How To Count Anything In Japanese Know exactly how to say that you want 1000 sushi for dinner

    The Japanese language has this tricky thing known as "counters." With counters, certain things have certain "counters" that you use to count them. For example, you don't just say "one dog," you say "ippiki 一匹", which refers to one small animal. To say the least, there are a lot of counters, and sometimes even Japanese people have trouble remembering what goes with what (which is why there are some more "general" counters you could fall back on, if you needed).

    Still, counters are a ton of work. After you've learned the more basic Japanese counters, it ends up coming down to experience if you want to use them correctly after that. Sadly, most of this experience comes over a very long period of time. You see a thing, you see someone count that thing, and then you get a little closer. There just isn't a resource out there that shows the counter with a list of things that can be counted in this way. I'm hoping to fix that with this guide.

    The Things We Count

    number 101010 written on pavement
    Source: woodleywonderworks

    This obviously doesn't cover everything, but I wanted to show you a counter, then give you a list of things that are counted using said counter. You'll notice that many of these things have multiple counters associated with them, and that's okay. In fact, it should give you more idea around context. For example, you'll see "soba" being counted a bunch of different ways. It can be counted using 本 (because each individual noodle is a long, cylindrical object). It can be counted with 束 because it can be bundled together into bundles. It can also be counted with 丁 because it is a serving of food. As you look at the counters, make sure to think about these items in context. It will help a lot when you're trying to make sense of certain less-obvious examples.

    Anyways, I hope this guide will help to make counters less abstract. I know that there is a lot of information here, but if you come back when you have a counter you're not totally sure of and look them up one at a time, you'll slowly begin to understand the counters as a whole, and perhaps you'll even begin to contextualize things a bit too.

    ちょう (Counter For Guns, Inksticks, Palanquins, Rickshaws…)

    Electric Iron, Axe, Palanquin, Sickle, Razor, Woodworking Plane, Abacus, Guitars, Pistol/Handgun, Shamisen, Ink, Saw, Chisel, Violin, Scissors, Ice Axe, Kitchen Knife, Carving Knife, Portable Shrine, File, Rifle, Wrench, Cello, Nail Clippers, Gun, Candle.

    だい (Counter For Machines And Vehicles)

    Electric Iron, Accordion, Air Conditioner, Motorcycle, Cage, Music Box, Car Navigation System, Wig, Camera, Vacuum Cleaner, Abacus, Push Car, Typhoon, Hurricane, Festival Float, Cello, Table, Television, Telephone, Lighthouse, Keyboard, Machine, Balloon, Blimp, Stepladder, Steps, Car, Vehicle, Cake, Kotatsu Table, Small Chair, Tricycle, Charcoal Brazier, Railroad Cars, Bicycle, Water Wheel, Rice Cooker, Heater, Stretcher, Sprinkler, Playground Slide, Washing Machine, Electric Fan, Scales (for weight), Piano, Airship, Windmill, Bed, Motor, Food Cart, Radio, Lift, Roulette, Radar, Potter's Wheel, Robot.

    てん (Counter For Goods Or Items)
    book icon

    Accessory, Carving, Alcohol Vase, Picture, Drawing, Horse Picture, Raindrops, Drops Of Water, Curtain, Pottery, Earthenware, Portrait, Cloth, Article, Book, Stuffed Animal, Stuffed Object, Lacquer Ware, Ring.

    (Counter For Articles)

    Accessory, Manila Clam, Head, Legless Chair, Earring, Rock, Umeboshi, Station Bento, Bucket, Cage, Music Box, Shellfish, Shell, Hand Warmer, Persimmon, Oyster, Fruit, Nut, Berry, Wig, Bell, Drum, Typhoon, Hurricane, Rice Bowl, Alcohol Vase, Teacup, Battery, Whetstone, Pottery, Donburi, Nut (and bolt), Doll, Puppet

    ひき (Counter For Small Animals, 2-han Size Cloth Rolls)

