Numbers and Characters
The Japanese number system developed away from the Indo-Arabic system, and thus had no place-holder in the form of a 0 to make it any more simple to a western mind. Things are counted without need of the zero due to the use of their words for factors of 10.
Numbers are easy enough, but there is a system of "counters" used in Japanese which boggle the minds of westerners. Cantonese has them too, but we only use counters for things we find necessary to apply them to, mostly groups of things. "Three prides of Lions", "five pairs of pants". The Japanese use counters for everything!
The Universal Counter
A useful counter is in existence, though, and it can be used for pretty much everything except people and other living things. The downside to this "universal counter" is that it is irregular and must be memorized!
1 hitotsu - ひとつ
2 futatsu - ふたつ
3 mittsu - みっつ
4 yottsu - よっつ
5 itsutsu - いつつ
6 muttsu - むっつ
7 nanatsu - ななつ
8 yattsu - やっつ
9 kokonotsu - ここのつ
10 too - とお
People are semi-irregular counters. One person is hitori, two people are futari, then begins a more regular sequence: sannin (3), yonin (4), gonin (5), etc.
Other counters are rather regular and are simply applied as suffixes to the normal Chinese-descended numbers at the top of the page. These are:
- Mai: (flat things) shirts, paper, monetary bills
- Tou: (large animals) from St. Bernard up (cows, etc.)
- Zen: pairs of chopsticks and ricebowls only
- Satsu: books only
- Dai: (machines) a blender, a T.V., a car
- Wa: slightly irregular, for birds only: 1wa, 2wa, sanba, 4wa, 5wa, roppa, 7wa, 8wa, 9wa, juppa
- Hon: irregular, for long, slender objects such as pens, batons and swords:
- Hiki: (small animals) follows the same consonant-changing scheme as above, ippiki, nihiki, etc.