The Most Useful Japanese Counters You Need to Know

Along with kanji and onomatopoeia, counting is an element of Japanese that seems daunting due to the sheer amount of words involved.

There seems to be a counter for everything—in fact, the Japanese language has about 500 counters! Even native speakers will confess they don’t know all of them. In this article, we’ll discuss the most common Japanese counters and how to use them.

Contents

 

What Is a Counter?The numbers 1 - 4 written in sand, with rocks below each number. The number of rocks corresponds to the number above.

In Japanese, counters are used to help define numbered or counted objects. English uses counters too—in fact, almost every language does. A common example of a counter in English would be:

“Mix in two cups of milk.”

In English, general counters are most often found in measurement-specific instances. Beyond that, things are count things using the actual name of the object.

“I’d like three sodas, please.”

“I just saw two deer running across the field.”

“Did you order four pancakes, or five?”

Counting in Japanese is simpler in this respect.

Because sodas are drinks stored in long, hollow containers, they are counted the same way as other drinks by using 本 (ほん). Deer are large animals and are counted like all other large animals using 頭 (とう). Pancakes are thin, flat, and round, which uses the counter 枚 (まい).

Most counters can be used with various objects, and the only rules to remember are a few changes in pronunciation that we will get to later. Before diving into common Japanese counters, I’d like to introduce you to  2 of the most useful that you can use is almost any situation.

 

Counters in Japanese:  Is There An Easier Way?

If my husband ever hears me complaining about how many counters there are to memorize, he shrugs and tells me to just use 個 (こ). “You can use it for everything,” he’ll say.

While 個 can be used to count a TON of different things, there are certain things it can’t be used for.

In general, the counter 個 (こ) is drawn from Japan’s Chinese roots and is used for small, and/or most physical objects, but not ALL objects.  Usually, counting things like animals using 個 would sound strange.

 

Example:

  1. 昨日、鳥を2個見た。(きのう、とりをにこみた):   I saw 2 birds yesterday

While birds are technically physical objects, that fact that they are living creatures makes using the 個 counter sound weird.

In this case, the most elegant solution would be to use the counter for birds, which is 羽 (わ).  Well cover this in more detail below.

  1. 昨日、鳥を2羽見た。(きのう、とりをにわみた):   I saw 2 birds yesterday

What makes 個 tricky is that it can even be used for non-physical, abstract object as well.

 

Example:

  1. 昨日、夢を2個見た。(きのう、ゆめをにこみた):  I had 2 dreams yesterday.

Isn’t there a simpler way?  That’s where “つ” comes in.

 

Counting With つ:  When All Else Fails

Unlike 個, the counter つ can be naturally applied to both of the previous examples:

  1. “I saw two birds yesterday.” → “昨日、鳥を2つ見た。” (きのう、とりをふたつみた)
  2. “I saw two dreams last night.” → “昨日、夢を2つ見た。” (きのう、ゆめをふつみた)

If you don’t know how to count using the Japanese “つ” system, you can learn it below.

つ is so useful, that even when I make an effort to use the proper counters when ordering a drink or food at a restaurant, my order might just be repeated back using the つ counter.  Don’t be ashamed to resort to using this counter.  It can be used to count many things and you can easily communicate with native speakers.

**Important note:  In Japan, using the “つ” counting system is common, but usually only for numbers 1 – 9.  The number 10 is pronounced as “とお” and can be used, but it’s more common to use the Sino-Japanese counting system for numbers 10 or higher.

Example:

  1. 昨日、11の夢を見た。(きのう、じゅういちのゆめをみた):  I had 11 dreams yesterday.
  2. 昨日、鳥を14見た。(きのう、とりをじゅうよんみた):  I saw 14 birds yesterday.

Of course, if you can master and use the counters below, you’ll impress people from Japan.  Most importantly, learning these counters will be highly useful when speaking Japanese with native speakers.

 

Counting With つ

つ is a newer system than 個and comes from the fully-Japanese category known as 和語(わご). If you can remember the つ counting style from 1~10, the rest of the numbers should be no problem.

EnglishWagoJapanese ReadingRomaji
One一つ
ひとつ
hitotsu
Two
二つふたつfutatsu
Three三つみっつmittsu
Four四つよっつyottsu
Five五ついつつitsutsu
Six六つむっつmuttsu
Seven七つななつnanatsu
Eight八つやっつyattsu
Nine九つここのつkokonotsu
Tenとおtoo

For your benefit, I’ve divided the counters into categories of where you’ll use them the most. But first, let’s start off with some of the most common counters you’ll hear in Japan.

 

Common CountersA photo of a black board with tally marks all over it. The tally marks are in bundles of 5, with a piece of white chalk in the center of the blackboard.

While this list has been extensive, there are a few more commonly used counters in daily life. These are harder to categorize but still important.

 

個 (こ):  Most Inanimate Objects, Certain Abstract Objects, Etc.

個 comes in right behind the つ counter in terms of usefulness. You can use 個 to count most inanimate objects or certain abstract things like ideas or dreams.  You can count so many things using 個, but as mentioned above, counting things like animals can sound weird.  My advice is if you aren’t sure of how to count something, use the つ counting system listed above.

個derives from the original Chinese-based language used in ancient Japan, or 漢語(かんご). Counting in this style is perhaps more familiar to most learners.