    Devil, Cuttlefish, Squid, Dog, Rabbit, Cow, Eel, Sea Urchin, Horse, Prawn, Shrimp, Lobster, Trophy, Wolf, Mosquito, Shellfish, Silkworm, Frog, Oyster, Snail, Crab, Tortoise, Turtle, Octopus, Animal, Dragonfly, Sea Otter

    かい (Counter For Occurances)

    Yawn, Fart, Chance, Opportunity, Mail, Times, Revolution

    りゅう (Counter For Tiny Particles)

    Manila Clam, Adzuki Beans, Sweat, Umeboshi, Tears, Teardrop, Caviar, Medicine, Rice, Ruby, Raisin

    ほん (Counter For Long Cylindrical Things)
    red rocket ship

    Asparagus, Soba, Dart, Firewood, Bamboo, Stilts, Cord, Sliding Doors, Shoji, Tree Branch, Thread, Dumpling, Water Well, Seal, Stamp, Injection, Fan, Eel, Horsetail, Nail Clippers, Icicle, Strap (to hang onto), Fishing Rod, Film, Letter, Pencil, Chimney, Pylon, Folding Fan, Hand Towel, Tenugui, Decorations, Train, Sash, Telephone Pole, Battery, Dripping Water, Telephone, Telegram, Carpet, Pagoda, Stupa, Earthen Pipe, Screwdriver, Persimmon, Cocktail, Knife, Umbrella, Nagaimo, Scallion, Green Onion, Shallot, Gas Bomb, Sword, Katana, Rope, katsuoboshi, Meat, Hairpin, Tree, Necktie, Screw, Necklace, Article, News Story, Tree Ring, Mushroom, Saw, Script, Flag, Streamer, Banner, Chisel, Stepladder, Steps, Beacon, Skyrockets, Nail, Tooth, Herb, Lipstick, Cloud, Bridge, Flag, Flower, Spring (bouncy kind), Blood Vessel, Smoke Plume, Cigar, Television Program, Seal, Bowstring, Advertisement, Earrings, Perfume, Ladle, Ice Axe, Burdock Root, Konbu, Film, Flute, Whistle, Climbing Rope, Bamboo Pole, Rod, Alcohol, Writing Brush, False Tooth, Paperweight, Cactus, Bandage, Kitchen Knife, Hose, Threshold, Bamboo Sword, Cavity, Whip, Cane, Glasses, Noodles, Cotton Swab, Arrow, File, Spear, Canteen, Flask, Water Bottle, Shovel, Stick, Wand, Trumpet, Strap, Straw, Ribbon, Spoon, Spare Rib, Trousers, Pants, Charcoal, Rail, Flower Arrangement, Olympic Torch, Wrench, Clear Stream, Corridor, Rope, Candle, Incense Stick, Chromosome, Folding Fan, Wine, Vaccine, Chopsticks, Beer, Bottles

    そく (Counter For Bundles)

    Asparagus, Rice Plant, Soba, Firewood, Seedling, Scallion, Shallot, Green Onion, Rope, Konbu, Noodles, Incense Stick

    すじ (Counter For Long Straight Objects)

    Sweat, Belt, Sash, Tears (crying kind), Rope, Beacon, Signal Fire, Cloud, Smoke Plume, Smoke, Arrow, Spear, Clear Stream

    てき (Counter For Drops Of Liquid)

    Perfume, Sweat

    けん(Counter For Matters, Items, and Cases)

    Addressee's name, Recipient's name and address, Proposal, Suggestion, Marriage Proposal, Engagement, Legislative Bill, Agenda Item, Project, Plan, Complaint, Objection, Contract, Agreement, Mail, Financing, Loan

    とう (Counter For Homes And Buildings)
    green illustrated building

    Apartment Building, Apartment, House, Hermitage, Tenement, Warehouse, Factory

    けん (Counter For Houses And Buildings)

    Apartment Building, Apartment, House, Hermitage, Tenement, Warehouse, Factory

    (Counter for Armor, Suits, and Sets of Furniture)

    Stirrup, Comb, Hakama, Chopsticks, String Of Beads, Helmet Armor

    そく (Counter For Pairs)

