We’ll cover almost everything there is to know about Japanese numbers and learn how to count them in this article. Even if you’re only visiting a country for a few days, numbers are something you’ll need to know.
Ready? Let’s learn how to count in Japanese!
- 1 Japanese Numbers
- 2 Japanese Counting
- 3 Japanese Numbers 1 – 10
- 4 Japanese Number System
- 5 Things to know about Japanese numbers
- 6 Japanese Counters
- 7 Another Note on Japanese Numbers and Their Usage
All throughout this article, we’ll be teaching you everything you need to know about Japanese numbers. They have both similarities and differences from English numbers. We’ll begin learning the Japanese numbers from 1 – 10 and learn to count or say numbers up to a billion.
Japanese numbers are an essential part of learning the language. There are many daily life activities where numbers are involved.
Want to ask for the price of that weird fruit in the local market? Numbers. Passionately browsing the train schedule for the final train home? Numbers. Looking for the address of the most renowned restaurant in all of the town? Yup, numbers. Usually, just numbers 1-10 can get you by for a short stay— anything more will require a bigger stride.
How to say “numbers” in Japanese?
Before we begin how to count in Japanese, let’s first know the Japanese word “numbers”. There are several words for “numbers”, but the most common is ばんごう (bangou | 番号). It can be pronounced as bangou, which can also mean a series of digits.
Some other terms of numbers in the Japanese language are かず (kazu | 数), this is used when you express a number as a quantity, and すうじ (suuji | 数字) for numerical figures.
Japanese counting will only require you to learn around 30 or more numbers. The only thing you need to get familiar with other than the Japanese counting numbers is when and how to use them.
Japanese Numbers 1 – 10
You can begin learning the Japanese numbers with the numbers 1- 10. However, there are two sets of numbers you need to know as Japanese numbers follow two number systems. They are the Sino-Japanese numbers and the Native Japanese Numbers.
The Japanese numbers 1-10 are as follows according to the two-number system:
- いち (ichi)
- に (ni)
- さん (san)
- し or よ ん (shi or yon)
- ご (go), ろく (roku)
- しち or なな (shichi or nana)
- は ち (hachi)
- く or きゅう (ku or kyū)
- じゅう (jū)
Native Japanese Numbers
- ひとつ (hitotsu)
- ふたつ (futatsu)
- みっつ (mittsu)
- よっつ (yottsu)
- いつつ (itsutsu)
- むっつ (muttsu)
- ななつ (nanatsu)
- やっつ (yattsu)
- ここのつ (kokonotsu)
- とお (tō)
Japanese Number System
The Japanese number system is more complex than meets the eye. Those who have had enough experience with Japanese numbers can attest to all the many forms and rules surrounding them.
Firstly, let’s mention that there are two different number systems in the Japanese language: Sino-Japanese Numbers and Native Japanese Numbers. Both number systems are important for mastering Japanese numbers.
As we explore the many ways to use Japanese numbers, we’ll distinguish between which system is being used and to what extent. Let’s start by highlighting numbers 0-10 for each system:
|1||一||いち (ichi)||ひとつ (hitotsu)|
|2||二||に (ni)||ふたつ (futatsu)|
|3||三||さん (san)||みっつ (mittsu)|
|4||四||し or よ ん (shi or yon)||よっつ (yottsu)|
|5||五||ご (go)||いつつ (itsutsu)|
|6||六||ろく (roku)||むっつ (muttsu)|
|7||七||しち or なな (shichi or nana)||ななつ (nanatsu)|
|8||八||は ち (hachi)||やっつ (yattsu)|
|9||九||く or きゅう (ku or kyū)||ここのつ (kokonotsu)|
|10||十||じゅう (jū)||とお (tō)|
When you learn languages, the first 10 numbers are the most important because they create the foundation for the larger numbers – the faster you learn these 10, the faster you can learn all the rest.
Luckily, for Native Japanese reading, you’ll only need to learn how to count the first 10 numbers. There does exist a complete native counting system, but its use has long since been abandoned.
For the most part, people who speak Japanese in the modern-day use this number system. Also known as on’yomi readings, this system is the adoption of traditional Chinese numerals, which are used for cardinal numbers.
There lies uncertainty as to when Japan almost completely abandoned the Japanese counting system, but recorded use of it dates back to 1936. This is in large part due to Chinese influence on Japanese culture.
