On one hand, counting in Japanese can be as easy as 1 to 10 in Japanese because the Japanese numbers are strictly based on the decimal system. On the other hand, the pronunciation of Japanese numbers gets tricky when it sometimes changes depending on the context or counter following the number. Let’s take a look!
Japanese Numbers & How to Count in Japanese
Before we start, there are a few things you need to know about counting in Japanese.
First of all, people in Japan use Arab numerals a lot like the rest of the world. But Japanese numbers are still important since on certain occasions, like traditional ceremonies, for example, Japanese people always use the Japanese kanji numerals.
Secondly, the Japanese use counters, which could be a headache for English speakers. Counters specify what kind of objects you are counting in Japanese, and the list of counters can be quite long. In this article, we will introduce you to a few counters related to time.
Basic Japanese Counting: 1 to 10 in Japanese
There are two different ways to pronounce the numbers 1 to 10 in Japanese. One is the Sino-Japanese way, or pronouncing numbers as Chinese characters (on’yomi or “On reading”); the other way is the native Japanese way, which is based on the ancient pronunciation of the native Japanese language (kun’yomi or “Kun reading”).
To distinguish between the two, you just need to remember that the native Japanese number always has the phoneme “tsu” at the end of the word.
|Number||Sino-Japanese reading||Kanji||Native Japanese reading||Kanji|
|1||いち (ichi)||一||ひとつ (hitotsu)||一つ|
|2||に (ni)||二||ふたつ (futatsu)||二つ|
|3||さん (san)||三||みっつ (mittsu)||三つ|
|4||し、よん (shi, yon)||四||よっつ (yottsu)||四つ|
|5||ご (go)||五||いつつ (itsutsu)||五つ|
|6||ろく (roku)||六||むっつ (muttsu)||六つ|
|7||しち、なな (shichi, nana)||七||ななつ (nanatsu)||七つ|
|8||はち (hachi)||八||やっつ (yattsu)||八つ|
|9||く、きゅう (ku, kyuu)||九||ここのつ (kokonotsu)||九つ|
|10||じゅう (juu)||十||とう (tou)||十|
|0||れい、ゼロ、マル (rei, zero, maru)||零|
Lucky and Unlucky Numbers in 1-10 in Japanese
Just like the number 13 is considered an unlucky number in the West, there are also some ominous pronunciations in Japanese which people want to avoid. For example, you may find that numbers like 4, 7, and 9 have two different Sino-Japanese pronunciations. The main reason why they have two pronunciations is taboo. “Shi” means “death” and “ku” means “suffering” in Japanese, and “shichi” sounds like “a place to die”. That is why in most cases, the number 4 is pronounced as “yon”, 7 as “nana” and 9 as “kyuu”. But you still need to memorize both forms.
By the way, 8 is considered a lucky number in Japan because of the shape of kanji for 8: 八. It widens at the bottom, which is called suehirogari (末広がり), and Japanese people believe it is a sign of prosperity and fertility.
Zero in Japanese
Japanese has three words for “0”: れい (rei), ゼロ (zero) and まる (maru). How to distinguish among them?
The loanword zero is frequently used when reading phone numbers.
Rei is somewhat more formal and is more likely to appear in formal speeches and news broadcasting.
Maru basically means a circle and is an informal way of referring to “0” when reading individual digits of a number one by one, instead of as a full number. A popular example is the famous 109 store in Shibuya, Tokyo, which is read as ichi-maru-kyū ( 一〇九). Maru in Japanese is similar to reading numeral 0 as “oh” in English.
Beyond 1 to 10 in Japanese: Count to 100
11 to 20 in Japanese
Once you have learned how to read 1 to 10 in Japanese, memorizing numbers up to 100 will be a piece of cake, because everything you need to do is repeatedly compounding and adding. There is only a single compounding rule compares to the various rules when counting french numbers.
Add “ichi” (一) as a suffix to “juu” (十), and you will get 十一 (11)–”じゅういち(juu-ichi)”. So, counting from 10 to 20 in Japanese just means repeating this same pattern until number 19. The table below includes hiragana, kanji and romaji. You can consult this table to learn the pronunciation as well as the writing of each number.
20 to 99 in Japanese
Simply attach “二” (ni) to “九” (kyuu) respectively in front of the “十” (juu), then you will get 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90.
For the numbers 11 to 99, the format is as follows.
15 =十五＝10(じゅう)+5(ご)= juu-go
28 = 二十八＝2(に)+10(じゅう)+8(はち)＝ni-juu-hachi
Japanese Numbers Beyond 100
100 is pronounced as “hyaku” in Japanese. The table below shows how to write and read Japanese numbers beyond 100. You can also find bigger numbers like “10 million”.
