In our main Japanese counters article, you learned what counters are and how to use them. You also learned that around 500 counters exist, though not all of them are in common (or even uncommon) use. We took this list and reduced the number to 350, then categorized them by how useful they are.
Although this Japanese counters list is extremely thorough, you don't have to learn everything here. You can get away with memorizing anywhere between two, nineteen, or sixty-six counters, depending on what your goals are. Here's how we broke things down:
Absolutely Must-Know Counters: 2
Must-Know Counters: 17
Common Counters: 47
Somewhat Common Counters: 205
Rare But Interesting Counters: 22
Gairaigo Counters: 57
One more note is that some of the "counters" in here are actually "units" having to do with time, weight, speed, etc. But, since those units work grammatically the same as counters and mostly follow the same reading rules, we included them on our counters list. Plus, they're all counting something, technically, be it days, hours, minutes, etc.
Prerequisite: You'll want to make sure you know how to read hiragana. If you get to the gairaigo counters, you'll need to know how to read katakana as well. There will also be times we mention the "kango/wago/gairaigo counting method." You can learn all three Japanese numbering systems in our Counting in Japanese article. Knowing the kanji for the numbers will help, too. In our example sentences and explanations, we equally use Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3) and Japanese kanji (一, 二, 三), since both are quite common in Japanese.
around 500 counters exist, though not all of them are in common (or even uncommon) use.
As this is a reference guide, we highly recommend you CTRL/CMD+F to find the counter you're looking for. If we have an individual (and more thorough) separate article for the counter, there will be a link to take you there. We recommend reading those individual counters articles when you can, as they go into much greater detail than we're able to here. In this article, we just give you an overview of each counter without going too deep.
To assist you in your studies more, we've also created a complimentary spreadsheet that contains all of the counters in this article plus how to count with them. To download it, just sign up for our email list. We'll use it to notify you about new Japanese language articles, Japanese resources, article giveaways (such as this one), as well as any sales and new product releases.
2 Absolutely Must-Know Japanese Counters
There are only two absolutely must-know Japanese counters. They are 〜つ and 個 (こ). Why only these two? In a way, they're magical. They can be used to count just about anything. If you are lazy, or if you don't know the correct counter for something, you can just use these and it will (probably) make sense.
The 〜つ Counter
I've listed 〜つ as a counter, but actually it's just the original wago (Japanese) form of counting. If you don't know what wago counting is (it's not ichi, ni, san), check out our How To Count In Japanese guide.
Probably thanks to the fact that this "counter" is just numbers, it can be used to count just about anything in Japanese. Things with shape, things without shape, abstract things, number order, little kids' ages, thoughts, ideas, and pretty much everything else. It's extremely versatile and helpful for when you don't know the specific counter for something.
Counts: just about everything.
- There are three oranges.
- Kō-chan is still two years old, right?
- Can we get four beers, one water, and five edamame, please.
- I only came up with six ideas.
Although the explanation "it can count anything" is pretty right on the money (and self-explanatory), you can read more about the counter 〜つ here.
The 個 (こ) Counter
It's important to compare the counter 個 with 〜つ to understand its limitations.
個 is just the kango, a.k.a. Chinese version of 〜つ. Like 〜つ, you can count almost anything with this counter, though it's slightly less versatile. Think of it this way: if the thing you're counting has a boundary to it, you can use 個. If it doesn't have a distinct boundary, or it's too abstract, it's an age, or it's related to number order, it's more common to use 〜つ.
Counts: pretty much anything with a distinct shape or boundary.
- There are seven apples.
- I got three pimples on my forehead.
It's important to compare the counter 個 with 〜つ to understand its limitations (it's only almost as flexible as 〜つ), so I'd recommend you read our article on the counter 個.
17 Must-Know Japanese Counters
Congratulations! You've walked through the "Absolutely Must-Know Counters" group only to find yourself in the very similar "Must-Know Counters" group. We'll be covering seventeen Japanese counters in this section. The first eight follow regular pronunciation rules (本, 枚, 匹, 頭, 羽, 冊, 台, 分, 年 and 回), the other seven (日, 人, 月, 時, 時間, 階, and 歳) don't. For more information on pronunciation rules when counting with counters, look for our table in the big Japanese counters guide.
Usually, the 本 counter is taught as the counter for "stick-shaped or long" things. That covers most of its use, but 本 can actually count seven different categories of things, which we broke down in great detail in our 本 counter guide.
Counts: pens, pencils, asparagus, soba, darts, firewood, trees, bamboo, cords, threads, dumplings, water wells, injections, folding fans, eels, tails, nail clippers, icicles, fishing rods, film, chimneys, tenugui, trains, sashes, telephone poles, cylindrical batteries, bottles, tires, ribbons, cacti, soda cans, and much, much more.
- Could you lend me one of your pens?
- There are six carrots in this bag.
- We'll give away three of Koichi's bamboo swords.
The main thing that 〜枚 does is count flat things. With that, you'll be fine most of the time. This counter counts a really wide variety of things. Like 本, it is quite versatile considering it's a pretty specific counter. We wrote about the four categories of the counter 枚 in our 枚 counter article.
Counts: paper, photos, rafts, bath mats, shells, playing cards, credit cards, t-shirts, pants, other clothes, dust cloths, walls, a single serving of soba, a single serving of gyoza, and much, much more.
- I need 100 pieces of origami paper.
- I bought ten Tofugu stickers.
The counter 〜匹 is used to count small or medium-sized animals. If you can pick the animal, fish, bird, or insect up, you can probably count it with 匹. For larger animals, 頭 (とう) is the more common counter, though for some reason Godzilla is still counted with 匹. Curious why? Read our article on the Japanese counter 匹 for a much more thorough explanation.
Counts: dogs, cats, monkeys, fish, prawns, shrimps, lobsters, wolves, rabbits (unless they're counted with 羽), mosquitoes, shellfish, deer, worms, caterpillars, silkworms, earthworms, frogs, snails, crabs, tortoises, turtles, octopuses, animals, insects, dragonflies, sea otters, ogres, monsters, naughty children, animal-like people, etc.
- We have one dog and two cats.
- There are three turtles in this pond.
As we mentioned in the 匹 section, 頭 is generally used for large-sized animals. If you can't pick the animal up, chances are you could count it with 頭. That being said, there are some exceptions where 頭 is used for smaller animals, and 匹 gets used for bigger ones (like Godzilla). For more details and information on exceptions, read our article on the 頭 counter.
