By Human Measure

“The ri 「里」, the old Japanese measure of distance, has disappeared entirely from road signs and maps, and within ten years it will vanished from the language. One ri , say the conversion tables, equaled 3.927 kilometers, but that is nearly irrelevant. One ri ―as I came to know in practice―was the distance that a man with a burden would aim to cover in an hour on mountain roads. The kilometer was invented for the convenience of machinery. The ri was an entirely human measure, which is why it had no chance of surviving. We tell the time in digits and bleeps, and distance is not distance if you can’t divide it by ten.”

Alan Booth, The Roads to Sata

GPlus Discussion

Bill Collins – 2012-05-20 20:07:18-0400

Ahh, how interesting. If you think about that pace, on what can’t be a straight and level way, that’s darned good. 15 minutes bearing a burden. I like it.

Lionel Lauer – 2012-05-20 21:14:20-0400

That’s an insanely useful measure of distance. If I were there, I’d be lobbying to keep that alongside Km on signs.

M Sinclair Stevens – 2012-05-20 21:20:02-0400

One of the things I noticed when I lived in Japan is that people tended to measure distance by how long it took to travel it: a 5 minute walk from the train station, a 20 minute train ride, a 2 hour drive. I find this to be much more useful than the American way of measuring in miles.

Lionel Lauer – 2012-05-20 21:26:24-0400

We do that a lot here in Oz too. A 10Km trip might take 6 minutes if it’s on a freeway, or an hour if you have to drive through the city centre on weekday afternoon.

Meirav M. – 2012-05-20 21:52:31-0400

I find the Brits talk like that too – a ten-minute walk, a 1/2-hour drive, that sort of thing.

M Sinclair Stevens – 2012-05-21 08:21:17-0400

+Meirav Berale So do I. I think it is for the same reason as in Japan. Map distance means nothing to travel time. It’s the about the same distance from Manchester to London as it is from Austin to Dallas…but driving, it took us three times longer. Japan and England are both such small countries (compared with the US) but it takes forever to get anywhere.

Meirav M. – 2012-05-21 10:01:26-0400

oh yes, takes forever to get anywhere… definitely.

even more so in Wales – I lived in North Wales for a while, it’s full of mountains so there’s no such thing as a straight road… miles mean nothing there.

Armida Evony – 2012-05-25 00:59:13-0400

this is exactly why I’m considering moving … drive time and more importantly unpredictability of drive time is sooooo unrelated to geographical distance.