Tricky Pronunciation Rules You Should Mind
It’s important to note that “hyaku (hundred)” changes pronunciation when following certain numbers. After 3, it becomes “byaku” and after 6 and 8 it becomes “pyaku”. This is a pronunciation phenomenon called “rendaku,” or sequential voicing. You will also see this in words like 花火 (“hanabi” – fireworks). While 花 (flower) and 火 (fire) are pronounced “hana” and “hi” when uttered individually, combining them changes the “hi” to “bi”. While this may seem a bit strange at first, think about it a little. Is it easier to say “hana-hi” or “hana-bi”? Rendaku helps smooth out the pronunciation.
An additional pronunciation phenomenon you will see here is called “sokuon,”. This refers to when a syllable in Japanese gets dropped and is replaced with a glottal stop, or small tsu (っ). This is present in words like 待って (“matte” — to wait) and 喫茶店 (“kissaten” — cafe), as well as our numbers in the hundreds. As you can imagine, saying “rokuhyaku” and “hachihyaku” for 600 and 800 would be much more of a mouthful than “roppyaku” and “happyaku.”
In addition, 1000 and 10,000 are pronounced as “sen” and “man”, respectively.
How to Express Time in Japanese
As mentioned above, in Japanese, you need to add different counters after each number to count different objects. Actually, there are over 500 counters in the Japanese language. But don’t worry, Lingodeer will guide you step by step to master the most frequently used counters.
First, let’s learn Japanese counters for units of time. As we saw with “hyaku”, the pronunciation of Japanese numbers can also be varied when combined with different counters.
For example, when combined with the counter for “hours” (ji), most of the pronunciations remain unchanged except for 4 (yo). But when it comes to minutes (fun) and seconds (byou), there are several adjustments to the pronunciations.
For example, 1 minute (いっぷん) is pronounced as “ippun” rather than “ichi fun”, and 6 minutes is “roppun”, 8 minutes is “happun” and 10 minutes is “juppun”. Here we see the rendaku and sokuon pronunciation changes at play again.
When it comes to reading years, there are two systems in Japanese.
One is to follow the Gregorian calendar. This one is relatively simple to read: you just need to add “nen (年)” as a suffix to the four-digit number. Keep in mind that when the number 4 is followed by the counter “nen”, it is read as ”yo”, which means the Year 2014 is nisenjuuyo-nen”
Another way to read the years in Japanese is by using the Japanese era name (gengō) system. To this day, each Japanese Emperor has designated an era name (gengō) which commences the day the Emperor ascends to the throne and ends on the day of the Emperor’s death (or, as we saw for the first time recently, his resignation). For example, this year is Reiwa ninen (令和二年) in Japan (the second year of Reiwa).
How to Read Phone Numbers in Japanese
You may need to read phone numbers in Japanese while in Japan or talking with Japanese people. When reading Japanese phone numbers, you just need to read the numbers in order and use の (no) to connect different segments.
is pronounced as
zero zero hachi ichi no zero san no ichi ni san yon no kyuu hachi nana go
“zero” can also be pronounced as “maru”.
Mathematics in Japanese
Now you have mastered the basic numbers in Japanese, you may want to know how to do the basic mathematics in Japanese.
Add, Subtract, Multiply and Divide in Japanese
The operators in Japanese are as follows.
To say “equals” or “is”, you can just use “wa (は)”
So 1+1=2 is 1足す (ta su) 1は2。
5-2=3 is 5引く(hi ku)2は3。
6×3=18 is 6掛ける(ka ke ru) 3は18。
9÷3=3 is 9割る(wa ru)3は3。
Fractions in Japanese
As for fractions, you just need to read them as (Denominator) + bun no + (Numerator). Note that you must read the denominator first in the reverse order of notation.
Unlike English, Japanese does not have a word for “quarter” (1/4). And the word for “half” (1/2) is “hanbun (半分)”.
Percentages in Japanese
% is called “paasento (パーセント)” in Japanese.
Just like in English, you can add numbers before the word “paasento”. When the number is a multiple of 10, the end part of the Japanese word is “juu”. At that time, “juu” and “paasento” combine and they experience sokuon to become “juppaasento”.
To express percent of a multiple of 10, you can use “wari (割り)”. For example, 六割 (“roku-wari”) means 60%.
Decimals in Japanese
In Japanese, periods are used as a decimal point and are read as “ten (点)” meaning “dot” in English.
Each of the numerical figures after a decimal point is read as a single number.
0 is read as either zero or rei.
When 0 precedes the decimal, it is usually read as “rei”.
3.14 = san ten ichi yon
0.618 = rei ten roku ichi hachi
How to Memorize Japanese Numbers
I suggest you start out with Kanji in order to learn Japanese numbers. This is because when you begin to learn numbers larger than 1 to 10 in Japanese, using katakana or romaji to write them out can be quite annoying and inefficient. Kanji will help you see the structure of the numbers more easily than reading them in hiragana. Also, kanji will help you memorize them more quickly than using Arabic numerals, which you’ve already associated heavily with their English pronunciations.
We understand that kanji can be a headache for Japanese learners, and Lingodeer provides a step-by-step kanji learning system to assist you in memorizing these tricky characters. Start learning with Lingodeer now and you can master counting in Japanese in the most efficient way!