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I'm just curious at the appearance of 「口」 that makes this word mean "population". Why should it be 「口」 as opposed to any other body part or anything else? Is there a definitive reason or story associated with this word? If 「口」 is used as a counter then why couldn't 「個」 replace it? If I'm not mistaken doesn't 「個」 refer to individuals more so than 「口」?

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As Dono writes, how many people (or soldiers) a lord can feed was a major measure for his power. In feudal Japan, the power of a lord was measured by how many 石{こく} of rice can be grown in the territory. 1石 is the amount of rice that can feed (and hence, can hire) one soldier for one year, as it is equivalent to 1000合{ごう}, where 1合 is the standard amount of rice for one meal, and assuming three meals per day, 1000 approximates to a little less than the days of a year times three. –  sawa Jun 28 '12 at 1:58
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I always wondered this too :) –  silvermaple Jun 28 '12 at 3:22
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up vote 11 down vote accepted

In old Chinese--where Japan borrowed the term--口 was a counter for people. More specifically, it referred to the number of people needing food. English has this construction too: the number of "mouths" (=people) to feed.

As for 個, it generally refers to individual non-animate items.

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As for 個, I must have mistakenly interpreted "individual" in the sense of a "person". –  Chris Harris Jun 28 '12 at 0:26
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