    Stirrup, Japanese Sandals (zori), Japanese Socks (tabi), Gloves, Mittens, Shoes, Socks, Stockings, Wooden Clogs (geta), Slippers, Roller skate

    くみ (Set Of Items)
    pair of illustrated mittens

    Couple Of Lovers, Earring, Marriage Proposal, Gloves, Mittens, Playing Cards, Couples, Futon Beds, Stacked Food Boxes, Bedding, Suit

    ちゃく (Counter For Suits Of Clothing)

    Raincoat, Clothes, Garment, Overcoat, Cloak, Kimono, Yukata, Suit, Business Suit

    まい (Counter For Flat Objects)

    Dust Cloth, Soba, Rice Field, Sliding Storm Shutter, Portrait of Deceased Person, Kite, Raft, Tatami Mat, Sheet Of Dried Sardines, Sliding Door Fittings, Tapestry, Clothes, Rock, Tea Cloth, Fan, Fish Scale, Picture, Painting, Drawing, T-Shirt, Apron, Commuter Pass, Picture Of A Horse, Tablecloth, Draft, Letter, Glove, Mitten, Charm, Curtain, Tent, Pavilion, Door, Whetstone, Curtain, Pottery, Carpet, Shellfish, Shell, Oyster, Musical Score, Naan, Wig, Meat, Stock Certificate, Portrait, Playing Cards, Roof Tile, Cloth, Ticket, Mushroom, Seaweed, Camisole, Sign Curtain, Kimono, Leaf, Comb, Postcard, Gear, Battledore, Contract, Ornamental Sumo Apron, Handkerchief, Japanese Writing Paper, Pounded Fish Cake, Hammock, Advertisement, Lattice Door, Pizza, Eaves, Croquette, CD, Film, Japanese Sliding Screen, Futon, Sake Lees, Sumo Apron, Sitting Pillow, Wall, Fence, Plate, Zarusoba, Bookmark, O-Bon Festival, Paving Stone, Pavement, Paper, Carpet, Rug, Curtain, Tongue, Straw Raincoat, Business Card, Fish Shaped Wooden Temple Drum, Sticky Rice Cake (mochi), Earthenware, File, Photograph, Yukata, Rusk, Bamboo Screen, Pants, Trousers, Cuttlefish, Record, Brick, Bill, Sweater, Rice Cracker, Arm Band, Haori (Japanese formal coat)

    (Counter For Steps, Strides)

    Walking

    さつ (Counter For Books)

    Book Collection, Albums, Notebook, Memo Pad, Musical Score, Catalog, Notebook, Dictionary, Book, Publication, Documents,

    じょう (Counter For Units Of Paper And Seaweed)

    Album, Notebook, Seaweed, Japanese Writing Paper, Folding Screen,

    (Counter For Houses)

    House, Warehouse

    しょう (Counter For Beds)

    Raft, Bed

    はい (Counter For Cupfuls, Ships, Octopuses, And Squid)

    Zouni (new years mochi soup dish), Soba, Octopus, Squid, Flower Arrangement, Rice With Tea Poured On (chazuke), Donburi, Cocktail, Crab, Ship, Boat, When It's Time To Drink, Whiskey Sour, Meal, Ramen,

    はち (Counter For Potted Things)

    Flower Arrangement, Garden Shrubs, Cactus, Brazier, Bonsai,

    きょく (Counter For Boards)

    Go (board game), Chess, Shogi,

    ばん (Counter For Ordering and Boards)

    Go (board game), Entertainment, Performance, Noh Theater, TV Program, Order, Rank, Shogi, Sumo,

    たい (Counter For Statues, Bodies, and Images)

    Statue, Large Statue Of Buddha (daibutsu), Ashes Of Deceased, Corpse, Carving, Horse Picture, Earthen Figure, Clay Figure, Doll, Puppet, Stuffed Toy, Plush Toy, Stuffed Animal, Haniwa, Buddhist Statue, Jizo Statue, Moai Statue, An Object In Which A Deity Resides, Stone Statue, Waxwork, Wax Model, Chromosome

