Counting in Japanese_basics to remember

Ultimate Guide to Counting in Japanese

Ultimate Guide to Counting in Japanese

By Chu Thi Anh | April 9th 2021

Learning how to count definitely is one of the first basics in entering any foreign language. In Japanese, it is easy to count from one to ten. However, the case might become a little bit complicated when you want to count different types of objects or whenever you want to express yourself correctly. Memorizing Japanese counters can be frustrating because there are so many of them and it can be confusing to know when to use each one precisely. Not to mention, in Japan, Kanji is more preferable in writing numbers, which might probably take your eyes and brains much more time to get used to it. 

So, do you find counting in Japanese is too complicated to understand and use? Or, are you looking for some helpful tips to help make your daily conversation that involves Japanese counting more understandable? You have come to the right place. With this article, let us help you gain an overview of the most commonly used Japanese counters and Japanese expressions with numbers. Also, there are many handy tips provided that we believe will ease your concerns in daily life and work in Japan. Let's take a look and become educated with us! 

This article is a part of our series of articles on Self-studying Japanese

Please note that we will mostly include the reading by Hiragana and Katakana in this article instead of Romaji, so it would be great if you have already mastered these two Japanese alphabets. If not, you can check out our Guide to Hiragana and Katakana. We are happy to help and hope you enjoy your learning journey!

Learn Japanese for Free

Our newsletter for beginner to low intermediate Japanese students will get you on the right track to learning Japanese and saving money.

Japanese Speaking
Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents
    Counting in Japanese_overview

    Counting in Japanese: An overview

    Why is learning how to count in Japanese necessary?

    Like any other languages, learning how to count is fundamental. In Japanese, it is not only about knowing how numbers are pronounced but also about knowing how they are written because of its unique writing system. Be sure to memorize how to write those basic words! It will be your gateway into learning how to count in Japanese.

    In Japanese, counter words (助数詞・じょすうし・josushi) are the measure words used depending on the objects, actions and events we are counting. To some extent, they are used in the same way as a bag of sugar, a bar of candy, a pinch of pepper, or a packet of ketchup in English. Consider the word 猫 (ねこ・neko), in Japanese, it could have several meanings, but in English cat can refer to, a cat, the cats, some cats, or cats in general. Therefore, counters are applied to indicate how many while clearing up the ambiguity.

    To make it clear, Japanese people would say:
    2匹の猫 (にひきのねこ ・Nihiki no neko) literally this means two cats. 匹 (ひき・Hiki) here is the counter for small animals but not all cats are counted using Hiki.

    If you just said something like 2猫 (ni neko) or 2の猫 (ni no neko), this might mean like 2’s cat, 2’s cats, the second cats, or (what you intended to say) 2 cats. Indeed, 猫 already has its potential meanings, but in Japanese, the degrees of specificity implied based on different contexts are not immediately built by using articles and plural forms like English.

    Without counters, Japanese people might still understand what you mean. Nevertheless, it is a better idea to learn how to express what you want correctly. Even if you do not know which one to use, you still can make a friendlier impression on others through asking, which indirectly shows that you care and respect their language culture.

    Why does Japanese have so many types of counters?

    Along with the history and the extensive adoption of Chinese words to constitute the Japanese language as we know today, Japanese counters were also influenced by the Chinese’s. Japanese counters are also piled up by Japanese people’s particular mindset and creativity.   

    Modern Japanese is a mix of three different sources. Many words derived from the original Japanese language, which is called Wago (和語・わご) or Yamato-kotoba (大和言葉・やまとことば). Some other words, called Kango (漢語), originate from Chinese, and the rest are foreign words that have slipped into the Japanese language over historical time, call Gairaigo (外来語).  Japanese people use the number names system to indicate their numerals and use their Kanji system, which is the same as the Chinese numerals, to write numbers. Due to these reasons, there are two primary types of pronunciations used to count in Japanese: the Sino-Japanese or Onyomi readings of the Chinese characters and the Japanese Yamato Kotoba used to read Japanese native words or Kunyomi readings. Each counter also has its own Kanji. 

    If you’re struggling to remember all that kanji, you can learn more about Kanji in our 15 Japanese Kanji tips.

