Hell is… Japanese counting systems

In Japanese there is a different counting system for just about everything. Whereas in English the numbers remain the same but the word for the object changes, in Japanese the words for the numbers change (and actually incorporate the word for the object you are counting).

So whilst we would say:
a. two people
b. two pieces of paper
c. two cats
d. two things

In Japanese you would say
a. futari
b. nimai
c. nihikki
d. futatsu

Whilst there is a small bit of logic behind this (mainly you need to know there are two actual numbering systems – the Chinese and the Japanese ones) there are loads of exceptions as the pronunciation is changed depending on… well, what other letters are in there and whether it sounds right.

For example…

One dog = ipikki
Two dogs = nihikki
Three dogs = sanbikki
Four dogs = yonhikki

You would be right in thinking this is a complete bloody nightmare.

The reason I am posting this is because I have just discovered that this kanji: 丁 is the counter for guns, tools, leaves or “cakes of something” (?!). To make things even more confusing, it can also mean street, ward, town, an even number or the 4th calendar sign (presumably of the Chinese zodiac). Don’t believe me? Have a look at the compounds here. I have awarded this symbol the prize for “Most Confusing Kanji”. It didn’t cry during its acceptance speech – I did.

If you are interested in seeing a list of counters, click here, and to see the two counting systems – Chinese and Japanese – have a look here.]

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