    きゃく (Counter For Chairs And Seats)

    Chairs With Legs, Desk, Table, Wine Glass

    かぶ (Counter For Small Plants)

    Rice Plant, Garden Shrub, Persimmon, Seedling, Stock Certificate, Tree, Mushroom, Cabbage, Herb, Chinese Cabbage, Lettuce,

    はしら (Counter For Pillars)

    Buddhist Mortuary Tablet, An Object In Which A Deity Resides

    かせ (Counter For Reels)

    Thread

    かん (Counter For Rolls)

    Thread, Movie, Film, Cloth, Cigar, Bandage, Hose, Scroll, Rolled Sheet, Dictionary, Book, Publication, Documents, Official Papers, Rope

    とう (Counter For Large Animals)

    Elephant, Large Dog Breed, Seeing Eye Dog, Dolphin, Cow, Horse, Trophy, Silkworm, Monster, Whale, Bear, Large Stuffed Animal, Gorilla, Monkey, Camel, Sea Otter, Donkey

    (Counter For Machines)

    Water Well, Fireplace, Hearth, Mill-stone, Mortar, Carving, Air Conditioner, Bank, Elevator, Chimney, Smokestack, Pylon, Cage, Toilet, Lighthouse, Stupa, Pagoda, Street Light, Garden Lantern, Bonfire, Shinto Shrine Archway, Gas Tank, Coffin, Casket, Machine, Gravesite, Tomb, Bridge, Wreath, Atomic Reactor, Stone Monument Bearing An Inscription, Incense Burner, Kotatsu Table, Pyramid, Windmill, Pinwheel, Buddhist Alter, Pillow, Portable Shrine, Moai Statue, Motor, Satellite, Water Wheel, Water Gate, Lamp, Lift, Sprinkler, Playground Slide, Radar, Stone Hut, Hearth, Stone Monument, Pagoda, Potter's Wheel,

    つい (Counter For Pairs)

    Stilts, Hanging Scroll, Earrings, Brazier

    たま (Counter For Balls)

    Soba, Branch Of A Sacred Tree, Udon, Persimmon, Fruit, Nut, Berry, Cabbage, Noodles, Watermelon, Lettuce

    (Counter For Birds And Rabbits)

    Ostrich, Rabbit, Origami Crane, Bird, Peacock

    きょく (Counter For Music)

    Song, Music

    せき (Counter For Sitting Occasions)

    Party, Banquet, Entertainment, Performance, Drinking Party

    はら (Counter For Inside-The-Belly-Area Things)

    Sea Urchin, Salted Salmon Roe, Walleye Pollack Roe

    つぼ (Counter For Pots)

    Sea Urchin

    (Counter For Equestrians)

    Horse, Horse-Riding,

    さく (Counter For Works)

    Movie, Film

    おり (Counter For Bent Things)

    Station Bento, Bento, Folded Paper Crane,

    (Counter For Fish)

    Fish, Shrimp, Prawn, Crab,

    かけ (Counter For Hung Things)

    Stirrup, Apron,

    くち (Counter For Bank Accounts, Donations, Things With Openings)

    Teakettle, Alcohol Vase, Application, Sword, Bell, Razor, Contribution, Donation, Contract, Bank Account, Insurance, Financing, Loan, Japanese Soup Bowl

    だん (Counter For Groups)

    Orchestra

    かい (Counter For Floors)

    Floor

    (Counter For Stories, Episodes)

    Episodes

    はく (Counter For Nights Of A Stay)

    Number Of Nights

    ねん (Counter For Years)

    Year

    げつ (Counter For Months)

    Month

    さい さい (Counter For Years Old)

    Years Old

    たわら (Counter For Bags Of Rice)

    Rice

    しゅう (Counter For Weeks)

    Week

    (Counter For Cargo)

    Bucket, Cask, Barrel

    はつ・ (Counter For Gunshots)

