Counting in Japanese: Objects of All Shapes and Sizes 

 February 4, 2020

By  Paolo Palabrica

“A dozen”, “a bunch of”, “a pride of lions”, “a murder of crows”, these are examples of Collective Nouns in the English language. However, unlike the English language, the Japanese collective nouns are based on the shape and size of a particular thing.

In this article, we’ll figure out how to count collective objectives in Japanese and even tell the time, too!

Counting in Japanese

Counting in Japanese: General Counters

For the general counting of objects in Japanese, here is the way of counting:

One of somethingHitotsu (一つ)
Two of somethingFutatsu (二つ)
Three of somethingMitsu (三つ)
Four of somethingYotsu (四つ)
Five of somethingItsutsu (五つ)
Six of somethingMutsu (六つ)
Seven of somethingNanatsu (七つ)
Eight of somethingYatsu (八つ)
Nine of somethingKokonotsu (九つ)
Ten of somethingtoh (とお)

For example:

Köhï o futatsu

(2 [cups] of coffee)




This vaguely means, “May I please have two cups of coffee?”.

When asking for how many? You can say:

ikutsu desu ka? (いくつですか?)

These general counters can only be used if the item is less than ten. If it goes beyond that, you’d have to use specific counters for these.

Specific Counters in Japanese

In Japanese, there are specific counters for specific items based on the nature, size and shape of the thing. Refer to the table below to know these specific counters.

Dai (台)Vehicles, machines, appliances
Hiki,Biki, Piki (匹)Small animals (pronunciation changes depending on the number)
Hon, Bon, Pon (本)Long, thin, elongated objects (like pens, sticks)
Mai (枚)Thin, flat objects (like papers, tickets)
Satsu (冊)Books or magazines
Kai (階)Stairs, Floors
Ko (個)Small objects or round objects (like fruits)

There are way more specific counters in Japanese, but these are probably the ones that are used frequently. To ask how many “specific” things are there, you can add the question word nani (何). Oftentimes the i is omitted.

nandai desu ka?
How many vehicles/appliances?
nansatsu desu ka?
How many books?
nanmai desu ka?
How many pages?
ringo wa nanko desu ka?
How many apples?

Special Counters in Japanese

There are also special counters that are applicable to special topics.

For People
One personHitori (一人)
Two (persons)Futari (二人)
Three (persons)San Nin (三人)
Four (persons)Yon Nin (四人)
Five (persons)Go Nin (五人)
Six (persons)Roku Nin (六人)
Seven (persons)Nana Nin (七人)
Eight (persons)Hachi Nin (八人)
Nine (persons)Kyuu Nin (九人)
Ten (persons)Juu Nin (十人)

Note that only the first two “person-counter” are special. The rest are followed by the Japanese number equivalent and just add “Nin (人)” to the number. 

To ask the number of people, you can say “nan nin desu ka? “ (何人ですか?). When entering a restaurant in Japan, you will be asked “how many people are you bringing?”, but they change the nin to mei which is a very formal way of speaking. 

Nan mei

(how many people)



desu ka?




We have finally finished the entire topic about counting objects. Go ahead and practice counting the objects around your area.

Mata ne またね! (See you later!)

Paolo Palabrica

Paolo is a software engineer in the Philippines whose hobby is learning languages. He has self-studied Japanese for over 3 years, and now speaks 3 languages and 3 Philippine dialects.

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