    In short, all Japanese nouns must go with a counter to express the quantities because the Japanese language does not have singular and plural morphology. There exist more than 500 counters, though not all of them are commonly used. But don’t worry and stress yourself out! You only need to learn some of the most common ones and memorize the traditional counters as well as basic numbers to apply them in your daily life. We will help you to figure them out. Let’s begin! 

    Group Lesson Student

    Affordable Online and Offline Morning Lessons in Tokyo

    Learn Japanese with us online or offline and make your Japan Switch.

    JapanSwitch Logo - LINEAR - 800 x 287
    • Affordable Japanese Lessons
    • Monthly Contracts
    • No Entrance Fees
    • No Hidden Fees
    • 200+ Students
    • Online or Offline Lessons
    Counting in Japanese_basics to remember

    Counting in Japanese: Some basics to remember

    Counting in Japanese: How to count 1-10

    First of all, knowing how to count from 1 to 10 is the utmost basic step in learning a language. Don’t forget to practice your Kanji writing as well! 




    On Reading


    Kun Reading



    ichi / いち

    Hito (tsu) / ひと・つ


    ni / に

    Futa (tsu) / ふた・つ


    san / さん

    Mit (tsu) / みっ・つ


    shi / し

    yon, yot (tsu) / よん、よっ・つ


    go / ご

    Itsu (tsu) / いつ・つ


    roku / ろく

    Mut (tsu) / むっ・つ


    shichi / しち

    Nana (tsu) / なな・つ


    hachi / はち

    Yat (tsu) / やっ・つ


    ku, kyū / く, きゅう

    Kokono (tsu) / ここの・つ


    / じゅう

    / とお

    Basically, although they look and sound completely different, in modern Japanese, the Wago version is usually used through the first ten numbers and only in special cases. However, we recommend you learn these cases by heart because they are used in a fixed way.  Kango can be used from 1 to... forever in most cases and are more flexible.

    Counting in Japanese: How to count big numbers



    On Reading




    ni-jū / にじゅう



    san-jū / さんじゅう



    shi-jū / しじゅう



    yon-jū/よんじゅう (more common)



    go-jū / ごじゅう



    roku-jū / ろくじゅう



    shichi-jū / しちじゅう



    nana-jū/ななじゅう (more common)

    In short, the multiples of ten (20 to 90) are simply the combinations of one number (from 2 to 9) and 10. For examples: 20 (にじゅう) is 2 (に) combined with 10 (じゅう) and 50 (ごじゅう) is 5 (ご) combined with 10 (じゅう). 

    From 10 to 19, 20 to 29, 30 to 39, 40 to 49 and on, you only need to combine numbers to make bigger ones and read them in Kango.  For instance: 10 (じゅう)and 1 (いち) would make 11 (じゅういち), 30 (さんじゅう) and 5 (ご)  would make 35 (さんじゅうご) or 70 (しちじゅう/ななじゅう) and 8(はち) would make 78 (しちじゅうはち/ななじゅうはち).

    Counting above 99 in Japanese might get a little bit complicated. The same as English, the unit’s name changes with each decimal. However, Japanese uses a new word on every fourth exponent on a base of 10, whereas English does every third exponent instead. 



    On Reading




    hyaku / ひゃく



    sen / せん


    1,0000 (Japanese)

    10,000 (English)

    man / まん

    Ten thousand

    1,0000,0000 (Japanese)

    100,000,000 (English)

    ichioku / いちおく


    1,0000,0000,0000 (Japanese)

    1,000,000,000,000 (English)

    icchō /いっ ちょう


    1,0000,0000,0000,0000 (Japanese) 10,000,000,000,000,000 (English)

    ikkyo / いっきょう


    In general, there are a few counting rules for big numbers that are worth remembering. 

    • 四十,四百, 四千 and 四万 are always read with よん for 4 
    • 七十,七百, 七千 and 七万 are always read with なな for 7
    • 九十,九百, 九千, and 九万 are always read with きゅう for 9. 
    • When a 0 appears in the number, you normally don't have to read it out loud. For instance "503" would be ごひゃくさん, not ごひゃくれいさん or ごひゃくゼロさん.

    Be careful to remember phonetic modifications when reading numbers. Look at the chart below to see the different phonetic modifications for numbers. 


