Japanese Onomatopoeia Guide

If you aren’t familiar with Japanese onomatopoeia (or any onomatopoeia for that matter) here is a quick introduction. Onomatopoeia is the word for when we take a sound and make a word out of it. In English, this is words like BOOM! SLAP! or HAHAHA! The spelling of these words is based on the sound that the action makes. Every language has onomatopoeia, but in every language they are slightly different. For instance, in many languages, the onomatopoeia for laughing isn’t “hahaha” but is often “kkkk” in Asian languages or in Spanish, “jjjj.” This may seem strange to English speakers, but of course it makes perfect sense to the native speaker!

The Japanese seem to like onomatopoeia even more than other languages (they have over 1,000!) so we are devoting a whole post to teaching you the most common Japanese onomatopoeia you might find. Japanese onomatopoeia aren’t just written, but they are also crucial to speaking and sounding fluent. There are 3 types of onomatopoeia you will learn in Japanese. 擬声語
(giseigo, animal and human sounds) like MOO! or YAAAWWWWN and 擬音語 (giongo, inanimate objects and nature sounds) both exist in English. The harder part about Japanese is that they have onomatopoeia that describe mental states, movements, and even feelings. Since we don’t have words for these in English they can be a bit harder to learn.

擬声語 (giseigo) Animal and human sounds
These are mostly what you will think of in English like MOOO! or ACHOO! or Sluurrrrrp.
擬音語 (giongo) Sounds made by inanimate objects and nature
What sound does the wind make? WOOOOSH! A beating heart? Thump, thump, thump.
擬態語 (gitaigo) Describe conditions and states (things that do not make sounds)
Gitaigo are onomatopoeia that we do not have in English. They describe feelings or states of being that make no sound at all!
 
To break down the names of the various onomatopoeia we can see the kanji 擬 means mimic + (insert type of sound) + 語 (kanji for word or speech).

You will see all the onomatopoeia written below in both hiragana and katakana. While there isn’t a hard and fast rule, usually actual sounds (like animal noises or doors slamming) are written in katakana and soft sounds (like ones that describe emotional states) are written in hiragana. Of course this isn’t a real rule, and you can see any of these sounds written either way depending on the context!

Japanese Onomatopoeia Forms:

Double Form: にこにこ (niko niko) -> For the double form, it is usually used as an adjective. For instance, “彼はいつもにこにこしている” meaning “He is always smiling” BUT it can also be used as an adverb to verbs that follow them.

TO Form: にこっと (nikotto) -> For TO form, it is mostly used an an adverb to verbs that come after. For example, “彼はにこっと笑った” (For this one there isn’t a literal translation because にこにこ is a representation of sounds/state of being) but this can be translated as “He pleasantly smiled” as “にこにこ” always has positive meanings.

RI Form: にこり (nikori) or にっこり -> Nikori can also be used as an adverb just like nikotto. So what is the difference between nikotto and nikori? Not much really, they are interchangeable and mean pretty much the same thing! “彼はにっこり笑った” meaning “He pleasantly smiled”
 


OK! Now we’re ready to learn some onomatopoeia and watch some fun anime gifs while we’re at it!


擬音語 – Sounds made by inanimate objects and nature


どきどき/ドキドキ – dokidoki sound of throbbing
dokidoki

ごぼごぼ/ゴボゴボ Gobogobo
Gurgling sound

japanese onomatopoeia

ぺらぺら/ペラペラ – perapera – sound of flapping in the wind
pekopeko onomatopoeia

ざあざあ/ザアザア – zaazaa – sound of rain falling
ザアザア rain falling

パリパリ — Paripari – crunchy; crisp

パリパリ paripari onomatopoeia

ずどん/ズドン – zudon – THUD! BANG!
ズドン zudon

へろへろ/ヘロヘロ – herohero – flimsy plastic flapping around – im tired, im beat

くしゃくしゃ – Kushakusha – Crumpling sound of paper

ギシギシ/ぎしぎし – Gishi gishi – Squeaking noise of beds or old floors

ぱちぱち/パチパチ – pachipachi – snapping closed, sharp pop or ping like pachinko!

