Japanese Numbers: Counting in Japanese (2022 Complete Guide)

Source: Pexels

We all know that the Japanese language is complex and can take a while to learn, with its multiple writing systems and alphabet. But, it may surprise you to know that learning and using Japanese numbers is actually simpler! However, while Japanese people generally rely more on Arabic numerals for their numbers, they still do need Japanese numbers in the form of Kanji for traditional ceremonies, restaurant menus and financial bills. Thus, it is still an integral part of daily Japanese life.

The first thing you need to know is that the Japanese number system is based on 2 sets of pronunciations or systems. The first is the Sino-Japanese readings (on’yomi or “On reading”) that are based on the Chinese numerals and then there are Native Japanese readings (kun’yomi or “Kun reading”) that are based on the Japanese yamato kotoba, meaning“native words”. Thereafter you have “counters” which specify what kind of objects you are counting in Japanese. There can be long objects, animals, small objects, machinery and so on.

This article will comprehensively cover all of these counting systems to and provide a detailed description of how to use them. When you’re done reading this you’ll be a pro in no time.

 

 

Japanese Numbers: Counting from 1 to 10

Since the Native Japanese reading is used only up to 10, the Sino-Japanese reading is the one you’ll use more often for the rest of it. This is because Sino-Japanese reading (ichi, ni, san or “one, two, three” as we say in English) uses counters. Now lets learn how to count from 1 to 10 in Japanese using both Sino and Native systems – in that order.

  • 1 – いち (ichi) : Sino Japanese Writing/ 一 (Kanji)

     1- ひとつ (hitotsu) : Native Japanese Writing/ 一つ (Kanji)

  • 2 – に (ni) : Sino Japanese Writing / 二 (Kanji)

    2 – ふたつ (futatsu) : Native Japanese Writing/ 二つ (Kanji)

  • 3 – さん (san) : Sino Japanese Writing / 三 (Kanji)

    3 – みっつ (mittsu): Native Japanese Writing/ 三つ(Kanji)

  • 4 – し、よん (shi, yon) : Sino Japanese Writing / 四 (Kanji)

    4 – よっつ (yottsu) : Native Japanese Writing/ 四 (Kanji)

  • 5 – ご (go) : Sino Japanese Writing / 五 (Kanji)

    5- いつつ (itsutsu) : Native Japanese Writing/ 五つ (Kanji)

  • 6 – ろく (roku) : Sino Japanese Writing / 六 (Kanji)

    6 – むっつ (muttsu): Native Japanese Writing / 六つ(Kanji)

  • 7 – しち、なな (shichi, nana) : Sino Japanese Writing / 七 (Kanji)

    7 – ななつ (nanatsu) : Native Japanese Writing / 七つ (Kanji)

  • 8 – はち (hachi) : Sino Japanese Writing / 八 (Kanji)

    8 – やっつ (yattsu) : Native Japanese Writing / 八つ (Kanji)

  • 9 – く、きゅう (ku, kyuu) : Sino Japanese Writing / 九 (Kanji)

    9 – ここのつ (kokonotsu) : Native Japanese Writing / 九つ (Kanji)

  • 10 – じゅう (juu) : Sino Japanese Writing / 十 (Kanji)

    10 – とう (tou) : Native Japanese Writing / 十 (Kanji)

 

Quiz question 1:

How is number 7 written in Sino Japanese?

A: ななつ

B: はち

C: しち、なな

 

Japanese Numbers: The Sino-Japanese Writing System

The Sino-Japanese numbers (on’yomi or “On reading”) are numbers that are used most often. As we saw earlier, the Sino-Japanese reading (ichi, ni, san or “one, two, three” as we say in English) uses counters with which they combine for counting objects. Once you learn from 1 to 10, counting up to 100 will be simple. Here are a few examples:

  • 1 – いち (ichi)
  • 4 – し、よん (shi, yon)
  • 6 – ろく (roku)

 

Special considerations for counting from 1 – 10!

Three numbers in this sequence have two different readings: 4, 7, and 9.

The numbers 4 and 9 are considered unlucky in Japanese because し (shi) and く (ku) sound the same as the words for “death” (死, shi) and “agony” (苦, ku). So, Japanese people tend to avoid using those readings whenever possible. While 7 is a lucky number, it’s reading しち (shichi) also has し – similar to “death” (死, shi) – so it is more common to say なな (nana), which is the native way to say it. To write 0, the Japanese word is 零 (rei), but it’s more common to say it like in English. ゼロ (zero) is most often used, or まる (maru) which means “circle” and is like saying “oh” in English instead of zero.

