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I recently wanted to say "The Japanese counting system does not make sense." However, I could not figure out how to communicate the full meaning of "does not make sense". I don't want to say that it is good, bad, difficult, stupid, weird, etc. I want to express the closest approximation to the abstract meaning of "does not make sense".

I found "理{り}にかなう" in a dictionary. I've never even heard「理」used all by itself. I've only heard it in words such as 「理屈」 and 「理由」. So, I'm not so sure that that phrase is a natural thing to blurt out in a conversation.

  • Is 「理にかなう」 actually a natural thing to say in daily conversation? Does it have the meaning I want?
  • The phrase "makes sense" can be used in many contexts, and most of the time it can be talked around using Japanese I somewhat know. But, in the specific case of "The Japanese counting system does not make sense.", how do you capture the nuance?
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You want to say it like it's generally true, and not just "it does not make sense to me"? –  snailboat Jul 12 '14 at 14:58
@snailboat I mean that the counting system should not make sense to anyone, even to the Japanese. It is just that many Japanese have never really thought about it. Case in points, sometimes natives cannot agree on which counter to use. The number 4 can be said two different ways. "Zero" is normally gairaigo. 20 years old, 20th of month have non-numerical readings. 第一、一番、一番目. So, just the entire framework "makes no sense" to anyone. –  user312440 Jul 12 '14 at 15:12
Just remembered 7 can be said two different ways as well. And, I am sure there are lots of other parts of the counting framework I don't know and don't make sense. I mean, counting is a fundamental part of communication. It does not "make sense" that the Japanese made a complete train wreck of it. –  user312440 Jul 12 '14 at 15:30
English is a dog's breakfast too, if you think about it -- we say "five, four, three, two, one... fifth, fourth," but "thir d, second, first" -- similarly irregular and illogical. We also have "one fifth, one fourth, one third," but not "one second," which I've heard a native Japanese speaker use in English to accidentally humorous effect. My point -- languages, like many things human and natural, are messy. It's perfectly fine and understandable to be frustrated, but don't be misled into thinking that Japanese is somehow aberrant or special as a result. :) –  Eiríkr Útlendi Jul 12 '14 at 22:52
@EiríkrÚtlendi ok. Point conceded. The English counting framework is a little weak as well. But, I still am not sure how to capture the abstract idea of "does not make sense" in Japanese. –  user312440 Jul 13 '14 at 0:46

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I think the closest approximation is 訳【わけ】が分からない (lit. reason is not understandable).


This is an informal expression, and depending on the context, this can be used to express your subjective, personal confusion (does not make sense to me):


... and to express that something is objectively a mess:


Indeed the first sentence can be interpreted in both ways, and people may ask back to you saying 「自分にとって? それとも一般論として?」

理にかなう, 論理的でない or something like these basically expresses the objective lack of logic:


This says the Japanese counting system is bad and illogical (to anyone).

And ちんぷんかんぷん (noun) is sometimes used, focusing on subjective understanding of the speaker (It's all Greek to me):


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Phrases such as "ちんぷんかんぷん" are very useful to me. Thanks for mentioning it as well. –  user312440 Jul 13 '14 at 14:35

I think the best advice here is to suggest you consider what you really mean and if there is a different way of saying it with the Japanese you have learnt.

At the moment, based on your question, it sounds like you want to say "the Japanese counting system is not logical" (which is what we mean by "making sense"). This is quite easy:

Literally: "Japan's way of counting is not logical."
Rephrased: "The Japanese way of counting is not logical"
=> "The Japanese counting system does not make sense."

However, this is not a fair statement: As in English, there are several counting systems, they may serve different purposes but, as far as I know, they are based on logic, otherwise they would not be used.

Also, if you said this, you might not get a good reaction. It comes over in a similar way to the statement "The English language does not make sense."

What do you really want to say and what kind of response are you looking for?:

~ does not make sense to me.
~ is confusing.
I don't understand ~
~ unnecessarily complicated.
~ is stupid and does not make sense.

Do you want someone to explain something or just empathise with the challenge of learning how to count in Japanese? If you can answer this question clearly then it should be easy to answer your question.

Note on 理にかなう

You identified this as a candidate expression. My プログレシブ〜辞典 tells me that:

logicalが「論理的思考」を意味するのに対し, reasonableは「理にかなった思考」を意味する.

As your own comments suggest, I suspect this expression is quite "堅い" and would be used when coming to a favourable conclusion in a matter or academic/legal judgement. Unless you have a well thought out thesis to present, this expression may not fit your need but, as I said, you need to be clear what you want to say and what response you are seeking.

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Now that I think about it, when there are so many exceptions in the rules of a framework that the framework stops being a framework, I have the though "this does not make sense". So, it is a personal opinion. –  user312440 Jul 13 '14 at 14:56
As you said, "理にかなう" is too 堅い for a conversation。"The counting system is illogical." might make me sound like Lieutenant Commander Spock. –  user312440 Jul 13 '14 at 14:59

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