The Complete Guide to Japanese Counter Words

Last week we learned how to count to 100 in Japanese. Actually, we learned how to count to 1 trillion! But there is another critical part in learning how to count in Japanese and that is Japanese Counter Words. Japanese counters (助数詞, josūshi) are kanji (with the exception of つ, tsu) that tell you what kind of item is being counted. There are hundreds of Japanese counter words, most of which are used for counting several different things. Also, some counter words are pronounced differently depending on the number in front of them; e.g. 一杯 (i-ppai), 二杯 (ni-hai).

Japanese counter words can be very confusing, and sometimes, depending on the context, a different counter word might be used for the same object! Not even Japanese speakers always remember every counter word, and so there are also generic counter words that can be used in their place.

There is no question you will make some mistakes when you first start using Japanese counter words, but the best way to learn them is over time and by practicing as much with native Japanese speakers as possible!

Where Does the Counter Word Go?

Generally speaking, the counter will come after the noun it is modifying, which is the opposite of how we usually speak in English. So we would say “Two glasses of milk.” But in Japanese, it would be ミルク二杯 or milk-two-[counter for cups and glasses of drink]. You can see, we have counter words in English too! Like pieces of bread or glasses of milk!

Depending on the counter word, you need to use traditional Japanese numbers or sino-Japanese numbers. Generally, in the case of counter words with Kun’yomi, you use traditional Japanese numbers (up to 10), otherwise, you use sino-Japanese numbers. You can see some examples of when to use which one in the list below.

So let’s start by learning some of the most common Japanese counter words and the things they are sometimes used for:

Guide to Japanese Counter Words

common japanese counter words

まい mai

Counter for Thin, flat objects
Examples: sheets of paper, photographs, plates, articles of clothing (see also: chaku)
 

個, 箇, 个, or ヶ

こ ko

Implies that the item is small and/or round. 個 is also used for military units.
 

ほん hon, ぽん pon, ぼん bon

Counter long, thin objects
Examples: rivers, roads, train tracks, ties, pencils, bottles, guitars; also, metaphorically, telephone calls, train or bus routes, movies, points or bounds in sports events. Although 本 also means “book”, the counter for books is 冊 (satsu).
 

かい kai

Counter for Occurrences, number of times
 

ど do, also たび tabi

Counter for Occurrences, number of times**, degrees of temperature or angle
**たび – for number of times use traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一度 (hito-tabi)
 

つ tsu

General-purpose counter, used as part of the indigenous Japanese numbers 一つ (“one thing”), 二つ (“two things”), 三つ (“three things”), etc.
 

japanese counters for objects

ぶ bu

Counter for Copies of a magazine or newspaper, or other packets of papers
Examples: Music Score, Catalog, Back Room, Closet, Storage Room, Book, Publication, Documents, Official Papers, Newspaper,
 

はり hari

Counter for Umbrellas, parasols, tents
*Use traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一張り(hito-hari)
Examples: Paper Lantern, Drum, Tent, Curtain, Pavilion, Curtain, Umbrella, Mosquito Net, Sign Curtain, Koto Instrument, Bow (and arrow), Bamboo Screen
 

はい hai, ぱい pai, ばい bai

Counter for Cups and glasses of drink, spoonfuls, cuttlefish, octopuses, crabs, squid, abalone, boats (slang)
 

さつ satsu

Counter for Books
Examples: Book Collection, Albums, Notebook, Memo Pad, Musical Score, Catalog, Notebook, Dictionary, Book, Publication, Documents,
 

だい dai

Counter for cars, bicycles, machines, mechanical devices, household appliances
 

めん men

Counter for mirrors, boards for board games (chess, igo, shogi), stages of computer games, walls of a room, tennis courts
 

はつ hatsu, ぱつ patsu

Counter for Gunshots, bullets, aerial fireworks; orgasms, sex acts
Examples: Wind, Gas, Fart, Horse-riding, Fist, Bomb
 

はこ hako

Counter for Boxes
*Use Traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一箱 (hito-hako)
Examples: Tea Leaves, Snacks, Sweet Bean Jelly (Youkan), Box
 

ちゃく chaku

Counter for Suits of clothing, orders of arrival (in a competition)
Examples: Raincoat, Clothes, Garment, Overcoat, Cloak, Kimono, Yukata, Suit, Business Suit
 

ちょう chō

Counter for Guns, sticks of ink, palanquins, rickshaws, violins
Examples: 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.
 

