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 Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3) or in Chinese numerals (, , ). The 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 somewhat less formally for numbers up to 10. In some cases (listed below) the Japanese reading is generally preferred for all uses.

Number Character On reading Kun reading Preferred reading
0 / * rei / れい - zero / ゼロ
1 ichi / いち hito(tsu) / ひと・つ ichi
2 ni / に futa(tsu) / ふた・つ ni
3 san / さん mit(tsu) / みっ・つ san
4 shi / し yon, yot(tsu) / よん、よっ・つ yon
5 go / ご itsu(tsu) / いつ・つ go
6 roku / ろく mut(tsu) / むっ・つ roku
7 shichi / しち nana(tsu) / なな・つ nana
8 hachi / はち yat(tsu) / やっ・つ hachi
9 ku, kyū / く, きゅう kokono(tsu) / ここの・つ kyū
10 jū / じゅう tō / とお
13 十三 jū-san / じゅうさん (tosa / とさ) jū-san
20 二十 / 廿 ni-jū / にじゅう (futaso / ふたそ / hata / はた) ni-jū
30 三十 / 卅 san-jū / さんじゅう (miso / みそ) san-jū
40 四十 shi-jū / しじゅう (yoso / よそ) shi-jū
50 五十 go-jū / ごじゅう (iso / いそ) go-jū
60 六十 roku-jū / ろくじゅう (muso / むそ) roku-jū
70 七十 shichi-jū / しちじゅう (nanaso / ななそ) shichi-jū
80 八十 hachi-jū / はちじゅう (yaso / やそ) hachi-jū
90 九十 ku-jū / くじゅう (kokonoso / ここのそ) ku-jū
100 hyaku / ひゃく (momo / もも) hyaku
1,000 sen / せん (chi / ち) sen
10,000 man / まん (yorozu / よろず) man
100,000,000 oku / おく - oku
1,000,000,000,000 chō / ちょう - chō
10,000,000,000,000,000 kei / けい - kei

* 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:

  • Tens from 20 to 90 are "(digit)-jū" as in 二十 (ni-jū) to 九十 (kyū-jū).
  • Hundreds from 200 to 900 are "(digit)-hyaku".
  • Thousands from 2000 to 9000 are "(digit)-sen".

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, ippyaku 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).

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