Having successfully completed Japanese for Beginners, I’ve moved on to Japanese Level 1, which has kicked up the difficulty a notch or two.
We have been learning a lot of counter words. The way you count digits such as phone numbers (ichi, ni,san…) is not the same as round objects (hitotsu, futatsu, mittsu…) or flat objects (ichimai, nimai, sanmai…) or long objects (ippon, nihon, sanbon…) and so forth. Times, days, weeks, months, hundreds, thousands, ten-thousands… all have different counters with rules (ish) and loads of exceptions. Mayumi Sensei has been teasing us by mentioning strange counters, such as the one for small animals (ippiki, nihiki, sanbiki… I think).
How many can there be, I wondered? Wikipedia has a list of roughly 120 counter words for different objects.
There is one for board game matches and radio and television stations (kyoku) and another for guns, sticks of ink, palanquins, rickshaws and violins (ch?).There is another ch? (same pronunciation, but different kanji – Chinese character) which applies to tools, scissors, saws, trousers, pistols and cakes of tofu, and a third ch? for city blocks.
When I mentioned this to my friend Matt, who lives in Hokkaido, he said:
Don’t worry about those counters, I think people generally only use about five different kinds:
- Hitotsu, futatsu etc for beer, counters you can’t remember
- Hon for slender objects, ie bottles of beer
- Mai for flat objects, ie plates of food to have with beer
- Piki for small animals, ie talking about crush videos while drinking beer
- Nin for people, ie the number of people the waitress must seat to drink beer
- Nen for years, ie the number of years drinking beer in Japan