MAU Art & Design Glossary

Tape Measure



Also called makijaku in Japanese, a tape measure is used to measure lengths of straight and curved lines several meters long. Tape measures, which are made of steel, plastic, or cloth, have lines on the tape to mark off measurements. Often, they are housed in retractable cases so that the user can pull out the appropriate length of tape.

While there are a variety of materials used, the most common types are steel tape measures (called konbekkusu in Japanese) that come in lengths between 2 m to 7.5 m. To measure with a steel tape measure, hook the tab at the end of the tape to the corner of the item you are measuring and pull out the tape to the desired length. When you measure an item with no corner to hook the tab onto, like the inside of a box, press the tab against the side of the item and pull the tape out by hand to the desired length. Some tape measures have a loose tab for correction purposes that is designed to prevent measurement errors caused by the breadth of the metal tab when you take measurements by hooking the tab or pressing it against an item. Tape measures vary in width from about one centimeter to over two centimeters. Keep in mind that narrow tape measures are prone to folding over when they reach considerable vertical lengths or extend into the air. If you are taking measurements without help, tape measures that are about two centimeters wide and have clear markings are ideal. Do not bend tape measures in the unmarked under-side direction, and take care not to cut your finger with the edge when you release the tape to self-retract.

Plastic and cloth tape measures are flexible, making them useful for measuring curved lines like the circumference of a cylinder. Tailors and seamstresses often use plastic or cloth tape measures for measuring parts of the body. (Usually, plastic or cloth tape measures are not housed in a self-retracting case.) In Japanese dressmaking, tape measures are marked in kujira-jaku, or long-foot lengths (about 37.88 centimeters per kujira-jaku).

Steel tape measures are available for purchase at art supply stores, hardware stores, and home improvement stores. Plastic and cloth tape measures are available at craft supply stores.


  • A non-self-retracting tape measureA non-self-retracting tape measure
  • Measuring the inside dimensions
(push against a side)Measuring the inside dimensions (push against a side)
  • Measuring the outside dimensions
(catch on the end of a side and pull)Measuring the outside dimensions (catch on the end of a side and pull)
  • Measuring circumferenceMeasuring circumference
  • Measuring hard-to-reach locationsMeasuring hard-to-reach locations