Examples:

  1. “Two apples, please.” → “りんごを二個ください。” (りんこをにこください)
  2. “There are 8 planets total in the solar system.” → “太陽系の惑星は全部で8個あります。” (たいようけいのわくせいはぜんぶではちこあります)
  3.  I had 2 dreams yesterday.”  →  “昨日、夢を2個見た。”(きのう、ゆめをにこみた)
EnglishKangoJapanese ReadingRomaji
One一個いっこ
ikko
Two
二個にこniko
Three三個
さんこsanko
Four四個よんこyonko
Five五個ごこgoko
Six六個ろっこ
rokko
Seven七個ななこnanako
Eight八個はちこ
hachiko
Nine九個きゅうこkyuuko
Ten十個じっこ/じゅっこ
jikko/jukko

 

人(にん)- People

人(にん) is used for counting people in any situation that isn’t a booking or reservation. If there are 3 or more people, you can count using the standard counting system (いち, に, さん, etc.). In the case of one or two people, however, the つ counting method is used.  But the つ is changed to り(ri).  (1人=ひとり, 2人= ふたり)

Examples:

  1. “There are three people in my family.” → “私の家族は3人です.” (わたしのかぞくはさんにんです)
  2. “I want some time with just the two of us.” → “2人きりの時間が欲しい.” (ふたりきりのじかんがほしい)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One person一人
ひとりhitori
Two people二人
ふたり
futari
Three people三人
さんにんsannin
Four people四人よにんyonin
Five people五人ごにんgonin
Six people六人ろくにん
rokunin
Seven people七人
しちにん/ななにん
shichinin/nananin
Eight people八人はちにんhachinin
Nine people九人きゅうにん
kyuunin
Ten people十人じゅうにん
juunin

 

Important!  If you ever order food from a restaurant in Japan, you may see this kanji 前(まえ) attached at the end of these counters.   For example, you may see this kanji 一人前(いちにんまえ).  Notice that this is not read as “ひとりまえ.”

When there is the kanji “前” attached to a person counter, the meaning changes to “serving portions.”  If you say 三人前(さんにんまえ) in a restaurant, that means you want food for 3 people, or 3 servings.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
For one person一人前
いちにんまえichininmae
For two people二人前
ににんまえnininmae
For three people三人前
さんにんまえsanninmae
For four people四人前よにんまえyoninmae
For five people五人前ごにんまえgoninmae
For six people六人前ろくにんまえ
rokuninmae
For seven people七人前
ななにんまえ/しちにんまえ
nananinmae/shichininmae
For eight people八人前はちにんまえhachininmae
For nine people九人前きゅうにんまえ
kyuuninmae
For ten people十人前じゅうにんまえ
juuninmae

 

匹(ひき)- Small Animals (Cats, Dogs, Monkeys, Some Fish, Etc.)

If you own pets in your home, 匹(ひき) is the counter you would use. Typically “small” refers to an animal that can be picked up by the average adult. 匹 is counted using the 個 counting method.

Some small fish can be counted using 匹 as well.

Example:

  1. “I have four cats.” → “私は猫を4匹飼っています.” (わたしはねこをよんひきかっています)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One (small) animal一匹
いっぴきippiki
Two (small) animals二匹にひき
nihiki
Three (small) animals三匹さんびき
sanbiki
Four (small) animals四匹
よんひきyonhiki
Five (small) animals五匹ごひき
gohiki
Six (small) animals六匹
ろっぴき
roppiki
Seven (small) animals七匹ななひき/しちひき

nanahiki/shichihiki
Eight (small) animals八匹
はっぴき/はちひき
happiki/hachihiki
Nine (small) animals九匹
きゅうひき

kyuuhiki
Ten (small) animals十匹
じゅっぴき/じっぴき
juppiki/jippiki

 

頭(とう)- Large Animals (Horses, Cows, Crocodiles, Large Fish Etc.)

In contrast to 匹(ひき), 頭(とう) is the counter for animals that are too large to be picked up easily by an average adult.

頭 can also be used for certain large species of fish, however it is more common to count fish like tuna, bonito, and yellowtail, or saury using  本(hon – fishes with long, slender bodies) or 匹 (usually for smaller fish)。

Example:

  1. “We saw three horses on the farm.” → “農場で馬を3頭見た.” (のうじょうでうまをさんとうみた)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One (large) animal一頭いっとうittou
Two (large) animals二頭
にとうnitou
Three (large) animals三頭さんとう
santou
Four (large) animals四頭
よんとう
yontou
Five (large) animals五頭
ごとうgotou
Six (large) animals六頭
ろくとう
rokutou
Seven (large) animals七頭
ななとうnantou
Eight (large) animals八頭
はっとう
hattou
Nine (large) animals九頭
きゅうとう
kyuutou
Ten (large) animals十頭
じっとう/じゅっとう

jittou/juttou

 

羽(わ)- Birds, Bats, Rabbits

羽(わ) is a rather specific counter used for birds, bats, and rabbits. It can also be used for poultry, such a roast chicken or turkey.

Example:

  1. “My cat killed two rabbits today.” → “うちの猫は今日、ウサギ2羽を殺した.” (うちのねこはきょう、ウサギにわをころした)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One (bird, rabbit, bat)一羽
いちわ
ichiwa
Two (birds, rabbits, bats)二羽
にわ
niwa
Three (birds, rabbits, bats)三羽
さんわ
sanwa
Four (birds, rabbits, bats)四羽
よんわyonwa
Five (birds, rabbits, bats)五羽ごわ
gowa
Six (birds, rabbits, bats)六羽
ろくわ
rokuwa
Seven (birds, rabbits, bats)七羽
ななわ/しちわ

nanawa/shichiwa
Eight (birds, rabbits, bats)八羽
はちわ
hachiwa
Nine (birds, rabbits, bats)九羽
きゅうわ
kyuuwa
Ten (birds, rabbits, bats)十羽
じゅうわ
juuwa

 

階(かい)- Floors of a Building

階 (かい) is a counter you’ll find on any elevator or floor plan for a building with 2 or more stories. It can refer to specific floors (i.e., the 4th floor, the 8th floor) or how many levels the building has.

