In the US, there isn't really a standard way of counting from 1 to 5 on your fingers - numbering the fingers starting with 1 = thumb through 5 = little finger, some people will raise their fingers in the order 1-2-3-4-5; others will go 5-4-3-2-1; still others will go 2-3-4-5-1.

Now, my question: how do people count on their fingers in Japan? I vaguely remember learning that this is more standardized in Japan, but I've forgotten the details.

(I know this isn't a question strictly about the Japanese language, but I would imagine that this is the sort of non-verbal communication that native speakers learn in tandem with the language, so it's kind of tied to it.)


It depends on whether you are counting to yourself or displaying for others.

To count with your fingers for others to see, raise your hand and face your palm outward. Holding no fingers up in this position (a fist) is zero. Extending your index finger indicates one, and extending the other fingers (in addition to the ones already up) going towards the pinky indicates the numbers 2-4. Finally, extending the thumb outward, so that all five fingers are up, is the number five. The other hand is added for numbers above five. (This is, I think, the 2-3-4-5-1 method you mentioned.)

To count for yourself, you do almost the opposite. Zero is actually an open hand, that is, all five fingers are extended. To count 1, fold in your thumb, and fold in fingers going toward the pinky to count further. To count six through ten, do it in reverse order- extending out the pinky is six, and so on. (This means that there are some ambiguities between 0-4 and 6-10, but since you are on your own this isn't usually a problem.)

  • Do you really show "three" with fingers 2-3-4? Not 1-2-3 and then switch to 2-3-4-5 for "four"? Just curious. – macraf Sep 8 '15 at 10:17

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