Here are the Sino-Japanese numbers from 0-100:
|4||四||し or よ ん||shi or yon|
|7||七||しち or なな||shichi or nana|
|9||九||く or きゅう||ku or kyū|
|14||十四||じゅうし or じゅうよん||jū shi or yon|
|15||十五||じゅう ご||jū go|
|17||十七||じゅうしち or じゅうなな||jū shichi/nana|
|19||十九||じゅうく or じゅうきゅう||jū kyū/ku|
|90||九十||きゅう じゅう||kyū jū|
|100||百||ひ ゃ く||hyaku|
Japanese Numbers Superstitions
As you’ll see, some of the numbers have two pronunciations – respectively, 4, 7, 9 This is due to similarities in pronunciation with these numbers and other words that Japanese people considered “unlucky numbers”.
One pronunciation of the number 4 (shi | し), also means death (shi | 死). Although 7 (shichi | しち) is thought as a lucky number in Japan, one pronunciation of it still contains the し (shi) of death, so なな (nana) is instead used in its place. One reading of 9 (ku | く) can mean agony or pain (ku | 苦).
Because of these “unfortunate” similarities, Japanese people avoid using these numbers, and the Native Japanese pronunciation has been adopted for common use. The superstition even goes so far as to omit the 4th floor in the design of buildings, or the 4th seat in a theater!
Sino-Japanese Numbers up to 100
Once you’ve mastered basic Japanese counting from 1 to 10, repeatedly compounding and adding will do the trick to help you improve quickly!
All the numbers up to 100 are created by combining the numbers 1-10. Let’s take a look at the patterns that form Japanese numbers.
First, numbers 10-20:
10 じゅう(juu | 十) ＋ 1 いち(ichi | 一）= 11 じゅういち (juu ichi | 十一）
10 じゅう (juu | 十）＋ 6 ろく(roku | 六）= 16 じゅうろく(juu roku | 十六）
Numbers 20 to 99 follow this pattern:
2 に (ni | ニ）+ number 10s じゅう（juu | 十）= 20 にじゅう (ni juu | 二十）
9 きゅう (kyuu | 九）number 10s じゅう（juu | 十） = 90 きゅうじゅう(kyuu juu | 九十）
The only exception here is number 100, which has a new word – ひ ゃ く(hyaku | 佰）
Note: じゅうよん (juu shi) is almost never used to express the number 14. The same goes for しじゅう (shi juu) when saying the number 40. Instead, よん (yon) is substituted in place of し (shi).
Numbers go all the way up to infinity (obviously), so we won’t cover all Japanese numbers in this article. We will note, however, that the Japanese numerical system counts to both the 3-zero and 4-zero marks. i.e. – 1000 せん (sen | 千), 10000 = まん (man | 万).
Due to this system, what we call “1 million” is denoted in Japanese as “one hundred ten-thousands” – 1000000 = ひ ゃ くまん (hyakuman | 百万).
Native Japanese Numbers
Now, for Native Japanese Numbers (native words / kun’yomi readings). As mentioned, these numbers are used less often, and on a smaller scale, but are also quite important. The first essential use of these 10 numbers is to be used as counting numbers.
Counting in Japanese has specific counters that are used for specific things. The counter こ(ko | 個) is used to count small objects. まい (mai | 枚) is used to count thin, flat objects, and ひき(hiki | 匹) for small animals. There are dozens of popular Japanese counters.
Because of these counter words, counting objects can be difficult. But fortunately, the first 10 Native Japanese Numbers can be used as the universal counter. It can be used for almost anything. Pizza, pens, buildings, trash bags, spaceships, you name it! The only things they cannot be used to count are people, money, and time.
Things to know about Japanese numbers
We’ve finished discussing the two types of number systems in Japanese. But before you can master the Japanese numbers, there are a few things you should remember. Let’s discover them now!
The Importance of TenTen and Maru
Knowing てんてん (tenten |〃）and まる (maru | ○) is important when learning Japanese.
Maru (まる) is for creating sounds and building words. When it comes to numbers, they play just as important of a role—particularly for numbers 1, 3, 6, 8, and 10. Numbers 1, 6, 8, and 10 often “give” their connecting word a まる (maru), thus changing the sound to a “P” sound. The number 3 “gives” a てんてん (tenten), thus changing the sound to a “B” sound.
Here are some examples of the phenomenon:
- When Counting in Hundreds, although the word for 100 is ひ ゃ く(hyaku) it can also be read as ひ ゃ く（byaku) or ひ ゃ く (pyaku) depending on the amount:
300 is read as さんびゃく(sanbyaku)
600 is read as ろっぴゃく (roppyaku)
800 is read as はっぴゃく (happyaku)
Note that the ends of 6 (ろく) and 8 (はち) are cut short, resulting in a new compound word. This rule of using 3 and 8 in their abbreviated form behind other words is very common. The same goes for numbers 10 and 1, although not in this case.
