If you know anything at all about numbers in Japanese (or any of several other Asian languages), you've probably at least heard of the dreaded "counters" that are used with numbers, indicate the catergory of whatever is being counted, and just generally complicate everything if you're not used to them. The good news is that relatively few are really in common use. Furthermore, while counters make things easier if you're familiar with them, you should be able to get by with just plain numbers if you're more concerned with being understood than being entirely correct.
First, note that Japan is familiar with the same numerals as the rest of the world. 627, for instance, means the same thing there as it does anywhere else. The kanji explained below are an additional way of writing them, as well as being key to the pronunciation.
Unfortunately, there's a complication. Japanese uses two different sets of basic numbers, based on different readings of the kanji. The kanij themselves are the same for both, though, so the meaning is straightforward even if the pronunciation isn't always.
- 零 or 〇 = 0
- 一 = 1
- 二 = 2
- 三 = 3
- 四 = 4
- 五 = 5
- 六 = 6
- 七 = 7
- 八 = 8
- 九 = 9
- 十 = 10
- 十一 = 11 (ten and 1), 十二 = 12, etc.
- 二十 = 20 (2 tens), 三十 = 30, etc.
- 百 = 100
- 百一 = 101, 百二 = 102, etc.
- 二百 = 200, 三百 = 300, etc.
- 千 = 1,000
- 千一 = 1,001; 千二 = 1,002; etc.
- 二千 = 2,000; 三千 = 3,000; etc.
- 一万 = 10,000
- 一万一 = 10,001; 一万二 = 10,002; etc.
- 二万 = 20,000; 三万 = 30,000; etc.
- 十万 = 100,000; 百万 = 1,000,000; etc.
- 一億 = 100,000,000
- 一兆 = 1,000,000,000,000
- 一京 = 10,000,000,000,000,000
More complicated numbers are easily formed through simple combinations of the basic ones. 14 is 十四 (ten and 4), 30 is 三十 (3 tens), and 763 is 七百六十三 (7 hundreds, 6 tens, and 3). Note that unlike the number system in English, which groups digits in threes (thousands), the Japanese numbering system groups digits in fours (tens of thousands). This means, for example, that 100,000 is normally expressed as 十万 (10 ten-thousands) rather than as 百千 (100 thousands). The nonstandard version would likely be understood regardless, but isn't going to impress anyone.
When the first digit of a number is a one, the minor units (10, 100, and 1000) are typically used by themselves, while the major units (multiples of 10,000) are typically preceded by a one. So, you'll normally see 百二十五 for 125 and 十万 for 100,000, but 一万 for 10,000 and 一億七 for 100,000,007.
Additional kanji exist for larger numbers, but as in English, the bigger the number is, the less likely you are to encounter the official term. Very large numbers are increasingly likely to be written as numerals or in scientific notation.
As an additional complication, larger numbers are sometimes written in something mimicking Western notation, with the kanji used like digits and the units omitted. For instance, 1985 may be written as 一九八五 (1 9 8 5) instead of as 千九百八十五 (a thousand, 9 hundreds, 8 tens, and 5).
There are also special, more complicated, forms of several numbers that are used, sometimes just to be fancy, but mostly in legal documents to resist tampering—note, for instance, how similar the standard 1 (一), 2 (二), and 3 (三) are, or how easily a standard 10 (十) could be changed to a 1000 (千). The alternate kanji in common use are 壱 for 1, 弐 for 2, 参 for 3, and 拾 for 10. Also note that while 壱 and 弐 seem to be exclusively used for numbers, 参 and 拾 have other meanings and appear in various words, like 参加 (sanka = participation) and 拾い物 (hiroimono = a windfall), that have nothing to do with numbers. A few other legal number kanji exist—the dictionary I'm using also lists 肆 (4), 伍 (5), 玖 (9), 阡 (1000), and 萬 (10,000)—but these seem to be uncommon.
I've seen the legal number kanji used for numbering parts of a multipart work, as well.
Basic Concrete Numbers
These are older and more tranditional number readings. They can be used for almost any object and a few other things, and are frequently used to express age, but are not normally used when counting animals or people.
