An easy beginner's guide on how to count in Japanese numbers

Author

Mayumi Hikida

Numbers in Japanese look and sound quite exotic and complicated. Are there any tips to learn more effectively and enjoy the process? — Yes!

Good news; the Japanese numerals have rather simple rules. Once you master how to count up to ten and large number units (e.g. hundred, thousand), it’s easy to count larger numbers.

In this article, you’ll learn the pronunciation, spelling, and basic rules to count Japanese numbers. We’ll cover some irregular ones that even native Japanese speakers may not be aware of, so you could impress your friends with the knowledge you learn here!

We’ll also look into the cultural aspect of Japanese numbers. What are lucky or unlucky numbers in Japanese culture? How do the Japanese make use of number puns in everyday life?

Let’s begin our exploration into the intriguing world of numbers in Japanese.

Three, two, one…

Oh wait.

San, ni, ichi…!

How learning Japanese numbers helps you — it’s not just about counting!

It’s essential to understand numbers in everyday life no matter where you go. Our fingers are not always helpful when communicating about numbers. But there is so much more you can benefit from learning Japanese numbers. Because, in Japan, numbers are more than just numerals.

Couple strengthen their understanding of many aspects of Japanese culture by learning numbers in Japanese.

Numbers in (proper) nouns

Japanese numbers are used in names of people, places, institutions, or things as well. The former baseball player Ichiro Suzuki has ‘one’ in his given name. There’s a city called Hachiōji in Tokyo, and it has ‘eight’ in the name. The mountain in central Japan called Sugoroku-dake has ‘six’. (Which word means which number? You’ll soon figure it out!)

Knowing how to read or write numbers in Japanese helps you read or remember those proper nouns as well!

Meaning of numbers

What are the lucky numbers in your culture? How about unlucky numbers? The cultural meaning of numbers is reflected on various things like words or customs. With the knowledge of numbers in Japanese, you could see the association more easily.

Who doesn’t love wordplay?

When written in kanji (characters adapted from Chinese characters), numbers can be read in multiple ways. The Japanese use it to make it easier to remember a set of numbers like a phone number. You’d be amused to see how widely ‘number puns’ are used in Japan. By learning how to read the numbers in Japanese, you’ll know why meat is on sale at some shops on the 29th of the month!

How to read and write Japanese numerals

“Do I have to remember all the Japanese numbers in hiragana (phonetic alphabet), katakana (another type of phonetic alphabet) and kanji? Ugh!”

I hear you.

Let’s start with how to read them. Luckily, Arabic numerals (e.g. 1, 2, 3…) are widely used in Japan, too! Chances are, there would rarely be an occasion where you have to write 5,870,624 in hiragana, katakana, or kanji. Though sometimes large numbers are written in Arabic numeral(s) and unit(s) (e.g. thousand) in kanji, there are not many of those units used in everyday life. Worry not!

Now, how to write Japanese numerals. Breathe in, my friend. Then breathe out slowly. You know how complicated the Japanese writing system is…

Good. I’m here to bring you good news; you’ll only have to remember how to write zero to ten plus some units of bigger numbers. Besides, they’re short words, and the corresponding kanjis are relatively simple. With the combination of less than 20 characters, we can write most Japanese numbers. How does it sound?

Alright, let’s start counting!

How to count in Japanese from 0-10

The basics — here we go!

NumberHiraganaKatakanaKanjiRomaji
0れい、ぜろレイ、ゼロ零rei, zero
1いちイチ一ichi
2にニ二ni
3さんサン三san
4し、よんシ、ヨン四shi, yon
5ごゴ五go
6ろくロク六roku
7しち、ななシチ、ナナ七shichi, nana
8はちハチ八hachi
9きゅう、くキュウ、ク九kyuu, ku
10じゅうジュウ十juu

* Romaji: Character that represents written Japanese using English alphabets

Spotted something that’s not Japanese? Yes, the Japanese use English ‘zero’, too! The numbers on the list with two ways to read may seem tricky. For now, I’m going to share a couple of basic rules.

When counting up (0 to 10)

Numbers are pronounced in a certain way when you count up from zero* to ten in Japanese. I want you to check how four and seven are read, in particular.

0 - ぜろ (zero)

1 - いち (ichi)

2 - に (ni)

3 - さん (san)

4 - し (shi)

5 - ご (go)

6 - ろく (roku)

7 - しち (shichi)

8 - はち (hachi)

9 - きゅう (kyuu)

10 - じゅう (juu)

*When counting up, it normally starts with one.

When counting down (10 to 0)

Let’s look at how to count down in Japanese. Isn’t it interesting that only four and seven are read differently? (Not many Japanese speakers are even aware of this!)

10 - じゅう (juu)

9 - きゅう (kyuu)

8 - はち (hachi)

7 - なな (nana)

6 - ろく (roku)

5 - ご (go)

4 - よん (yon)

3 - さん (san)

2 - に (ni)

1 - いち (ichi)

0 - ぜろ (zero)

Individual number

Apart from when we count up, four is often read as よん (yon) and seven as なな (nana). It helps differentiate numbers that sound similar such as し (shi), しち (shichi), いち (ichi).