ちょう chō

Counter for Tools, scissors, saws, trousers, pistols, cakes of tofu, town blocks, servings at a restaurant (Soba, Udon, Tofu, Ramen)
 

き ki

Counter for Aircraft, machines
Examples: Airplane, Airship, Blimp, Balloon, Blimp, Hot-Air Balloon
 

き ki

Counter for machines, graves, wreaths, CPUs, reactors, elevators, dams
Examples: 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,
 

きゃく kyaku

Counter for Desks, chairs, long-stemmed glasses
 

きゃく kyaku

Counter for Pairs of cup and saucer
Examples: Rice Bowl, Tea Cup, Plate, Wine Glass, Japanese Soup Bowl
 

きょく kyoku

Counter for Board game matches (chess, igo, shogi, mahjong); radio stations, television stations
 

そく soku

Counter for Pairs of footwear, pairs of socks, stockings, tabi
Examples: Stirrup, Japanese Sandals (zori), Japanese Socks (tabi), Gloves, Mittens, Shoes, Socks, Stockings, Wooden Clogs (geta), Slippers, Roller skate
 

そう sou

Counter for Pairs
 

たば taba

Counter for Bundles (of banknotes), bunches (of flowers, vegetables), sheaves
Examples: Asparagus, Rice Plant, Soba, Firewood, Seedling, Scallion, Shallot, Green Onion, Rope, Konbu, Noodles, Incense Stick
*Use Traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一束(hito-taba)
 

たい tai

Counter for Images, statues, person’s remains, dolls
 

しき shiki

Sets of things, such as documents or furniture
 

さお sao

Counter for Chests of drawers, flags
*Use Traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一棹・竿(hito-sao)
 

りん rin

Counter for Wheels, Flowers
 

りょう ryō

Counter for Railway cars
 

せき seki

Counter for Ships, half of a pair (e.g., half of a folding screen), item carried in a bundle (fish, birds, arrows etc.)
 

てん ten

Counter for Points, dots, pieces of a set
Examples: 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
 

わ wa

Counter for Bundles
Examples: Soba, Firewood, Noodles, Incense Stick
 

かぶ kabu

Counter for Stocks and Small Plants
Examples: Rice Plant, Garden Shrub, Persimmon, Seedling, Stock Certificate, Tree, Mushroom, Cabbage, Herb, Chinese Cabbage, Lettuce
*Uses traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一株(hito-kabu)
 

もん mon

Counter for Cannons
 

おり ori

Counter for Boxes made of folded paper (compare to hako above, which refers to boxes in general)
Examples: Station Bento, Bento, Folded Paper Crane
*Uses traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一折(hito-ori)
 

くち kuchi

Counter for Bank Accounts, donations (口 means “opening” or “entrance”)
Examples: Teakettle, Alcohol Vase, Application, Sword, Bell, Razor, Contribution, Donation, Contract, Bank Account, Insurance, Financing, Loan, Japanese Soup Bowl
*Uses traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一口(hito-kuchi)
 

はしら hashira

Counter for Pillars, gods, memorial tablets
*Use Traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一柱(hito-hashira)
 

ぐ gu

Counter for Armor, suits, sets of furniture
 

ふく fuku, ぷく puku

Hanging scrolls (kakejiku)
 

ふり furi

Swords
*Use Traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一振り(hito-furi)
 

かん kan

Warships
 

か ka

Frames
 

こま koma, コマ

Frames, panels. 齣 is virtually unused nowadays
**Sino-Japanese numbers and Traditional Japanese numbers are both used: e.g. 一齣(ichi-koma /hito-koma)
 

japanese counter for people

にん nin

Counter for People (but note exceptions below)
 

り or 人

り ri

Counter for People, used in the words 一人 (ひとり) and 二人 (ふたり)
 

めい mei

Counter for People (polite) (名 means “name”)
 

じ ji

Counter for Children. As in “father of two (children)”, etc.
 