    Wind, Gas, Fart, Horse-riding, Fist, Bomb

    はり (Counter For Umbrellas, Parasols, Tents)
    tennis court illustration

    Paper Lantern, Drum, Tent, Curtain, Pavilion, Curtain, Umbrella, Mosquito Net, Sign Curtain, Koto Instrument, Bow (and arrow), Bamboo Screen

    めん (Counter For Mirrors, Boards), Stages, Walls, And Courts)

    Abacus, Rice Field, Drum, Sliding Door, Sports Ground, Playing Field, Folding Fan, Tennis Court, Curtain, Tent, Pavilion, Mirror, Plot Of Land, Framed Picture, Noh Mask, Biwa (Japanese lute), Koto Instrument, Go Board, Biwa (Japanese lute), Newspaper, Inkstone, Folding Fan

    かさね (Counter For Piles)

    Mirror Shaped Mochi, Tree Ring, Futon, Multi-tiered Food Box, Mochi (rice cakes),

    (Counter For Frames)

    Framed Picture

    そう (Counter For Small Boats)

    Kayak, Ship, Boat

    りょう (Counter For Railway Cars)

    Freight Car, Car, Automobile, Railroad Car, Vehicle, Van, Train

    しゃ (Counter For Cars)

    Freight Car

    (Counter For Bundles)
    illustrated bowl of noodles

    Soba, Firewood, Noodles, Incense Stick,

    ちょう (Counter For Servings Of Food)

    Soba, Udon, Tofu, Ramen

    もん (Counter For Cannons)

    Gun, Cannon, Artillery

    そん (Counter For Revered Things)

    Jizo Statue, Large Buddha Statue (daibutsu)

    じょう (Counter For Tatami Mats)

    Tatami Mats

    (Counter For Horse Loads)

    Barrel, Cask

    しゅ (Counter For Tanka Poems)

    Tanka (31-syllable poem), Waka (classic Japanese poem)

    さお (Counter For Drawers, Chests, And Flags)
    illustrated Japanese instrument

    Chest Of Drawers, Tansu Cabinet, Cupboard or Chest For Tea Implements, Large Oblong Chest, Banner, Flag, Shamisen (three string Japanese guitar), Sweet Bean Jelly (youkan),

    くし (Counter For Skewers)

    Sweet Dumpling, Skewers

    せん (Counter For Matches)

    Chess

    ふく (Counter For Bowls Of Medicine)

    Tea, Medicine, Bowls Of Matcha, Puffs Of A Cigarette

    ふくろ (Counter For Pouches)

    Snacks, Tea Leaves

    はこ (Counter For Boxes)

    Tea Leaves, Snacks, Sweet Bean Jelly (Youkan), Box

    かん (Counter For Containers, Tin Cans)

    Tea Leaves

    きゃく (Counter For Pairs Of Cups And Saucers)

    Rice Bowl, Tea Cup, Plate, Wine Glass, Japanese Soup Bowl

    (Counter For Waves)

    Tsunami

    よく (Counter For Wings)

    Wing, Bird

    たく (Counter For Tables)

    Table, Desk

    ばん (Counter For Nights)

    All-Night, Night

    (Temples)

    Temple

    (Counter For Roofs)

    Temple

    どう (Counter For Halls)

    Temple

    ひと (Counter For People)

    Angel, Human, People

    めい (Polite Counter For People)

    People

    つう (Counter For Letters)

    Draft, Note, Telegram, Letter, Postcard, Written Contract, Email, Excerpt, Book, Volume, Bond, Documents, Official Papers, Bill, Job Invoice

    箇所かしょ (Counter For Places)

    Toilet

    とう (Counter For Lights)
    illustrated lighthouse

    Lighthouse

    そう (Counter For Floors, Layers)

    Stupa, Pagoda

    ひつ (Counter For Pieces Of Land)

    Plot Of Land

    区画くかく (Counter For Sections)

    Plot Of Land

    きく (Counter For Scoops Of Water)

    Tears

    (Counter For Intervals, Space)

    Back Room, Closet, Storage Room, Tatami Room, Period Of Time

    しつ (Counter For Rooms)

    Back Room, Closet, Storage Room, Room

    部屋へや (Counter For Rooms)

