Organic farming, Japanese recipes

Measuring in Japanese: using a masu


In planting rice we deal with lots of measurements held over from olden times that are mixed with the easy to understand metric system.   It’s similar to America, except that in America we don’t have the easy to understand metric system–we just have the obscure measurements held over from ancient times.  (It’s odd to me that while some early Americans deliberately changed the spelling of certain words–just one example–to differentiate us from the Brits, they didn’t try to leave the Imperial system of measurement behind.  I’m just grateful we don’t have shillings.  What the heck are those, anyway?)

One of the main measurements of volume is ‘shou’, which is equal to 1.8 liters.  The main things that come in a shou are rice and liquid fermented foods, including sake and soy sauce.

You can buy an ‘isshou’ (1 shou) bottle of sake in stores, but in older times it was measured with a box called a masu.  The masu is now popular as a way to drink sake in the ichigo (1 go) size, which is a good amount of sake to drink and is also conveniently a good amount of rice for one meal for two people.  The masu also came in the ‘gongo’ (5 go) size, and, of course, the ‘isshou’ (or 10 go) size.   When you buy a rice cooker in Japan, its volume is measured in ‘go’ or ‘shou’. Pictured here is the 1.8 liter size.

The cool thing about using a square box as a way to measure is that it can measure more than just its original volume.  If you tip it straight down so that the contents make a line from the lip on one side to the intersection of the wall and floor at the opposite side, you get exactly half of the original volume.  That’s pretty easy to understand.  But if you turn 45 degrees and tip again on the diagonal, so that the contents overflow at a corner and meet the floor at the other two points of the right isosceles triangle, you get 1/6 of the original volume.   Very handy for those of you who frequent sushi joints, I’m sure.

By the way, what you’re looking at there is some of the best water in the world. I feel lucky every day to be drinking it.

Up next: how an isshou masu of rice fits into our rice field area measurements.


5 thoughts on “Measuring in Japanese: using a masu

    • Thanks for the question–you helped me find a typo in this entry! The 2nd measurement gives you one-sixth of the original volume, so two of those would be a third.

  1. Actually, in America we DO have the metric system. Most people just won’t use it.
    All my measuring cups and spoons are marked in both metric and Customary, and so is all food sold in standard size packages (random weight packages of meat, deli, and produce only have to give Customary weight.)

    Basically, Americans CHOOSE to use the inconvenient units and most can’t be talked into using the metric units, which are generally available. Since 1 shou = 1.8 L, it is not much different from 2 US quarts, which is approximately 1.89 L.

  2. Pingback: Sake Tasting – Wine Glass Versus oChoko? « Sake Fuse

  3. Shillings: 1/20 of a £. Value-wise, compares with the US dime until the 20th C.

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