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?

1 Answer 1


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, 2017 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, 2017 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, 2017 at 2:14
  • that was very helpful
    – shabunc
    Dec 9, 2017 at 18:23

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