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In English, we measure the length of texts in words. 1,000 words for the average college essay, 50,000 for something like a fiction novel.

I’m wondering what unit is used to measure Japanese texts. I’ve seen conflicting answers online. Some measure the length in pages—but page count is not an accurate measure of a text, as fonts and spacing can vary.

I’ve also seen stuff about character and word counts, but I’m a little confused about the usage of the word “文字” as it pertains to this subject. 明日, for example, is two characters but one word. あした, on the other hand, is the same one word, only now it’s three characters.

So are texts measured in pages, characters, words, or something else entirely?

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    Perhaps with more texts going digital it's only natural that word count becomes the standard in English. But not too long ago, lengths of typed assignments were still given in pages. In the age of type-writers this was a reliable standard. As fonts proliferated with software drafted documents, page count was still the measure of printed work--additional requirements were added (font style, point, margin width, etc.) It's only very recently with digitally submitted work that word count is a not too unreasonable standard. (OMG. Imagine trying to count words in printed matter! No thanks.)
    – A.Ellett
    May 28 at 17:21
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The length of a text written in Japanese is usually measured in characters (e.g. 400文字).

One often writes handwritten assignments at school/university on 原稿用紙 genkō yōshi (lit. "manuscript paper") which come in standardized sizes, for example 20 x 20 = 400 characters. (See What is the name of paper to train how to write kanji?) So a 2000-character essay would roughly be 5 pages of 400字詰めの原稿用紙.

In particular, the physical length of the essay does not depend on the handwriting of the student and "character count" and "number of pages" can be treated as equivalent metrics.

You're right that this way of counting will make the word 明日 2 characters long and the "same" word あした 3 characters long, but only the former is standard orthography, so for the purpose of writing an essay, there is not too much variation.

(In office applications, the "word count" of a text written in English usually counts words as being strings of letters separated by spaces. Since Japanese has no spaces this does not make sense as an operational definition of "word". LibreOffice gives a character count of all "Asian characters and Korean syllables".)

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    At least the LibreOffice and MS Office both count "East Asian characters" in the document per 字数, but the resulted word counts may differ according to algorithm. Jun 1 at 3:27
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    @brokenlaptop Yes, thanks. Curiously, LibreOffice seems to add the word count to the character count, so that "Hello, こんにちは" is 6 "words"...
    – Earthliŋ
    Jun 1 at 8:52

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