Japanese numerals

The system of Japanese numerals is the system of number names used in the Japanese language. The Japanese numerals in writing are entirely based on the Chinese numerals and the grouping of large numbers follow the Chinese tradition of grouping by 10,000. Two sets of pronunciations for the numerals exist in Japanese: one is based on Sino-Japanese (on'yomi) readings of the Chinese characters and the other is based on the Japanese yamato kotoba (native words, kun'yomi readings).

Basic numbering in Japanese

There are two ways of writing the numbers in Japanese, in Hindu-Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3) or in Chinese numerals (一, 二, 三). The Hindu-Arabic numerals are more often used in horizontal writing, and the Chinese numerals are more common in vertical writing.

Most numbers have two readings, one derived from Chinese used for cardinal numbers (On reading) and a native Japanese reading used for ordinal numbers (Kun reading), though there are some exceptions (listed below) in which the Japanese version is preferred for both.

Numerals with multiple On readings use the Go-on and Kan-on variants respectively.

Number Character Preferred reading On reading Kun reading
0 / * zero rei / れい -
1 ichi ichi / いち hito(tsu) / ひと・つ
2 ni ni, ji / に, じ futa(tsu) / ふた・つ
3 san san / さん mi(ttsu) / み・っつ
4 yon shi / し yon, yo(ttsu) / よん、よ・っつ
5 go go / ご itsu(tsu) / いつ・つ
6 roku roku / ろく mu(ttsu) / む・っつ
7 nana shichi / しち nana(tsu) / なな・つ
8 hachi hachi / はち ya(ttsu) / や・っつ
9 kyū ku, kyū / く, きゅう kokono(tsu) / ここの・つ
10 jū / じゅう tō / とお
20 二十 ni-jū ni-jū / にじゅう hata(chi) / はた・ち
30 三十 san-jū san-jū / さんじゅう miso / みそ
100 hyaku hyaku / ひゃく (momo / もも)
1000 sen sen / せん (chi / ち)
10,000 man man / まん (yorozu / よろず)
108 oku oku / おく -
1012 chō chō / ちょう -
1016 kei kei / けい -

* The special reading maru (which means "round" or "circle") is also found. It may be optionally used when reading individual digits of a number one after another, instead of as a full number. A popular example is the famous 109 store in Shibuya, Tokyo which is read as ichi-maru-kyū (Kanji: 一〇九). (It can also be read as 'ten-nine' - pronounced tō-kyū - which is a pun on the name of the Tokyu department store which owns the building.) This usage of maru for numerical 0 is similar to reading numeral 0 in English as oh. It literally means a circle. However, as a number, it is only written as 0 or rei (). Additionally, two and five are pronounced with a long vowel in phone numbers (i.e. にい and ごお nii and goo)

Starting at 万, numbers begin with 一 (ichi) if no digit would otherwise precede. That is, 100 is just 百 hyaku, and 1000 is just 千 sen, but 10,000 is 一万 ichiman, not just *man. This differs from Chinese as numbers begin with 一 (ichi) if no digit would otherwise precede starting at 百. And, if 千 sen directly precedes the name of powers of myriad, 一 ichi is normally attached before 千 sen, which yields 一千 issen. That is, 10,000,000 is normally read as 一千万 issenman. But if 千 sen does not directly precede the name of powers of myriad or if numbers are lower than 2,000, attaching 一 ichi is optional. That is, 15,000,000 is read as 千五百万 sengohyakuman or 一千五百万 issengohyakuman, and 1,500 as 千五百 sengohyaku or 一千五百 issengohyaku.

The numbers 4 and 9 are considered unlucky in Japanese: 4, pronounced shi, is a homophone for death (); 9, when pronounced ku, is a homophone for suffering (). See tetraphobia. The number 13 is sometimes considered unlucky, though this is a carryover from Western tradition.

On the contrary, numbers 7 and sometimes 8 are considered lucky in Japanese.[1]

In modern Japanese, cardinal numbers are given the on readings except 4 and 7, which are called yon and nana respectively. Alternate readings are used in month names, day-of-month names, and fixed phrases. For instance, the decimal fraction 4.79 is always read yon-ten nana kyū, though April, July, and September are called shi-gatsu (4th month), shichi-gatsu (7th month), and ku-gatsu (9th month) respectively. The on readings are also used when shouting out headcounts (e.g. ichi-ni-san-shi). Intermediate numbers are made by combining these elements:

There are some phonetic modifications to larger numbers involving voicing or gemination of certain consonants, as typically occurs in Japanese (i.e. rendaku): e.g. roku "six" and hyaku "hundred" yield roppyaku "six hundred".

× 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 100 1000
100 hyaku nihyaku sanbyaku yonhyaku gohyaku roppyaku nanahyaku happyaku kyūhyaku - - -
1,000 sen, issen nisen sanzen yonsen gosen rokusen nanasen hassen kyūsen - - -
1012 itchō nichō sanchō yonchō gochō rokuchō nanachō hatchō kyūchō jutchō* hyakuchō issenchō
1016 ikkei nikei sankei yonkei gokei rokkei nanakei hakkei kyūkei jukkei* hyakkei** issenkei

* This also applies to multiples of 10. Change ending -jū to -jutchō or -jukkei.
** This also applies to multiples of 100. Change ending -ku to -kkei.

