Me and my fellow coworker have been discussing the article on Japanese counter words and this particular case has caught our attention:

[Pronunciation]はい hai, ぱい pai, ばい bai; [Spelling]杯, [Use] Cups and glasses of drink, spoonsful; cuttlefish, octopuses, crabs, squid, abalone, boats (slang)

My question would be - why such different objects like cups and octopuses logically belong to the same category, what's the etymology behind this particular counter word?


We normally count them, when they are living, 一匹{いっぴき}. When they are fished and have become products, they are called 一杯{いっぱい}. Next article explains:

According to ジャパン・ナリッジ: なぜイカやカニは「1杯(ぱい)」と数える?http://japanknowledge.com/articles/kze/column_kaz_01.html 

One theory explains octopuses and squids classified as shellfish of Mollusca, so they are counted as 一貝{いっぱい}. But they also say another theory is more prominent. That is the body of squids and octopuses looks like an urn, pot or pint glass. That's why we count non-living selling squids for 一杯{いっぱい}. The shell of Abalones and Crabs look like the round shape of the container such as urn, pot, too. For me, calling beer pint glass 一杯{いっぱい}, 二杯{にはい} for drinking, it's imaginable to count octopuses, squids, the shellfishes as 杯{はい}since they look like the shape of beer pint glass.

This article https://macaro-ni.jp/34892 also explains:

We count, when squids become するめ 一枚{いちまい}or sashimi on the plate 一盛{ひともり} or sushi 一貫{いっかん} or fishing two squids 一荷{いっか}at same time or, bundle up 10 quids 一連{いちれん}. For me, these counting is more familiar to me. Probably I don't see the following things so often:



  • Whaaat. Head asplode. I'm vastly amused / horrified / confused that this even exists. Dec 9 '17 at 0:48
  • 2
    Considering your explanation, "when they are fished and have become products", and that this use of squid must involve drying, this gives a whole new meaning to 乾杯! Dec 9 '17 at 0:49
  • 2
    @EiríkrÚtlendi Haha. That's true. In that sense, it' might be a good example for remembering auto-antonym(ex: fast), because drinking with dried squids at the same time!
    – user25382
    Dec 9 '17 at 2:14
  • that was very helpful
    – shabunc
    Dec 9 '17 at 18:23

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