Counts: cows, horses, livestock, elephants, gorillas, whales, camels, tigers, "professional" animals, insects on display, animals for sale, etc.
- Santa gave me eight cows on Christmas Day.
- In this zoo, there are two elephants.
The counter 羽 is used to count birds. 羽 by itself means wings, though you shouldn't use it to count insects. The only weird thing: you can count rabbits with 羽 as well! Learn all about this counter in the in-depth article we wrote about the counter 羽.
Counts: chickens, ostriches, peacocks, penguins, other birds, also rabbits, origami cranes, etc.
- In the yard, there are two chickens.
- Can you see three hawks over there?
The counter 冊 is used to count books. From the kanji, you can see it looks just like a book from the side. Don't confuse this with the counter 本 which, ironically, is not used to count books (even though the word 本 means "book"). This is a pretty straightforward counter, but you can still learn more by reading the in-depth article we wrote about it.
Counts: books, book collections, albums, notebooks, memo pads, musical scores, catalogs, magazines, dictionaries, publications, documents, booklets, etc.
- Koichi reads seven books every day.
- There are twenty-five manga books in this library.
台 is used to count a variety of fairly unrelated things, making it somewhat less straightforward than your average counter. It is used to count platforms you can stand or put things on, machines, cars, large instruments, and more. Check out our 台 counter article to learn more.
Counts: playground slides, beds, tables, couches, harps, pianos, cellos, cars, trucks, motors, washing machines, dryers, ovens, air conditioners, microwaves, cellular phones, keyboards, and more.
- Ben owns nine Mercedes Benz cars.
- There is one grand piano in the living room.
分 is technically a unit for minutes, but it looks and smells like a counter (it follows all the same grammatical and reading rules). For each 分 you count, another minute has been counted.
Counts: minutes (time/degree)
- Sorry! I'll be a minute late.
- It's just turned 4:44 right now.
This is the counter for days. There's nothing particularly complicated about it, but the readings can be tricky because they are a mixture of wago and kango.
Counts: days, specific days of the month
- It took me ten days to read this article.
- What are you up to on the third day of next month?
- There are 365 days in a year.
The 年 counter is used to count years (one year, two years, three years, etc.), but it can also be an ordinal number (first, second, third) for someone's grade in school. For example, １年 is grade one, ２年 is grade two, etc. That means the first year of high school/college/university would be １年, and a person who is in their first year is an 一年生 (いちねんせい), or "first-year student." Unlike some of the other time-related Japanese counters, 年 just uses kango for its counting method.
Counts: years, grades
- There are 365 days in a year.
- I'm in the first year of university now.
回 is used to count the number of times something happens, or frequency. It's often translated to "times" because １回 is "one time," １００回 is "one hundred times." This isn't a multiplier, though. If you ate dinner ２回, you just ate dinner twice, you didn't eat twice as much dinner, necessarily.
Counts: the number of times something happens, chances, opportunities, revolutions, etc.
- How many times have you been to Japan?
- Over a hundred times, I guess.
The kanji 人 means "person." The counter 人 follows suit by counting numbers of people. Beyond people, it can also count things we treat like people, such as fairies, elves, and even your pets, if you treat them like family. It goes much deeper than that, and you can learn more in the article we wrote about the 人 counter.
It's also important to note that the first two people (一人、二人) get counted using the wago counting method. Three people and up (三人) are just counted in kango.
Counts: humans, people, angels, mermaids, Doraemon, humanoids, pets that are like family, etc.
- I don't want to be alone because I'll be scared.
- There were seven angels sitting in the classroom.
月 is a counter used to count the number of months ("10 months" is １０ヶ月) as well as identify the calendar month ("October" is １０月). Depending on what you're counting or how it's used, the way it gets read (つき vs げつ vs がつ) changes, so be aware of that.
Counts: months, calendar months
- It will be the New Year in one month.
- My birthday is January first.
Like 分 (minutes), this is not technically a counter, but instead a unit for hours. Usually, 時 is translated to "o'clock" as in "twelve o'clock." There are some pronunciation exceptions you will need to consider, too. This "counter" is extremely common and useful, so ideally you'll need to memorize the numbers 1–24 (you know, the number of hours that are in a day).
- What time is it?
- It is three o'clock.
- It's 2:56 p.m.
By itself the word 時間 means "time." As a counter, 時間 will count number of hours, as in "three hours" or "twenty-four hours."
- Tofugu has a three-hour lunch break.
- Let's meet up in two hours.
The 階 counter counts building floors. Which floor would you like to go up to? The 100th floor (１００階) or the 3rd floor (３階)? Or why don't you just forget all that and come on up to ４２階 instead?
Counts: a building's floors
- My room is on the twelfth floor.
- This is a three-story house.
The 歳 counter is used to count age. This works for people, animals, and more. Note that there is another (simpler) kanji for the same thing, which is 才. Technically they both make sense, but 歳 is more correct, if you're able to use it.
Counts: age in years
- How old is Koichi's grandma now?
- She is 369 years old.
47 Common Japanese Counters
This section covers the counters we deemed as quite "common" or "useful." Although they aren't part of the absolutely must-know list, they will enhance the quality of your day-to-day Japanese language life. They are still "common," after all. Some are going to be everyday use, while others are less common but important to know for formal or specific situations. At some point, you'll need to learn all of these if you're serious about becoming fluent in Japanese.
This is the unit for the Japanese currency, the yen. You'd use this to count an amount of yen.
- I only have ¥100.
- It says this jacket is ¥13,900.
箇月 is the counter for the number of months. As in, "for three months" or "in three months." More often, you'll see the hiragana か or a small ヵ or ヶ instead of the kanji 箇, which is actually just an archaic version of the counter 個!.
Counts: number of months
- I studied Japanese for three months.
- I'm going back to America in one month.
箇国 is used to count the number of individual countries. If you're just generally counting countries, just the counter 国 will be fine. 箇国 emphasizes that they are individual and different. The kanji 箇 is often written with the hiragana か or a small ヵ or ヶ.
Counts: individual countries
- I've been to sixteen different countries.
- The Japan-US bilateral meeting was held here last month.
This counter is used to count places, spots, points, passages, etc. Basically any kind of place. The kanji 箇 is often written with the hiragana か or a small ヵ or ヶ.