- When Counting Minutes or Parts, the counter word for ‘minute’ or ‘part’ in Japanese is ふん (fun | 分 ). The same rule applies here as we’ve discussed before, with the addition of the numbers 1 and 10:
3 Minutes/parts = さんぶん (sanpun | 三分)
6 Minutes/parts = ろっぷん (roppun | 六分)
8 Minutes/part = はっぷん (happun | 八分)
1 Minute/part = いっぷん (ippun | 一分)
10 Minutes/parts = じゅっぷん (juppun | 十分)
These are just two examples amongst plenty. It seems kind of complicated, but here is a general rule of thumb: Use this rule with any word/counter beginning with the “H” or “S” sound. After a while you get the hang of the patterns and speaking against the rules just sounds unnatural – these rules were created for more fluid communication after all.
Another thing to keep in mind as you learn Japanese is that, while れい (rei) means “zero” in Japanese, the most common way of saying it is ゼロ (zero) or まる (maru), which means circle. In English, まる (maru) is equivalent to reading the numeral 0 as “oh” when reading individual digits.
The 109 store in Tokyo is a popular example of how the Japanese use the maru (まる) for reading. It is read as いち れい きゅう (ichi-maru-kyū | 一〇九), instead of ひゃく きゅう (hyakukyū | 百九).
Japanese Ordinal Numbers
Ordinal numbers are numbers that are ordered, such as the “first” or “twenty-third” number. It’s rather easy to make ordinals in Japanese – just add だい (dai | 第) before the number:
First = だいいち (daiichi | 第一)
Second = だいに (daini | 第二 )
Fifteenth = だいじゅうご (daijyuugo | 第十五 )
and so on.
When you count people in this way, the character め (me | 目) is often used after the ordinal number, as in だいさんめ (third-person | 第三目).
Other, more venerating expressions are also used sometimes, but this is the most important and most common way to address people in ordinal form.
How to read phone numbers in Japanese?
When saying Japanese phone numbers or office numbers with hyphens, the hyphen is represented by the word の (no), which is fairly simple to say. Here’s an example:
334–362–9075 = さんさんよんのさんろくにのきゅうれいななご
Counting the Days of the Month in Japanese
A combination of both Native Numbers and Sino-Japanese numbers is used to count the days of the month. The days using the Sino-Japanese reading use the standard counting system, followed by the counter word にち (nichi | 日) to denote the day. The native Japanese number system is more irregular.
Take a look at the different days of the month in Japanese:
Counting People in Japanese
Oddly enough, when counting people in Japanese, only the terms for “1 person” and “2 people” are irregular:
One person = ひとり(hitori | 一人)
Two people = ふたり(futari | 二人)
Counting 3 or more people follows the same system, except the pronunciation is standard:
Three people = さんにん (sannin | 三人
Four people = よんにん (yonnin | 四人)
Counters specify the type of object that you want to count in Japanese. In this section, we’ll go over the ones you’ll hear in everyday Japanese conversation, as well as how to use them with numbers.
For example, if you’re talking about small round objects, you should use the counter こ (ko | 個).
1 apple = リンゴ いち こ (ringo ichi ko |リンゴ一個)
For flat and thin objects, you should use the counter まい (mai).
4 sheets of papers = よん まい (yon mai | 四枚)
For long and thin objects, you should use the counter word ほん (hon | 本).
2 pencils = えんぴつ に ほん (enpitsu ni hon | 鉛筆二本)
For small animals, you should use ひき (hiki | 匹), and とう (tou |頭) for larger animals.
5 cats = ご ひき の ねこ (go hiki no neko | 五匹の猫)
8 tigers = トラ はち とう (tora hachi tou |トラ八頭)
Japanese counters are also used to express time.
For example, you should use びょう (byou | 秒) to express seconds.
20 seconds = に じゅう びょう (ni juu byou | 二十秒)
These are just a few Japanese counter words. There are a lot more! Including those for long objects, furniture, machinery, train tracks, clothing, etc. It’s impossible to remember them all. However, you can check our list for the most common Japanese counters here.
Another Note on Japanese Numbers and Their Usage
We covered the majority of rules concerning Japanese numbers in their native or natively adapted forms. Yes, these symbols have widespread common use, but there’s more to the picture too. Like most places in the world, the Japanese have also integrated the use of Arab numerals into their culture.
You’re likely to see common numerical values used in tandem with their Japanese equivalent throughout Japan, especially in larger cities. Even in school, most math solutions consist of Arab numerals. However, the Japanese kanji numerals are still used in traditional ceremonies. That being said, no one will be confused in the presence of such symbols, so rely on their popularity if need be.
Overall, counting in Japanese is quite simple. As long as you memorize the 1-10 numbers and apply the mentioned patterns, you’re good to go. Try challenging yourself by adding +10 numbers every day until you reach 1000!
がんばっ てください (Ganbatte kudasai)! ^^
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