In large numbers, elements are combined from largest to smallest, and zeros are implied.

Number Character Reading
11 十一 jū ichi
17 十七 jū nana, jū shichi
151 百五十一 hyaku go-jū ichi
302 三百二 san-byaku ni
469 四百六十九 yon-hyaku roku-jū kyū
2025 二千二十五 ni-sen ni-jū go

Other types of numerals

Beyond the basic cardinals and ordinals, Japanese has other types of numerals.

Distributive numbers are formed regularly from a cardinal number, a counter word, and the suffix -zutsu (ずつ), as in hitori-zutsu (一人ずつ, one person at a time, one person each).

Powers of 10

Large numbers

Following Chinese tradition, large numbers are created by grouping digits in myriads (every 10,000) rather than the Western thousands (1,000):

Rank 104 108 1012 1016 1020 1024 1028 1032 1036 1040 1044 1048 1052 or 1056 1056 or 1064 1060 or 1072 1064 or 1080 1068 or 1088
Character 𥝱, 秭 恒河沙 阿僧祇 那由他, 那由多 不可思議 無量大数
Reading man oku chō kei gai jo, shi kan sei sai goku gōgasha asōgi nayuta fukashigi muryōtaisū

Variation is due to Jinkōki, Japan's oldest mathematics text. The initial edition was published in 1627. It had many errors. Most of these were fixed in the 1631 edition. In 1634 there was yet another edition which again changed a few values. The above variation is due to inconsistencies in the latter two editions.

Examples: (spacing by groups of four digits is given only for clarity of explanation)

However, numbers written in Hindu-Arabic numerals are separated by commas every three digits following English-speaking convention. If Hindu-Arabic numbers and kanji are used in combination, Western orders of magnitude may be used for numbers smaller than 10,000 (e.g. 2,500万 for 25,000,000).

In Japanese, when long numbers are written out in kanji, zeros are omitted for all powers of ten. Hence 4002 is 四千二 (in contrast, Chinese requires the use of 零 wherever a zero appears, e.g. 四千零二 for 4002). However, when reading out a statement of accounts, for example, the skipped digit or digits are sometimes indicated by tobi (飛び) or tonde (飛んで): e.g. yon-sen tobi ni or yon-sen tonde ni instead of the normal yon-sen ni.

Decimal fractions

Japanese has two systems of numerals for decimal fractions. They are no longer in general use, but are still used in some instances such as batting and fielding averages of baseball players, winning percentages for sports teams, and in some idiomatic phrases (such as 五分五分の勝負 "fifty-fifty chance"), and when representing a rate or discount. The bu fractions are also used when talking about fevers - for example 九度二分 (kudonibu) for 9 and two parts - the temperature 39.2°C.

One system is as follows:

Rank 10−1 10−2 10−3 10−4 10−5 10−6 10−7 10−8 10−9 10−10
Reading bu rin shi kotsu bi sen sha jin ai

This is the system used with the traditional Japanese units of measurement. Several of the names are used "as is" to represent a fraction of a sun.

The other system of representing these decimal fractions of rate or discount uses a system "shifted down" with a bu becoming a "one hundredth" and so on, and the unit for "tenth" becoming wari:

Rank 10−1 10−2 10−3 10−4 10−5
Reading wari bu rin shi

This is often used with prices. For example:

With the exception of wari, these are rarely seen in modern usage. Decimal fractions are typically written with either kanji numerals (vertically) or Hindu-Arabic numerals (horizontally), preceded by a decimal point, and are read as successive digits, as in Western convention. Note that, in written form, they can be combined with either the traditional system of expressing numerals (42.195 kilometers: 四十二・一九五 キロメートル), in which powers of ten are written, or with the place value system, which uses zero (50.04 percent: 五〇・〇四 パーセント.) In both cases, however, the reading follows the traditional system (yon-jū ni-ten ichi-kyū go kiromētoru for 42.195 kilometers; go ju-tten rei-yon pāsento for 50.04 percent.)

Formal numbers

As with Chinese numerals, there exists in Japanese a separate set of kanji for numerals called daiji (大字) used in legal and financial documents to prevent unscrupulous individuals from adding a stroke or two, turning a one into a two or a three. The formal numbers are identical to the Chinese formal numbers except for minor stroke variations. Today, only the formal numbers for one, two, three, and ten are used in legal documents (for the reason that the numbers 4 to 9 as well as 100, 1000 and 10000 are written identically to the common ones, cf. table below).[2] They are the ones whose common forms can be changed to a higher value by adding strokes (1 and 2 were explained above, while 3 can be changed to 5, and 10 to 1000). In some cases, the digit 1 is explicitly written like 壱百壱拾 for 110, as opposed to 百十 in common writing.

