The word 面 (めん) means “face,” “mask,” or “surface,” and the Japanese counter 面 is usually used to count masks, surfaces, and things that have a surface. And thanks to one of the meanings expanding, you can even count the stages of games with it.
Before learning all about 面, please take a quick look at the table below to make sure you’ve got the pronunciation right. (Or if this is your first time learning about counters, check out our beginner’s guide.)
Pronunciation of the Japanese Counter 面
面 has an m- sound, so none of the pronunciations change when you add numbers before it. Watch out, though: four, seven, and nine can be read with the original kango number readings し, しち and く.
It’s also important to remember that some words that use 四面, like 四面体 (しめんたい), which means tetrahedron, or 四面楚歌 (しめんそか), which means being surrounded by enemies, always use the reading し.
How to Use the Counter 面
面 is used to count masks, surfaces, things with surfaces, and game stages. Surfaces include things like those on a cube or some other geometric shape, but what about “things with surfaces?” And what are game stages? Read on to find your precious answers.
Surfaces of a Polyhedron
面 means surfaces, and it can count surfaces of polyhedrons such as triangular pyramids, cubes, quadrangular prisms, frusta, hexahedrons, dodecahedrons, trisoctahedrons, and pentagonal icositetrahedrons. Phew!
- The number of surfaces a cube has is six.
- Someone painted one surface of the pyramid pink.
- As the name suggests, a pentagonal icositetrahedron has twenty-four surfaces.
- What is the total area of the six surfaces of this square frustum?
Even the surfaces of things that are not perfect polyhedrons, but are similar to them, such as tent surfaces, building walls, and room walls, can be counted with 面 too.
- Three surfaces of the tent got muddy.
- The last wall will probably be finished tomorrow.
The kanji 面 means face or mask. There’s some nuance there that implies it’s a surface of your body you show to others.
The kanji 面 means face or mask. There’s some nuance there that implies it’s a surface of your body you show to others. So we know 面 counts masks, but what kind?
It’s usually used for the flat masks that cover all one’s face, like those used for noh or kyōgen plays, or the character masks you can buy at Japanese festivals.
While masks that only cover your nose or eyes and above (like those used for masquerades) can be counted with 面, in daily conversations it’s more common to use 枚 (まい) for these types of masks.
- Five noh masks were on the wall.
- I finished up three kyōgen masks yesterday.
- My husband and I are going to a masquerade, and I’m wondering if you could lend me two of your masks.
- My dad bought me one Tofugu mask and one WaniKani mask at the festival.
What about non-flat masks like respirators, gas masks, death masks, kendo masks (face guards), fencing masks, or baseball catcher masks? They can be counted with 面 as well, though it’s more common to use the general counters つ and 個 (こ).
- Prepare twelve respirators!
- I gifted five kendo masks to Koichi.
- One of the catcher’s masks was stolen!
Although it’s also flat, the medical masks that only cover your mouth are counted with 枚 (まい) as well.
- During hay fever season, I always carry three medical masks.
We count masks that are put over your eyes with 面, and this usage expanded to other things you cover your eyes with, like pairs of binoculars, field glasses, and eventually even opera glasses. That said, it’s more common to use the general Japanese counters つ and 個 (こ), or the counter for machines 台 (だい), with them.
- I got two pairs of binoculars as Christmas presents.
- I want a pair of field glasses.
- There are three pairs of opera glasses in the drawer.
What about pairs of glasses or sunglasses? They are counted with the counter for thin and long things, 本 (ほん).
- I have three pairs of sunglasses.
What about telescopes? A telescope does not cover your entire face (anymore, anyway). Normally you’re just peeking into the lens with one eye, right? So you count this with 台 (だい), 本 (ほん), or if it’s a really big one that had to be installed, you use 基 (き).
- I bought a telescope to observe the stars.
Instruments with Surfaces
The counter 面 can be used to count traditional Japanese instruments that have a good amount of surface area, like taiko (Japanese drums), koto (a long Japanese musical instrument that has thirteen strings, resembling a horizontal harp), or biwa (a four- sometimes five-stringed lute played with a large-sized plectrum, which was introduced from China to Japan in the Nara period), though other counters like 台 (だい), 張 (ちょう), 張り (はり) and 個 (こ) could be used as well.