Counts: places, spots, points, passages, parts, typos, water supply points, movie theaters, shopping malls, toilets, mosquito bites, scars, broken parts of something, parts that need to be fixed, changed parts, dangerous areas, etc.
- There is a typo right here.
- I got four mosquito bites.
- There are three gas stations in this area.
This word means can (as in an aluminum can). Its reading is (coincidentally) "kan," and it can be used to count cans. The first two cans can be counted with either wago or kango numbers. "One can" is １缶, read as either いっかん or ひとかん. "Two cans" is ２缶, read as either にかん or ふたかん. From three cans and up you use the kango counting method. When a can is empty—or when it's a garbage can—you'll generally want to use the counter 個 instead of 缶.
Counts: soda cans, beer cans, tuna cans, bean cans, milk cans, spray cans, paint cans, tea leaves in tins, etc.
- I bought five cans of tuna and twelve cans of cola.
- Can I have three cans of Earl Grey tea?
- I bought thirty-two volumes of One Piece.
This is used to count volumes of a series of books, videotapes, cassette tapes, etc. It can also be used as an ordinal number suffix to show which item in a series it is. For example, ハリーポッターの１３巻目 is "the thirteenth Harry Potter book in the series."
Counts: volumes of books, cassette tapes, videotapes, DVDs, etc. that are in a series, and scrolls.
- I bought thirty-two volumes of One Piece.
- Can you lend me the thirty-third volume of One Piece?
The word 曲 just means song. When used as a counter, it can count the number of songs.
Counts: songs, music
- I only sang five songs.
- I think I really like the second song on this list.
切る means "to cut." The counter 切れ is used to count cut/sliced things (especially foods). You'll see this used to count slices of sashimi or filets of meat, for example.
Counts: sliced pieces of fish (including sashimi), slices of meat, mochi (rice cakes), slices of bread, slices of cake, slices of pizza, slices of okonomiyaki, cuts of cheese, etc.
- Are there only three pieces of sashimi left?
- One piece of bread and two pieces of cake aren't enough for me.
口 by itself means "mouth." When used as a counter, it counts "bites." This is the main use case for this counter, but there are other meanings as well. Things like a set price of a contribution, submissions to a contest, bank accounts, and a "share" of insurance.
Counts: bites (e.g., "one bite of chicken"), sips (e.g., "one sip of strawberry milk"), swords, suspended temple bells, submissions to win a prize, the set price of a contribution, a set donation amount, shares of insurance
- Let me have a sip!
- I only had three bites but it made me full.
The 組 counter is used to count a set, a group, or a pair of something. Quite commonly, you'll see it used to categorize classrooms, too. One class will be named ４組 (fourth class group), another ８組 (eighth class group). If you're watching Japanese TV or reading Japanese manga, and someone's going to school, this will surely show up!
Counts: a couple of lovers, a couple of groups, a pair of earrings, a pair of gloves or mittens, a set of playing cards, a set of futon bedding, a set of stacked food boxes, a jacket and pants suit set, as an ordinal number suffix for a classroom number, etc.
- This show created three couples.
- Do you know Koichi-kun from Class 2?
The word 件 means "a matter" or "a case." As a counter, it counts those "matters" and "cases." The definition is a bit vague, but that's because it covers a lot of categories. Check out the "counts" list for more details.
Counts: proposals, suggestions, legislative bills, agenda items, projects, plans, crimes, incidents, scandals, complaints, objections, contracts, agreements, emails, financing, loans, troubles, bankruptcies, page views, internet access numbers, voice mail messages, etc.
- Apparently there were two murders in this town last week.
- This article got 100,000 views.
The kanji itself means "eaves" (i.e., "eaves of a house"). As a counter it's used to count houses, buildings, shops, restaurants, farms, factories, and so on. It can also be used to count mailing addresses. If, for example, we sent WaniKani stickers to 100 people/addresses, we would say we sent stickers to １００軒.
Counts: houses, shops, restaurants, warehouses, factories, farms, households, recipients, apartment buildings, apartments, hermitages, tenements, etc.
- There are five curry restaurants in this area.
- A UFO crashed and four houses were completely destroyed.
This counter is used to count words. For example, if this article has 30,000 words, you could say 30,000語. Alternatively, you can use the gairaigo counter ワード, though I think 語 is more common.
- Write an essay with 480 to 500 words.
- I remembered twenty new words.
校 is used to count the number of schools. It can also be used to count the number of proofreading (校正) corrections.
Counts: schools, elementary schools, pre-schools, junior high schools, secondary schools, private schools, public schools, high schools, colleges, universities, cram schools, proofreading corrections, etc.
- Three schools went on a school trip together.
- Before deciding on this one, I went to see seven other cram schools.
皿 means "dish" or "plate," referring to dishes or plates of food. For empty plates, you can still use 皿, but the counter 枚 will be more common for this. If you want to count individual pieces of food on the plate, you'll want to use 品 (しな). You can use 皿 to count laboratory dishes as well (like the ones that grow bacteria). For one and two plates, use the wago reading (ひとさら、ふたさら). Three can be either (みさら or さんさら). From four on up, just use kango.
Counts: plates, dishes, lab dishes, food on a plate/dish, one serving of soba (usually cold), etc.
- I ordered a Spaghetti Bolognese.
- Three plates of sara soba noodles is considered to be one portion.
The word 試合 means "game" (generally referring to a sports game). This counter counts these games. You'll especially see this counter used for Japanese sports—foreign sports may use the gairaigo counter ゲーム instead.
Counts: games, matches
- Michael hit home runs in four consecutive games.
- We will play against a powerful team in the second game.
品 is used to count items, products, or dishes of food. In situations where it's pronounced しな, you'll want to use the wago counting method for one (一品/ひとしな) and two (二品/ふたしな). After that it's all kango. When pronounced as ひん, this counter just uses the kango counting method right from the start.
Counts: dishes of food, a meal's course dish, items, products
- We prepared three dishes for the appetizer.
- I displayed thirty handmade brooches at the flea market.
The 社 counter is used to count companies (会社) or temples (神社).
Counts: companies, publishers, newspaper companies, shrines etc.
- I got a promise of employment from four companies.
- I called over 100 companies, but all of them said "no."
種類 means "variety," "kind," "type," etc., and the counter version is used to count those "kinds" of things.