くみ kumi

Counter for Groups, a pair of people (twins, a husband and a wife, dancers, etc.)
**Both Sino-Japanese numbers and Traditional Japanese numbers are used: e.g. 一組(ichi-kumi / hito-kumi)
 

japanese counters for places

かい kai, がい gai

Counter for Number of floors, stories
 

ばん ban

Counter for Position, platform for a train line, turn, sports matches
 

系統

けいとう keitou

Counter for Bus routes
 

ちょう chō

Counter for Town blocks
 

だん dan

Counter for levels, ranks, steps (of stairs).
 

ヶ国, 箇国

かこく kakoku

Counter for Countries
 

ひつ hitsu, ぴつ pitsu

Counter for Pieces of land
 

く ku

Counter for Sections, city districts
 

こ ko

Counter for Houses (戸 means “door”)
 

けん ken, げん gen

Counter for Houses and Buildings
Examples: Apartment Building, Apartment, House, Hermitage, Tenement, Warehouse, Factory
 

こう kō

Counter for Schools
 

こう kō

Counter for Banks
 

japanese counter words for animals

 

ひき hiki, ぴき piki, びき biki

Counter for Small animals, insects, fish, reptiles, amphibians, oni (demons/ogres)
Examples: 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
 

び bi

Counter for Small fish and shrimps (used in the fish trade; most people say hiki instead)
 

とう tō

Counter for Large animals, cattle, elephants, whales, dolphins, butterflies (頭 means “head”)
Examples: Elephant, Large Dog Breed, Seeing Eye Dog, Dolphin, Cow, Horse, Trophy, Monster, Whale, Bear, Large Stuffed Animal, Gorilla, Monkey, Camel, Donkey
 

わ wa, ば ba, ぱ pa

Counter for Birds, rabbits 羽 means “feather” or “wing.”
 

種類 or 種

しゅるい shurui or しゅ shu

Counter for Kinds, species
 

japanese counter words for food

ひん hin, ぴん pin

Counter for Parts of a meal, courses
 

ふく fuku, ぷく puku

Counter for Bowls of Medicine
Examples: Matcha (powdered green tea); packets or doses of powdered medicine; puffs (of, e.g., a cigarette); rests or breaks
 

きん kin

Counter Loaves of bread
 

切れ

きれ kire

Counter for Slices of Things
Examples: Sashimi, Pizza, Mochi, Meat, Bread, Cake
*Use traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一切れ(hito-kire)
 

人前

にんまえ ninmae

Counter for Food portions (without exceptions, unlike nin above)
 

こん kon

Counter for Shots (of drink)
 

じょう jō

Counter for Pills/capsules
 

ひょう tawara

Counter for Bags of rice
 

つぶ tsubu

Counter for Tiny Particles
Examples: Almonds, Grain, Sweat, Umeboshi, Tears, Teardrop, Caviar, Medicine, Rice, Ruby, Raisin
Use traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一粒(hito-tsubu)
 

ぜん zen

Counter for Pairs of chopsticks; bowls of rice
 

かん kan

Counter for Pieces of Nigiri-sushi
 

Japanese counters for time

びょう byō

Counter for Seconds
 

ふん fun, ぷん pun

Counter for Minutes
 

がつ gatsu, also つき tsuki

Counter for Months of the year. Month-long periods when read tsuki
 

はく haku, ぱく paku

Counter for Nights of a stay
 

じ ji

Counter for Hours of the day
 

時間

じかん jikan

Counter for Hour-long periods
 

か ka

Counter for Day of the month
*E.g. 二日(futsu-ka) 三日(mi-kka) 四日(yo-kka)
 

にち nichi

Counter for Days of the month
 

ヶ月, 箇月

かげつ kagetsu

Counter for Month-long periods (see also: gatsu)
**箇 is normally abbreviated using a small katakana ヶ in modern Japanese. Alternatively, 個, hiragana か, small katakana ヵ and full-size katakana カ & ケ can also be seen, although only か is similarly frequent.
 

