natural Sciences. Niigata University. 34 (2): 224.
  8. Ramseyer, Mark J. (1979). "Thrift and Diligence; Home Codes of Tokugawa Merchat Families". Monumenta Nipponica. Sophia University. 34 (2): 224. doi:10.2307/2384323. JSTOR   2384323.
  9. 1 2 Wittfogel, Karl A.; Fêng, Chia-Shêng (1946). "History of Chinese Society Liao (907-1125)". Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. Sophia University. 36: 609. doi:10.2307/1005570. JSTOR   1005570. JSTOR   1005570
  10. Perdue, Peter C. (2005). China Marches West . Harvard University Press. p.  598. ISBN   0-674-01684-X.
  11. 1 2 By definition. 1 koku = 10 to = 100 shō. [2]
  12. 1 2 Midorikawa (2012), p. 99.
  13. 1 2 3 Japanese government (1878). Le Japon à l'exposition universelle de 1878: 2ème partie (in French). Commission Impériale Japonaise. p. 18.
  14. Wittfogel, Karl A. (1936). "Financial Difficulties of The Edo Bakufu". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. Sophia University. 1 (3/4): 314, note 26. JSTOR   2717787
  15. 1 2 3 Nihon shakai jii日本社會事彙 (in Japanese). Vol. 2. Keizai Zasshi Sha. 1907. p. 1252. 升 六萬四千八百二十七立方分
  16. Weights and Measures Act (Japan)  [ ja ] (1891). [15]
  17. 1 2 Yamamura, Kozo (1990), "8 The growth of commerce in medieval Japan", in Yamamura, Kozo (ed.), The Cambridge History of Japan, vol. 3, p. 393, ISBN   9780521223546
  18. 1 2 3 4 Amano (1979), p. 10–13.
  19. 1 2 Umemura, Mataji 梅村又次; Hayami, Akira 速水融; Miyamoto Matarō 宮本又郎, eds. (1979), Nihon keizaishi 1 keizaishakai no seiritsu: 17~18 seiki日本経済史 1 経済社会の成立: 17~18世紀 (in Japanese), Iwanami
  20. Koizumi, Kesakatsu 小泉袈裟勝, ed. (1981). Tan'i no jiten単位の辞典 (in Japanese) (revised 4th ed.). Rateisu. p. 394.
  21. Midorikawa (2012) , p. 99: "1,803.9 cm3".
  22. 1 2 3 Weights and Measures in Japan: Past and Present (1914), pp. 18–19: "The setchū-shaku.. [which] Inō Chūkei.. invented.. a mean between the matashirō-shaku and the kyōho-shaku, and was therefore called the measure of setchū (compromise). The length is the same as that of the present shaku".
  23. 1 2 "Setchū-jaku せっちゅう‐じゃく【折衷尺】", Seisen-ban Nihon kokugo daijiten, Shogakukan, via kotobank. accessed 2020-02-07.
  24. JWMA 1978, p. 25.
  25. "kanejaku; kyokushaku" かねじゃく【曲尺】;きょくしゃく【曲尺】. Digital Daijisen デジタル大辞泉. Shogakukan. Retrieved 2019-08-03.
  26. JWMA 1978, p. 1.
  27. Ōtsuki, Nyoden; Krieger, Carel Coenruad (1940). The Infiltration of European Civilization in Japan During the 18th Century. Brill. p. 598.
  28. JWMA (1978) , p. 2: "The results of measuring original vessels at both the East and West Masu-za yielded (a value) near the average of take-jaku and magari-jaku (=kane-jaku) 東西両桝座の原器の測定結果では、竹尺と曲り尺の平均した長さに近".
  29. Totman, Conrad D. (1989). The Green Archipelago: Forestry in Preindustrial Japan . University of California Press. p.  228, note 37. ISBN   0-52006-313-9.
  30. United States Forest Service (1945), Japan: forest resources, forest products, forest policy, Division of forest economics, Forest service, U.S. Dept. of agriculture, p. 11
  31. 1 2 1868 to 1938: Williamson J., Nominal Wage, Cost of Living, Real Wage and Land Rent Data for Japan 1831-1938 , 1939 to 1945: Bank of Japan Historical Statistics Afterwards, Japanese Historical Consumer Price Index numbers based on data available from the Japanese Statistics Bureau. Japan Historical Consumer Price Index (CPI) – 1970 to 2014 Retrieved 30 July 2014. For between 1946 and 1970, from "昭和戦後史" . Retrieved 2015-01-24.
  32. "Shōhisha bukka shisū (CPI) kekka" 消費者物価指数 (CPI) 結果 [Consumer Price Index (CPI) results](CSV). Statistics Bureau of Japan (in Japanese). Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications . Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  33. Kurihara, Ryūichi (1972). Bakumatsu Nihon no gunsei幕末日本の軍制 (in Japanese). Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha. p. 195, note 39. ISBN   9789004279728.
  34. Beasley, William G. (1972). The Meiji Restoration . Stanford University Press. pp.  14–15. ISBN   0804708150.