Examples:

  1. “I live in a five-story apartment building.” → “5階建てアパートに住んでいます.” (ごかいだてアパートにすんでいます)
  2. “The restaurant is on the third floor.” → “レストランは3階にあります.” (レストランはさんがいにあります)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One/first floor一階いっかい
ikkai
Two/second floor二階
にかい
nikai
Three/thrid floor三階
さんがい
sangai
Four/fourth floor四階
よんかい
yonkai
Five/fifth floor五階

ごかい
gokai
Six/sixth floor六階
ろっかい
rokkai
Seven/seventh floor七階
ななかい
nanakai
Eight/eighth floor八階
はちかい
hachikai
Nine/ninth floor九階
きゅうかい
kyuukai
Ten/tenth floor十階じっかい/じゅっかい
jikkai/jukkai

 

台(だい)- Furniture, Vehicles, Electronics

The counter 台(だい) can be used for furniture, electronics or appliances, and land transport vehicles. It can also count whole cakes or pies, but in my experience, ordering a cake or pie using 台 is uncommon.

Example:

  1. “There are two cars at that stoplight.” → “あの信号で、車2台が止まっています.” (あのしんごうで、くるまにだいがとまっています)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One (piece of) furniture, vehicle, electronics一台いちだいichidai
Two (pieces of) furniture, vehicle, electronics二台にだい
nidai
Three (pieces of) furniture, vehicle, electronics三台
さんだいsandai
Four (pieces of) furniture, vehicle, electronics四台よんだい
yondai
Five (pieces of) furniture, vehicle, electronics五台
ごだいgodai
Six (pieces of) furniture, vehicle, electronics六台ろくだいrokudai
Seven (pieces of) furniture, vehicle, electronics七台ななだいnanadai
Eight (pieces of) furniture, vehicle, electronics八台はちだい
hachidai
Nine (pieces of) furniture, vehicle, electronics九台
きゅうだいkyuudai
Ten (pieces of) furniture, vehicle, electronics十台
じゅうだい
juudai

 

本(ほん)- Stick-Shaped or Long Objects

本(ほん)  is a counter that covers a wide variety of objects. Typically, if the object’s width to length ratio is 1:2 or more, you can use 本 to count it. Items such as pencils, bottles, empty glasses, cacti, asparagus, etc. can all be counted with 本!

In addition, there are some abstract things often counted using 本. They are phone calls, nice plays in sports, prize or product numbers, and things with a solid start or ending (i.e., performances, movies, scripts, etc.).

One thing to be careful of is that even though 本 is the kanji for book, you can’t count books using 本 as a counter! We’ll get to that one next.

Examples:

  1. “My class collected 127 bottles from nearby parks.” → “うちのクラスは周りの公園からペットボトルを127本集まりました.” (うちのくらすはまわりのこうえんからペットボトルをひゃくにじゅうななほんあつまりました)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One (long, cylindrical shaped item)一本いっぽん
ippon
Two (long, cylindrical shaped items)二本にほん
nihon
Three (long, cylindrical shaped items)三本さんぼん
sanbon
Four (long, cylindrical shaped items)四本
よんほん
yonhon
Five (long, cylindrical shaped items)五本
ごほん
gohon
Six (long, cylindrical shaped items)六本ろっぽん
roppon
Seven (long, cylindrical shaped items)七本ななほん/しちほん
nanahon/shichihon
Eight (long, cylindrical shaped items)八本はっぽんhappon
Nine (long, cylindrical shaped items)九本きゅうほん
kyuuhon
Ten (long, cylindrical shaped items)十本
じゅっぽん
juppon

 

冊(さつ)- Books, Bound Files, Notebooks

As mentioned previously, books aren’t counted using 本(ほん). The counter 冊(さつ) is used for books, notebooks, and anything else consisting of bound paper or sheets.

Example:

  1. “My brother has three issues of that manga.” → “お兄さんはあのマンガを3冊持っています.” (おにいさんはあのマンガをさんさつもっています)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One (book)一冊いっさつ
issatsu
Two (books)二冊
にさつnisatsu
Three (books)三冊
さんさつsansatsu
Four (books)四冊
よんさつ
yonsatsu
Five (books)五冊
ごさつ
gosatsu
Six (books)六冊
ろくさつ
rokusatsu
Seven (books)七冊ななさつ
nanasatsu
Eight (books)八冊はっさつ
hassatsu
Nine (books)九冊きゅうさつ
kyuusatsu
Ten (books)十冊じっさつ/じゅっさつ
jissatsu/jussatsu

 

枚(まい)- Flat Objects

Whereas 冊(さつ) counts bound sheets of paper, 枚(まい) is the counter to use for single sheets of paper or other flat objects. For example, stickers, DVDs, and slices of bread can all be counted with 枚.