    百 (ひゃく)

    千 (せん)

    兆 (ちょう)
























    You might find it challenging to understand the Japanese numeral system, especially when reading a long number because it differs from country to country. We recommend you not to overthink or feel nervous when you see a very long number. Keep in mind to break them into groups of four and add basic rules to them. 

    For example, if you meet a number like 108,758,000,090,000円, you can get rid of like this:

    Break them into groups of 4: 

           108, 7580, 0009, 0000


    → 108兆7580億9万 (ひゃくはっちょう ななせんごひゃくはちじゅうおく きゅうまん)

    You can check out this article for more examples and to learn How to count all Japanese numbers.

    2 Ebooks to Jump Start your Japanese

    Subscribe to our newsletter to get bi-weekly study tips, advice and stories on how YOU can improve your Japanese.

    10 Ways to kickstart your japanese studies

    How to say time, months, date + exceptions

    Hours, minutes + exceptions

    This following table provides all-you-need-to-know about how to express time in Japanese. Be careful with some of the phonetic modifications! 

    Hour ~時 (~じ)

    Minute ~分


    一時 (いちじ)


    一分 (いっぷん)


    二時 (にじ)


    二分 (にふん) 


    三時 (さんじ)


    三分 (さんふん)


    四時 (よじ)


    四分 (よんぷん)


    五時 (ごじ)


    五分 (ごふん)


    六時 (ろくじ)


    六分 (ろっぷん)


    七時 (しちじ)


    七分 (ななふん)


    八時 (はちじ)


    八分 (はっぷん)


    九時 (くじ)


    九分 (きゅうふん)


    十時 (じゅうじ)


    十分 (じゅっぷん、じっぷん)


    十一時 (じゅういちじ)


    十五分 (じゅうごふん)


    十二時 (じゅうにじ)


    三十分・半 (さんじゅっぷん、さんじっぷん、はん)


    何時 (なんじ)


    何分 (なんぷん)

    There are two special cases that you should note down: 4 o’clock is always read よじ and 9 o’clock is always くじ.

    Now that you know how to express time in Japanese. Let's try asking what time it is.

       Q:  今、何時ですか。(いまなんじですか。)(What time is it?). 

    In some cases, the question might be: 今、何時何分ですか。(いま、なんじなんぷんですか。)

    A: 四時半です。(よじはんです。)(It's half past four)

    At its core, 分 is technically a unit for minutes, and 時 is translated to "o'clock" as in "four o'clock" in English. Also, you can use the words 午前 (ごぜん) for a.m. and 午後 (ごご) for p.m. by putting them right before the hour.

    Ex: 午後4時にテレビを見ます。(I will watch television at 4 p.m)

    Another related counter is the word 時間, which literally means "time". This counter is used to refer to the number of hours or the amount of time in hours, as in "three hours" or "twenty-four hours." When 時間 is used, it means someone is talking about a certain interval of time in hours. All you need to do is to replace 時 with 時間. 

    Ex: 二時間後に会いましょう。(Let's meet up in two hours.)

    For a more detailed explanation, take a look at the article Counting time and hours.

    Months, dates + exceptions

    To say months, you only need to add a number between 1 to 12 before the counter ~月 (がつ)

    Ex: February: にがつ(2月)、December: じゅういちがつ (12月)

    Please note that 4月 is always read しがつ、7月 is しちがつ and 9月 is くがつ.

    For days, it is more complicated and you need to remember these following special cases:

    Days ~日


    一日 (ついたち)


    二日 (ふつか)


    三日 (みっか)


    四日  (よっか)


    五日 (いつか)


    六日 (むいか)


    七日 (なのか)


    八日 (ようか)


    九日 (ここのか)


    十日 (とおか)


    十一日 (じゅういちにち)


    十四日 (じゅうよっか)


    十九日 (じゅうくにち)


    二十四日 (にじゅうよっか)


    二十九日 (にじゅうくにち)

    Apart from the numbers provided above, to say day, you only need to add a number before 日 (にち), such as じゅうさんにち (13th)、にじゅうろくにち (26th).

    To ask for day, people usually say: 何日ですか or 何月何日ですか。 

    Ex: 明日は何日ですか。(What day is tomorrow?)


    You can also find more useful information on Counting days.

