Things WaniKani doesn't teach you #4: How to count dead squid, wind, and more

WaniKani teaches a lot of counter words. Sometimes we hear complaints of too much counting.

Well, suck it up, because here comes some more.

I picked some weird things for the examples at times, but the explanations let you know when there are actually more general applications as well.

This is not exhaustive, because counting is an immensely deep area of Japanese.

Anyway, let’s get to it.

What we’re counting: dead squid
What you use: 杯 (はい) Main WK meaning: cup of liquid
Why it’s used: So, basically if a squid is alive and well, it’s counted with 匹 (ひき) like most small animals. But when you kill one, take everything out of the insides, and look at what you’re left with… I guess it looks like you could fill it with liquid? WK does teach the reading for this way of counting for other words, so I won’t reiterate it here.

What we’re counting: rabbits
What you use: 羽 (わ) Main WK meaning: feather
Why it’s used: So, this is actually most often used to count birds. I’m a little surprised WK didn’t teach that. And feel free to use it to count those, since that’s a common animal category. But why would it be used to count rabbits? There are a couple explanations, though I’m not sure what the level of validity is for any particular one. One says that monks who were not allowed to eat most animals, but were allowed to eat birds, counted rabbits with the bird counter as a justification for eating them. Another is that the ears kind of resemble wings? Not much solid ground to stand on here. It’s also acceptable to count rabbits with 匹, but that’s no fun, is it?
一羽 (いちわ)
二羽 (にわ)
三羽 (さんわ)

What we’re counting: sets of clothing
What you use: 着 (ちゃく) Main WK meaning: wear
Why it’s used: It means wear. You wear clothes. Case closed, I think. Things like suits and pajamas and more are included in this category.
一着 (いっちゃく)
二着 (にちゃく)
三着 (さんちゃく)

What we’re counting: sets of coffee cups and saucers
What you use: 客 (きゃく) Main WK meaning: guest
Why it’s used: It’s used to count things that are meant to be used by guests or customers. Other things that can be counted the same way include bowls 茶椀 (ちゃわん) and sake bottles 徳利 (とっくり).
一客 (いっきゃく)
二客 (にきゃく)
三客 (さんきゃく)

What we’re counting: levels in old school video games (like NES)
What you use: 面 (めん) Main WK meaning: face
Why it’s used: It can be used to count long, flat object generally, including mirrors and coastlines, and I guess this is what gamers back then felt was the appropriate word. Now it’s fallen out of use with regard to games. Generic counters (つ, 個) or just the word ステージ are common now.
一面 (いちめん)
二面 (にめん)
三面 (さんめん)

What we’re counting: gods
What you use: 柱 (はしら) Main WK meaning: pillar
Why it’s used: Gods were often thought to reside in trees.
一柱 (ひとはしら)
二柱 (ふたはしら)
三柱 (みはしら)

What we’re counting: planetariums
What you use: 基 (き) Main WK meaning: foundation
Why it’s used: This is used to count things that are solidly installed and meant to not move, more commonly for things like stone lanterns, gravestones, or even jungle gyms. In this case, the word “planetarium” is referring to the actual device, not the building where it’s installed.
一基 (いっき)
二基 (にき)
三基 (さんき)

What we’re counting: wind
What you use: 陣 (じん) Main WK meaning: army base
Why it’s used: I know this one probably feels like it’s coming completely out of left field. Why are we even counting wind anyway? And what do army bases have to do with wind? Well, actually the meaning that is used here is “sudden,” not “army base.” This meaning can be seen in the words for contractions, you know those things that push babies out, 陣痛 (じんつう) and gales 陣風 (じんぷう). But, it’s only used for counting in one expression, 一陣の風 (いちじんのかぜ) “a wind.” So you never talk about more than one. But that’s how you count to one for wind.

Previous installments:
#1: 空 (そら) as a prefix
#2: the ほつ reading of 発
#3: A ton of verbs from level 1-10 kanji


WaniKani may not teach this, but Tofugu sure does. :slightly_smiling_face:


Oh yeah, I figure most people know some of the top ones, but I think the lower ones are less well known. They don’t have gods or wind, from what I can see :slight_smile:


Leebo laying down the real talk. :joy:

I love how random these feel. Levels in old school video games? Of all the things to have a counter.

Yeah, I hate simplifying… looks at list of counters and sweats

Thanks for sharing - I had a nice chuckle at these.


Very informative, as always!

There is a typo (probably) in ‘Gods were often though to reside in trees.’

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Or planetariums. Planetaria?

Though how often you’d need to count more than one is beyond me. :stuck_out_tongue:is on the list, mind.


Do you know how to count tornadoes?

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I do not. If someone made me guess, it’d be 一本 or something, but perhaps it’s more interesting if you’re asking?

I don’t know either; that’s why I’m asking. I wondered if it was something you actually could use the wind counter for.

Skimming through wikipedia, I only see this: 合計4個の竜巻. Which is not very interesting…


It’s not on the super thorough counting website I used for this, and my girlfriend just said 一つ, 二つ, 三つ off the top of her head.

The wind thing is less of an actual counter and more of a set expression, but I was being a little cheeky including it.


I knew about the squid one (I have it listed from my basic grammar thing as counting cups or bowls full of liquid, and squid, octopodes or crabs for selling rather than alive)… the others… I think if I ever need to count planetarium I’ll just go the basic bitch route.

I actually learned ~頭 for counting large animals before I learned it here as “head” which makes sense. I don’t have anything else to contribute other than Japanese is hard yo.

The English Wikipedia also has a pretty extensive list of counter words. That one doesn’t specifically cover tornadoes either, though. Or typhoons.

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画面 as in screen.
In old school video games, take Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Dig Dug, Galaga imagine starting at level one, the screen is filled you clear it. Then there’s often a little score tally “celebration”, a chance for you to wipe your palms on your jeans. Then the screen 画面 is cleared, or redrawn and you start the next level sometimes with a splash of ceremony and the level number displayed across the center. So I can imagine 画面 getting shortened to just 面 and using that to count the levels in the game.

I didn’t see any mention of that specifically in the discussions of it I saw, but I guess it’s plausible, but there are other ways you can think of stages as long and flat as well.

How would one count the amount of frozen lobsters in the freezer?

You might enjoy this book all about counters. It’s my girlfriend’s and alas I can’t read most of the explanatory paragraphs, but even I get a lot of mileage out of the illustrations.



How aboutステージ_(コンピュータゲーム)#日本の「面」と「ステージ」

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An addition:

In Kiki’s Delivery Service, there’s this line:



In a narrow valley, a small village could be seen, and a couple of wisps of smoke trailed out of its chimneys.

Jisho says:

一筋 (ひとすじ)
Alternate writings: 一すじ (ひとすじ), 一条 (ひとすじ)

  • One long straight object (e.g. strand of hair, beam of light, wisp of smoke).

It’s counted as ひとすじ, ふたすじ, みすじ, よすじ, いつすじ and after that goes back to the onyomi counting, I guess. :slight_smile:


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