Example:

  1. “Could I have a sheet of paper, please?” → “紙を1枚もらっていいですか?” (かみをいちまいもらっていいですか)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One (flat object)一枚いちまい
ichimai
Two (flat objects)二枚
にまい
nimai
Three (flat objects)三枚さんまい
sanmai
Four (flat objects)四枚
よんまいyonmai
Five (flat objects)五枚
ごまい
gomai
Six (flat objects)六枚
ろくまい
rokumai
Seven (flat objects)七枚
ななまいnanamai
Eight (flat objects)八枚
はちまい
hachimai
Nine (flat objects)九枚
きゅうまい
kyuumai
Ten (flat objects)十枚
じゅうまい
juumai

 

Time CountersAn older, metal stopwatch halfway embedded in the sand on a beach with the sun setting in the backgroun

Here are some counters that will help when discussing the time or date of a meeting or any other time-related topics.

 

歳(さい)- Years (Of Age)

If you want to say how old you are, you can use 歳(さい).  While in most Western cultures, it’s considered personal to ask someone’s age, you might be shocked at how often the question comes up in Japan. 歳 is a useful counter to remember.

**Note:  Take a close look when you’re 20 years old in the table.  20 has a special reading.  It isn’t “にじゅうさい(ni-juu sai),” but instead is read “はたち(hatachi).”

Example:

  1. “How old are you?” “I’m 25 years old.” → “あなたは何歳ですか?” “25歳です.” (あなたはなんさいですか? にじゅうごさいです.)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One year old一歳
いっさい
issai
Two years old二歳にさい
nisai
Three years old三歳
さんさい
sansai
Four years old四歳
よんさい
yonsai
Five years old五歳
ごさい
gosai
Six years old六歳
ろくさい
rokusai
Seven years old七歳
ななさいnanasai
Eight years old八歳
はっさいhassai
Nine years old九歳
きゅうさい
kyuusai
Ten years old十歳
じゅっさい
jussai
Twenty years old二十歳はたち
hatachi

 

時(じ)- Hours, O’Clock

This counter is used both for telling time and counting hours. Just be aware that if you are using it to count a specific number of hours, 時 must be followed with 間(かん).

Examples:

  1. “Let’s meet at the station at 9 a.m.” → “朝9時に駅で会いましょう.” (あさくじにえきであいましょう)
  2. “It takes two hours to reach Tokyo from here.” → “ここから東京まで、2時間が掛かります.” (ここからとうきょうまで、にじかんがかかります)
EnglsihKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One hour一時間いちじかん
ichijikan
Two hours二時間
にじかん
nijikan
Three hours三時間
さんじかん
sanjikan
Four hours四時間よじかん
yojikan
Five hours五時間ごじかん
gojikan
Six hours六時間
ろくじかん
rokujikan
Seven hours七時間ななじかん/しちじかんnanajikan/shichijikan
Eight hours八時間
はちじかん
hachijikan
Nine hours九時間
くじかん
kujikan
Ten hours十時間
じゅうじかん
juujikan

 

分(ふん)- Minutes, Degrees of an Angle, Portions

As you can see, 分(ふん) is used for counting more than just minutes. For brevity, we’ll be focusing on using it as a counter for time. Just like with 時(じ), if you use 分 to count a set number of minutes, you will need to add 間(かん.

Examples:

  1. “I’ll arrive at 10:45.” → “10時45分に着きます.” (じゅうじよんじゅうごふんにつきます)
  2. “Complete this test within thirty minutes.” → “このテストを30分以内でしなさい.” (このテストをさんじゅうぷんいないでしなさい)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One minute一分
いっぷん
ippun
Two minutes二分
にふんnifun
Three minutes三分
さんぷん
sanpun
Four minutes四分よんふん
yonfun
Five minutes五分
ごふん
gofun
Six minutes六分ろっぷん
roppun
Seven minutes七分
ななふんnanafun
Eight minutes八分
はっぷん

happun
Nine minutes九分きゅうふん
kyuufun
Ten minutes十分じゅっぷん
juppun

 

月(つき/がつ/げつ)- Months

The counter 月 (つき/がつ/げつ) is used both to count a number of months and to signify months of the year. While each month can be written entirely in Japanese, it is common to use a number with the kanji 月.

Examples:

  1. “My birthday is in July.” → “私の誕生日は6月です.” (わたしのたんじょうびはろくがつです)
  2. “It takes nine months for a baby to be born.” → “赤ちゃんが生まれるまで九ヶ月*掛かります.” (あかちゃんがうまれるまでくかげつがかかります)

*When counting a certain number of months, you will need to use ヶ(か) between the number and the counter 月(げつ).

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One month
一ヶ月
いっかげつ
ikkagetsu
Two months二ヶ月
にかげつ
nikagetsu
Three months三ヶ月
さんかげつ
sankagetsu
Four Months四ヶ月
よんかげつyonkagetsu
Five Months五ヶ月ごかげつ
gokagetsu
Six Months六ヶ月
ろっかげつ
rokkagetsu
Seven Months七ヶ月
ななかげつ
nanakagetsu
Eight Months八ヶ月
はちかげつ
hachikagetsu
Nine Months九ヶ月
きゅうかげつkyuukagetsu
Ten Months十ヶ月じゅっかげつjukkagetsu

 

日(か/にち)- Days

The counter 日(か/にち) stands apart from other time-related counters because it relies on the つ counting method. 日 can be used to count a specific amount of days or to express the date. To give the date (i.e., the 1st, the 2nd, etc.), remove the “つ” from “みっつ、よっつ、etc.” and add 日(か)like so:

When counting a number of days, you use this system and add “間” at the end.  Also, notice that there is a special reading for the number 20:

20th day of the month -はつか(hatsuka)

Period of 20 days – はつかかん(hatsukakan)

Examples:

  1. “The letter will arrive in three days.” → “手紙は三日間以内届きます.” (てがみはみっかかんいないとどきます)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
First day of the month一日ついたち
tsuitachi
Second day of the month二日ふつかfutsuka
Third day of the month三日みっかmikka
Fourth day of the month四日よっか
yokka
Fifth day of the month五日
いつかitsuka
Sixth day of the month六日むいかmuika
Seventh day of the month七日
なのかnanoka
Eighth day of the month八日ようかyouka
Ninth day of the month九日ここのか
kokonoka
Tenth day of the month十日
とおかtooka
Twentieth day of the month二十日はつかhatsuka

*As noted above, if you would like to say a certain number of days, all you need to do is add 間(kan) to the end of the date.

