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 – 600 counters! (reference page is in Japanese only) 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 and flat, 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).  We’ll 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、ゆめをふたつみた)

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.

How to Count 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 Counters

A 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。” (りんごをにこください)
  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 /
はっこ
hachiko /
hakko
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 /
くにん
kyuunin /
kunin
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 /
くにんまえ
kyuuninmae /
kuninmae
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, Marine Mammals, 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 marine mammals like whales, dolphins, sea lions, etc.   Aquatic creatures like fish (tuna, bonito, and yellowtail, saury, etc.) are counted 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nanatou
Eight (large) animals八頭はっとう /
はちとう
hattou /
hachitou
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.  However, many native speakers would use the  “つ” or 個 (こ) counters to count whole, cooked poultry.

Example:

  1. “My cat killed two rabbits today.” → “うちの猫は今日、ウサギを2羽殺した。” (うちのねこはきょう、ウサギをにわころした)
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 / さんばsanwa / sanba
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 /
ろっぱ
rokuwa /
roppa
Seven (birds, rabbits, bats)七羽ななわnanawa
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 /
じっぱ
juuwa /
jippa

*Note:  According the NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), bats can be counted with this 羽 (わ) counter, or using 匹(ひき)counter listed above.  The 匹(ひき)is more commonly used on the news and shows.

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.” → “私は5階建てのアパートに住んでいます。” (わたしはごかいだての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 /
さんかい
sangai /
sankai
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 /
はっかい
hachikai /
hakkai
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、車が2台止まっています。” (あのしんごうで、くるまがにだいとまっています)
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
/
しちだい
nanadai / shichidai
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

*Note:  Trains can be the exception.  You’ll hear the counters “両 (りょう – counter for carriages)”, “編成 (へんせい – composition, formation, or operation of carriages)” and “本 (ほん – counter for long objects) to count trains.

本(ほん)- Stick-Shaped or Long Objects

本(ほん)  is a counter that covers a wide variety of objects. Items such as pencils, bottles, asparagus, certain varieties of fish, 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 certain sports (kendo, judo, wrestling, etc.) contest prizes, 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.

Example:

  1. “My class collected 127 plastic bottles from nearby parks.” → “うちのクラスは近くの公園からペットボトルを127本集めました。” (うちのくらすはちかく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めました)
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 /
じっぽん
juppon / jippon

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 manga books.” → “兄はマンガを3冊持っています。” (あには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枚いただいていいですか?” (かみをいちまいいただいていいですか)
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 Counters

An 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 “にじゅっさい (ni-jussaii),” 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 /
じっさい
jussai /
jissai
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時間掛かります。” (ここからとうきょうまで、にじかんかかります)
EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
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).

分 can also be use to talk about proportions/ratios. In this case, 分 would be read as “ぶ or “ぶん.”

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っ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 /
よんぷん
yonfun /
yonpun
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 /
じっぷん
juppun /
jippun

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7月です。” (わたしのたんじょうびはしちがつです)
  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きゅうかげつかかります)

*When counting a certain number of months, you will need to use (か) between the number and the counter 月 (as show in the table below).

However, there are other characters used to count a number of months. “か” is the most “up-to-date” character, but you maybe also see ヶ (e.g. 一ヶ月), which is an “older style” character. You may also see “カ” (一カ月), which may be in in some newspapers. The kanji character, “箇” (一箇月) is also used, but it’s not nearly as common as the other characters.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One month一か月いっかげつikkagetsu
Two months二か月にかげつnikagetsu
Three months三か月さんかげつsankagetsu
Four Months四か月よんかげつyonkagetsu
Five Months五か月ごかげつgokagetsu
Six Months六か月ろっかげつrokkagetsu
Seven Months七か月ななかげつnanakagetsu
Eight Months八か月はちかげつ /
はっかげつ
hachikagetsu /
hakkagetsu
Nine Months九か月きゅうかげつkyuukagetsu
Ten Months十か月じゅっかげつ /
じっかげつ
jukkagetsu /
jikkagetsu

日(か/にち)- Days

The counter 日(か/にち) can be used to count a specific amount of days or to express the date.

