Japanese Counters Made Easy


Let’s delve into the world of Japanese numbers. When you first start learning Japanese, numbers are one of the first things you pick up in the language. Counting from 1-10 may seems easy but in Japanese there is more to it when counting objects. In this article we are going to cover counters in Japanese, what they are, how to use them, and we will give you plenty of examples. 

Japanese Numbers

Let’s start with the basics, shall we? Japanese numbers are your buddies here. Whether it’s “ichi” (one), “ni” (two), or “juu” (ten), get cozy with these digits – you’ll be using them a lot.

For a refresher, here are the basic Japanese numbers:


Introduction to Japanese Counters

In Japanese, counting things isn’t as simple as just using the number in a sentence. When you count things you will use a counter, which is one kanji that goes onto the end of the number to tell you what kind of thing you are counting. So, the way to say “one apple” is different than “one person” which is different than “one second.”

This might seem confusing at first but don’t worry, we are here to help explain in a simple way! Let’s start with the basics: To use counters you will have to add a word onto the number you are modifying.

For instance, the counter for  birds is 羽 (わ) so “one bird” would be 一羽 (いちわ) and “two birds” would be 二羽 (にわ) etc.

Seems simple right? Well one more thing you must be aware of is that sometimes, the pronunciation for these counters change. While with the birds counter we learned above, you just simply add 羽, other counters sound a bit different. For instance the counter for books is 冊 but one book is not pronounced いちさつ, it is actually pronounced いっさつ. So, when learning counters make sure to pay attention not only to counter itself, but how to pronounce them.

General Counters

Let’s start with the general counters that don’t have a specific meaning. These can be translated simple as “one thing,” “two things,” etc. These are used for some general objects, but can also be used if you are stuck and don’t remember which counter to use. Kind of like a cheat! So if you are confused about counters, at least make sure to memorize these, as they are the most useful.

一つhitotsuOne thing
二つfutatsuTwo things
三つmittsuThree things
四つyottsuFour things
五つitsutsuFive things
六つmuttsuSix things
七つnanatsuSeven things
八つyattsuEight things
九つkokonotsuNine things


Seconds, Minutes, and Hours

Next, let’s talk about time in Japanese. Let’s starts with the quickest time period, one second. The counter for “second” in Japanese is 秒. Here is how to use them 1-9.

一秒ichibyōOne second
二秒nibyōTwo seconds
三秒sanbyōThree seconds
四秒shibyōFour seconds
五秒gohyōFive seconds
六秒rokubyōSix seconds
七秒shichibyōSeven seconds
八秒hachibyōEight seconds
九秒kyūbyōNine seconds

Here is an example of how it is used in a sentence:



That scene in the movie was only three seconds long.

Now, let’s explore the concept of time in minutes. In Japanese, the counter for “minute” is 分 (ふん). Here’s how to use it for numbers 1 to 9:

一分ichifunOne minute
二分nifunTwo minutes
三分sanpunThree minutes
四分yonpunFour minutes
五分gofunFive minutes
六分roppunSix minutes
七分shichifunSeven minutes
八分happunEight minutes
九分kyūfunNine minutes

Here’s an example of how it’s used in a sentence:



The concert will start 5 minutes late.

Moving on to larger units of time, let’s explore how to express “hours” in Japanese. The counter for “hour” is 時間 (じかん). Here’s how to use it for numbers 1 to 9:

一時間ichijikanOne hour
二時間nijikanTwo hours
三時間sanjikanThree hours
四時間yojikanFour hours
五時間gojikanFive hours
六時間rokujikanSix hours
七時間shichijikanSeven hours
八時間hachijikanEight hours
九時間kyujikanNine hours

Here’s an example of how it’s used in a sentence:



I slept for about eight hours yesterday.

For those who want to learn more about Japanese expressions of time, please check this article for detailed explanations.

Years Old

Moving on to age in Japanese, let’s discuss “years old.” The counter for “years old” is 歳 (さい). Here’s how to use it for ages 1 to 9:

一歳issaiOne year old
二歳nisaiTwo years old
三歳sansaiThree years old
四歳yonsaiFour years old
五歳gosaiFive years old
六歳rokusaiSix years old
七歳shichisaiSeven years old
八歳hassaiEight years old
九歳kyusaiNine years old

Here’s an example of how it’s used in a sentence:



My child is three years old.

Number of Times

We can also talk about the “number of times” we do something in Japanese. The counter for “number of times” is 回 (かい). Here’s how to use it for counts 1 to 9:

一回ikkaiOne time
二回nikaiTwo times
三回sankaiThree times
四回yonkaiFour times
五回gokaiFive times
六回rokkaiSix times
七回shichikaiSeven times
八回hakkaiEight times
九回kyūkaiNine times

Here’s an example of how it’s used in a sentence:



I watched that movie twice.

Series of Things

When we talk about a “series of things” in Japanese, the counter is番 (ばん). If we say 一番, the counter is used to indicate “number one” or “first.” Here’s how it’s used:

一番ichibanNumber one / First
二番nibanNumber two / Second
三番sanbanNumber three / Third
四番yonbanNumber four / Fourth
五番gobanNumber five / Fifth
六番rokubanNumber six / Sixth
七番shichibanNumber seven / Seventh
八番hachibanNumber eight / Eighth
九番kyūbanNumber nine / Ninth

Here’s an example of how it’s used in a sentence:



That movie was the most interesting.