 


擬態語 – Describe conditions and states


ラブラブ— Raburabu – Lovey dovey; head-over-heels in love

Often used to poke fun at classmates!
ラブラブ

にこにこ/ニコニコ – nikoniko – the sound a smile makes!

nikoniko smile onomatopoeia

きらきら/キラキラ – kirakira – twinkle twinkle (water, gemstones, or stars)

キラキラ twinkle twinkle japanese

オタオタ/おたおた — Otaota – shocked speechless

オタオタ shocked speechless

じー/ジー jii – staring and motionless

ジ staring manga jii

そわそわ — Sowasowa – fidgety; restless; have butterflies from excitement or nerves

うとうと – Utouto – To doze off

うとうと – Uto uto – To doze off

ちくちく – Chikuchiku — prickly pain; needle-like pain

ちくちく chikuchiku

ぎゅうぎゅう – Gyu gyu – Jam-packed like a train during rush hour

Image Credit Yeow Kwang Yeo

おろおろ – Orōro — too flustered to think or move

Orōro flustered

ワクワク/わくわく – wakuwaku — Excited; thrilled; to get nervous/anxious from excitement

ワクワク wakuwaku thrilled

うずうず — Uzūzu – to itch with desire; squirm, struggling to resist an urge

japanese onomatopoeia

イライラ/いらいら — irairai – edgy; testy; ticked off (especially when being made to wait)

ごろごろ — gorogoro – stay idle; laying around; loaf around

gorogoro lazy

つんつん — Tsuntsun – to be cross; cranky; aloof

つんつん — Tsuntsun to be cross; cranky; aloof

クラクラ/くらくら — kurakura – feel dizzy; light-headed

クラクラ kurakura

ねばねば — Nebaneba – sticky; gooey

ねばねば nebaneba sticky

ぞくぞく – Zokuzoku Excited; to have an adrenaline rush

ぞくぞく zokuzoku onomatopoeia

うとうと — Utōto – drowsy; nodding off

うとうとUtōto nodding off

のろのろ — noronoro – Sluggishly, lazily, draggingly

lazily dragging sluggish

きびきび – Kibikibi – Energetically

きびきび – Kibikibi – Energetically

ぬるぬる – Nurunuru – Slimy like a fish out of the water

ぬるぬる Nuru nuru

びっくり — Bikkuri thrilled; surprised; frightened; shocked

びっくり bikkuri thrilled surprised

ズキズキ/ずきずき – zukizuki — throbbing pain

ズキズキ/ずきずき zukizuki throbbing pain

ぐっすり — Gussuri – soundly sleeping

ぐっすり— soundly sleeping

すやすや — suyasuya – sleeping peacefully

Suyasuya すやすや

くたくた — kutakuta – weak with exhaustion; worn out; beat tired

くたくた exhausted

ぐしゃぐしゃ – Gushagusha – Messy hair or clothes

ぐしゃぐしゃ gusha gusha onomatopoeia japan manga


擬声語 Human & Animal Sounds


ガブガブ — Gabugabu – gulp vigorously; swig

ガブガブ swig

ごくごく — Gokugoku – gulp down a drink; drink in long gulps

ズルズル — Zuruzuru – slurp
ズルズル — Zuruzuru slurp

がつがつ/ガツガツ — gatsugatsu – eating ravenously; devour

がつがつ/ガツガツ — gatsugatsu eating ravenously; devour

ぺこぺこ — Pekopeko – Be hungry; starving; famished

ぱくぱく/パクパク— Pakupaku – heartily eating; quivering lips. This is also the origin of where Pac-Man came from!

