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). 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 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 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 (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 million or 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) 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 = 110 shaku and bu = 1100 shaku 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]


  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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. By definition. 1 koku = 10 to = 100 shō.[2]
  12. Midorikawa (2012), p. 99.
  13. 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. 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) (1891).[15]
  17. 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. Amano (1979), p. 10–13.
  19. 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. 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. "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. 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.
  • Amano, Kiyoshi 天野 清 (1979), "Kyōmasu to Edomasu" 京枡と江戸枡, Keiryōshi Kenkyū: Journal of the Society of Historical Metrology, Japan (in Japanese), 1 (1): 10–19
  • Central Bureau of Weights and Measures The Department of Agriculture and Commerce in Japan (1914), Weights and Measures in Japan: Past and Present, hdl:2027/uc1.$c174918
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