How to count in Japanese from 11-90

Moving onto larger numbers. With the basics we’ve already looked at, it’s not *that* challenging!

NumberHiraganaKatakanaKanjiRomaji
11じゅういちジュウイチ十一juuichi
12じゅうにジュウニ十二juuni
13じゅうさんジュウサン十三juusan
14じゅうし、じゅうよんジュウシ、ジュウヨン十四juushi, juuyon
15じゅうごジュウゴ十五juugo
16じゅうろくジュウロク十六juuroku
17じゅうしち、じゅうななジュウシチ、ジュウナナ十七juushichi, juunana
18じゅうはちジュウハチ十八juuhachi
19じゅうきゅう、じゅうくジュウキュウ、ジュウク十九juukyuu, juuku
20にじゅうニジュウ二十nijuu
21にじゅういちニジュウイチ二十一nijuuichi
22にじゅうにニジュウニ二十二nijuuni
23にじゅうさんニジュウサン二十三nijuusan
24にじゅうし、にじゅうよんニジュウシ、ニジュウヨン二十四nijuushi, nijuuyon
25にじゅうごニジュウゴ二十五nijuugo
26にじゅうろくニジュウロク二十六nijuuroku
27にじゅうしち、にじゅうななニジュウシチ、ニジュウナナ二十七nijuushichi, nijuunana
28にじゅうはちニジュウハチ二十八nijuuhachi
29にじゅうきゅう、にじゅうくニジュウキュウ、ニジュウク二十九nijuukyuu, nijuuku

At this point, you might’ve noticed the pattern. The structure is like this;

に (2, ni) + じゅう (10, juu) + いち (1, ichi)

Digit + Unit + Digit

This rule applies to most numbers in Japanese. When the first digit is one (e.g. 15) though, the number starts with the unit (e.g. じゅうご, juugo). With this in mind, you can easily count up to 99!

NumberHiraganaKatakanaKanjiRomaji
30さんじゅうサンジュウ三十sanjuu
40よんじゅうヨンジュウ四十yonjuu
50ごじゅうゴジュウ五十gojuu
60ろくじゅうロクジュウ六十rokujuu
70ななじゅうナナジュウ七十nanajuu
80はちじゅうハチジュウ八十hachijuu
90きゅうじゅうキュウジュウ九十kyuujuu

You’ve got it. 99 is read…

きゅうじゅうきゅう (kyuujuukyuu)!

How to count in Japanese (100 to 900)

Let’s look at even larger numbers. 300, 600, and 800 are read slightly differently.

NumberHiraganaKatakanaKanjiRomaji
100ひゃくヒャク百hyaku
200にひゃくニヒャク二百nihyaku
300さんびゃくサンビャク三百sanbyaku
400よんひゃくヨンヒャク四百yonhyaku
500ごひゃくゴヒャク五百gohyaku
600ろっぴゃくロッピャク六百roppyaku
700ななひゃくナナヒャク七百nanahyaku
800はっぴゃくハッピャク八百happyaku
900きゅうひゃくキュウヒャク九百kyuuhyaku

The same ‘digit + unit + digit’ / ‘no one before the unit’ rules apply here, too. Try reading out 195 and 418.

Take your time.

You can go back to the chart.

Alright? Yes, the answer is 195 - ひゃくきゅうじゅうご (hyakukyuujuugo) and 418 - よんひゃくじゅうはち (yonhyakujuuhachi)!

I’m listing some of the other bigger number units below.

NumberHiraganaKatakanaKanjiRomaji
1,000 (thousand)せんセン千sen
10,000 (ten thousand)まんマン万man
100,000,000 (hundred million)おくオク億oku
1,000,000,000,000 (trillion)ちょうチョウ兆chou

In the English number system, the major unit is one thousand (1,000). One thousand thousands is one million. One thousand million is one billion. The Japanese number system plays differently; the major unit is ten thousand (10,000). Ten thousands 万 (まん - man - ten thousand) makes the next unit 億 (おく- oku - hundred million). It means there are no units between those listed above. It still has commas every three digits when written with Arabic numerals. So, yeah, translating large numbers between English and Japanese gives language learners a big headache!

Larger numbers are often represented with the kanji unit and kanji or Arabic numbers. 1,000 JPY note is often written as 千円札 (せんえんさつ - sen’en satsu - thousand yen note). 20,500 km can be written as 2万500キロメートル (にまんごひゃく きろめーとる - nimangohyaku kiromeetoru).

Japanese number songs?

"Can we learn numbers with music, like the alphabet song?"

Possibly, yes. As I was browsing YouTube for the best counting song for you, I noticed two things.

First, some songs come with lyrics to make a story. Or this famous number song associates the shape of Arabic numerals with objects (e.g. "What is the number one? A chimney of a factory!") You may find it interesting especially if you're keen to figure out the meaning of the entire lyrics. The second thing is that the pronunciation of the numbers is often elongated (e.g. "iiiichi, niiii, saaaan...") in many songs. It's something you might rather avoid when you want to learn precise pronunciation.