- 一つ = 1: ひとつ (hitotsu)
- 二つ = 2: ふたつ (futatsu)
- 三つ = 3: みっつ (mittsu), shortened to みつ (mitsu) in some compounds
- 四つ = 4: よっつ (yottsu), shortened to よつ (yotsu) in some compounds
- 五つ = 5: いつつ (itsutsu)
- 六つ = 6: むっつ (muttsu), shortened to むつ (mutsu) in some compounds
- 七つ = 7: ななつ (nanatsu)
- 八つ = 8: やっつ (yattsu), shortened to やつ (yatsu) in some compounds
- 九つ = 9: ここのつ (kokonotsu)
- 十 = 10: とお (too)
- 二十 = 20: はたち (hatachi)
A few others technically exist, but very rarely appear. This number set is normally only used for numbers up to 10, with はたち commonly used for twenty years of age but not often for twenty of anything else.
The question form, 幾つ (ikutsu), often written as いくつ using only hiragana, applies more broadly than the numbers themselves. For example, it can be used to ask how much something costs, even though the answer would rarely use one of these generic numbers.
These apply when referring to numbers in the abstract, as when counting out loud or doing math problems. They are also often used for countdowns even though a counter exists for seconds, as it's just easier this way. You can probably get away with using these numbers in any situation, though it's less correct than using an appropriate counter.
- 零 or 〇 = 0: れい (rei) or ゼロ (ZERO). まる (maru, circle) is also used, much as 0 is often pronounced "oh" in English.
- 一 = 1: いち (ichi)
- 二 = 2: に (ni)
- 三 = 3: さん (san)
- 四 = 4: し (shi) or よん (yon), or よ (yo) in some compounds.
- 五 = 5: ご (go)
- 六 = 6: ろく (roku)
- 七 = 7: しち (shichi) or なな (nana)
- 八 = 8: はち (hachi)
- 九 = 9: きゅう (kyuu), or く (ku) in some compounds
- 十 = 10: じゅう (juu)
- 百 = 100: ひゃく (hyaku)
- 千 = 1000: せん (sen)
- 万 = 104: まん (man)
- 億 = 108: おく (oku)
- 兆 = 1012: ちょう (chou)
- 京 = 1016: けい (kei)
れい for 0, し for 4, and しち for 7 are generally considered more correct for use with this number set, as these are the on readings of the kanji (matching the other numbers), but the kun readings よん and なな are both common, especially when used with counters (where よ also surfaces), and ゼロ is widely used as a pronunciation for zero, particularly when standing alone.
As with the number kanji, these combine to form more complicated numbers. However, the pronunciation of some numbers shift when compounded. The ones I can remember offhand are: 三百 = さんびゃく (sanbyaku), 六百 = ろっぴゃく (roppyaku), 八百 = はっぴゃく (happyaku), 三千 = さんぜん (sanzen), and 八千 = はっせん (hassen).
More generally, the following phonetic changes tend to occur when a number is part of a compound (such as when followed by a counter):
- 一: いち (ichi) becomes
いっ (i + next consonant) when
followed by k, s/sh,
or p. Additionally, h/f
after 一 becomes p.
Examples: 一 (ichi) + 回 (kai) = いっかい (ikkai), 一 (ichi) + 本 (hon) = いっぽん (ippon).
- 二: に (ni) has no common changes.
- 三: さん (san) itself does not change,
but hu/fu after 三 becomes pu,
and other h sounds become b
sounds. The infrequent wa may also become
Examples: 三 (san) + 本 (hon) = さんぼん (sanbon), 三 (san) + 分 (fun) = さんぷん (sanpun)
- 四: Usually よん (yon) rather than し (shi), apparently in part because of 死 (shi, death). よん itself does not usually change, other than sometimes becoming よ (yo) especially when followed by an n, but hu/fu after 四 sometimes becomes pu, and other h sounds sometimes become b sounds. When followed by a wa, the result supposedly may be any of よわ (yowa), よんわ (yonwa), or よんば (yonba), but the straightforward よんわ seems to be the most common.
- 五: ご (go) has no common changes.
- 六: ろく (roku) becomes
ろっ (ro + next consonant) when followed by
k, h/f, or p.