Notice that there is a special reading for the number 20:

20th day of the month -はつか(hatsuka)

Examples:

  1. “The letter will arrive in three days.” → “手紙は三日以内で届きます。” (てがみはみっかいないでとどきます)
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

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 (except for the number 1)*.

For Example:

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

Don’t forget that the number 20 has a special reading!

A period of 20 days – はつかかん(hatsukakan)

*Note:  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

Travel

Picture 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泊でお願いしたいのですが。” (にはく*でおねがいしたいのですが)

*Note: 2泊 can also be read as “ふたはく” (futahaku), and some hotels/accommodations might use this since it is more polite.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
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)- Booking Hotel Rooms

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

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: “一部屋(ひとへや)、二部屋(ふたへや)、三部屋(さんへや/みへや). .

The numbers 4 and above revert back to the Chinese-based counting system: “四部屋(よんへや)、五部屋(ごへや)、六部屋(ろくへや)、七部屋(ななへや)、八部屋(はちへや)、九部屋(きゅうへや)、十部屋(じゅっへや).

Example:

  1. “I booked two rooms.” → “2部屋を予約しました。” (ふたへやをよやくしました)
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 /
よへや
yonheya /
yoheya
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 /
とへや
juhheya /
toheya

*Note:  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) can be used to count Japanese style rooms (at some Japanese inns or hotels).

Counting Rooms (In a House, Building, Etc.) –  室(しつ)

室(しつ) is the counter you would use to count the number of bedrooms in a house, hotel, or apartment.

Example:

  1. “There are four vacancies in the apartment.” → “そのアパートは、空き部屋が4室あります。” (そのアパートはあきべやがよんしつあります)
  2. “There are three rooms on the top floor of the hotel.” → “ホテルの最上階には3室客室があります。” (ホテルのさいじょうかいにはさんしつきゃくしつがあります)
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 /
はちしつ
hasshitsu /
hachishitsu
Nine (hotel) rooms九室きゅうしつkyuushitsu
Ten (hotel) rooms十室じゅっしつ /
じっしつ
jusshitsu /
jisshitsu

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.” → “NH 1771便は10月1日に到着しました。” (NH 1771びんはにせんにじゅうねん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。” (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 /
しちごう
nanagou /
shichigou
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 Airships

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、飛行機に2機乗りました。” (きょう、ひこうきににきのりました)
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 /
はちき
hakki /
hachiki
Nine airplanes/machines九機きゅうきkyuuki
Ten airplanes/machines十機じゅっき /
じっき
jukki /
jikki

School Counters

Two 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 /
よんれつ
yoretsu /
yonretsu
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 /
しちぎょう
nanagyou /
shichigyou
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 chapter 2 of your textbook as homework.” → “宿題で教科書の2課を読みなさい。” (しゅくだいできょうかしょのにかをよみなさい.)
  2. “I work at the city hall in the education department.” → “私は市役所の学校教育課に勤めています。” (わたしはしやくしょのがっこうきょういくかにつとめています)
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yonka
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九課きゅうか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 /
はちき
hakki /
hachiki
Nine terms九期きゅうきkyuuki
Ten terms十期じゅっき /
じっき
jukki /
jikki

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問が含まれています。” (このテストにえいごもんだいごもんがふくまれています)
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 /
しちもん
nanamon /
shichimon
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 /
じってん
jutten /
jitten

Cooking and Dining

A 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 /
しちめい
nanamei /
shichimei
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.” → “ビールを4杯ください。” (ビールをよんはいください)
  2. “Can I have another bowl of rice, please?” → “ごはんをもう一杯いただいていいですか?” (ごはんをもういっぱいいただいていいですか)
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 /
じっぱい
juppai /
jippai

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.” → “ご飯を並盛でお願いします。” (ごはんを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. “I got one basket of peaches at a grocery store.” → “スーパーで桃を1盛買いました。” (スーパーでももをひともりかいました)
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 cups 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、オリーブゆこさじにはい、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ふた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 /
みさじ
sansaji /
misaji
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 /
はっさじ
hachisaji /
hassaji
Nine spoonfuls九匙きゅうさじkyuusaji
Ten spoonfuls十匙じゅうさじ /
じゅっさじ
juusaji /
jussaji

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? はい、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!

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