ぱくぱく quivering lip

むしゃむしゃ — mushamusha – to munch or to chomp on something

ちびちび — Chibichibi – to nibble on food; to sip a drinkちびちび to nibble

がみがみ/ガミガミ — gamigami – nagging (loudly); scolding

ぺらぺら/ペラペラ — perapera – Speaking fluently

ぶつぶつ — Butsubutsu – grumble; muttered complaint

もぐもぐ meaning mumbling

はきはき/ハキハキ — Hakihaki – unhesitating; talk clearly and briskly

もぐもぐ/モグモグ – mogumogu – chewing food, also mumbling
もぐもぐ/モグモグ mogumogu

Animal Sounds

ワンワン — wan-wan

Woof (dog)
japanese onomatopoeia

ウォーッ – U~ō~tsu

Howl (dog)
japanese onomatopoeia

ニャーニャー – Nyānyā

meow (cat)
japanese onomatopoeia

ゴロゴロ – Gorogoro

Purr (cat), but in hiragana ごろごろ “to be lazy”
japanese onomatopoeia

モーモー – momo

Moo (cow)
japanese onomatopoeia

ヒヒーン – Hihīn

Neigh (horse)
japanese onomatopoeia

ケロケロ — Kerokero

Ribbit (frog)

ホーホー – Hōhō

hoot (owl)

チチチ – Chichichi

tweet (birds)
japanese animal sounds

チュンチュン – Chunchun

Chirp (bird)
japanese animal sounds

リンリン – Rinrin

Chirping (cricket)
animal sounds in japanese

チュウチュウ – Chūchū

squeak (mouse)
animal sounds in japanese

ブーン/ぶーん – Būn

Buzz (bee), also used for cars
animal sounds in japanese

ブーブー – Būbū

Oink (pig)
japanese animal sounds

Here are a few more as well…can you find some anime or manga that shows these 擬態語? Share it in the comments!


しーん/シーン – shiin – the sound of silence
In manga this is most often used when someone tries to say something funny and it isn’t funny, to describe the sound of no one laughing!

こそこそ – Kosokoso – Sneakingly; secretly

ねばねば – Nebaneba – Sticky like okra or raw egg

ぱさぱさ – Pasapasa Dry; lacks moisture

ぐずぐず – Guzuguzu – To procrastinate; act slowly

しくしく — Shikushiku – dull pain; gripping pain
This is also used when someone is crying

ぐちゃぐちゃ — Guchagucha – pulpy; soppy; soggy

ぼそぼそ — Bosoboso tasteless, bland, and dry; muttering under your breath

21 Hilarious Japanese Proverbs

These Japanese proverbs may sound funny, but in every language there are certain sayings that just don’t translate quite right! Here we have collected 22 of the funniest Japanese proverbs, but they each have very real lessons to teach! At the bottom of this post we have collected some familiar English sayings…can you match up the English to the Japanese? Remember, not every Japanese saying has an English equivalent!

Ready….GO!

japanese proverbs farts

1. 屁を放って尻つぼめ

Continue reading 21 Hilarious Japanese Proverbs

What Is Kanji?

If you’re just starting to learn Japanese, congratulations! You may have already learned hiragana and katakana, and if you’re reading this it means you’ve probably come across your first kanji. But what IS kanji exactly? Is it Chinese? Is it Japanese? How do I pronounce kanji? How do I remember kanji? How many kanji ARE there? How many kanji do I have to learn? Why are there so many strokes???
Continue reading What Is Kanji?

国: Names of Countries in Japanese with Audio!

Do you know how to say names of countries in japanese? Luckily, most country names are pretty easy to say in Japanese. They are just an approximate translation that is written out in katakana such as カナダ – Kanada or ルーマニア – Rūmania. Of course, some are a little different such as モンゴル – Mongoru (Mongolia) and some such as えいこく – Eikoku (Great Britain) don’t sound anything alike!
Continue reading 国: Names of Countries in Japanese with Audio!

