Japanese Numbers and Counting
The simple, standard numbers from one to ten in Japanese are:
Above these, yon is preferred for "four" and nana for "seven." (There are a few exceptions, but shi is avoided because it is also the word for "death." Due to relevant superstitions, buildings can be found without a fourth floor, room numbers with no fours, etc.)
11 juu ichi (This is literally "ten, one.")
The pattern should now be easy to see. Accordingly:
27 ni juu nana
200 ni hyaku
300 san byaku
400 yon hyaku
500 go hyaku
2,000 ni sen
3,000 san zen
20,000 ni man
30,000 san man
0 zero or rei
Fractions & Decimals
A half is hanbun.
A decimal point is called ten, so:
1.5 itten go (ichi and ten are contracted)
Days of the Month
The days of the month are in a group all their own. Some are similar to other numbers or counters, while some are completely unique. The final ka or nichi means "day." Please keep in mind that these are not ordinal numbers in the English sense, and cannot be used to express the order of other things in a series. Take note of each one; there are some surprises.
The first day of the month: tsuitachi (some people use ippi)
Months of the Year
Sadly, the ancient Japanese names for the months are no longer used except in poems and other special literature. In daily writing and conversation the number of the month with the Japanese for month (gatsu) is used instead:
January ichi gatsu
Years are expressed in either seireki, the western reckoning, or wareki, which follows the Japanese eras of the reign of the emperors. In either reckoning, the word for "year" (nen) follows the year number. Years in seireki are expressed the same as any other number; there are no special abbreviations. The year 2015 is ni sen juu go nen; 1996 would be sen kyuu hyaku kyuu juu roku nen; 1872 is sen happyaku nana juu ni nen, and so on.
In the wareki reckoning, 2015 was the 27th year of the present emperor, and his era has been named Heisei. In Japanese that year is called heisei ni juu nana nen. If you were born in 1975, you were born in the 50th year of the Showa Era, or, in Japanese, shouwa go juu nen. For year conversions see my Handy Tables of Japanese Years.
If you need to express B.C., use kigen zen before the number: 723 B.C. is kigen zen nana hyaku ni juu san nen.
Room Numbers & Floor Numbers
Room numbers are usually read one number at a time. Interestingly, zeroes are usually read maru, which means "circle":
310 san ichi maru
The floors of a building use kai:
first floor: ikkai
Telephone numbers are also often read one number at a time. A very clever invention the Japanese have, however, is saying no where hyphens usually are. This makes listening to a long number easier. For example, 067-892-7813 would be read: zero roku nana no hachi kyuu ni no nana hachi ichi san.
Flight numbers use bin:
Flight 26: ni juu roku bin
Trains and buses use gou after their numbers, not bin.
There is a set of what could be loosely called "ordinal numbers" which are sometimes used for counting up to ten items. Similarities will be found between these and the days of the months introduced above:
These are used mainly by small children to count things or say how old they are. Adults will sometimes use these in short requests or replies:
However, it will sometimes be preferable to use the correct counter when counting things, especially in formal settings. The counter for batteries and similar irregularly-shaped, relatively small objects is ko. Counters are used with the basic numbers which were introduced at the top of this page. Here is the previous conversation made a bit more formal:
There are many of these counters — many more than are mentioned on this page. These listed below should be considered the absolutely essential ones that you need to learn and master first. The more counters you memorize and use correctly, the more literate and fluent you will sound.
Ko was just mentioned. It is used to count things like apples, oranges, blocks, boxes, and many other things which are pretty much the same size in all dimensions. People often use ko in place of other counters. If you use ko to count bananas instead of the technically correct hon, it's no big deal, but using it to count cars or animals would really show a lack of knowledge.
Use hon for relatively long and narrow things: pens, pencils, rulers, sticks, bottles, etc. Take note how the pronunciation changes according to the number:
Note how the number of an item retains its counter even when the name of the item is known and omitted.
Please keep in mind that this is a general guide and there will be people who use other expressions. For example, there are people who will say hachi hon instead of happon. This applies to everything on this page.
Hai is for cups or glasses filled with a drink: ippai, ni hai, san bai:
satsu, mai, dai
For the number of books use satsu: issatsu, ni satsu, san satsu, etc.
Animals & People
Small animals up to dogs use hiki: ippiki, ni hiki, san biki, yon hiki, go hiki
For people use hitori for one person, futari for two people, and then the counter nin for three or more:
3 people: san nin
For time, add ji after the hour and fun / pun after the minutes:
1:25 ichi ji ni juu go fun
Four o'clock is yoji, not yonji. Also, han (meaning "half") is often used for 30 minutes:
4:30 yoji han
Periods of Time
Although omitted in some cases, add kan to indicate a period of time:
years: ichi nen kan, ni nen kan, san nen kan, etc.
Times & Attempts
Use kai to express the number of times something is experienced, tried, or done:
Kai is also used to show frequencies:
every other day: futsuka ni ikkai
Rankings & Placings
Rankings within a group or placings for contest winners use i:
first place: ichi i
Numbers in Succession
Use ban to show the number of something in a succession:
number one or "the best": ichi ban
Ban is also sometimes used instead of i to show rankings.
A Specific Number in a Series
To specifically point out the number of something in a series, add me:
the second person: futari me
a few dogs: inu ni, san biki
© Tim R. Matheson