- Nine taiko drums were lined up.
- There are still two koto left inside.
- After saying that, the man took one biwa out of the box.
Tools with Surfaces
Tools with flat, hard surfaces like mirrors, looking glasses, abacuses, sensu (folding fans), and calligraphy inkstones can be counted with 面, though it’s more common to count them with 枚 (まい) and 個 (こ).
- Koichi unearthed eight bronze mirrors from his yard.
- What about using four looking glasses?
- Three-way mirrors are on sale at Costco.
Things with Massive Surfaces
Things with a massive surface, like large monitors, TV screens, large advertisement boards, digital sign boards, large clocks, and solar panels that are often placed on building walls can be counted with 面, though it’s more common to count them with 台 (だい) and 枚 (まい).
- There are three big-screen TVs at the Tofugu office.
- Four of the twenty solar panels are out of order.
- Two large clocks were installed, one on the front and one on the back of the school building.
- Eight framed certificates were displayed behind Koichi’s desk.
- Three framed paintings have been left out on the floor.
一面 is conventionally the “top” news and 三面 is city news.
面 is also used as the ordinal number suffix of newspaper pages. You can simply use them for each page, but 一面 is conventionally the “top” news and 三面 is city news, so they are used as idioms referring to those types of news, even when they aren’t actually on those pages.
- The Tofugu ad is on the second page of the morning paper.
- The news of Tofugu being listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange was reported on the front page of the newspapers.
- I always start reading at the city news.
Board Game Boards
The boards of traditional board games with smooth surfaces, such as shogi and go, are counted with 面.
- There were two go boards side-by-side on the table.
- I must hold you responsible for the four missing shogi boards.
Surfaces in Sports
Surfaces on which people play sports, such as tennis courts, baseball grounds, playing grounds, soccer fields, stadium fields, hockey rinks, skating rinks, boxing rings, and even swimming pools, are counted with 面.
- I booked two tennis courts on Monday at two.
- My parents own a piece of land as large as three soccer fields.
- I got a ticket that let me use one skating rink for free for an hour.
Since 面 is used to count board game boards and surfaces related to various sports, it has expanded to cover game stages as well. In this case, 面 can either be a counter or an ordinal number suffix.
- This game has eighteen stages in total.
- I could clear the first stage of that zombie game in ten minutes.
- I had a lot of trouble clearing the third stage of _Super Mario_.
You can also count farming fields, rice fields, and other plots of land with 面. The Japanese counter 枚 (まい) is also used for them (they are flat, after all).
- Three rice fields were ruined by the typhoon.
- We finished harvesting from three of the eight fields.
- I’ve got a plot of land over there that hasn’t been used, so you can use it for whatever.
Sides or Aspects
People can have many sides, situations can have many sides—these are figurative sides, of course—but they are sides. Because this usage is idiomatic, its usage is usually limited to just 一面.
- I’m glad I was able to discover an unexpected side to your personality.
- I was only looking at one side of her that time.
- Koichi is multi-faceted: on one side you have the serious face of Tofugu’s company president, and on the other, the joking face of a man who loves puns.
- I think there are too many people who force their one-sided points of view onto others on the Internet.
- Don’t be swayed by just one side of a matter.
- Somehow it ended up being a one-sided argument.
The Entirety of a Large Area
Finally, we have one more figurative side usage for 面: emphasizing that an area is full of something, that something happened in the entire area, or that you’ve looked all around the area.
- I looked everywhere, but I couldn’t find Koichi.
- I found myself surrounded by an ocean of flames.
- A large dragonfly flew off, out from a sea of silver susuki grass.
- Wow! The sky is full of stars.
- There was a large carpet of light pink cherry petals.
- The pond was blanketed with colorful leaves.
End of Side One, Please Flip Tape Over
You’ve completed this side of the Japanese counter series. Please keep flipping through 台, 人, and 時/時間, until you reach the end and become a counter pro! And if this is all new to you, check out the basics of Japanese counters, and then read through our big Japanese counters study list, which covers 350+ counters worth knowing.