    Counting in Japanese_ How to say ages-LAPTOP-N2JO6UID

    How to say ages + exceptions

    The 歳 (さい) counter is used to count and say age. It is used for people, animals, and even more. There is another (simpler) kanji for the same thing, which is 才 (also read さい). Technically they both make sense, but 歳 is more commonly used. 



    一歳 (いっさい)


    二歳 (にさい)


    三歳 (さんさい)


    四歳 (よんさい)


    五歳 (ごさい)


    六歳 (ろくさい)


    七歳 (ななさい)


    八歳 (はっさい)


    九歳 (きゅうさい)


    十歳 (じゅっさい、じっさい)


    二十歳 (はたち)




    This table includes basic readings of how to express age in Japanese. To express any other age, simply add a number before 歳 (さい). 

    Ex: A Japanese friend may ask you: おいくつですか。

    Your answer might be: 二十一歳です。(にじゅういっさいです。)(I am 21 years old) 

    In fact, asking for ages might be considered impolite and should be avoided. Still, learning this counter is necessary for your self-introduction or 自己紹介(じこしょうかい・Jikoshokai) in Japanese. 

    You can find more details at Ages in Japanese

    Counting in Japanese: How to use them in sentences

    In order to apply numerals and counters into sentences, you need to carefully follow the rules of word order. Remember these orders and you can apply it to nearly every case. 

    • Numeral + Counter + の + Noun + others (verbs)

    Ex: 私は3冊の本を買いました。(I bought three books.)

    In this order, the numerals and counters have been included to become a part of the noun. 

    •  Noun + Particle + Numeral + Counter + others (verbs)

    Ex: 私は本を3冊買いました。(I bought three books)

    With this order, numerals and counters are always placed after particles and they only work to specify the amount. 

    You can find more on How to express Japanese numerals in a sentence. 

    Counting in Japanese_must-known counters

    Counting in Japanese: Some must-know Japanese counters

    Japanese counters for people

    The kanji 人 (にん)is used to count people. Japanese people also use this counter to count things they treat like people, such as fairies or elves. You only need to add a number in front of 人 and read as にん.

    Ex: 教室には5人がいます。(きょうしつにはごにんがいます。)(There are 5 people in the classroom) 

    However, there are a few exceptions. When expressing 'one person' or 'two people,' you use a different rule:

    一人: ひとり (a person)

    二人: ふたり (two people)

    Apart from that, If you want to go deeper, you can visit Counting people.

    The most basic and easy-to-remember Japanese Counters for Objects

    These two counters can be used to count almost anything and are the most commonly used in restaurants, convenience stores, etc. 


    Things in common

    *This counter does not have a kanji.

    Small objects  ~個 (こ)

     Ex: fruits, erasers, clips, etc. 

































    何個? (なんこ?)

    Ex: りんごが7個 (ななこ)/ななつ あります。(There are seven apples.)

    Japanese counters for Long Objects, Mechanical Objects and Flat Objects


    Long Objects (~本)

    Ex: Pens, folding fans, eels, tails, nail clippers, etc.

    Mechanical Objects (~台)

    Ex: beds, tables, couches, harps, pianos, cellos, cars, etc.

    Flat Objects


    Ex:  paper, photos, rafts, shells, cards, T-shirts, plastic bags, etc.










































    何本? (なんぼん)



    Japanese counters for animals


    This counter is used to count small or medium-sized animals such as fishes, birds, dogs, cats, rabbits, shellfish, etc. Be careful with 1 (いっぴき), 6 (ろっぴき), 8(はっぴき)  and 10 (じゅっぴき、じっぴき).

    Ex: この池には3匹のカメがいます。(このいけにはさんびきのかねがいます)

    (There are three turtles in this pond.)


    This counter is used for large-sized animals such as: cows, horses, elephants, etc. With this one, you only need to take note 1頭 (いっとう), 10頭 (じゅっとう、じっとう)

    Ex: 象が2頭見えます。(ぞうがにとうみえます。)

    (I saw two elephants.)

