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.
- What Is a Counter?
- Counters in Japanese: Is There An Easier Way?
- Common Counters
- 個 (こ): Most Inanimate Objects, Certain Abstract Objects, Etc.
- 人（にん）- People
- 匹（ひき）- Small Animals (Cats, Dogs, Monkeys, Some Fish, Etc.)
- 頭（とう）- Large Animals (Horses, Cows, Crocodiles, Marine Mammals, Etc.)
- 羽（わ）- Birds, Bats*, Rabbits
- 階（かい）- Floors of a Building
- 台（だい）- Furniture, Vehicles, Electronics
- 本（ほん）- Stick-Shaped or Long Objects
- 冊（さつ）- Books, Bound Files, Notebooks
- 枚（まい）- Flat Objects
- Time Counters
- School Counters
- Cooking and Dining
- In Conclusion
What Is a Counter?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- “I saw two birds yesterday.” → “昨日、鳥を２つ見た。” (きのう、とりをふたつみた)
- “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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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 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.
- “Two apples, please.” → “りんごを二個ください。” (りんごをにこください)
- “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)
- I had 2 dreams yesterday.” → “昨日、夢を2個見た。”(きのう、ゆめをにこみた)
|Eight||八個||はちこ / |
|hachiko / |
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)
- “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)
- “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)
|Seven people||七人||しちにん / |
|Nine people||九人||きゅうにん / |
|kyuunin / |
**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.
|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 / |
|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.
- “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)
|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 / |
|nanahiki / |
|Eight (small) animals||八匹||はっぴき / |
|happiki / |
|Nine (small) animals||九匹||きゅうひき||kyuuhiki|
|Ten (small) animals||十匹||じゅっぴき / |
|juppiki / |
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).
- “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)
|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 / |
|hattou / |
|Nine (large) animals||九頭||きゅうとう||kyuutou|
|Ten (large) animals||十頭||じっとう /|
|jittou / |
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.
- “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)
|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 / |
|rokuwa / |
|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 / |
|juuwa / |
*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.
- “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)
- “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)
|Three/thrid floor||三階||さんがい / |
|sangai / |
|Eight/eighth floor||八階||はちかい / |
|hachikai / |
|Ten/tenth floor||十階||じっかい /|
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.
- “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)
|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 / 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.
- “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)
|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 / |
|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 / 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.
- “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)
|Ten (books)||十冊||じっさつ / |
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.
- “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)
|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|
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).”
- “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)
|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 / |
|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).
- “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)
- “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)
|Seven hours||七時間||ななじかん / |
|nanajikan / |
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.”
- “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)
- “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)
|Four minutes||四分||よんふん / |
|yonfun / |
|Ten minutes||十分||じゅっぷん / |
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.
- “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)
- “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.
|Eight Months||八か月||はちかげつ / |
|hachikagetsu / |
|Ten Months||十か月||じゅっかげつ / |
|jukkagetsu / |
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)
- “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)
|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)*.
- 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
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)
- “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.
|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 / |
|yonhaku / |
|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 / |
|hachihaku / |
|Nine nights stay||九泊||きゅうはく||kyuuhaku|
|Ten nights stay||十泊||じっぱく / |
|jippaku / |
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).
- “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)
|Three rooms||三部屋||さんへや / |
|sanheya / |
|Four rooms||四部屋||よんへや / |
|Ten rooms||十部屋||じゅっへや /|
|juhheya / |
*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.
- “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)
- “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)
|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 / |
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.
- “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)
- “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.
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.
- “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)
- “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)
|Number seven||七号||ななごう / |
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.
- “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)
|Eight airplanes/machines||八機||はっき /|
|hakki / |
|Ten airplanes/machines||十機||じゅっき / |
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.
- “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)
|Four lines||四列||よれつ /|
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.
- “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)
- “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)
|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.
- “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.)
- “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)
|Seven chapters/departments||七課||ななか /|
|Eight chapters/departments||八課||はっか /|
|Ten chapters/departments||十課||じゅっか /|
Another counter than can be found in the office or the classroom, 期(き) counts terms or semesters.
- “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)
|Eight terms||八期||はっき / |
|hakki / |
|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.
- “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)
|Seven questions||七問||ななもん / |
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.
- “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)
|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 /|
|Nine points/art pieces||九点||きゅうてん||kyuuten|
|Ten points/art pieces||十点||じゅってん / |
Cooking and Dining
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?”
“How many people in your party?” “Two.”
- “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.
|Seven people||七名||ななめい / |
|nanamei / |
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.
- “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)
- “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)
|Eight cups/bowls||八杯||はっぱい /|
|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.
- “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.
- “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)
|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.
- “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)
|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|
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.
- “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)
- “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)
|Three spoonfuls||三匙||さんさんじ / |
|sansaji / |
|Eight spoonfuls||八匙||はちさじ / |
|hachisaji / |
|Ten spoonfuls||十匙||じゅうさじ / |
|juusaji / |
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:
- “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)
|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|
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.
- “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)
|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 /|
|Nine pieces of sushi||九貫||きゅうかん||kyuukan|
|Ten pieces of sushi||十貫||じゅっかん||jukkan|
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!