For example:

  • 二日間(futuskakan):  A period of two days
  • 三日間(mikkakan):  A period of three days
  • 四日間 (yokkakan):  period of four days
  • and so on.

However, there is an exception if you want to say, “one day.”  This would NOT be ついたち間 (tsuitachikan).  You’ll drop the “間” and just use 一日 to represent the period of one day.  The reading for this becomes “ichinichi.”

  • 一日(ichinichi):  A period of one day

 

TravelPicture about travel that includes an airplane, the Statute of Liberty, a Big Buddha Statue, a world map, and other attractions

Here are some counters that you might come across if you travel to or within Japan. They are especially useful if you’re stuck with an all-Japanese website while booking a flight or hotel.

 

泊(はく)- Overnight Stays, Rentals

If you are trying to book a night in a hotel or rent a car, 泊(はく) will come in handy. For hotel stays, this counts the nights you will spend in the hotel. One night, two days would be “一泊二日.” (いっぱくふつか)

Example:

  1. “I would like to stay for two nights, please.” → “2泊で泊まります.” (にはくでとまります)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomanji
One night stay一泊いっぱくippaku
Two nights stay二泊にはく
nihaku
Three nights stay三泊さんぱくsanpaku
Four nights stay四泊よんはく/よんぱく
yonhaku/yonpaku
Five nights stay五泊ごはく
gohaku
Six nights stay六泊
ろっぱく
roppaku
Seven nights stay七泊ななはく
nanahaku
Eight nights stay八泊
はちはく/はっぱく
hachihaku/happaku
Nine nights stay九泊
きゅうはく
kyuuhaku
Ten nights stay十泊じっぱく/じゅっぱく
jippaku/juppaku

 

部屋(へや)- Rooms

部屋 (へや) is the counter you would use to count the number of bedrooms in a house or apartment.  However, when you want to talk about rooms at a hotel or a Japanese inn (ryokan), you would use another room counter 室(しつ).  It gets a little more complicated, because in Japan, houses typically have both western style and Japanese style rooms.  The 部屋 counter is used to count western style rooms, while 間(ma) to is used to count Japanese style rooms.

The counter 部屋 is a bit unique in its pronunciation.  The Japanese つ counting method is used. The correct pronunciation for counting up to 3 using 部屋 is: “ひとへや、ふたへや、みへや.” However, for 3 rooms さんへや is also used.  If it’s confusing, look at 1~3 in the つ counting chart and replace ~つ with ~へや. The numbers 4 and above revert back to the Chinese-based counting system: “よんへや、ごへや、ろくへや、etc.”

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One room一部屋ひとへや
hitoheya
Two rooms二部屋
ふたへや
futaheya
Three rooms三部屋
さんへや/みへや

sanheya/miheya
Four rooms四部屋
よんへや
yonheya
Five rooms五部屋
ごへや
goheya
Six rooms六部屋
ろくへや
rokuheya
Seven rooms七部屋
ななへや
nanaheya
Eight rooms八部屋
はちへやhachiheya
Nine rooms九部屋
きゅうへやkyuuheya
Ten rooms十部屋
じゅっへや

juhheya

 

Booking Hotel Rooms –  室(しつ)

If you’re booking rooms at a hotel, Japanese inn, or lodge you’ll use the counter 屋(しつ).

Example:

  1. “I booked two rooms.” → “2屋を予約しました.” (にしつをよやくしました)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One (hotel) room一室
いっしつ
isshitsu
Two (hotel) rooms二室
にしつ
nishitsu
Three (hotel) rooms三室
さんしつ
sanshitsu
Four (hotel) rooms四室
よんしつyonshitsu
Five (hotel) rooms五室

ごしつ
goshitsu
Six (hotel) rooms六室
ろくしつ
rokushitsu
Seven (hotel) rooms七室
ななしつ
nanashitsu
Eight (hotel) rooms八室
はっしつ
hasshitsu
Nine (hotel) rooms九室
きゅうしつ
kyuushitsu
Ten (hotel) rooms十室
じゅっしつjusshitsu

 

便(びん)- Flight Numbers, Long-Distance Flights/Bus Trips/Train Trips

If you ever buy a plane ticket in Japan, you will see this counter. It is primarily used to depict flight numbers.

Examples:

  1. “Flight no. NH 1771 arrived October 1, 2020.” → “便名NH 1771は10月1日に到着しました.” (びんめい NH 1771はじゅうがつついたちにとうちゃくしました)
  2. “There is only one flight from Tokyo to Miyazaki Prefecture.” → “東京都から宮崎県まで 1便しかありません.” (とうきょうとからみやざきけんまでいちびんしかありません)

Provided they are long-distance trips, 便 can be used to count boat and train trips as well. It is also used to count deliveries.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One flight一便いちびん
ichibin
Two flights二便
にびん
nibin
Three flights三便さんびんsanbin
Four flights四便よんびんyonbin
Five flights五便
ごびん
gobin
Six flights六便ろくびんrokubin
Seven flights七便
ななびん
nanabin
Eight flights八便
はちびん
hachibin
Nine flights九便
きゅうびん
kyuubin
Ten flights十便
じゅうびんjuubin

 

号(ごう)- Room Numbers, Train Numbers

Whether you book a hotel room or a train ticket, this counter will be helpful. 号(ごう) is used for counting train cars, as well as designating room numbers.

