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Counting in Japanese

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Japanese counter words

When you are learning Japanese for the first time, one of the things that you first stumble upon is the variety of counter words. As you progress to learn more advanced Japanese, these words just seem to increase. The words often change grammatically depending on the numbers proceeding them, and they can alter according to the size or shape of the thing being counted.

Learning them is essential for mastering the Japanese language, and in this Japanese blog to help you study the language, written by professional Japanese teachers, we explore the idea of counters or counter words.

Japanese teacher, Ayako Suzuki wrote this blog, and you can read the Japanese without Kanji help and also read it with the Kanji help. And then please listen to the video to hear the Japanese words spoken fluently.

Counting in Japanese




 日本語にはものを数えるときに使う言葉がいろいろあり、数えるものによって、数え方が違います。紙を数えるときは「1枚」「2枚」、本を数えるときは「1冊」「2冊」 、車なら「1台」「2台」と数えます。この「枚」「冊」「台」のような、数といっしょに使う言葉を「助数詞」と呼んでいます。




To listen to this blog, please watch our Youtube video. 





Counting in Japanese

In Japanese there are various words used when counting things, and depending on the thing being counted, the words are different. When counting paper we say, 'ichi mai', 'ni mai'; when counting books we say 'issatsu', 'ni satsu' ; for cars we count them using 'ichi dai', 'ni dai' . These words which we use together with numbers like 'mai', 'satsu' and 'dai' are called “counters”.

Apparently there are about 500 of these counters in Japanese. There are so very many of them, that there is probably no Japanese person that has a complete command of them all and there are probably some people who find the different uses of these many counters a hassle. But there are some convenient sides to this.

For example, small animals have the counter 'hiki' and large animals use 'tou' to count them and when someone says “I have a pet dog (using the counter 'tou')” we can imagine that the person has a large pet dog. And when someone says, “I took some medicine (using the counter 'jyou') we understand that it is a pill of medicine, and if they say “I took some medicine (using the counter 'hou') then the other person understands that it is medicine in powder form without any further explanation. In the fish shop, if you say, “3 horse mackerels please” (using the counter 'mai') then they soon understand that it's not the whole horse mackerel you are indicating but some dried horse mackerel.

Please give these profound Japanese counters a go while you learn Japanese.

助数詞(じょすうし)  a counter

使(つか)いこなす  have a good command; make full use; use ~ really well

使(つか)い分(わ)ける  use different ~ for different purposes

干物(ひもの)  dried fish

奥(おく)が深(ふか)い  profound; deep 


Konnichiwa. My name is Ayako Suzuki.
I live in Tochigi prefecture with my husband and two children. Tochigi has two towns that are very popular tourist attractions; Nikko, which is famous for its World Heritage shrine and its wonderful nature, and Mashiko which is famous for its pottery. Its only two hours by train from Tokyo, so if you get that chance, please come and visit Tochigi.
Through the language of Japanese, I am happy to and looking forward to meeting you all. Lets study Japanese together.

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