Telling Time in Japanese: A Fundamental Guide

tell time in japanese

After working on basic Japanese language skills such as particles, numbers, and counters, there comes a time when you will want to start describing your daily routine or making plans with friends. For this, you will need to learn how to tell time in Japanese!

Luckily, telling time in Japanese is not difficult, but particularly useful. Japanese time-telling typically uses the 12-hour clock (though the 24-hour clock is often used for timetables) and has helpful words that correspond to AM and PM in English. In this article, I will provide you with a fundamental guide for everyday time-telling in Japanese. The clock is ticking, so let’s get right to it!

Hours in Japanese: 時(じ)

Let’s proceed from big to small. The hours in Japanese are a cinch if you already know your numbers! O’clock in Japanese is 時(じ). Much like how we say “one o’clock” in English, you can simply say 一時!

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English Kanji Kana Romaji
~o’clock ~時 ~じ ~ji
one o’clock 一時 いちじ ichi-ji
two o’clock 二時 にじ ni-ji
three o’clock 三時 さんじ san-ji
four o’clock 四時 よじ yo-ji
five o’clock 五時 ごじ go-ji
six o’clock 六時 ろくじ roku-ji
seven o’clock 七時 しちじ shichi-ji
eight o’clock 八時 はちじ hachi-ji
nine o’clock 九時 くじ ku-ji
ten o’clock 十時 じゅうじ juu-ji
eleven o’clock 十一時 じゅういちじ juuichi-ji
twelve o’clock 十ニ時 じゅうにじ juuni-ji

As you can see, some of the hours in the table above are written in bold. These numbers are irregular from your usual 1 through 10 counting style and I would suggest you pay special attention to them as you study. Another thing to be aware of is that you will often see these times written with Arabic numerals (e.g. 1時) rather than kanji. Pretty easy, huh? Now let’s put this into practice with some real sentences!

A: 今何時ですか?(Ima nanji desu ka?)

What time is it now?

B: 五時です。(Go-ji desu.)

It’s five o’clock.

Asking for the time politely is quite simple. You can also include the word 今 (now) in the beginning of your response (今五時です) but this is not necessary. To make your question more informal, just drop the ですか and say 今何時 (“ima nanji?”).

A: 授業はいつ始まりますか?(Jugyou wa itsu hajimarimasu ka?)

When does class start?

B: 授業は九時に始まります。(Jugyou wa kuji ni hajimarimasu.)

Class starts at nine o’clock.

いつ is an essential question word for our topic. This means “when” and, unlike the hour given in response to this question, it is not followed by the time-indicating particle に. However, it is not uncommon to see から (from) following いつ or the hour. See below:

A: 授業はいつから始まりますか?(Jugyou wa itsu kara hajimarimasu ka?)

From when does class start?

B: 授業は九時から始まります。(Jugyou wa kuji kara hajimarimasu.)

Class starts from nine o’clock.

Not too bad, right? Now, let’s move into more specific times and practice minutes!

Minutes in Japanese: 分(ふん / ぶん / ぷん)

While the pronunciation of ~時 did not change for any of our numbers, the pronunciation of the minute counter 分 does. 分(fun / pun) means minutes. Please check out the table below and notice the words in bold.

English Kanji Kana Romaji
~minutes ~分 ~ふん / ぶん / ぷん ~fun / bun / pun
one minute 一分 いっぷん ippun
two minutes 二分 にふん nifun
three minutes 三分 さんぷん sanpun
four minutes 四分 よんぷん yonpun
five minutes 五分 ごふん gofun
six minutes 六分 ろっぷん roppun
seven minutes 七分 ななふん nanafun
eight minutes 八分 はっぷん happun
nine minutes 九分 きゅうふん kyuufun
ten minutes 十分 じゅっぷん juppun
eleven minutes 十一分 じゅういっぷん juuippun
twenty minutes ニ十分 にじゅっぷん nijuppun
thirty minutes 三十分 さんじゅっぷん sanjuppun
fifty-five minutes 五十五分 ごじゅうごふん gojuugofun

When it comes to counters in Japanese, you can generally rely on two and five staying regular. However, most of the other numbers 1-10 are fair game for slight changes in pronunciation! Getting used to this just comes down to practice. Luckily, the LingoDeer app and its accompanying drill app DeerPlus are great ways to have fun while mastering these linguistic quirks!

