Counters “count” things. English doesn’t have counters. We just say the number to count objects, people, animals, e.g. “four people”, “four books”, “four cars”—it’s all really quite simple. Unfortunately, Japanese is a little awkward here. Welcome to the world of the counter. What makes counters awkward is that the counter word changes depending on the thing you’re counting, e.g. a long object, a person, a sheet of paper, a dog. Here are the most common counters with the objects they count.

Kanji Hiragana English
ほん Long, thin objects, e.g. a pen, a bottle
だい Large objects, e.g. a car, a bicycle
まい Flat, thin objects, e.g. a sheet of paper
さつ Books, magazines, etc.
びき Animals
にん People
かい Times, e.g. I’ve been here three times before
Time, e.g. I passed the test on the third attempt
かい Floors in a building
Small objects, e.g. an apple
はい Glasses, e.g. three glasses of beer

And, as we saw earlier when the number system was introduced, the pronunciation of the counter can change depending on the number that precedes it.

Kanji Hiragana
一本 っぽ
二本 にほん
三本 さん
四本 よんほん
五本 ごほん
六本 っぽ
七本 ななほん
八本 っぽ
九本 きゅうほん
十本 じゅっぽ

There is one notable exception where the correct reading is entirely different.

Kanji Hiragana English
一人 ひとり One person
二人 ふたり Two person

Natural use of these counters takes a bit of time. Fortunately, in the meantime, there is a generic counter which has you covered in most cases.

Kanji Hiragana
一つ ひとつ
二つ ふたつ
三つ みっつ
四つ よっつ
五つ いつつ
六つ むいつ
七つ ななつ
八つ やっつ
九つ ここのつ

Time

When we tell the time we are “counting” the hours, so times have there own counters as well (second, minutes, hours, days, etc.).

Kanji Hiragana English
びょう Second
ふん Minute
Hour
にち Day
しゅう Week
げつ Month
ねん Year
943ふん
9:43

Days of the Week

Days each get their own name like in English.

Kanji Hiragana English
月曜日 げつ・よう・び Monday
火曜日 か・よう・び Tuesday
水曜日 すい・よう・び Wednesday
木曜日 もく・よう・び Thursday
金曜日 きん・よう・び Friday
土曜日 ど・よう・び Saturday
日曜日 にち・よう・び Sunday

Months

Months don’t get such special naming treatment and are signified only by a number. Just note that September is く not きゅう.

Kanji Hiragana English
九月 く・がつ September

Dates

Dates (e.g. 15th) take the counter にち; however, for 1-10th, 14th, 20th, and 24th of the month the pronunciation is irregular.

Kanji Hiragana
1日 ついたち
2日 ふつか
3日 みっか
4日 よっか
5日 いつか
6日 むいか
7日 なのか
8日 ようか
9日 ここのか
10日 とおか
14日 じゅうよっか
20日 はつか
24日 にじゅうよっか

When writing the date in full the order is YEAR MONTH DAY.

2015ねん10がつ19にち
19 October, 2015

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