Bouldering Grade in Japan / Dan Kyu System

In Japanese bouldering community, we use a domestic grade system called "Dan Kyu System". I would like to hereby describe how it works and its history. Sorry for my poor English translation, but hopefully you would understand the significance of this grading system in Japan. It is not just a grading system, but it offers you to think about how Japanese climbers think about the Bouldering.




Dan Kyu system is a grading system mostly used for Japanese traditional martial arts Bu-do(Martial Way), such as Ken-do, Ju-do, Iai-do, Aiki-do, Karate-do and Kyu-do. And also it is used for the traditional ranking system of board games, such as Sho-gi and Go. The lower grade starts from bigger number of Kyu such as like 7-Kyu. When the Kyu grade comes higher, number comes smaller. So, 2-Kyu is much higher grade than 7-Kyu. The most highest grade in Kyu is 1-Kyu, then the grade turns into Dan. The first grade of Dan is Sho-dan, which means 1-Dan. And it goes to bigger number when the grade comes higher. So, 5-Dan is much higher grade than 2-Dan.


Usually, it is said that Sho-dan(1-Dan) grade is, no longer considered a beginner, however not yet necessarily an expert. In Karate-do or Ju-do, when you pass the Sho-dan exam, you can get Kuro-Obi (Black Belt) to indicate your grade. It is the beginning of middle grade, the beginning of a way.


Here, I made a Dan Kyu system list correspond to Fb-grade and V-scale system. Sho-Dan is 7A+ in Fb-grade, and V7 in V-scale.






Dan Kyu System has been invented by Mr. Toshimichi Kusano in 1995. And it is nowadays commonly used in the most of Topos in Japan. The system is also called Soroban System, which refers a traditional abacus (a counting tray) developed in Japan. The representation of numbers in Soroban 0-9, there is a significant visual difference of representation between 4 to 5, in the middle of total numbers. Dan Kyu System has been inspired by this representation of numbers in Soroban. So, Mr. Kusano has set a standard grade in the middle of total grading system, to not make the difference of grade of each bouldering area. It is said, "Ninja-Gaeshi" and "Haiebu-Sencho" in Mitake is a standard problem of 1-Kyu/6C+/7a. The system has been including its checking system from its invention. So, anytime you can go back to Mitake to check the original grade of Dan Kyu System. This is a wonderful invention.


Soroban / Traditional Abacus / Counting Tray







What I like this Dan Kyu System is, there is a potential relationship with Japanese traditional martial arts "Bu-do" and its thoughts. "Bu-do" is usually translated into "Martial Way" or "War Way". However "Bu-do" is not just martial arts, it also has a sort of perspective of aesthetics, life style and philosophy. "-Do" means "Way" or "Pass" which refers "The way of human formation" in Japanese context. The modern Bu-do has no external enemy, only the internal enemy, one's ego that must be fought. This potential relationship between bouldering and traditional martial arts in Japan is commonly recognized by climbers. That's why I named my blog Iwa-do, which means "The Way of Rocks".




There are many good bouldering and sports climbing areas in Japan with beautiful scenery. The best climbing season in Japan is Spring(March to June) or Autumn(September to early December). Not good in summer season because of high temperature, humidity and insects, such as bees and mosquitos. I hope you enjoy climbing and culture in Japan in near future. The most of people in Japan is very kind and helpful for foreigners, even if they don't speak English well (actually, they know English well, just they hesitate and shy to speak out or make mistakes). Enjoy your climbing trip in Japan!


Iwado (岩道) is a lifestyle blog magazine for middle grade climbers. I am trying to consider about "Climbing Culture" not only as sports, but also through the Anthropological perspective.