Let’s incorporate minutes into the hours that we learned just a moment ago with some practice dialogue.

A: いつ会いましょうか?(Itsu aimashou ka?)

When should we meet up?

B: 五時四十五分はどうですか?(Go-ji yonjuugofun wa dou desu ka?)

How about 5:45?

Just like in English, the minutes in Japanese follow the hour. Here’s another easy trick: if you’re talking about anything happening on the half-hour, you can just say 半(han) instead of 三十分! 

A: 毎日七時半に起きます。(Mainichi shichi-ji han ni okimasu.)

I get up at 7:30 every day.

Finally, 分 should be pronounced “pun” when following 何 to ask how many minutes. Here’s an example:

A: あと何分で着きますか?(Ato nanpun de tsukimasu ka?)

How many more minutes until you arrive?

B: あと十分で着きます。(Ato juppun de tsukimasu.)

I’ll arrive in ten minutes.

Seconds in Japanese: 秒(びょう)

It’s time to get really specific and learn about counting seconds! Seconds in Japanese is 秒(byou). The pronunciation of 秒 is nice and easy – it always stays “byou” no matter what the number. Let’s look at the table.

English Kanji Kana Romaji
~seconds ~秒 ~びょう ~byou
one second ~一秒 ~いちびょう ~ichibyou
two seconds ~ニ秒 ~にびょう ~nibyou
three seconds ~三秒 ~さんびょう ~sanbyou
four seconds ~四秒 ~よんびょう ~yonbyou
five seconds ~五秒 ~ごびょう ~gobyou
six seconds ~六秒 ~ろくびょう ~rokubyou
seven seconds ~七秒 ~ななびょう ~nanabyou
eight seconds ~八秒 はちびょう ~hachibyou
nine seconds ~九秒 きゅうびょう ~kyuubyou
ten seconds ~十秒 じゅうびょう ~juubyou

Piece of cake! Too bad we rarely specify down to the second when we tell time. However, it’s great to know how to specify numbers of seconds when it comes to something like cooking instructions. If you want to describe the duration of time, you can follow the number of hours, minutes, or seconds with 間(kan). Check it out:

A: 1分30秒間炒めてください。(Ippun sanjuubyou kan itamete kudasai.)

Please saute for one minute and thirty seconds.

AM, PM, and Other Times of Day

Specifying AM and PM in Japanese is quite logical. Simply add 午前 (before noon) or 午後 (after noon) in front of your time. For example:


バスは午後六時十五分に出発します。

(Basu wa gogo roku-ji juugofun ni shuppatsu shimasu.)

The bus will depart at 6:15 PM.

or

毎日午前八時から午後四時まで働きます。 

(Mainichi gozen hachi-ji kara gogo yo-ji made hatarakimasu.)

I work from 8AM to 4PM every day.

You can also use words like 朝 (morning) 夜 (night) and 早朝 (early morning) in front of your time to describe the general time of day.

早朝五時に起きてしまいました。

(Souchou go-ji ni okite shimaimashita.)

I woke up early in the morning at five.

One excellent way to practice telling time in your target language is by using a diary! Try to take notes everyday about when you ate breakfast, how long you jogged for, what you did after work and for how long, etc. Alternatively, you could plan a travel itinerary for a dream vacation to Japan. Write out when you would arrive at the airport, how long your flight would be, and then what activities you would do after landing at Narita Airport! There are many creative exercises you can try to practice this new vocabulary, so don’t waste a second and get studying!

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