Japanese Language Basics: Counting Items in Japanese

By Donald Ash | Articles

While I was at work yesterday, one of the Japanese teachers wanted to give me a short Japanese quiz. She tested my listening and writing by asking me to write down a sentence. She said the sentence “Sakana wo ippiki kudasai.” “さかなをいっぴきください.” I was able to write the sentence in hiragana just fine. I also knew that sakana wo kudasai (さかなをください) meant “Fish please.” However, I missed a very important part of this particular sentence because I didn’t know that fish used a different kind of coutner. Ippiki (いっぴき) simply is a counter used for saying the number of fish. In Japanese, counters can be quite tricky for me. So, today, I’ve decided to go through some of the most common counters in the Japanese Language, to get a better understanding.

Japanese Counters

One of those somewhat troublesome things for me when speaking Japanese is knowing how I’m supposed to count an item. Why can’t you just use the number and then the item? It seems like it would make more sense, right? I honestly don’t know the reason that two items can have two completely different counters. But I do know it can be very useful when purchasing or making references to items; counters are an important language basic.

Before we get into these, if you need to brush up on basic Japanese counting, please check out the “Let’s Count to 100 in Japanese” article that I did a little while back. Here we go!

Counters for Flat Objects

1. Ichimai いちまい, 一枚
2. Nimai にまい, 二枚
3. Sanmai さんまい, 三枚
4. Yonmai よんまい, 四枚 
5. Gomai ごまい, 五枚
6. Rokumai ろくまい, 六枚
7. Nanamai ななまい, 七枚
8. Hachimai はちまい, 八枚
9. Kyumai きゅうまい, 九枚
10. Jyumai じゅうまい, 十枚

An good example of when to use these counters would be when asking for stamps at a post office. Another example might include buying a couple of t-shirts at a music concert.

Counters for Long Objects

1. Ippon いっぽん, 一本
2. Nihon にほん, 二本
3. Sanbon さんぼん, 三本
4. Yonhon よんほん, 四本
5. Gohon ごほん, 五本
6. Roppon ろっぽん, 六本
7. Nanahon ななほん, 七本
8. Happon はっぽん, 八本
9. Kyuhon きゅうほん, 九本
10. Jyupon じゅうぽん, 十本

A good use for these counters may be used for items like pencils pens, or bottles of beer,

Counters for People

1. Hitori ひとり, 一人
2. Futari  ふたり, 二人
3. Sannin さんにん, 三人
4. Yonnin よんにん, 四人
5. Gonin ごにん, 五人
6. Rokunin ろくにん, 六人
7. Nananin ななにん, 七人
8. Hachinin はちにん, 八人
9. Kyunin きゅうにん, 九人
10. Jyunin じゅうにん, 十人

This is great for restaurants when saying how many people you’d like a table for.

Counters for Bound Items

1. Issatsu いっさつ, 一冊
2. Nisatsu にさつ, 二冊
3. Sansatsu さんさつ, 三冊
4. Yonsatsu よんさつ, 四冊
5. Gosastsu  ごさつ, 五冊
6. Rokusatsu ろくさつ, 六冊
7. Nanasatsu ななさつ, 七冊
8. Hachisatsu はちさつ, 八冊
9. Kyusatsu きゅうさつ, 九冊
10. Jyusatsu じゅうさつ, 十冊

These counters are for items like books and magazines.

Counters for Small Animals

1. Ippiki いっぴき, 一匹
2. Nihiki にひき, 二匹
3. Sambiki さんびき, 三匹
4. Yonhiki よんひき, 四匹
5. Gohiki ごひき, 五匹
6. Roppiki ろっぴき, 六匹
7. Nanahiki ななひき, 七匹
8. Happiki はっぴき, 八匹
9. Kyuhiki きゅうひき, 九匹
10. Jyuppiki じゅうっぴき, 十匹

Counters for Days

1. Tsuitachi ついたち, 一日
2. Futsuka ふつか, 二日
3. Mikka みっか, 三日
4. Yokka よっか, 四日
5. Itsuka いつか, 五日
6. Muika むいか, 六日
7. Nanoka なのか, 七日
8. Youka ようか, 八日
9. Kokonoka ここのか, 九日
10. Tooka とおか, 十日

Counters for Minutes

1. Ippun いっぷん, 一分
2. Nifun にふん, 二分
3. Sanpun さんぷん, 三分
4. Yonpun よんぷん, 四分
5. Gofun ごふん, 五分
6. Roppun ろっぷん, 六分
7. Nanafun ななふん, 七分
8. Happun はっぷん, 八分
9. Kyufun きゅうふん, 九分
10. Jyuppun じゅうぷん, 十分

These counters are only for minutes.

Counter for Small Items

1. Ikko いっこ, 一個
2. Niko にこ, 二個
3. Sanko さんこ, 三個
4. Yonko よんこ, 四個
5. Goko ごこ, 五個
6. Rokko ろっこ, 六個
7. Nanako ななこ, 七個
8. Hakko はっこ, 八個
9. Kyuko きゅうこ, 九個
10. Jyukko じゅっこ, 十個

An example of a counter that you could use these counters with would be like erasers or candy.

Counter for Number of Times

1. Ikkai いっかい, 一回
2. Nikai にかい, 二回
3. Sankai さんかい, 三回
4. Yonkai よんかい, 四回
5. Gokai ごかい, 五回
6. Rokkai ろっかい, 六回
7. Nanakai ななかい, 七回
8. Hachikai はちかい, 八回
9. Kyukai きゅうかい, 九回
10. Jyukai じゅうかい, 十回

If you were saying how many times you’ve been to a particular place, you would use these counters.

Counters for Equipment

1. Ichidai いちだい, 一台
2. Nidai にだい, 二台
3. Sandai さんだい, 三台
4. Yondai よんだい, 四台
5. Godai ごだい, 五台
6. Rokudai ろくだい, 六台
7. Nanadai ななだい, 七台
8. Hachidai はちだい, 八台
9. Kyudai きゅうだい, 九台
10. Jyudai じゅうだい, 十台

These counters are for items like computers, bicycles, cars, televisions, etc.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of counters, but I think there are some essential counters in this list. I still make mistakes with these because I don’t always know exactly when to use them. For example, do I count a newspaper as a flat item or group it with the bound volumes? In this case you would would treat it as “-satsu” like newspapers and books. Unfortunately, I don’t know all the answers to questions like these…yet. However, I’m certain that I’ll pick it up as I continue to practice and become more comfortable with the language.

Donald Ash

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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of thejapanguy.com blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
  • Olivia Clark

    Hi, i found this website really helpful although there is one small mistake with counting small animals, three animals is sanbiki where it is stated sambiki
    Kind Regards OLivia

    • Donald Ash

      Olivia, thank you so much for catching that! As you can probably tell, my Japanese is still a work in progress. If you see any more mistakes, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

  • Matt W

    Exactly what I was looking for! This will help a lot.


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