 

Japanese Numbers: The Native Japanese Writing System

Native Japanese (kun’yomi or “Kun reading”) is mainly used to count from numbers 1 to 10. Native Japanese reading also does not require counters. So this reading is considered a universal counter you can use to count everything in Japanese except people, money, and time. To identify which type of Japanese numbers are used in a written text, remember that the Native Japanese numbers all end in つ (tsu) – except for 10, which is とう (tou). Here are some examples of a few native Japanese written numbers:

  • 3 – みっつ (mittsu)
  • 7 – ななつ (nanatsu)
  • 9 – ここのつ (kokonotsu)

 

Quiz question 2:

How would you write number 9 first in Native Japanese and then Shino Japanese?

A: ここのつ and く、きゅう

B: みっつ and ここのつ

C: く、きゅう and ここのつ

 

Japanese Numbers: Counting from 10 to 100

Once you learn how to count from 1 to 10 in Japanese, counting to a 100 is just a matter of simple mathematics such as addition. Here is an example of this:

To make the number 11, you would write it as 十一 (juuichi) – which is essentially adding 10 + 1 like this: 10 (juu) + 1 (ichi). Thats it!

Once you change the prefix, the rule is the same. All you need to do is count the 10s (two 10s, three 10s, four 10s and so on) and then add the next number. Such if 20 is 二十 (nijuu) or 2 (ni) 10s (juu), then 21 is 二十一 (nijuuichi) or 2 (ni) 10s (juu) + 1 (ichi).

Here are some examples of these rules in play, with different groups of 10:

NumberKanjiHiraganaRomanization
20二十にじゅうnijuu
35三十五さんじゅごsanjugo
58五十八ごじゅうはちgojuuhachi
74七十四ななじゅうよんnana juu yon
96九十六きゅうじゅうろくkyuu juu roku

100 comes with its own word: 百 / ひゃく (hyaku)

 

Quiz question 3:

How would you write the number 60 in Kanji?

A: 百

B: 六十

C: 七十四

 

Japanese Numbers: Counting from 100 to 1000

As you reach 100 it comes with a new word: 百 / ひゃく (hyaku). The rules a pretty much the same, only now you will be using hyaku (100) with the same addition rules. An example of this with 101 is 百一 / ひゃくいち (hyaku ichi). Can you see how we combined the 100 (百) (ひゃく) ‘hyaku” and 1 (一) (いち ) to make 101 百一 / ひゃくいち (hyaku ichi)?

Here are some examples to show you these numbers in application:

NumberKanjiHiraganaRomanization
199百九十九ひゃくきゅうじゅうきゅうhyaku kyu-ju kyu
201二百一にひゃくいちnihyaku ichi
350三百五十さんびゃくごじゅうsanbyaku go juu
634六百三十四ろっぴゃくさんじゅうよんroppyaku san juu yon
800八百はっぴゃくhappyaku

 

Quiz question 4:

How would you write 900 in Hiragana?

A: きゅうひゃく

B: ななひゃく

C: はっぴゃく

 

Japanese Numbers: Counting from 1000 to 10000

Once you reach 1000, hyaku 百 / ひゃく will now become become sen 千 / せん. The same rules apply with the only difference being substituting hyaku for sen. Using an example of the number 1289, it is written as 千二百八十九 in kanji and せんにひゃくはちじゅうきゅう in hiragana. So 1000 (sen) + 2 (ni)‌ 100s (hyaku) + 8 (hachi) 10s (ju) + 9 (kyuu) is sen nihyaku hachijuu kyuu. Here are some more examples of this in practice:

NumberKanjiHiraganaRomanization
1050千五十せんごじゅうsen go juu
1200千二百せんにひゃくsen ni hyaku
1500千五百せんごひゃくsen go hyaku go juu
1750千七百五十せんななひゃくごじゅうsen nana hyaku juu
1923千九百二十三せんきゅうひゃくにじゅうさんsen kyuu hyaku nu juu san

 

Quiz question 5:

How would you write 1600 in Kanji?