Counts: kinds, varieties, types
- I mixed seven different kinds of spices.
- I read that a human has around ten different kinds of smells for their bad breath.
- I had a cold and was in bed all week.
週 is used to count weeks. Most of the time, you'll want to add the suffix 間 (かん) which changes "week" to "for __ weeks." For example, ２週間 would mean "for two weeks," and ５週間 would mean "for five weeks."
If you add the ordinal number suffix 目 to 週 it identifies which week you're talking about. ３週目 means "the third week," and １週目 means "the first week." Alternatively, you could add the ordinal number prefix 第 (だい). 第１週 would mean "the first week" as well.
- I had a cold and was in bed all week.
- I'm planning to go to Portland in the third week of July.
周 is used to count rounds. By that I mean circuits around a track, laps, revolutions, etc. Check out 回り/廻り/周り (all まわり) for something similar.
Counts: the number of times you go around something, circuits, rounds, laps, rounds of golf, instances of traveling around something/somewhere, courses, revolutions etc.
- Let's walk around the park and then go home.
- On the fourth lap I was stung by a bee.
The kanji/vocabulary of 色 means "color." The counter version just counts number of colors. A rainbow, for example, consists of seven colors. That would be 七色 (なないろ or ななしょく). Although the number of colors in a rainbow can be read two ways, generally when you count colors you'll just use the kango readings: いっしょく, にしょく, さんしょく, etc.
- There is a seven-colored rainbow in the sky.
- My mom bought me a set of twelve colored pencils and one four-color pen.
席 means "seat," and the counter version just counts seats. In addition to this, it can be used to count meetings or entertainment performances and rankings in a competition or contest. I've heard people pronounce the first two 席s as ひとせき and ふたせき, but it's more correct to use the kango counting method for all of them.
Counts: seats, parties, banquets, performances, Rakugo performances, drinking parties, meetings, as an ordinal number suffix for ranking in a competition/contest, etc.
- There are only eight available seats left.
- I put on a Rakugo performance for entertainment.
This kanji refers to a war, a battle, or a match. The counter version counts matches, fights, battles, or even sports game matches.
Counts: skirmishes in a war, sports fights, martial arts fights, real fights, matches, video game matches, sports games, games, board game matches, Chess matches, Shōgi matches, etc.
- The result was three wins and two losses in five games.
- I finally beat Bowser on the fourth try.
This kanji means foot/leg. As a counter it counts pairs of shoes, slippers, sandals, boots, socks, and so on. Basically things you put on your feet and legs.
Counts: shoes, socks, stockings, slippers, zōri (Japanese sandals), tabi (Japanese socks), geta (wooden Japanese shoes), clogs, roller skates, rollerblades, ice skates, flip flops, boots, rain boots, sheets of dried squid, etc.
- It says three pairs of socks for ¥500.
- I don't have even one pair of pumps.
束 means "a bunch," or "a bundle." Use wago for one and two bunches, either kango or wago for three bunches, and kango for four bunches and up. There's also another Japanese counter for bundles, 把 (わ), but that's for smaller bundles that can be held with one hand. The 把 counter is becoming uncommon and archaic, though.
Counts: bundles of asparagus, soba noodles, firewood, scallions, green onions, ropes, konbu, noodles, incense sticks, papers, bills, bouquets, sets of newspapers or origami cranes, etc.
- I bought three bundles of asparagus at the grocery store.
- There were ten bundles of today's morning paper dumped in the park.
玉 means ball, bead, and even testicles. As a counter it's used to count round things, such as tomatoes, peaches, heads of lettuce, cabbage, and of course, testicles. It can also be used to count tangled balls of string, and other "ball-shaped" things, even if they're not ball-shaped when taken apart. For example, a ball of yarn could be counted with 玉. Or even a portion of noodles. Instead of 玉, though, it's probably more common to use the general counter 個. One exception to this is pachinko balls, which are pretty much always counted with 玉, no matter what.
For one or two balls, use the wago counting method (ひとたま, ふたたま). After that, it's all kango all the way.
Counts: ball-shaped things; round fruit such as peaches, melons, watermelons, tomatoes, and persimmons; round vegetables such as onions, cabbage, lettuce, and even Chinese cabbage (despite it not being super round); balls of noodles such as yakisoba, udon, soba, ramen, and konnyaku noodles; balls of yarn, balls of wire, pachinko balls, etc.
- One tomato is ¥21 today.
- Five knitted wool balls were displayed in front of Aya's TV.
This counter can count a variety of things, including stairs, steps, shelves, the number of drawers, layers, floors of a bunk bed, stages of a rocket, ranks in martial arts, paragraphs, and even columns. What do these things have in common? Despite being totally different, they also all have pretty distinct layers/levels to them, and they're organized vertically (for the most part).
Counts: steps of stairs, shelves (when multiple shelves are installed vertically), cake tiers, bunk bed levels, drawers (when multiple drawers are installed vertically), stages such as rocket stages, martial arts ranks, Japanese calligraphy ranks, paragraphs, columns, etc.
- I ran up the stairs, two at a time.
- The boy who is sleeping in the top bunk is our son.
This counter is used to count clothes—one coat, ten skirts, etc. But, it is also the ordinal number suffix for first place, second place, etc., in a race. This is because the word 着く means "to arrive." First place is the first to arrive, right? Anyways, as a regular counter, it's just about clothes.
Counts: clothes or garments such as overcoats, coats, cloaks, kimono, yukata, suits, raincoats, dresses, skirts, jackets, swimsuits, costumes, robes, suits of armor, etc. It's also the ordinal number suffix for first, second, third, etc., place in a race.
- I have four coats.
- I got first place in the footrace.
通 can count quite a few things, but they generally fall into the categories "messages" and "official documents." Under messages, you get things like emails, letters, comments, telegrams, faxes, answering machine messages, job applications, and survey responses. Under official documents, you have things like bills, reports, licenses, passports, or bankbooks.
Counts: written postcards, greeting cards, letters, mail, memos, notes, wills, telegrams, fax messages, written contracts, emails, job applications, sealed documents, official papers, bills, witness reports, work invoices, survey answer responses, driver's licenses, passports, bankbooks, school report cards, etc.
- There are 1,000 unread emails.
- A love letter to Koichi arrived at the Tofugu office.
The 粒 counter is used to count small, round things—usually quite small. Think in terms of little things you can pile up and collect in a jar or other container.