    Back Room, Closet, Storage Room, Room

    かたまり (Counter For Lumps)
    illustrated cloud

    Meat, Cloud

    切れきれ (Counter For Slices Of Things)

    Sashimi, Pizza, Mochi, Meat, Bread, Cake

    (Counter For Occurrences, Degrees)

    Chance, Opportunity, Number Of Times, Degrees, Temperature

    ざい (Counter For Doses)

    Medicine

    ぽう (Counter For Wraps)

    Medicine

    じょう (Counter For Pills)

    Medicine

    じょう (Counter For Thin Objects, Rays Of Light, Streaks Of Smoke, Streaks)

    Cloud, Belt, Smoke, Arrow, Spear

    りょう (Counter For Collars)

    Haori (Japanese formal coat), Kasaya (monk's stole), Twelve Layered Ceremonial Kimono, Armor

    こし (Counter For Hips)

    Ornamental Sumo Apron, Hakama, Sword

    しょう (Counter For 1.8 Liter Measuring Boxes)

    Rice

    ぺん (Counter For Completed Poems)

    Song

    (Counter For Small Flat Things)

    Leaf, Postcard, Bookmark, Business Card, Photograph

    けい (Counter For Scenes)

    Play, Drama

    (Counter For Scenes Of A Play)

    Play, Drama

    とう (Counter For Islands)

    Island

    かん (Counter For Flutes, Brushes)

    Shakuhachi Flute, Flute, Writing Brush

    (Counter For Copies Of A Newspaper Or Magazine, Packets Of Paper)

    Music Score, Catalog, Back Room, Closet, Storage Room, Book, Publication, Documents, Official Papers, Newspaper,

    きん (Counter For Loaves Of Bread)

    Plain Bread, White Bread, Loaf

    ぜん (Counter For Pairs Of Chopsticks, Bowls Of Rice)

    Chopsticks, Splittable Wood, Meal

    (Counter For Seats)

    Object In Which A Deity Resides, Shinto Shrine

    (Counter For Paper)

    Newspaper

    わん (Counter For Wooden / Lacquered Bowls)

    Japanese Style Soup (suimono)

    そろい (Counter For Sets)

    Chopsticks, Biwa (Japanese lute), Futon, Bedding, Suit, Business Suit

    かん (Counter For Nigiri Sushi)

    Sushi, Nigiri Sushi

    せき (Counter For Ships)

    Battleship, Ship, Boat, Vessel

    (Counter For Haiku)

    Comic Haiku, Haiku

    はり (Counter For Needlework)

    Seam, Stitch, Suture

    (Counter For Aircraft, Machines)
    illustrated blimp

    Airplane, Airship, Blimp, Balloon, Blimp, Hot-Air Balloon

    りゅう (Counter For Flags)

    Flag, Banner

    流れながれ (Counter For Flags)

    Flag, Banner

    (Counter For Teeth)

    Tooth

    (Counter For Days)

    Day, Day Of The Month

    (Counter For Small Spheres)

    Seal, Stamp, Ruby, Gem, Jewel

    じく (Counter For Book Scrolls)

    Scroll, Rolled Sheet, Hanging Scroll

    —-・ひん, しな (Counter For Meal Courses)

    Cooking, Sashimi, Meal Course

    Please Be Warned

    As you go through these, not all of the counters will be the ones you're looking for. Try to think about the context of why something is using a counter when it is. Just because it's listed under a counter doesn't mean it's the most appropriate way to count that item all the time. There is a lot of crossover depending on the state of the thing, so only experience will help you to understand that.

    Instead, I want you to look at this list the opposite way. You should have some knowledge of a certain counter already, then come here to look at all the examples for that item. By looking at examples, it should give you a better idea of how that particular counter works on a whole.

    There are also plenty of other counters and things to be counted that haven't been included in this guide. Like… a lot of them. Be sure to go out into the world and experience them as it's the only real way to become familiar and comfortable with Japanese counters. It won't be easy, but I hope this guide helped!

    I got some help on this guide from: