Set of 6 Japanese Scale Rules Signed Fujishima

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Measuring devices can serve as political symbols. After the Meiji restoration of 1868, Japanese leaders embraced institutions of Western nations, including compulsory elementary education and laboratory training in science and engineering. Japanese instrument makers such as the firm of Kokoudo Fujishima also endeavored to modernize by adopting Western forms of instruments and Western units of measurement. Many Fujishima products thus were divided according to the British inch and the French meter.
The Japanese Empire Department of Education, established in 1870 in part to ensure the Westernization of Japan's primary, middle, and secondary schools, included Fujishima rules in its display at the 1876 World's Fair, the Centennial Exhibition of Philadelphia. However, the government had not made a clean break with Japanese technology and culture as it existed before the United States opened trade with Japan in the 1850s. Instead, the Department of Education's exhibit also contained instruments marked with traditional Japanese units of measurement, such as the sun and shaku. For instance, see MA.261291, MA.261292, MA.261293, and MA.261299. Objects such as MA.261284 and MA.261294 combined Eastern and Western units of measurement.
This set of six bamboo scales consists of four rulers that are just over 12" (about 31 cm) long, one that is 7-3/4" (19.7 cm), and one that is 2-3/16" (15.6 cm). They are stored in a rectangular paulownia wood case that has a red and white sticker on the right end marked: No. 45 (/) M.
The first rule is marked in Japanese: Made by Fujishima. It is also marked: 20. It has scales for 1-3/16" to the foot and 5/16" to the foot along both edges. The back is marked: FOOT. It is also marked: 1/20. It is also stamped in red: 1.
The second rule is marked in Japanese: Made by Fujishima. It is also marked: 30000. The scales along both edges are identical, 30 cm long, divided to hundreds, and numbered by three hundreds from 0 to 9,000. The back of the rule is stamped in red: METRE. It is also marked: 1 (/) 30000. It is also marked: 4.
The third rule is marked in Japanese: Made by Fujishima. It is also marked: 3000. The scales along both edges are identical, 30 cm long, divided to single units, and numbered by twenties from 0 to 900. The back of the rule is stamped in red: METRE. It is also marked: 1 (/) 3000. It is also marked: 4.
The fourth rule has a scale labeled "250" along one edge. It is divided to fourths and numbered in both directions by ones from 0 to 75. The other edge is divided by halves and numbered by twos from 0 to 150. This scale is labeled: 500. The scales are 30 cm long. The back of the rule is stamped in red: METRE. It is also marked: 1 (/) 250. It is also marked: 1 (/) 500. It is also marked: 8. Handwritten Japanese characters on the back have been translated: Metric Rokuemon.
The fifth rule has a slot down the middle. Both scales are numbered in Japanese. One scale is 6" (15.3 cm) long and is divided into five sun, a traditional Japanese unit of length that is 1/10 of a shaku, a "foot" measure. The first unit is subdivided into 50 parts, and the other four units are subdivided into 20 parts. The center of each unit is marked with a dot. The other scale is 4-3/8" (10.9 cm) long and is marked at irregular intervals. The back is not marked.
The scales on the sixth and shortest rule are 2" (5.1 cm) long, divided to single units, and numbered by threes from 0 to 15. The rule is stamped in red on the back: 1 (/) 30000. It is also marked: 6.
After the fair the U.S. Commissioner of Education, John Eaton, arranged for the transfer of the Japanese Empire Department of Education's entire exhibit to the Bureau of Education (then part of the Department of the Interior) for a planned museum. The museum closed in 1906 due to high maintenance costs, and much of the collection was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1910.
References: Japan. Department of Education, An Outline History of Japanese Education: Prepared for the Philadelphia International Exhibition, 1876 (New York: D. Appleton, 1876), 121–122, 191–202; U.S. Centennial Commission, International Exhibition, 1876. Reports and Awards, ed. Francis A. Walker (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880), viii:143, 335; U.S. Bureau of Education, Annual Report of the Commissioner (1876), ccxi–ccxii; Yukio Nagahira, "Transfer of Scientific Instrument Making Technology from Europe to Japan in Meiji Era," First International Conference on Business and Technology Transfer, Kyoto, Japan, October 20, 2002,
Currently not on view
date made
before 1876
place made
Physical Description
bamboo (overall material)
wood (overall material)
overall: 4.2 cm x 33 cm x 4.6 cm; 1 21/32 in x 13 in x 1 13/16 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Transfer from Bureau of Education, Department of the Interior
Rule, Measuring
Drafting, Engineering
Expositions and Fairs
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Measuring & Mapping
Science & Mathematics
Scale Rules
Metric System
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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