Counts: manila clams, beans, peas, candy drops, umeboshi, teardrops, raindrops, water drops, caviar, fish roe balls, pills, tablets, grains of rice, other grains, raisins, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, grains of sand, rubies, small stones, pebbles, sea salt grains, seeds, almonds, other nuts, etc.
- There were three adzuki beans underneath Koichi's desk.
- Give me a candy drop too.
- We had 5 high-end watches stolen.
This word means "dot" or "point." As a counter it's used to count items, scores, dots, points, fulcrums, and any kind of artwork including paintings, sculptures, literature, and even films. When counting scores, 点 can be applicable to the score of a sports game as well as your score on a test.
Counts: dots, points, fulcrums; items and products such as accessories, curtains, furniture, vases, pottery, cloth, stuffed animals, and rings; artwork such as carvings, pictures, paintings, drawings, portraits, novels and other literature; test scores, sports game scores, eye drops, etc.
- We had five high-end watches stolen.
- My exam score was nintey-five.
The 度 counter has eight different use categories, but the most common one is "number of times." It can also be used to count a degree angle, as well as degrees of temperature. Depending on what you use it for, 度 can be read as either ど or たび. The numbering system can either be wago or kango, depending on the number and what you're counting: it's kango for ど and wago for たび, but たび is only used to count up to the number three in modern Japanese.
Counts: the number of times something happens, chances, opportunities, experiences, series of actions, divided actions, degrees, temperature, etc.
- Why don't we set a time for us to talk alone?
- My temperature is thirty-nine degrees.
杯 is used to count liquids in cups or bowls. That means you can count things like bowls of soup, mugs of coffee, glasses of juice, measuring spoons of vanilla, measuring cups of chicken broth, and so on. In addition, you can use 杯 to count squid, cuttlefish, crabs, and sometimes octopuses. 杯 can also count ships, battleships, racing yachts, and other boats, but this usage isn't so common.
Counts: bowls of rice, donburi, soba, ramen, udon, stew, curry, ochazuke, and so on; cups/glasses/mugs of milk, water, beer, whiskey, cocktails, juice, tea, coffee, and other drinks; octopuses, squid, crabs, various ships, etc.
- I refilled my juice nine times.
- I got full from one bowl of rice.
泊 is used to count overnight stays or rentals. If you ever stay at a hotel, this will be a useful counter for you to know!
Counts: number of overnight stays, number of overnights, number of overnight rentals
- I went on a three-night and four-day trip to Tokyo.
- This hotel costs ¥49,000 per night.
This word means "box," and the counter version is used to count boxes. Pretty much any kind is fine. Boxes of diapers, sponge cake, snacks, tea leaves, etc. The only exception to this is small disposable wooden/cardboard boxes filled with sweets, a meal, or bento. These are counted with 折 (おり). When counting with 箱, use wago or kango for one and two. Sometimes use wago for three boxes, but mostly stick with kango. From four and above, use the kango counting method.
Counts: cardboard boxes, wooden boxes, lunchboxes, boxes, boxes, boxes
- I bought three boxes of diapers at Costco.
- If you buy one box, the second box is free.
発 counts bullets, bullet marks, explosives, fireworks, shots fired (including farts), and a lot more.
Counts: bullets, bullet marks, explosives, fireworks, shots fired, farts, punches, kicks, bombs, cannons, missiles, rockets, tennis shots, kendo attacks, baseball hits, home runs, sex, jokes, etc.
- Koichi shot nine farts at me.
- I was annoyed, so I punched the potatoes.
番 is an ordinal number suffix to show one's order, turn, or rank. If you're number one, you're 一番. It is common for 番 to be combined with another ordinal number suffix, 目 (め): 一番目, 二番目, etc. This shows the "first" and "second" (and so on) of something. The number fourteen bus, for example, would be １４番目.
Counts: turns, orders, rank, numbers, Go/Shōgi/Chess matches, sumo matches, Noh theaters, verses of a song, etc.
- Mami always get second place test results in the class.
- I can't remember how the third verse of the song goes.
秒 is a unit of time used for seconds. It also can be used for angles, latitude, and longitude. The reading is all kango.
Counts: seconds as a unit of time, angles, latitude, longitude
- Viet didn't breathe for nineteen seconds.
- I can solve this problem in one second.
便 is used to count the number of flights, boats shipping out, long-distance buses, etc. over a period of time. It can also be used as an ordinal number suffix for delivery or transportation. If you're referring to a flight number, for example, you could use this ordinal number suffix.
Counts: flights, ships shipping out, long-distance bus trips, deliveries, instances of transportation, flight numbers, bus numbers, etc.
- There is only one flight per day from here to Japan.
- The number of our flight is AC567.
- The first delivery crew left already, so it'll be delivered with the second crew.
袋 means bag, sack, or pouch. As a counter it counts those things. For one or two bags, use the wago counting scheme (ひとふくろ, ふたふくろ). After that use kango.
Counts: bags, sacks, pouches, plastic bags, paper bags, shopping bags, garbage bags, etc. These bags can be filled with anything, too: candy, snacks, rice, spinach, flowers, whatever.
- I ate two bags of potato chips all by myself.
- I wonder if seven bags will be enough?
- There are three bedrooms in this house.
部屋 means "room," and as a counter it counts rooms. For example, if you wanted to count the number of bathrooms in your house, you could use this. For one, two, and sometimes three rooms, use the wago counting method. Beyond that use kango.
Counts: all rooms, like back rooms, closets, storage rooms, hotel rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, living rooms, etc.
- There are three bedrooms in this house.
- We only have two rooms left on that day.
The kanji 歩 means "walk." As a counter, 歩 counts steps. This can refer to both physical steps while you're walking as well as less physical steps of progress in a project, etc.
Counts: steps taken while walking, steps of progress in your work, steps of progress in your education/learning, etc.
- It was so hot that I was drenched in sweat after only ten steps.
- Can you take about three more steps backward?
- The project finally moved one step forward.
名 is a counter for counting people that's more polite than the other person counter, 人. Another difference is that 名 can't be used as an ordinal number suffix like 人 can, so don't try to count the first, second, third (etc.) person. With this one, all you can do is count the number of people.
Counts: number of people
- 何名様ですか？ かしこまりした。５名様ですね。
- For how many people? Understood. Five people, right?
- I want to make a reservation for four people.