Examples:

  1. “Cars two through seven are for non-reserved seating.” → “2号車から7号車は自由席でございます.” (にごうしゃからななごうしゃはじゆうせきでございます)
  2. “Your room is Room 201. Please enjoy your stay.” → “部屋は201号室です。どうぞごゆっくりで.” (へやは201ごうしつです。どうぞごゆっくり)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
Number one一号いちごうichigou
Number two二号にごうnigou
Number three三号
さんごうsangou
Number four四号よんごう
yongou
Number five五号ごごう
gogou
Number six六号ろくごうrokugou
Number seven七号ななごうnanagou
Number eight八号
はちごう
hachigou
Number nine九号きゅうごう
kyuugou
Number ten十号
じゅうごうjuugou

 

機(き)- Airplanes, Jets, Blimps, Other Air Vessels

This is used to count airplanes or other airborne vessels, or big machines in general. Be aware that 機 (き)is a machine-specific counter and can’t be used to count birds, flying animals, or clouds.

Example:

  1. “I took two planes today.” → “今日、飛行機を2機乗りました.” (きょう、ひこうきをにきのりました)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One airplane/machine一機いっき
ikki
Two airplanes/machines二機
にきniki
Three airplanes/machines三機
さんきsanki
Four airplanes/machines四機よんきyonki
Five airplanes/machines五機
ごき
goki
Six airplanes/machines六機
ろっき

rokki
Seven airplanes/machines七機ななきnanaki
Eight airplanes/machines八機
はっき
hakki
Nine airplanes/machines九機
きゅうき
kyuuki
Ten airplanes/machines十機
じゅっき

jukki

 

School CountersTwo young boys and a young girl dressed in a Japanese school uniform. They are talking while walking down a residential road

If you decide to study abroad, several counters will be common in your classroom life. These can also be useful if you’re studying Japanese in your hometown or preparing to take an exam like the JLPT!

 

列(れつ)- Lines, Queues, Rows

This counter can be applied to rows of text, rows of items, or even rows of people. In addition to a classroom setting, you can often find 列(れつ) on signs at a grocery store, airport, or event.

Example:

  1. “Please form two lines at this register.” → “このレジに2列で並んでください.” (このレジににれつでならんでください)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One line一列いちれつichiretsu
Two lines二列にれつ
niretsu
Three lines三列
さんれつsanretsu
Four lines四列
よれつ
yoretsu
Five lines五列
ごれつ
goretsu
Six lines六列
ろくれつ
rokuretsu
Seven lines七列
ななれつ
nanaretsu
Eight lines八列
はちれつ
hachiretsu
Nine lines九列
きゅうれつkyuuretsu
Ten lines十列
じゅうれつ
juuretsu

 

行(ぎょう)- Line of Writing, Verse

行(ぎょう) is similar to 列(れつ) but is applied specifically to lines of text.

Examples:

  1. “Summarize this paragraph in three lines.” → “この段落を3行にまとめなさい.” (このだんらくをさんぎょうにまとめなさい)
  2. “Please read the first line.” → “一行目を読んでください.” (いちぎょうめいをよんでください)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One line of text一行
いちぎょう
ichigyou
Two lines of text二行
にぎょう
nigyou
Three lines of text三行さんぎょう
sangyou
Four lines of text四行よんぎょう
yongyou
Five lines of text五行
ごぎょう
gogyou
Six lines of text六行
ろくぎょう
rokugyou
Seven lines of text七行ななぎょう
nanagyou
Eight lines of text八行
はちぎょう
hachigyou
Nine lines of text九行
きゅうぎょう
kyuugyou
Ten lines of text十行
じゅうぎょう
juugyou

 

課(か)- Chapter, Department, Division

In a classroom setting, 課(か) is used to count the chapters of a book or textbook. It can also be used to designate departments of an office or large group.

Examples:

  1. “Read two chapters of your textbook as homework.” → “宿題で2課を読みなさい.” (しゅくだいでにかをよみなさい.)
  2. “I work at the city hall in the education department.” → “私は市役所の学校教育課で努めます.” (わたしはしやくうしょのがっこうきょういくかでつとめます)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One chapter/department一課
いっか
ikka
Two chapters/departments二課にかnika
Three chapters/departments三課
さんか
sanka
Four chapters/departments四課
よんかyounka
Five chapters/departments五課
ごか
goka
Six chapters/departments六課ろっか
rokka
Seven chapters/departments七課
ななか/しちか
nanaka/shichika
Eight chapters/departments八課
はっか/はちかhakka/hachika
Nine chapters/departments九か
きゅうか
kyuuka
Ten chapters/departments十課
じゅっか/じっかjukka/jikka

 

期(き)- Term

Another counter than can be found in the office or the classroom, 期(き) counts terms or semesters.