Additionally, h/f after 六 becomes p.
The result when followed by a wa may be either
ろくわ (rokuwa) or ろっぱ (roppa).
Examples: 六 (roku) + 階 (kai) = ろっかい (rokkai), 六 (roku) + 匹 (hiki) = ろっぴき (roppiki).
- 七: Usually なな (nana) rather than しち (shichi). No common changes.
- 八: はち (hachi) becomes
はっ (ha + next consonant) when followed by
or p. Additionally, h/f
after 八 becomes p.
The result when followed by a wa
may be either はっぱ (happa) or
Examples: 八 (hachi) + 歳 (sai) = はっさい (hassai), 八 (hachi) + 杯 (hai) = はっぱい (happai).
- 九: きゅう (kyuu) becomes く (ku) in certain cases, but otherwise has no common changes.
- 十: じゅう (juu) becomes
じゅっ (ju + next consonant), or the more
outdated form じっ (ji + next consonant),
when followed by k,
h/f, or p.
Additionally, h/f after 十 becomes
p. 十 followed by a wa
may optionally become じっぱ (jippa).
Examples: 十 (juu) + 回 (kai) = じゅっかい (jukkai), 十 (juu) + 本 (hon) = じゅっぽん (juppon).
- 百: ひゃく (hyaku) becomes
ひゃっ (hya + next consonant) when
followed by k, h/f,
or p. Additionally, h/f
after 百 becomes p.
Examples: 百 (hyaku) + 本 (hon) = ひゃっぽん (hyappon), 百 (hyaku) + 回 (kai) = ひゃっかい (hyakkai)
- 千: せん (sen) itself does not change, but hu/fu after 千 becomes pu, and other h sounds become b sounds.
- 万: まん (man) itself does not change, but hu/fu after 万 becomes pu, and other h sounds become b sounds.
Also note that these pronunciations continue to apply even when (as is often the case) a number is written with numerals. 65,535 is still ろくまんごせんごひゃくさんじゅうご (rokuman gosen gohyaku sanjuu go) whether it's written as 六万五千五百三十五 or not.
The kanji 半 (han) can indicate half a unit. Use it before a counter in place of the number to express one half, or after a number and counter to express an additional half.
(Han kagetsu mateba atsuku naru deshou.)
"Wait half a month and it should get warmer."
"4.5 tatami mats" (a common Japanese room size)
(Juuji han made nemashita.)
"I slept until half after ten."
When combining 間 (kan) for duration and 半 (han) for an extra half unit, put 半 after 間.
(Niji kan han benkyou shimashita.)
"I studied for two and a half hours."
A fraction X/Y is read as Ｙ分のＸ (Y bun no X), which literally translates to "X of Y parts".
- 二分の一 = 1/2: にぶんのいち (nibun no ichi)
- 五分の四 = 4/5: ごぶんのよん (gobun no yon)
分 can also be used more broadly. For instance, 一人分 (hitori bun) refers to one person's share of something.
There are several ways to express uncertain or approximate numbers in Japanese. One way is to use the particle くらい (kurai) after the number. Another, for slight uncertainties, uses two consecutive numbers (often separated by a comma) in place of a single one: 二、三 (ni, san) means "two or three".
A more general way uses the question word 何, which when used in number-related compounds means "how many" or "some number of" and is pronounced なん (nan). 何 may either come before a unit number (10, 100, etc.) or attach directly to a counter without any numbers involved.
A hu/fu after 何 becomes pu, and other h sounds become b sounds, but the surrounding numbers and counters do not otherwise affect pronunciation.
(Nan nin ga kimasu ka?)
"How many people are coming?"
(Nan juunin ka ga kuru to omoimasu.)
"I think a few dozen people are coming." (literally "some number of tens of people")
(Nan byakunin mo kitara taihen na koto ni narimasu.)
"It's going to be a real mess if hundreds of people come."
The kanji 数, read すう (suu) in this context, can also work with numbers and counters to express an indeterminate amount. This can come by itself before a counter or unit (10, 100, etc.) to mean something like "a few" or "several", or can come after a number (but still before any counter) with a meaning comparable to "or so". Unlike 何, 数 compounds cannot function as the unknown in a question.