ねん nen

Counter for Years, school years (grades); not years of age
 

歳(or 才)

さい sai

Counter for Years of age (才 is used informally as a shorthand)
 

しゅう shū

Counter for Weeks
 

ばん ban

Counter for Nights
Use traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一晩(hito-ban)
 

だい dai

Counter for Generations, historical periods, reigns
 

とき toki

Counter for Time periods, a sixth of either day or night (in the traditional, obsolete way of telling time).
 

japanese counters for literature and the arts

ご go

Counter for Words
 

ごん gon, げん gen, こと koto

Words
**Use both Sino-Japanese numbers and Traditional Japanese numbers depending: e.g. 一言(ichi-gon / ichi-gen /hito-koto)
 

ぶん bun

Counter for Sentences
 

段落

だんらく danraku

Counter for Paragraphs
 

ぎょう gyō

Counter for Lines of text
 

じ ji

Counter for Letters, kanji, kana
 

つう tsū

Counter for Letters
Examples: Draft, Note, Telegram, Letter, Postcard, Written Contract, Email, Excerpt, Book, Volume, Bond, Documents, Official Papers, Bill, Job Invoice
 

かく kaku

Counter for Strokes in kanji
 

ふで fude

Counter for Sequences of letters or drawings that you write or draw without removing your pen off the paper. Not to be confused with “hitsu” (筆) below.
*Use traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一筆(hito-fude)
 

まき maki or かん kan

Counter for Rolls, scrolls, kan for volumes of book
Examples: Thread, Movie, Film, Cloth, Cigar, Bandage, Hose, Scroll, Rolled Sheet, Dictionary, Book, Publication, Documents, Official Papers, Rope
*For まき use traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一巻き(hito-maki)
 

わ wa

Counter for Stories, episodes of TV series, etc.
 

稿

こう kō

Counter for Drafts of a manuscript
 

きょく kyoku

Counter for Pieces of music
 

ば ba

Counter for Scenes of a play
**Uses both Sino-Japanese numbers and Traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一幕(ichi-maku/ hito-maku )
 

まく maku

Counter for Theatrical acts
 

く ku

Counter for Haiku, senryū
 

ぺーじ pēji     ページ

Counter for Pages
 

拍子

ひょうし hyōshi, びょうし byōshi

Counter for Musical beats
 

japanese counter words for intangible things

ばい bai

Counter for Multiples, -fold as in “twofold”
 

けん ken

Counter for Abstract matters and cases
Examples: 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
 

はい hai

Counter for Losses (sports bouts)
 

しょう shō

Counter for Wins (sports bouts)
 

ほ ho, ぽ po

Counter for Number of (foot)steps
 

学級

がっきゅう gakkyū

Counter for Classes (in pre-university education)
 

クラス

くらす kurasu

Counter for School classes
 

か ka

Counter for Lessons
 

せき seki

Counter for Sitting Occassions
Examples: Party, Banquet, Entertainment, Performance, Drinking Parties, Seats, Rakugo shows,
 

じょう jō

Counter for Articles of law, thin objects, rays or streams of light, streaks of smoke or lightning
 

ひょう hyō, ぴょう pyō

Counter for Votes
 

ヶ国語, 箇国語

かこくご kakokugo

Counter for (National) languages
 

もん mon

Counter for Questions
 

れい rei

Counter for Cases, Examples
 

通り

とおり tori

Counter for Combinations, puzzle solutions
**Uses both Sino-Japanese numbers and Traditional Japanese numbersh: e.g. 二通り(ni-tōri / futa-tōri)
 

れい rei

Counter for Bows during worship at a shrine
 

しゃ sha

Counter for businesses, i.e. 会社
 

つぼ tsubo

Counter for Commonly used unit of area equal to 3.3 square metres.
*Uses traditional Japanese numbers: e.g. 一坪 (hito-tsubo)
 

通話

つうわ tsūwa

Counter for Telephone calls (obsolete)

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