    Other common Japanese counters

    ~階 (かい)

    This is the counter for the building floor. It is a little bit unique in Japan so you may find this numeral note helpful: 

    一階 (いっかい)、三階 (さんがい)、六階 (ろっかい)、十階 (じゅっかいじっかい)

    百階 (ひゃっかい)、B1:地下一階 (ちかいっかい)B2: 地下二階(ちかにかい)


    Japanese people use this counter to count clothes, usually are coats, cloaks, kimono, suits, dresses, jackets, etc. 一着 (いっちゃく), 八着 (はっちゃく) and 十着 (じゅっちゃく、じっちゃく) are the cases worth remembering. 

    Ex: 彼はコートを4着持っています。(かれはコートをよんちゃくもっています。)

    (He has four coats.)


    This counter is used to show one’s order, turn or rank. It usually goes with 目 (め): 一番目, 二番目, etc. to show the first, second and son on of something.  There are no special modifications with this counter. 

    Ex: マミさんの成績はクラスで2番です。(マミさんのせいせきはクラスでにばんです。)

    (Mami got second place test results in the class.)

    You can find more than 350 useful Japanese counters.

    Ready to Learn Japanese?

    Numbers in Japanese - Interesting to know

    Japanese wordplay

    As you may know, Japanese words can be read in several ways to have different meanings and different levels of nuances. Japanese people use their several spellings and pronunciations to create a humorous effect that is called Japanese wordplay or Goroawase (語呂合わせ). They combine homophonous words with a given series of letters, numbers or symbols to make a new meaning. Sometimes, they are like puns, and sometimes they are purely created to help remember things better. 

    Try learning some Goroawase, it can better your understanding of Japanese culture and language.

    Or, You can take it as a secret code for yourself. Here are some examples for you:

    • 090 can be read as Okusan (奥さん), meaning ‘wife’. It is used in phone numbers for women or other items used by ladies. 
    • 39 can be read as Sankyu, meaning ‘thank you’. 
    • 135 can be read as Himitsu (秘密), meaning ‘secret’. 

    You can refer to this Goroawase article for more interesting phrases. 

    Interesting Japanese expressions contain numbers

    The same as Chinese, Japanese can utilize their unique Kanji to make a new order and meaning of words to express themselves in several ways. Let’s take a look at some intriguing ones!

    • 人生、七転び八起きだよ。(じんせい、ななころびやおきだよ。)

    (Life has its ups and downs)

    • 失敗するかもしれないが一か八かやってみます。(しっぱいするかもしれないがいちかばちか やってみます。)

    (I may fail but I will take a chance and try to do it.)

    • 自転車で学校に行けば、交通費はいらないし健康にもいいから一石二鳥だ。(じてんしゃでがっこうにいけば、こうつうひはいらないしけんこうにいいからいっせきにちょうだ。)

    (If I go to school by bike, I won’t need to pay transportation fees and it is good for my health. So it’s killing two birds with one stone.)

    If you are interested and want to learn more, you can visit the website of Maggie Sensei.  

    There is no 0 in Japanese

    Did you know that Japan didn't primarily have an expression for 0? The Kango words for 0 is れい (零)which is borrowed from Chinese. It can also be written as ゼロ, due to the Western influence. Not until the Meiji period (1868–1912) was the English word for 0 imported to Japan, and became more commonly used nowadays.

    Counting in Japanese: Mistakes should be avoided

    Be careful with  四/4, 九/9, and 七/7

    The Kango word for 4 is し, which sounds just like 死, meaning "death."  and 九 originally can be read as く, sounds the same as 苦, which means "suffering." Japanese people thought that they are unlucky readings and have made alternative versions for 4 and 9 to avoid negative associations. [Interestingly, businesses will avoid renting office space on the fourth floor as it is believed to be bad luck!]

    For 7, なな is more prefer using instead of しち which sounds too much like the number 1( いち) or even し. This is similar to the potential confusion in English between the pronunciation of "50" and "15.

    When reading phone number or address number

    In Japanese, No (の) is often used to read a hyphen when reading phone numbers, address numbers and so on. You can either use the No or simply pause instead as the same in English. However, in some cases, it may bother others or if a Japanese is telling you his/her phone number, you might not get the meaning. 

    Ex: 0797-38-5432.

    It is better to not read as rei, nana, kyu, nana then pause a little bit, san, hachi, pause again, go, yon, san, ni, but add no among the numbers like rei-nana-kyu-nana no san-hachi no go-yon-san-ni.