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)

Learning Japanese Numbers: 1-100 to 1 Trillion

Counting is one of the first things you learn in any language, but Japanese numbers are a little bit different. Numbers in Japanese are so different, in fact, that we’re going to take TWO POSTS to tell you everything about counting in Japanese. If you’re already a little more advanced, you may already be aware of the Japanese counting system. But if not, then let’s start with Japanese numbers and we can learn more from there!

japanese numbers 1-100
Continue reading Learning Japanese Numbers: 1-100 to 1 Trillion

Learn the Days of the Week: Japanese

If you want to learn the days of the week Japanese, you’ve come to the right place! Before modern times, Japan didn’t use a seven day calendar. Starting around 800 AD, a seven-day calendar was brought by Buddhists from India, but it was mostly used for astrological purposes. Japan originally worked on a lunar calendar that had no weeks, and each month had a different name. But once they adopted a weekly calendar, they had to give names to the days of the week in Japanese. Where did they get them? Since the days of the week were named after the planets in ancient Greece and Rome, that system was somehow spread all over the world! In 1876, the Japanese days of the week were adopted to officially align with the Western system. But you might say, Hey! These days of the week are named after elements, not planets! But you can read on to find out why… and help you learn the days of the week Japanese, as well as where all the names came from!

Japanese Days of the Week Infographic!

days of the week japanese

Each of the days of the week Japanese corresponds to an element name from the ancient Chinese. Each of those elements is also the name for a planet. It’s important to remember that 土 is the kanji for “earth/soil” and NOT the kanji for the planet Earth. is actually the kanji for the planet Saturn! Also refers to the kanji for metal/gold. Don’t think of it as gold in terms of money, but rather gold or metal as an element from the earth!

Here are links to the full dictionary entries for every day of the week in Japanese:

Sunday in Japanese: 日曜日 (にちようび)
Monday in Japanese: 月曜日 (げつようび)
Tuesday in Japanese: 火曜日 (かようび)
Wednesday in Japanese: 水曜日 (すいようび)
Thursday in Japanese: 木曜日 (もくようび)
Friday in Japanese: 金曜日 (きんようび)
Saturday in Japanese: 土曜日 (どようび)

The Most Confusing Japanese Kanji (and how to tell the difference)

We’re talking a lot about Japanese kanji lately and how to learn them. Obviously, learning kanji takes a lot of rote memorization. You have to keep revisiting the kanji to remember the shapes, the strokes, the meaning, and how to pronounce it (which can be different depending on what word it’s in)! While some Japanese kanji may seem easy to learn like 人 (person) what about when you find 入 (to enter)??? They look so similar! So today we’re going to review a lot of kanji that can be confusing, and help you remember how to tell them apart! Learning confusing kanji together is the best way to remember their differences and stop yourself from getting all mixed up!

Don’t forget to utilize our stroke animation feature to help you visualize the differences in strokes. Just click the pencil button up at the top of any dictionary entry!
stroke order image
Also, printing out practice sheets is a great way to learn! We’ve created a printable practice sheet of all the kanji on this list to help you learn the difference!

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At first glance these two kanji might seem impossible to tell apart! But if you look closely you can see the kanji for “soil” has a shorter horizontal line than the kanji for “gentleman.” In 士 the middle stroke is longer than the bottom stroke and in 土 it is shorter. Now you have to be careful when you are reading, but remember context can always help you as well!

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The kanji for “thousand” is one of the first kanji you will learn and it’s clear to see that the top stroke comes up. In the kanji for “to dry” the stroke is flat.

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The kanji for “day” or “sun” is one of the most common ones out there and I’m sure you already know it! But don’t get it confused with the kanji for “say” or “reason.” The center stroke in this kanji doesn’t touch the other side!

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Can you see the difference between the kanji for “un-” and the kanji for “end?” That’s right, the two horizontal strokes are switched! In 未 the first stroke is short and the second stroke is long. But in 末 the first stroke is long and the second stroke is short! Practicing writing and watching our stroke order animation can really help you to learn these subtle differences!

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While “fur” and “hand” are very similar, you can see that “fur” has lines at a slight angle and a stroke that hooks up to the right. “Hand” has more horizontal strokes and a smaller hook that faces the left. I like to think the angled lines of “fur” are more like hair, and the straight lines of “hand” are more like fingers!

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We mentioned this in the opening, but the kanji for “person” and for “enter” are separated but just one small stroke at the top! Remember also that some kanji will look different in handwriting than when typed.

stroke animation for 入

人

The following are kanji with strokes sticking out or not:

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The kanji for “power” has the extra stroke sticking out at the top, and the kanji for “sword” does not.