文字 means "letters" or "characters," and it's used to count such things. You might use it to count morae (like syllables) in a haiku, but you wouldn't use it to count words in an article. For that, use the counter 字 instead, which also counts blank spaces. That being said, it's common to just use 文字 for this. Twitter's character count is written as１４０文字 instead of 字, so it's common enough where nobody would notice it's technically incorrect.
Counts: letters, characters, morae in poetry
- You need to write haiku with a five-seven-five syllable count.
- Express your current mood with three letters/characters.
- Was Twitter's character limit 140 letters?
- Write a love letter to Koichi within 400 letters.
問 is used to count questions or problems in a test, exam, quiz, textbook, etc. It can also be used with the ordinal number prefix 第 to indicate question number. For example, the third question on a quiz would be 第３問. You can do the same thing with the ordinal number suffix 目. The hundredth question would be １００問目.
Counts: questions and problems in a quiz, test, exam, textbook, worksheet, etc.
- I was incorrect on nine out of ten questions.
- I got the third question wrong.
This kanji means "story" or "talk," and as a counter it's used to count stories. This can apply even to drama episodes on TV, as in "three episodes (stories) of Seinfeld." Add the ordinal number suffix 目 or the ordinal number prefix 第 to indicate which story/episode you're talking about. The third story/episode is 第三話 or 三話目, for example.
Counts: stories, episodes, drama episodes, manga chapters, anime episodes, narratives, myths, folk stories, folk tales, legends, etc.
- I watched ten episodes of a drama in one stretch.
- This anime started getting interesting from the third episode.
40 Somewhat-Common Japanese Counters
What follows is a list (and a few examples) of forty somewhat-common Japanese counters. Although you won't come across these counters quite as often as the ones we've written about in detail, most Japanese speakers will know them and know how to use them. Since you'll come across them eventually, it's not a bad idea to learn them ASAP.
The 案 counter counts plans, ideas, projects, and strategies. While you can also use the 〜つ counter to count these things, you'll probably hear 案 used more often in business situations. Count all 案 numbers with kango.
Counts: plans, ideas, projects, schemes, design ideas, strategies, plots, proposals, suggestions, concepts, bills, program ideas, trap ideas, etc.
- I submitted ten new Tofugu sticker design ideas.
- I think these two project ideas are especially excellent.
位 is an ordinal number suffix that's used for classes, grades, ranks, decimal places, and orders (as in the result of a competition or race—this is actually its most common use case). You can also append the ordinal number prefix 第 onto it, as long as you note that it won't take the ordinal number suffix 目. Technically, it can also count the souls and ghosts of the deceased, though that's not common at all.
Counts: ranks, classes, grades, orders, decimal places, souls, ghosts, etc.
- I got first place in the kanji contest.
- Answer to the first decimal place.
The counter 院 counts organizations or institutions whose names end with 院, including hospitals (病院/びょういん), temples or mosques (寺院/じいん), government houses like 上院/じょういん (Upper House) or 下院/かいん (Lower House), etc. One exception is 美容院 (びよういん), beauty salons. Because they're shops, they're counted with 軒 (けん).
Counts: hospitals, doctor's offices, clinics, temples, mosques, government houses, etc.
- The hospital-acquired infection has appeared in nine hospitals.
- How many temples are there in Kyoto?
The word 駅 means "station," as in a train station. As a counter, it counts train and bus stations. For the first two of either of those, use the wago counting method: 一駅 is ひとえき, 二駅 is ふたえき. After that, use the kango. You can also use the general counter 〜つ to count stations, especially when you're speaking.
Counts: train stations, bus stations
- The terminal station is after three stations.
- I ran one station's distance for exercise.
The word 枝 means "branches," and as a counter, it's used to count branches, too. It's most often used for branches with flowers, fruit, or elegant leaves on them. For bare branches, you can use the long stick Japanese counter 本 (ほん), and for one and two, count with the wago counting method. For the rest, use kango.
Counts: branches with flowers, fruit, leaves
- Such beautiful cherry blossoms. May I take a branch?
- There's fruit on the two branches.
- Last year, three zoos were closed.
Institutions that end with 園 or 園地 (えんち), such as zoos (動物園/どうぶつえん), botanical gardens (植物園/しょくぶつえん), theme parks (遊園地/ゆうえんち), gardens (庭園/ていえん), farms (農園/のうえん), orchards (果樹園/かじゅえん), kindergartens (幼稚園/ようちえん), or nursery schools/preschools (保育園/ほいくえん) all use the same counter. You'll see 園 mostly used in writing. When counting schools that use 学園 (がくえん), use either 学園 (がくえん) or 校 (こう) instead of just 園.
Counts: zoos, botanical gardens, theme parks, farms, orchards, kindergartens, nursery schools, preschools, etc.
- There are seven daycare centers in this ward.
- Last year, three zoos were closed.
You can count folded items with 折 or 折り; the two versions are interchangeable. It begins with wago: one fold is 一折 (ひとおり), two folds is 二折 (ふたおり), and three folds is 三折 (either みおり or さんおり). After that, it's all kango. 折/折り is also used to count folded boxes that (usually) contain foods or sweets.
Counts: folds, ekiben, bento in folded boxes, folded paper cranes, boxes of cakes, boxes of sweets, etc.
- Please fold here twice like this.
- Can you go buy three boxes of sweets at the department store?
This counter is used to count sounds, such as syllables and/or musical notes.
Counts: syllables, musical notes, musical scales, etc.
- You should memorize the fifty hiragana syllables first.
- If you suck on this candy, your voice will lose three low notes and gain three high notes.
This counter has two use cases. The first is counting sections of a company or organization, and the second is counting lessons. In Japan, it's not that common—you'll mainly see it in textbooks for Japanese learners.
Counts: company/organization sections, departments, divisions, police divisions, office teams, lessons, etc.
- The sales department is divided into three divisions.
- The chief of Division Two is really my type.
The 海 kanji means "sea" or "ocean." As a counter, it counts seas, as in "seven seas" (and we don't mean the movie theater in SpongeBob SquarePants).
Counts: seas, oceans
- Can you name seven seas in the world?
- It seems there are twelve oceans on this planet.
The word 階級 means class, rank, or grade. As a counter, 階級 counts those things, and can also be used as an ordinal number suffix.
Counts: ranks, grades, classes
- There are thirteen ranks in the US Army.