    Counting in Japanese_tips to learn

    Tips to learn Counting in Japanese

    Remember the basics

    As we stated several times in this article, it is crucial to know how to count in Japanese, and there are some must-remember basics. Although it seems complicated and overwhelming, it still has grammatical rules to avoid confusion. Don’t let the amount of counters frighten you at the first stare! In most cases, you only need to follow the form numeral + counter and be sure that you read numbers in their proper pronunciation. By keeping in mind the fundamental elements, you might find it easier to excel in Japanese counting. You can always re-check the previous section of this article, "Counting in Japanese: Some Basic Things to Remember," for a refresher course. 

    Be careful with phonetic modifications

    In this guide, you have learned the basics of how to count and how to count different objects, animals and people by using counter words. Along the way, you have encountered a number of different phonetic modifications for each counter. Typically, the modification occurs in number 3, 6, 8 and 10 following with a counter of the さ、か or ぱ. However, the modifications also vary depending on different counters and hard to make a guess. We recommend looking it up again anytime you are not sure about how to pronounce it correctly.  

    Listen and learn from daily life

    This is very important because it will broaden your mind and be more practical. Sometimes, you might come across a new counter word on the seal of a bento or instant food at supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants, etc. Or, you can listen and learn from Japanese people that you meet in daily life. You can always repeat the counter they used to ask you as a way to practise yourself.

    For example, when you are going to an Izakaya and order skewers of Yakitori, you might hear people use the counter 本 (ほん). At the supermarket, you will use 枚 (まい) to ask for extra plastic bags, and so on.

    When you don’t know which type of counter to use, you can use ko (~個) and tsu (~つ)

    In a situation when you are unable to express the number of a particular object or not confident with the counters you know, you can use the counter ~つ or こ (~個) instead. People will always understand you, but in most cases, they will reply to you with the right appropriate counting word. As we just mentioned, it is great to listen and learn from them immediately so that you will be able to make it perfect next time. It also helps you to make a great impression on others as well. 

    ~つ) and こ (~個) must be very convenient counters that can quantify many nouns without help. Nevertheless, it is not a good idea to overuse them or rely too much on them because some nouns, including nouns for people and animals, must go with proper counters. 

    Ask your Japanese friends

    It will be great if you have some Japanese friends to support you with your Japanese learning. Counting Japanese is a hard topic, even for Japanese people, we must say. However, they always can help you with the most commonly used ones. Besides, Japanese counters were born based on how Japanese people view their daily life. So, it is a good idea to understand what they actually think and categorize objects into different counters. This not only is helpful to your learning Counting Japanese but leverages your Japanese conversation skills. 

    If you want to have more Japanese friends, you should go through our article on How to make Japanese friends. 


    Practice makes perfect! Learning any new thing is never an easy journey. Without practice, you might find it much more difficult to remember and apply into use. We recommend you utilize what you learned and try to speak or repeat it from time to times. Moreover, learning Kanji is so important that without it, you might have trouble reading the most basic words in Japan. So, be sure to split time to take care of it! 


    Now, we hope that we have answered any questions that you might have had about counting in Japanese at the first steps. After thoroughly reading this article, we hope that you have gained a better understanding of the Japanese counting system and that you have gained some useful study tips to help you on your journey to learning Japanese. Good luck with your studies!

    If you want to know more about Japanese, check out our blog homepage. We have several articles to help you out with your Japanese learning journey.


    From Beginner to Pro

    Our bi-weekly emails for beginners to low intermediate students will give you the tips and motivation to self-study Japanese your way to Japanese fluency.

    JapanSwitch Logo - LINEAR - 800 x 287

    Master Japanese Bi-Weekly Newsletter

    Japan Switch

    Japan Switch provides affordable morning and noon Japanese lessons in Tokyo. Centrally located, relaxed environment and quality textbooks. Japan Switch is your alternative option to a Japanese language school in Tokyo.


    Opening Days : Monday - Friday


    Shinjuku Branch : Opening Hours

    9:30 - 1:30 PM - Group & Private Lessons

    2:00 - 5:00 PM - Private Lessons


    Online Branch : Opening Hours

    9:30 - 1:00 PM - Private Lessons

    Free Level Check and Lesson Consultation

    1650 Yen Offline and Online Group Lessons

    Scroll to Top