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How to Use Japanese Counters

You can count on us to make Japanese counters easy! Let's sum of the basics with real-world examples.

By 2 min read

Counting is a fundamental aspect of any language, but when it comes to Japanese, it can be quite complex, to say the least. Japanese employs a system of counters known as josushi (助数詞じょすうし), which are used to count different types of objects, people and animals.

Understanding these counters is essential for effective communication in Japanese. In this article, we’ll delve into the fascinating world of counting in Japanese. This is just a basic overview, but if you really want to dive into learning Japanese, consider finding a Japanese language school through GaijinPot Study. You can count on us to guide you!

Japanese Uses Different Counters

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How many bowls of can you count?

In English, we use a single word for counting almost everything—whether it’s one book or person. In contrast, the Japanese language employs a multitude of counters, each with its unique purpose. The choice of a counter depends on the type of object you are counting.

Let’s begin with examples of the most often-used counters with many applications!

Japanese Romaji English
カレーひと Kare-hitotsu One (bowl of) curry
おもちゃふた Omocha futatsu Two toys
スプーンみっ Supuun mittsu Three spoons
タピオカよっ Tapioka yottsu Four boba (teas)
コーヒーいつ Ko-hi- itsutsu Five coffees
たまごむっ Tamago muttsu Six eggs
みかんなな Mikan nanatsu Seven mandarins
オレンジやっ Orenji yattsu Eight oranges
ラーメンここの Raamen kokonotsu Nine ramen
りんごとお Ringo too Ten apples

Practical Examples

One of the easiest applications of the above would be when asking for things in supermarkets or restaurants. If we were to make this an equation, it would be something like this:

[Thing] + [Counter] + ください [or] おねがいします.

Japanese English
スプーンみっつおねがいします Three spoons, please.
カレーひとつください One curry, please.

Counting Flat Objects

Photo:
Typical manager material.

Next, to drive the point home, let’s try another counter. This time, it’s the counter used for flat objects. Things like papers, flyers, etc. This one is a lot easier than the last counter because the counter does not change based on the proceeding number; it will always be まい

Japanese Romaji English
一枚いちまい Ichimai One (sheet)
二枚にまい Nimai Two (sheets)
三枚さんまい Sanmai Three (sheets)
四枚よんまい Yonmai Four (sheets)
五枚ごまい Gomai Five (sheets)
六枚ろくまい Rokumai Six (sheets)
七枚ななまい Nanamai Seven (sheets)
八枚はちまい Hachimai Eight (sheets)
九枚きゅうまい Kyuumai Nine (sheets)
十枚じゅうまい Juumai Ten (sheets)

Practical Examples

Below are some examples of using this counter. Here again, we see the formula is the same as with the first counter: [Thing] + [Counter]

Japanese English
切手きって十枚じゅうまいください Ten stamps, please
手書てがきの履歴書りれきしょ二枚にまいってきてください Please bring in two handwritten resumes.

There are hundreds of counters in the Japanese language. Two for today is a good start. With your newfound knowledge, please buy ten apples and two stamps and ask someone to bring you two handwritten resumes!

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