So where's the perfect counting song? It looks like someone's got to make one! (Seriously, if you make or find one, let me know!) For now, let's watch this video and learn how to count from one to 100 in Japanese!

赤ちゃん・子供向け知育アニメ★数字・1から100までかぞえてみよう!★Learn to count 1 to 100 in Japanese

Japanese counter words

  • One loaf of bread.
  • Two heads of broccoli.
  • Three drops of water.

These ‘loaf’, ‘head’, ‘drop’ are called counters, counter words, or measure words. When counting people or things in Japanese, they’re crucial. They’re called 助数詞 (じょすうし - josuushi), and different counters are used depending on what you count. You might or might not want to know how many Japanese counters there are — it’s more than a couple of hundreds. Worry not, much less of them are used in everyday life!

These below are a few of the most commonly used Japanese counter words.

  • -つ (tsu) : a general-purpose counter only used to count up to nine
  • -個 (ko) : usually used for small and/or round objects
  • -り / にん (ri/nin) : for counting people
Number-つ
Hiragana / Kanji
-tsu
Romaji
-こ / 個
Hiragana / Kanji
-ko
Romaji
-り / にん / 人
Hiragana / Kanji
-ri / nin
Romaji
1ひとつ
一つ
hitotsuいっこ
一個
ikkoひとり
一人
hitori
2ふたつ
二つ
futatsuにこ
二個
nikoふたり
二人
futari
3みっつ
三つ
mittsuさんこ
三個
sankoさんにん
三人
sannin
4よっつ
四つ
yottsuよんこ
四個
yonkoよにん
四人
yonin
5いつつ
五つ
itsutsuごこ
五個
gokoごにん
五人
gonin
6むっつ
六つ
muttsuろっこ
六個
rokkoろくにん
六人
rokunin
7ななつ
七つ
nanatsuななこ
七個
nanakoしちにん
ななにん
七人
shichinin
nananin
8やっつ
八つ
yattsuはちこ
はっこ
八個
hachiko
hakko
はちにん
八人
hachinin
9ここのつ
九つ
kokonotsuきゅうこ
九個
kyuukoきゅうにん
くにん
九人
kyuunin
kunin
10n/an/aじゅっこ
十個
jukkoじゅうにん
十人
juunin
11n/an/aじゅういっこ
十一個
juuikkoじゅういちにん
十一人
juuichinin

“Why are these numbers read so differently with the -つ counter?!”

Because it uses the Native Japanese reading (hi, fu, mi, yo… - 1, 2, 3, 4…) instead of the Sino Japanese reading (ichi, ni, san, shi… - 1, 2, 3, 4…, adopted from the Chinese pronunciation).

Unlucky and lucky numbers

Superstition ain’t the way. But some of them are rooted deeply in the culture. Lucky and unlucky numbers are one of them, and here are some examples.

Unlucky numbers

Four and nine are seen as ominous numbers in Japanese culture for a similar reason. Guess which one is correct?

  1. Dates (the fourth and ninth day) mentioned in the Japanese mythology
  2. How their kanji are formed
  3. Sound associated with words that have negative connotation

The answer is… C!

Four (し - shi) sounds like the word 死 (し - shi) which means death, and nine (く - ku) sounds like 苦 (く - ku) which means suffering.

Lucky numbers

Traditionally, odd numbers have been preferred in Japan. Haiku, a type of Japanese poetry, consists of 17 syllables in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. January 1st, March 3rd, May 5th, and July 7th are all days to celebrate: New Year’s Day, Girl’s Day, Children’s/Boy’s Day, and Tanabata/Star Festival.

Isn’t nine an odd number? Yes! It has two faces…

Eight is also regarded as an auspicious number because of the shape of its kanji. 八 consists of two lines, and the both lines are drawn from top to bottom. They spread out as you stroke them, which gives an idea of prosperity.

Japan also adopted the concept of ‘lucky seven’ from the US!

The maneki-neko or 招き猫, is a common Japanese figurine which is often believed to bring good luck to the owner.

Enjoy learning numbers in Japanese everywhere!

The Japanese love wordplay that associates a set of numbers with word(s). Some shops have discounts on the meat on the 29th of the month because they read 29 as ni ku (肉 - にく - niku - meat!) and calls it a Day of Meat. The Japanese Society of Otorhinolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery designated August 7th as Nose Day, reading eight as ha and seven as na. (鼻 - はな - hana - nose!) This veggie shop has 831 in its phone number so that people can easily remember it. In this case, 831 is read as ya sa i (野菜 - やさい - yasai - vegetable!)

These kind of number puns are everywhere in Japan, and it’s a fun way to remember how to read Japanese numbers.

Given your birthday is November 5th, what day could it be? Can your name be represented with numbers? You see a set of numbers and think how it can be read as a word. You’re most welcome to use a dictionary/translation app for this game!

When studying a foreign language, it can be challenging to stay motivated. Remembering numbers in Japanese doesn’t have to be boring. You can bring some fun and creativity into your learning journey!




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