Formal numbers:

Number Common Formal
In use Obsolete
7 柒, 漆
1000 阡, 仟
10000 万, 萬

The four current banknotes of the Japanese yen, 1000-yen, 2000-yen, 5000-yen, and 10000-yen, have formal numbers 千, 弐千, 五千, and 壱万, respectively.

Old Japanese

Old Japanese shares some vocabulary with later periods, but there are also some unique numbers which are not used any more, aside from being parts of specific lexemes.


Number Reading Examples Notes
1 hi1to2 hi1to2ka (1 day), hi1to2to2se (1 year)  
2 huta hutayo1 (2 nights)  
3 mi1 mi1so1 (30)  
4 yo2 yo2so1 (40), yo2tari (4 people)  
5 itu ituto2se (5 years)  
6 mu mutuma (6 claws)  
7 nana nanase (many rapids) Often used to mean many.
8 ya yakumo1 (many clouds) Often used to mean many.
9 ko2ko2no2 ko2ko2no2hashira (9 nobles / gods)  
10 to2 / to2wo to2woka (10 days)  
10 so1 mi1so1 (30), yo2so1 (40), muso1 (60), yaso (80) Found only in compound words; not used alone.
20 hata hatati (20), hatatari (20 people), hatato2se (20 years)  
50 i ika (50 days)  
100 ho iho (500), ihoto2se (500 years), ihoyo2 (500 nights), yaho (800), mi1ho (300), muho (600), ko2ko2no2ho (900) Used for multiple hundreds in compound numerals. Often used to mean many.
100 mo1mo1 mo1mo1ka (many days) Used for non-multiple hundred and for the number "100" by itself. Often used to mean many.
1000 ti tito2se (1000 years, many years) Often used to mean many.

Hand counting

Japanese uses separate systems for counting for oneself and for displaying numbers to others, which both proceed up to ten. For counting, one begins with the palm open, then counts up to five by curling up (folding down) the fingers, starting from the thumb – thus one has just the thumb down (and others extended), while four has only the pinkie extended, and five has a fist. One then counts up to ten by proceeding in the reverse order, extending the fingers, starting at the pinkie – thus six is the same as four, seven the same as three, and so forth, with ten ending with the palm open. While this introduces ambiguity, it is not used to present to others, so this is generally not a problem. When displaying for others, one starts with the hand closed, and extends fingers, starting with the index, going to the pinkie, then ending with the thumb, as in the United States. For numbers above five, one uses an open hand (indicating five) and places the appropriate number of fingers from the other hand against the palm (palms facing each other) – so six has the index finger against the palm, and so forth.[3] To display ten, one presents both hands open and palm outwards.

Numbers in Japanese words

Since the adoption of Hindu-Arabic numerals, numbers have become written in Hindu-Arabic numerals more and more often. Counters and ordinal numbers are typically written in Hindu-Arabic numbers, such as 3人 (three people), 7月 (July, "seventh-month"), 20歳 (age 20), etc., although 三人、七月、and 二十歳 are also acceptable to write (albeit less common). However, numbers that are part of lexemes are typically written in kanji. For example, the term yaoya 八百屋 (tr.: vegetable stand / grocer) translates into "800 store", uses the Old Japanese pronunciation for 800, ya(h)o. The notorious Japanese national gang, the yakuza, can be written 八九三 (or 893), a hand in oicho-kabu that is worth 0 points, indicating that yakuza are "worthless persons" or "gambling persons".[4]

See also


  1. "The number of death: Lucky and unlucky numbers in Japan". The Science of Language Self-Study | LinguaLift Blog. Retrieved 2016-03-24.
    • 大正十一年大蔵省令第四十三号 (会計法規ニ基ク出納計算ノ数字及記載事項ノ訂正ニ関スル件) 第一条: 会計法規ニ基ク出納計算ニ関スル諸書類帳簿ニ記載スル金額其ノ他ノ数量ニシテ「一」、「二」、「三」、「十」、「廿」、「卅」ノ数字ハ「壱」、「弐」、「参」、「拾」、「弐拾」、「参拾」ノ字体ヲ用ユヘシ但横書ヲ為ストキハ「アラビア」数字ヲ用ユルコトヲ得
    • 戸籍法施行規則 第三十一条 2: 年月日を記載するには、壱、弐、参、拾の文字を用いなければならない。
    • 小切手振出等事務取扱規程 附則 (昭和四〇年四月一日大蔵省令第二〇号) 2: 小切手の券面金額は、当分の間、所定の金額記載欄に、漢数字により表示することができる。この場合においては、「一」、「二」、「三」及び「十」の字体は、それぞれ「壱」、「弐」、「参」及び「拾」の漢字を用い、かつ、所定の金額記載欄の上方余白に当該金額記載欄に記載の金額と同額をアラビア数字で副記しなければならない。
    • 商業登記規則 第四十八条 2: 金銭その他の物の数量、年月日及び番号を記載するには、「壱、弐、参、拾」の文字を用いなければならない。ただし、横書きをするときは、アラビヤ数字を用いることができる。
  2. Counting on one's fingers, About.com, Japanese Language, Namiko Abe
  3. "What is the origin of yakuza?". www.sljfaq.org. Retrieved 2016-03-24.

External links

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