In Japanese, when counting things, we will add a counter to the end of a number. This is a system whereby the counter can indicate what kind of thing it is. This is a language rule that is common in East Asian countries such as Chinese and Korean as well as Japanese, but Japanese counters are one of the factors that can be a headache for English-speaking students.
Table of contents
Japanese counters with regular number
By the way, you learned Japanese number 1 to 10, didn’t you? You can express that number by adding a counter to it.There is no sound change, so it is very simple.
Number + 枚(まい) : sheet
You can count thin or flat objects. You would use it to buy tickets when traveling.
Countts : paper,ticket,board,plates
チケット を 4枚(よんまい) ください。Please gove me 4 tickets.
Japanese counters with special sounds
Actually, “ichi, ni, san… ” is a counting system that came from China around the 3rd century. In contrast, “hitotsu, futatsu, mittsu” is ancient Japanese counting system. This is mainly used for people, small items, and days. Let’s learn these three together.
Number + つ : small item, restaurant orders
When counting small items such as fruits and eggs, and when ordering food at a restaurant
Countts : fruit,egg,restaurant cuisine
テーブルに みかん が 3つ (みっつ) あります。There are 3 oranges on the table.
えだまめ を １つ (ひとつ) ください。Please give me one edamame.
Number + 人(にん) : people
Counts : people
You can count people and to tell the number of people.
Only 1 and 2 have a special way of saying that.
妹(いもうと) が 2人 (ふたり) います。I have 2 little sisters.
なんめいさまですか。 – 3人 (さんにん) です。How many people? -Three people.
Number + 日(か) : days
You can count the dates and number of daysdays.
note. 14(じゅうよっか / jūyokka), 20(はつか / hatsuka), 24(にじゅうよっか / ni jūyokka)
Counts : dates, number of days
今日(きょう) は 3月 1日(ついたち) です。Today is March 1st.
たんじょうび まで あと2日(ふつか) です。My birthday is in two days.
Japanese counters with “h” sounds
本(ほん / hon), 匹(ひき / hiki), 杯(はい / hai) start with “h” sound. In this case, the sound changes to p,b depending on the previous sound. Hmm? Yep, this is the same as the sound changing from Japanese number 100 to 900!
Number + 本(hon) : sticks
You can use to count stick-shaped or bottle-shaped long and thin items.
Counts : bottole of wine, pencil, cucumber, umbrella
ワイン を 1本(いっぽん) のみました。I drank a bottle of wine.
きゅうり を 3本(さんぼん) かいました。I bought 3 cucmbers.
Number + 杯(hai) : cups
You can count cups and glass. We use containers for drinks.
Counts : coffe cups, glass, mug
みず を 一杯(いっぱい) ください。Please give me a glass of water.
きのう の よる、ビールを 3杯(さんばい) のみました。I drank three beers last night.
Number + 匹(hai) : small animals
You can count small animals such as dogs, cat.
note. Rabbits and birds use “羽(わ)” and we use ”頭(とう)” for livestock such as cow, pig, hourse.
Counts : cat,dog,mouse,….etc
わたしの いえ に ねこ が 2匹(にひき) います。I have 2 cats at home.
いぬ が 1匹(いっぴき) ほしい です。I want a dog.
Japanese counters with “k” sounds
階(かい / kai), 回(かい /kai) start with “k” sound. In the case of 階(かい/kai), the sound changes to “g” when it’s 3 and the question for “how many”. They also have the same sound but different meanings.
Number + 階(kai) : floor
You can count floor. You will use at hotel, school, department store.
note. In Japan, the ground floor is usually the first floor.
Counts : floor
わたしの いえは ６階(ろっかい) です。My house is on the 6th floor.
わたしの へや は 何階(なんがい) ですか。What floor is my room on?
Number + 回(kai) : times
You can count number of times. We will use to talk about frequency and experiences.
Counts : times
週(しゅう)に 1回、ヨガを します。I do yoga once a week.
日本(にほん)へ 何回(なんかい) いったこと がありますか。How many time have you been to Japan?
Useful Japanese counters chart
You can download PDF.
Tips for Japanese counters
Japanese counters may be tedious to memorize every single one, but don’t you find it interesting to look at them in various ways? Now, why don’t you find out how to count what is around you now?
In adittion, Let’s practice kanji together.
Fun quiz for Japanese counters
Here ! You can try the quiz to practice Japanese counters.