- Koichi won five different weight classes at the boxing tournament.
The word 回線 means an electrical circuit or phone/Internet lines, as well as their connections. It's also used for counting such things.
Counts: electrical circuits, phone lines, Internet lines, optical communication lines, TV circuits, cable TV circuits, Internet connections, etc.
- Because of the storm, four phone lines got broken in this town.
- Why do you have two different Internet contracts?
The counter 画 is used to count kanji strokes. It can also be used to count divisions of land, lots, blocks, etc.
Counts: kanji strokes, plots of land, divisions of land, blocks of land, etc.
- The kanji 豆 has seven strokes.
- A tofu shop will be opening on this block.
- Put in two cloves of garlic and two pieces of ginger.
The 片 counter is used to count broken-up, random pieces of something. In cooking, for example, it's common to use 片 to count cloves of garlic or "fingers" of ginger. And, while small pieces of bread would be counted with 片, slices of bread would not. (Keep reading, though…) As with many Japanese counters, use the wago reading for one and two, wago/kango for three, and kango for the rest.
Counts: garlic cloves, "fingers" of ginger, pieces of bread, apple pieces, etc.
- Put in two cloves of garlic and two pieces of ginger.
- After Snow White had a bite of the apple, she fell asleep.
Like 片, this counter is used to count pieces of something. In this case, however, it's more for random, broken-off pieces. Using the example above, you would use 欠片 to count bread slices. Like 片, count one and two with the wago counting method, three with either wago or kango, and higher with kango only.
Counts: shards of glass, slices of bread, garlic cloves, pieces of ginger, pieces of anything, etc.
- I mustered up a slice of courage.
- I picked up two shards of broken glass.
The word 籠 means basket, and its counter counts baskets and/or piles of whatever is inside a basket (like a basketful of oranges). Use the wago counting method for one, two, and sometimes three; kango for three and higher.
Counts: baskets, baskets of something, bird cages, etc.
- Is a basket of oranges ¥298? If so, I'd like three baskets, please.
- I ordered three bird cages from Amazon.
Have you ever wondered, "What does 'katamari' from Katamari Damacy mean?" You've come to the right place! "Katamari" means "ball," "lump," or "mass," which is exactly what the Prince is rolling up. The kanji 塊 means a lump, ball, or mass of something, and the counter version is used to count those things. Use the wago counting method for one and two lumps, then kango for any above that. (And, since you're curious, "damacy" means "soul" or "spirit.")
Counts: balls, masses, lumps or chunks of meat, clouds, people, dirt, cheese, fish, etc.
- A fisherman suddenly gave me two blocks of tuna.
- This shop's ramen comes with a block of chāshū.
Although the word 河川 means "river," and the counter version counts rivers as well, it's a bit formal. For regular or casual situations, it's okay to use 本 to count rivers.
- Due to the typhoon, two rivers are getting close to overflowing.
- New water gauges were installed in three rivers.
画素 is a unit for pixels and a counter for them, too. You can use the gairaigo counter ピクセル as well, but 画素 is more common in Japanese.
- I took this photo with a 2,000,000 pixel compact digital camera.
- I feel like digital cameras from 1995 cost ¥10,000 per pixel.
You already know that 人 is used to count people. 方 does too, but in a more polite way: in an office setting, for example. For one, two, and three people, you'll want to attach the prefix 御 (お). For four or more people, you don't need to attach 御. Use wago for one person and two people, kango for three and above. Keep in mind that if you use 方 for four or more people, it will sound strange—for that, it's okay to revert to 人. You can also refer to a group of people of an unknown number using 方—a group of sensei (teachers), for example, could be せんせい方.
Counts: people (formal)
- There are two people in reception who have an appointment.
- One person will join later.
The 株 counter counts plants with roots, tree stumps, clusters of mushrooms, and shares of stock in a company. Use the wago counting method for one and two, then kango from three on up.
Counts: plants with roots, tree stumps, clusters of mushrooms, seedlings, stocks, stock certificates, etc.
- Because of the excessive heat, two of the cucumber plants died.
- I want to buy three shares of Tofugu stock.
This kanji means "crown," and you use it to count wins or titles. For example, a Triple Crown winner would be a 三冠王 (さんかんおう)—a "three-crown king."
Counts: wins, victories, championships, crowns, etc.
- After one more win, we'll be the Triple Crown winner!
- That king possesses four crowns.
- One kan is 3.75 kg.
貫 is the Japanese counter for pieces of nigiri sushi. 貫 was originally an old Japanese unit for weight—3.75 kg, about the average weight of a newborn baby—as well as a unit for money: １０００文 was equal to １貫 in the Edo period, and １０銭 equalled １貫 in the Meiji period. Historical dramas and old texts aside, in modern times, you'll see 貫 used for 🍣 .
Counts: sushi, nigiri, archaic units of weight and money
- Three pieces of maguro sushi, please.
- One kan is 3.75 kg.
This counts institutions ending with 館, such as art galleries or art museums (美術館), libraries (図書館), museums (博物館), or aquariums (水族館). You'll especially see it used in writing.
Counts: art galleries, art museums, libraries, museums, aquariums, photo studios, etc.
- There isn't even one library in this village!
- Four art museums were integrated into one.
The counter 基 has six usage categories, all of which have to do with counting installed things that are big or hard to move. From torii gates to airplane engines, wind power generators, gondolas, sprinklers, ancient tombs, and a whole lot more.
Counts: pyramids, ancient tombs, tombstones, gravestones, coffins, moai statues, torii gates, gates, mikoshi, butsudan, pagodas, stupas, buildings of a Buddhist temple, towers, stone lanterns, street lights, traffic lights, lighthouses, benches, sprinklers, playground equipment, public toilets, the remains of a house, oil tanks, gas tanks, turrets, launch pads, pillars, bridge piers, dams, nuclear reactors, wind power generators, airships, airplanes, helicopters, satellites, blimps, jets, hot air balloons, airplane engines, gondolas, chimneys, fireplaces, air conditioners, bridges, kotatsu, fish fins, elevators, escalators, sculptures, etc.
- Four gas tanks exploded.
- Five nuclear power plants are running here.
機 is generally associated with air transportation and is used to count things like airplanes, helicopters, and even guided missiles. Another similar counter, 台, is more associated with ground transportation.