Example:

  1. “In Japan, the first semester starts in April.” → “日本では、一学期が4月から始まります.” (にほんでは、いちがっきがしがつからはじまります)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One term一期いっきikki
Two terms二期にきniki
Three terms三期さんきsanki
Four terms四期
よんき
yonki
Five terms五期
ごきgoki
Six terms六期ろっき
rokki
Seven terms七期ななきnanaki
Eight terms八期はっきhakki
Nine terms九期きゅうきkyuuki
Ten terms十期じゅっきjukki

 

問(もん)-  Questions, Problems

If you find yourself taking a Japanese test, this counter will certainly appear. 問(もん) is the counter for problems or questions.

Example:

  1. “There are 5 English problems on this test.” → “このテストに英語問題5問が含めています.” (このテストにえいごもんだいごもんがふくめています)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One question一問いちもんichimon
Two questions二問
にもんnimon
Three questions三問
さんもんsanmon
Four questions四問よんもんyonmon
Five questions五問ごもんgomon
Six questions六問ろくもんrokumon
Seven questions七問ななもんnanamon
Eight questions八問はちもんhachimon
Nine questions九問きゅうもんkyuumon
Ten questions十問
じゅうもんjuumon

 

点(てん)- Dots, Points, Pottery, Artwork

点(てん) is most commonly used for scoring. Whether it’s for a test score or a sports game, points are tallied using this counter.  This can refer to not only points when keeping score, but also when referring to information (like the points in a bullet list).  You can hear used in meetings when someone is going through different points/issues to discuss.  In addition, 点 is also used when counting things like artwork or pottery.

Example:

  1. “I got a 100 on the test!” → “テストで100点取った!” (テストで100てんとった)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One point/art piece一点
いってんitten
Two points/art pieces二点にてんniten
Three points/art pieces三点さんてん
santen
Four points/art pieces四点よんてん
yonten
Five points/art pieces五点
ごてん
goten
Six points/art pieces六点
ろくてんrokuten
Seven points/art pieces七点ななてんnanaten
Eight points/art pieces八点はちてん/はってんhachiten/hatten
Nine points/art pieces九点きゅうてん
kyuuten
Ten points/art pieces十点じゅってん
jutten

 

Cooking and DiningA wisk, wooden spoon, and several silver metal measuring spoons on a light brown table mat with some herbs for decoration

One of my favorite things about Japan is the food. Here are some useful food-related counters, whether you’re eating out or trying your hand at Japanese recipes in your own home.

 

名(めい)- Number of People

If you are trying to reserve a restaurant or even just walking in, this will be the first question you are asked. “How many people are in your party?”

Example:

“How many people in your party?” “Two.”

  1. “何名様ですか?” “2名/2人です.” (なんめいさまですか? にめい/ふたりです)

**Important: although counting people using 人 relies on the ~つ counting method from 1~2, you cannot use the ~つ method with 名(めい). It isn’t correct to say “ひと名” or “ふた名.” However, as shown in the example, you can respond to the question 何名様ですか? using either 名 or 人 as your counter.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One person一名いちめいichimei
Two people二名にめい
nimei
Three people三名
さんめい
sanmei
Four people四名
よんめいyonmei
Five people五名ごめいgomei
Six people六名
ろくめいrokumei
Seven people七名
ななめい
nanamei
Eight people八名はちめい
hachimei
Nine people九名きゅうめいkyuumei
Ten people十名
じゅうめいjuumei

 

杯(はい)- Cups/Glasses of Liquid, Bowls of Food (Particularly Rice, Noodles, or Curry)

As hinted by the toasting cheer 乾杯(かんぱい), 杯(はい) is generally used to refer to cups or glasses used for drinking. Another common use is for counting bowls of rice, noodles, curry, or other foods eaten from a bowl.

Examples:

  1. “We’d like 4 beers, please.” → “ビール4杯ください.” (ビールよんはいください.)
  2. “Can I have another bowl of rice, please?” → “ごはんを一杯もらっていいですか?” (ごはんをいっぱいもらっていいですか)?
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One cup/bowl一杯いっぱいippai
Two cups/bowls二杯
にはいnihai
Three cups/bowls三杯
さんばい
sanbai
Four cups/bowls四杯
よんはい
yonhai
Five cups/bowls五杯ごはいgohai
Six cups/bowls六杯ろっぱい
roppai
Seven cups/bowls七杯ななはい
nanahai
Eight cups/bowls八杯
はっぱい/はちはい
happai/hachihai
Nine cups/bowls九杯きゅうはい
kyuuhai
Ten cups/bowls十杯
じゅっぱい
juppai

 

盛(もり)- Serving Sizes; Bowls, Cups, or Baskets of Something

While 盛 (もり) is used to count certain types of servings (typically things found in bowls or baskets, i.e., fruits, pudding), you will probably see it most often when referring to the size of a serving. This usage might not be the traditional sense of a counter, but it is incredibly common in restaurant menus or verbal orders. In this situation, we don’t use numbers, but sizes: 小(こ) – small, 並(なみ) – regular, and 大(おお) – large.

Example:

  1. “I’d like a regular serving of rice, please.” → “ご飯並盛でお願いします.” (ごはんなみもりでおねがいします)

If you are using 盛 to count something, be aware that it uses the つ system for 1~2 items.