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The kanji for “stone” doesn’t have the stroke sticking out, and the kanji for “right” does!

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“Cow” has a longer stroke that sticks out, where “noon” has a flat top instead!

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The kanji for “friend” has a stroke sticking out, and the kanji for “anti-” doesn’t.

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The kanji for “name” doesn’t have a stroke sticking out, and the kanji for “each” does!

These kanji are different with just one more line (一)!

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The kanji for “tree” doesn’t have the extra stroke here. And everyone should know the kanji for book, as it’s part of the word for Japanese, 日本語!

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The kanji for “white” has just two strokes inside, and the kanji for “oneself” has three!

These next kanji are separated by a single dot (、)!

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The kanji for “gem” has an extra stroke added to the kanji for “king.” I like to remember this by thinking that the king will wear a gem!

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The kanji for “dog” has one extra stroke than the kanji for “big.” How can you remember this? I like to think that the big dog has a spot!

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The kanji for “direction” or “method” has an extra stroke on top than the kanji for “ten-thousand.” I think 方 looks like a man pointing in a direction, so this one is easy to remember. 万 has no head so he doesn’t look like a man!

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It’s no surprise that the kanji for “water” and the kanji for “ice” are similar! Just remember that ice is like water with a little something extra.

These kanji are different, but they’re made up of the same parts!

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The kanji for “elder” and “consider” both start with the same four strokes, but the kanji for “consider” ends with a sharp hook down and the kanji for “elder” ends with a smooth hook up.

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“Compare” and “north” are easy to tell apart, you just have to remember which one is which! In “compare,” the parts of the kanji are facing the same direction. In “north” the two halves of the kanji are facing in opposite directions. You can remember this by thinking, “people will run away from the north!.” Or that you can compare two things that are side by side.

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The kanji for “know” and the kanji for “harmony” or “Japanese style” are very similar. Just remember 禾 is the radical for “two tree branch” and 矢 is the radical for “arrow.” Knowing your radicals can often help in figuring out which kanji is which!

And here are some other kanji that also happen to look similar!

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The problem with these kanji is that not only do they look similar, but they have similar meanings! While “obey” is the primary meaning of 従, it can also mean “subordinate.” 徒 also has several meanings, and one of them is “junior” which is similar to subordinate! So how can you tell them apart? Unfortunately, sometimes with kanji you just have to memorize them!

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While these two kanji don’t look exactly alike, they have very similar meanings, which means it can be difficult to remember which is which! 験 means “verification” or “testing” and 検 is the kanji for “examination” or “investigate.” The way you can tell these apart is that 験 uses the kanji for horse (馬) as its radical and 検 uses the radical for tree (木). So you must remember to test a horse and investigate a tree.

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惑 is the kanji for “beguile” or “perplex” and 感 is the kanji for “emotion.” So these have very different meanings, but very similar structures. “Emotion” is inside the radical and “perplex” is open on the outside. Because when you feel perplexed you are lost out in the open and emotions are things we keep inside.

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These are really similar and especially troublesome because 拾 means “pick up” and 捨 means “discard” or “throw away.” The meanings are literally the opposite of one another! The only difference in strokes are two perpendicular lines under the roof in “discard.” It’s like a plus sign because you have too many things and you need to get rid of them! “Pick up” has only one line under the roof because there is room to pick up more things!

Do you have any similar or confusing kanji you want to add to this list? Let us know so we can add them to our practice sheet to help you learn!

Here is a link to a printable practice sheet with all of these confusing kanji added to it!

The Difference Between On’Yomi and Kun’Yomi

When you start learning Japanese, you first learn hiragana, and then you learn katakana, and then– the dreaded KANJI! While hiragana and katakana can both be sounded out by syllable, kanji must simply be memorized. And as soon as you start memorizing kanji, you realize that there is MORE THAN ONE WAY to say almost all of them! Some have even more than 10 pronunciations! WHAAAA? So what’s the difference between On’Yomi and Kun’Yomi? And how do you know which to use when, and WHY???

on'yomi vs kun'yomi

Continue reading The Difference Between On’Yomi and Kun’Yomi