Counts: airplanes, airships, jets, blimps, hot air balloons, helicopters, guided missiles, airplane crew, etc.
- Tofugu owns two jets.
- One of Koichi's helicopters got broken.
期 is a fairly formal counter used to enumerate terms and periods. For example, the term length of a US President is four years and up to two terms (２期).
Counts: school terms, terms of office, terms of service, stages, phases, sessions (as in a parliamentary cycle), etc.
- Aya served two terms as President of the United States.
- Most Japanese schools use the three-term system.
The counter 客 is used to count things you use only on special occasions—when you have guests (お客様/おきゃくさま) visiting, for example. Think of it like "bringing out the good china for your mother-in-law." Be aware that 客 isn't just used for plates and cups; it can count fancy cushions and any other special items brought out for visitors.
Counts: special bowls, cups, wine glasses, soup bowls, zabuton, any other special items brought out for guests
- I bought a set of five teacups on Amazon for guests.
- Can you put out four zabuton cushions?
The kanji 脚 means "leg" or "foot." As a counter, one of the things 脚 can be used to count are pieces of furniture with long-ish legs, including chairs, tables, and so on. (Short-legged furniture, like beds or couches, are generally counted using 台.) But, 脚 can count long-legged non-furniture items as well: wine glasses, horseshoes, and… legs. In Japanese, a three-legged race is 二人三脚—literally, "two people three legs."
Counts: chairs, tables, desks, wine glasses, horseshoes, legs, etc.
- There are fifty steel chairs in the storehouse.
- There isn't even one bench in this park.
級 can be a counter or an ordinal number suffix. It's used for grades, classes (referring to levels/ranks), or ranks. Ever done any Japanese martial arts with a series of "kyū" ranks? Those are 級s. Similarly, levels of the JLPT test (1–5) are 級s as well. The counter can also be used to count a couple of other (very) random things listed below…
Counts: ranks, grades, classes, stone steps, decapitated heads
- I passed JLPT level 4.
- Koichi is a first-class violinist.
- The pitcher threw the first ball.
Besides light bulbs and flower bulbs, 球 is used to count baseball pitches and certain other actions and equipment in ball-oriented games. And while it's used a lot in sports, 球 becomes a little more formal in other contexts. Combining it with the ordinal number prefix 第 or the ordinal number suffix 目 allows you to count the numbers of baseball pitches, as in: "This is the thirtieth pitch he's thrown."
Counts: baseball pitches, light bulbs, flower bulbs, golf balls, soccer balls, tennis balls, tennis shots, ping pong shots, volleyballs, volleyball shots, etc.
- The pitcher threw the first ball.
- I go to work after smacking fifty shots at the tennis court every morning.
The word 行 refers to a line of writing or a verse in a poem. As a counter, it counts them as well. Easy!
Counts: lines of writing, lines in a notebook, lines of a manuscript, verses of a poem, etc.
- Sum up your review in four lines.
- I wrote a poem with twelve verses.
The Japanese counter 局 is used to count matches of certain games: shōgi (Japanese chess), go, or sugoroku, which is similar to backgammon. Additionally, 局 can count broadcast stations and post offices.
Counts: shōgi, go, and sugoroku matches, broadcasting stations, post offices, etc.
- We had one shōgi match.
- How many post offices are there in Japan?
Long ago, 斤 was a unit of measurement that equaled 600 grams. Later, in the Meiji period, that unit became 454 grams, which happens to be one pound. Loaves of bread at the time weighed about 454 grams, although Japanese bread now tends to weigh about 300 grams. Even though the Japanese version has been losing weight, 斤 can be used for counting it and other loaves of bread.
Counts: loaves of (regular) bread
- Can you go get a loaf of bread at the bakery?
- There are two loaves of rye bread in the freezer.
- The wedding ring is 24k gold.
The 金 counter means karat, i.e., the measure of the purity of gold. Eighteen karats—or 18K, as written in English—would be １８金 in Japanese. Don't confuse this counter with the similar word, 金 (also きん), which means "gold," or お金 (おかね), which means "money."
Counts: karats of gold
- This is the eighteen-karat gold necklace that Jamal really likes.
- The wedding ring is twenty-four-karat gold.
This counter is used for counting haiku, phrases, expressions, or passages of writing.
Counts: haiku, expressions, passages of writing, words, phrases, etc.
- Tofugu members will make one haiku each.
- Please list ten interesting Japanese words or phrases.
If you've ever seen a Japanese address written out, there's a good chance it had a 区 somewhere in it. That's because as a word, 区 means ward, zone, or constituency. 区 can also refer to a segment of a race, which, if you think about it, is actually a "zone" of a race. When used as a counter, 区 counts all those things.
Counts: plots of land, wards, zones, constituencies, segments of a race
- There are twenty-three wards in Tokyo.
- I was picked as the second runner for an ekiden road relay.
Similar to 区, the word 区画 refers to a division, plot or lot of land, or a block. As a counter, it also counts those things.
Counts: plots of land, divisions of land, a block, etc.
- The fee for the food stand is ￥1,500 per lot.
- We bought three plots of land to build the Tofugu office.
As a word, 串 means "skewer," and as a counter it counts food that comes on skewers. Use the wago readings for one and two skewers, kango or wago for three, and straight kango for all the rest. (When there's no food skewered on them, skewers are normally counted with the long-and-skinny-thing Japanese counter 本.)
Counts: skewered foods, skewered meats, skewered vegetables, any kind of food on skewers
- Can I get five chicken and scallion skewers?
- This mitarashi dango is 472 kcal for four skewers.
The word 癖 means "habit" or "peculiarity," and you can count those kinds of things using it as well. Generally you'll see 癖 used idiomatically. Use wago readings for one and two, kango or wago for three, and straight kango for the rest, except in the case of certain idioms. You'll see a few in the examples below.
Counts: habits, peculiarities, one's ways
- That customer has some kind of peculiarity, and I'm not a big fan.
- Koichi is a very difficult person to deal with.
- There is a saying that goes, "Everyone has at minimum seven—and at most forty-eight—peculiarities."
- There is also a saying that goes, "If you think someone has seven peculiarities, you should think you have eight." (Everyone has their peculiarities, and you are not the exception.)
More Somewhat-Common Japanese Counters
Oh no! We're working on this section. Please check back to see if we've added more, or follow us on Twitter where we might let you know. But, we also might not. I'd say it's 50/50.