Example:

  1. “He gave her two baskets of fruit..” → “彼が彼女にフルーツ籠を2盛あげました.” (かれがかのじょにフルーツかごを2もりあげました)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One basket (of something)一盛ひともりhitomori
Two baskets (of something)二盛
ふたもり
futamori
Three baskets (of something)三盛
さんもりsanmori
Four baskets (of something)四盛よんもり
yonmori
Five baskets (of something)五盛
ごもりgomori
Six baskets (of something)六盛ろくもりrokumori
Seven baskets (of something)七盛
ななもりnanamori
Eight baskets (of something)八盛はちもり
hachimori
Nine baskets (of something)九盛きゅうもり
kyuumori
Ten baskets (of something)十盛じゅうもり
juumori

 

合(ごう)- Cups for Measuring Rice (Approx. 0.18 Liters)

This counter might seem specific, but it is an important one since rice is Japan’s staple food. When you buy a Japanese rice cooker, it will come with a special cup for measuring rice. You don’t want to get this wrong, because the incorrect amount of water per 合(ごう) of dry rice can make for an unpleasant eating experience.

This can also be used to count sake bottles.

Example:

  1. “I’ll cook two servings of rice.” → “ご飯2合を炊きます.” (ごはんにごうをたきます)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One cup of rice (dry)一合いちごうichigou
Two cups of rice (dry)二合にごう
nigou
Three cups of rice (dry)三合
さんごうsangou
Four cups of rice (dry)四合
よんごう
yongou
Five cups of rice (dry)五合ごごうgogou
Six cups of rice (dry)六合
ろくごう
rokugou
Seven cups of rice (dry)七合ななごう
nanagou
Eight cups of rice (dry)八合はちごう
hachigou
Nine cups of rice (dry)九合
きゅうごうkyuugou
Ten cups of rice (dry)十合
じゅうごう
juugou

 

匙(さじ)- Spoonful

Another useful counter for cooking, さじ is used mainly for counting spoons full of something. Much like 盛(もり), it doubles as a standard of measurement. 小さじ(こさじ) is the term for teaspoon and 大さじ(おおさじ) is the term for tablespoon. You might notice that both of these terms are not written in kanji. さじ is almost always written in hiragana. However, some cookbooks might use the kanji,so it’s good to know what it looks like.

Examples:

  1. “Ingredients: 1 Tbsp salt, 2 tsp olive oil, a pinch of pepper” → “材料:塩大さじ1杯、オリーブ油小さじ2杯、コショウ少々.” (ざいりょう:しおおおさじいっぱい、オリーブあぶらこさじにはい、コショウしょうしょう)
  2. “I would like two spoons of sugar in my coffee, please.” → “コーヒーに砂糖を2さじ入れてください.” (コーヒーにさとうをにさじいれてください)

Be careful about counting spoons full of something versus counting tablespoons and teaspoons. You may notice that in the case of さじ being used to designate teaspoons or tablespoons, it requires the counter 杯(はい)

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One spoonful一匙ひとさじ
hitosaji
Two spoonfuls二匙
ふたさじ
futasaji
Three spoonfuls三匙さんさんじ
sansaji
Four spoonfuls四匙
よんさじyonsaji
Five spoonfuls五匙ごさじgosaji
Six spoonfuls六匙

ろくさじ
rokusaji
Seven spoonfuls七匙ななさじ
nanasaji
Eight spoonfuls八匙はちさじ
hachisaji
Nine spoonfuls九匙きゅうさじ
kyuusaji
Ten spoonfuls十匙じゅうさじ
juusaji

 

膳(ぜん)- Chopsticks

If you are buying ready-to-eat food at a convenience store or supermarket, this counter might be used. 膳(ぜん) is the specific counter used for pairs of chopsticks.

A typical conversation sounds like this:

  1. “Would you like chopsticks?” “Yes, two pairs, please.” → “お箸付けますか?” “はい、2膳おねがいします.” (おはしつけますか? 杯、にぜんおねがいします.)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One pair of chopsticks一膳
いちぜん
ichizen
Two pairs of chopsticks二膳
にぜん
nizen
Three pairs of chopsticks三膳
さんぜん
sanzen
Four pairs of chopsticks四膳
よんぜん
yonzen
Five pairs of chopsticks五膳
ごぜん
gozen
Six pairs of chopsticks六膳
ろくぜんrokuzen
Seven pairs of chopsticks七膳ななぜんnanazen
Eight pairs of chopsticks八膳はちぜんhachizen
Nine pairs of chopsticks九膳
きゅうぜんkyuuzen
Ten pairs of chopsticks十膳じゅうぜん
juuzen

 

貫(かん)- Sushi

Another specific counter, 貫(かん)s for the sushi lovers. It is useful if you’re eating at a sushi restaurant and want to show off your Japanese skills.

Example:

  1. “I would like two pieces of tuna sushi, please.” → “マグロ握りを2貫ください!” (マグロにぎりをにかんください)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One piece of sushi一貫
いっかん
ikkan
Two pieces of sushi二貫
にかん
nikan
Three pieces of sushi三貫
さんかん
sankan
Four pieces of sushi四貫
よんかん
yonkan
Five pieces of sushi五貫
ごかんgokan
Six pieces of sushi六貫
ろっかんrokkan
Seven pieces of sushi七貫
ななかん
nanakan
Eight pieces of sushi八貫
はちかん/はっかん
hachikan/hakkan
Nine pieces of sushi九貫
きゅうかん
kyuukan
Ten pieces of sushi十貫
じゅっかん
jukkan

 

In Conclusion

Japanese is a language full of counters. While there are quite a few that would be beneficial to learn, you can survive just as well using only 個(こ)and つ. Are there any counters that have helped you in your journey to study Japanese or live abroad in Japan?

If there are, please leave a comment below or send me an e-mail! I would love to hear from you. Thank you for reading along, and good luck with your studies!

One Response

  1. Jan Manning July 17, 2020

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