People and Animals


How about counting people in Japanese? The counter for people is 人 (にん). Below are the ways to count people from one to nine:

一人hitoriOne person
二人futariTwo people
三人sanninThree people
四人yoninFour people
五人goninFive people
六人rokuninSix people
七人shichininSeven people
八人hachininEight people
九人kyūninNine people

Here’s an example sentence:



Four friends attended today’s party.

Small Animals

The counter for small animals is 匹 (ひき). Some aniamls have a specific counter, but this one can be used for dogs, cats, hamsters, insects, and forgs. Here’s how you count small animals from one to nine:

一匹ippikiOne small animal
二匹nihikiTwo small animals
三匹sanbikiThree small animals
四匹yonhikiFour small animals
五匹gohikiFive small animals
六匹roppikiSix small animals
七匹shichihikiSeven small animals
八匹happikiEight small animals
九匹kyūhikiNine small animals

Here’s an example sentence to help illustrate its use:



I spotted one cat at the park.

Large Animals

Large herd animals are counted by using  頭 (とう). This is generally used for horses, and cattle, but can also be used for elephants and buffalo as well. Here’s how you count large animals from one to nine:

一頭ittouOne large animal
二頭nitouTwo large animals
三頭santouThree large animals
四頭yontouFour large animals
五頭gotouFive large animals
六頭rokutouSix large animals
七頭shichitouSeven large animals
八頭hachitouEight large animals
九頭kyūtouNine large animals

Here’s an example sentence to help you understand how to use it:



There are five horses at the ranch.


Although you might think birds come under “small animals” there is a specific counter for birds that uses the kanji that means “wings.” Strangely, this can also be used for rabbits as well. The counter for counting birds is 羽 (わ). Here’s how you count birds from one to nine:

一羽ichiwaOne bird
二羽niwaTwo birds
三羽sanwaThree birds
四羽yonwaFour birds
五羽gowaFive birds
六羽rokuwaSix birds
七羽shichiwaSeven birds
八羽hachiwaEight birds
九羽kyuuwaNine birds

Here’s an example sentence to help you understand how to use it:



There were five birds flying in the park.


Small Things

There is also a counter for small things in Japanese. It is usually for things that are round, but there are exceptions. There doesn’t have to be a specific size for you to use this counter, but generally anything small and like fruit works.  The counter for small things is 個 (こ). Here’s how you count small things from one to nine:

一個ikkoOne small thing
二個nikoTwo small things
三個sankoThree small things
四個yonkoFour small things
五個gokoFive small things
六個rokkoSix small things
七個nanakoSeven small things
八個hakkoEight small things
九個kyūkoNine small things

Here’s an example sentence:



There are five beads inside this bottle.

Flat Objects

There is also a counter for flat objects. You would use this to count paper, stacks of woods, or slices of bread. The counter for flat objects is 枚 (まい). Here’s how you count flat objects from one to nine:

一枚ichimaiOne flat object
二枚nimaiTwo flat objects
三枚sanmaiThree flat objects
四枚shi(mai)Four flat objects
五枚gomaiFive flat objects
六枚rokumaiSix flat objects
七枚shichimaiSeven flat objects
八枚hachimaiEight flat objects
九枚kyuumaiNine flat objects

Here’s an example sentence:



There are three pieces of paper placed on this table.

Long Cylindrical Objects

Long cylindrical objects like pencils, pens, and objects like poles. The counter for these are 本 (ほん). Here’s how you count them from one to nine:

一本ipponOne long cylindrical object
二本nihonTwo long cylindrical objects
三本sanbonThree long cylindrical objects
四本shihonFour long cylindrical objects
五本gohonFive long cylindrical objects
六本ropponSix long cylindrical objects
七本shichihonSeven long cylindrical objects
八本happonEight long cylindrical objects
九本kyuuhonNine long cylindrical objects

Here’s an example sentence to help you understand its usage:



There are five poles with that length.


Although you may think that books would fall under flat objects using 枚, books actually have their own counter in Japanese. Generally anything with a binding can use this counter.The counter is 冊 (さつ), and here is how you count books from one to nine:

一冊issatsuOne book
二冊nisatsuTwo books
三冊sansatsuThree books
四冊yonsatsuFour books
五冊gosatsuFive books
六冊rokusatsuSix books
七冊shichisatsuSeven books
八冊hassatsuEight books
九冊kyūsatsuNine books

Here’s an example sentence to help illustrate its use:



I read three books this month.


Counters in Japanese might have seemed a bit baffling at first, but now you’re well-equipped to tackle them like a pro. Whether you’re counting adorable animals with “ひき” (hiki) or browsing books with “冊” (satsu), these little linguistic tools add a touch of charm and finesse to your conversations. Remember, it’s all about embracing the quirks and intricacies that make Japanese such a delightful language to learn. So, next time you’re counting objects or sharing a meal with friends, don’t hesitate to sprinkle in those counters and watch as your language skills shine!

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