A: 千五百

B: 千二百

C: 千六百

 

Japanese Numbers: Counting above 10000

When you reach 10000, sen becomes man (万)/ (まん). The biggest difference is that the big numbers are divided by units of 4 (or 10,000) rather than 3 (1,000). for example, 18,257 would be: “ichi-man ha-ssen ni-hyaku go-juu nana”いちまん はっせん にひゃく ごじゅう なな – thats quite a mouthful! So once you get past 10,000, it can be a bit confusing to think of one million as “one hundred ten-thousands”. Here are some examples of how this increases past 10000:

NumberKanjiHiraganaRomanization
10000一万いちまんichi man
10500一万五百いちまんごひゃくichi man go hyaku
350,000三十五万さんじゅうごまんsan juu go man
1,000,000 (Million)百万ひゃくまんhyakuman
1,200,000 (Million)百二十万ひゃくにじゅうまんhyaku ni juu man
10,000,000 (Million)千万せんまん senman
100,000,000 (Billion)一億いちおくichioku
160,000,000 (Billion)一億六千万いちおくろくせんまんichi oku roku sen man
1,000,000,000 (Trillion)十億じゅうおくjuuoku
1,000,000,000,000 (Quadrillion)一兆いっちょう icchou

 

Quiz question 6:

How would you write 35 million in Hiragana?

A: さんじゅうごまん

B: さんぜんごひゃくまん

C: ひゃくまん

 

Japanese Numbers: Counters

Now that you have learned how to count in Japanese, the next step is to learn about Japanese counters. Japanese counters are specific words that you add after a number when counting specific objects. If we were think of Japanese counters in English, we would say “two pieces of pizza” and not “two pizzas”. Therefore, the word “pieces” is the counter in this situation. Depending on the kind of objects you are counting, you need to choose the “counter” word accordingly.

For example, for flat and thin objects, the counter word you use is まい (mai). So, if you want to say “five pants”, you’ll say パンツ ご まい (pantsu san mai) – where pantsu means “pants”, go is “five” and ”mai” is the counter word.

Source: Pexels

 

Here are some important counters that you would use in daily situations and conversations:

Japanese counters for units of time

Source: Pexels

To make sure people understand you are talking about seconds, minutes or hours, you have to use counters in Japanese. So you’ll express seconds with ~秒 (byou), minutes with ~分 (fun or pun), hours with ~時 (ji), months with ~月 (getsu), and years with ~年 (nen). Here are some examples of using counters to express time:

  • Ni-ji , 二時 , 2’o Clock
  • Gozen hachi-ji Nijugo-bu, 午前8時25分 , 8:25am
  • Gogo ni-ji goju-bu, 午後2時50分, 2:50pm

 

Japanese counters for People

Source: Pexels

If you need to count people in Japanese, you use the counter ひとり (hitori) for one person, ふたり (futari) for two people, and ~人 (nin) for three or more people. Here are some examples of counters for people:

  • Hitori ひとり 1 person
  • Futari ふたり 2 people
  • Sannin 3さんにん 3 people

 

Japanese Counter for Small Animals

Source: Pexels

There is a special counter for counting small animals (while birds have their own counter, which is “wa”). Big animals, have as their counter “tou.” Small animals consist of insects, fish, cats, dogs, etc. These get the counter “hiki”. One exception to this rule is rabbits, which get the “bird” counter “wa”. Here are some examples of this:

  • ippiki いっぴき 1 animals
  • nihiki にひき 2 animals
  • sanbiki さんびき 3 animals

 

Quiz question 7:

How would you count 8 people in Hiragana?

A: はちにん

B: じゅうにん

C: よにん

 

Ready to test out your Japanese counting skills in your life?

After reading our detailed guide on Japanese numbers in both Shino and Naive systems, we’re sure that you see that its not as hard to master! You are now also aware of the basic rules to count from 1 to 10 to 1000 to even a million and billion! Furthermore, now you also know that there are Japanese counters that vary for different types of things you are counting, like people, time and animals. There are many more of these that you can explore and learn more of. Check out this awesome detailed Japanese Counting Guide to make sure you’ve got all the basics covered, thanks to Tofugu.

Don’t forget to check us out at AmazingTalker for more great and in-depth looks at counting, numbers and other important skills such as our article on Telling Time in Japanese.

 

Answers to Quiz Questions:

  1. C
  2. A
  3. B
  4. A
  5. C
  6. B
  7. A
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