(Suu juunin ga kuru to omoimasu.)
"I think a few dozen people are coming." (literally "a number of tens of people")
(Suu hyakunin mo kitara taihen na koto ni narimasu.)
"It's going to be a real mess if hundreds of people come."
(De mo kekkyoku juu suu nin shika kimasen deshita.)
"But in the end, only ten or so people came."
The usual way to create an ordinal number (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) in Japanese adds the suffix 目 (me) at the end of the number, after the counter (if any).
(Sanjigen me ni chikoku shichatta.)
"I was late to third period."
(Hitotsu me wa ichiban nigai desu.)
"The first one is the most bitter."
This can also combine with 何 (nan) "how many?" numbers to form questions about where something falls in a series.
(Nan gyou me kara yomimashou ka.)
"Which line (of text) should I start reading from?"
(Kore de nan kai me na no?)
"How many times does this make?" (more literally, "Which instance (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) of this occurance is this one?")
An alternate way to form an ordinal number prefixes the number with 第 (dai). This seems to have a more official-sounding or grandiose tone, and tends to appear in proper names and formalized numberings and such.
(BEETOUVEN no koukyoukyoku dai kyuuban)
"Beethoven's Symphony No. 9"
(Kyoukasho no dai isshou wo yominasai.)
"Read chapter one of the textbook."
Yet another way uses the generic ordering counter 番 (ban). This acts as a counter instead of combining with a counter, so is vaguer about what's being numbered, but sometimes that's just easier.
(Kore ga ichiban muzukashii no.)
"This is the most difficult one." (literally "first in difficulty")
Japanese typically uses a tilde ( ~ ) or wave dash ( ～ ) when writing ranges of numbers, rather than the hyphen ( - ) more often used in English. For example, you might see 200~230 or ７～１５. Unfortunately, I'm not certain of the correct way to pronounce this, but my guess would be as a から…まで (kara ... made) phrase.
On a side note, I've never liked using a hyphen for a range of numbers. It's too easily confused with a subtraction symbol or month/day separator. If 10-12 could mean any of ten minus twelve or ten through twelve or October twelve, maybe there's a better way to handle it. That goes especially when dealing with computer programs that "help" by automatically converting anything that looks like a date into an actual date, whether it was meant to be one or not.
When the number in question involves time, you can make it a duration by adding 間 (kan) after the counter. However, it is sometimes omitted for some counters, and should not be used with the months counter ヶ月 (kagetsu), which already implies a duration.
(KODEIN no eikyou de niji kan kabe wo jitto mimashita.)
"I stared at the wall for two hours under the effects of codeine."
(Nan nen kan kore wo machikaneta no darou.)
"How many years have I impatiently awaited this?"
When combining 半 (han) for an extra half unit and 間 (kan) for duration, put 半 after 間.
(Niji kan han benkyou shimashita.)
"I studied for two and a half hours."
These are commonly referred to as "counters". Called 助数詞 (josuushi), literally the "number-helping part of speech", in Japanese, they follow numbers in most practical uses and incidate the type of thing being numbered. These are similar to how in English we refer to sheets of paper or drops of water, but are used more widely. For instance, while in English we would say "two dogs," Japanese uses 犬二匹 (inu nihiki), which roughly equates to "two animals of dog" if literally translated in a way that parallels similar constructs in English.
Linguistically speaking, Japanese nouns act as mass nouns (as opposed to count nouns), in that they remain unchanged regardless of number and require these counters to specify a particular amount. The closest English equivalent is typically called a "unit". English has a few mass nouns of its own, such as "equipment", "knowledge", and "water", so this is not an entirely unfamiliar concept.
First, we'll start with some that deserve special attention.
Counting People: 人 (nin)
人 as a counter usually has the pronounciation にん (nin) and usually combines with the abstract number set, as nearly all counters do. However, the first few numbers are exceptions when counting people.
- 一人: ひとり (hitori)
- 二人: ふたり (futari)
- 三人: さんにん (sannin)
- 四人: よにん (yonin)
- 五人: ごにん (gonin)
- ...and so on.
The first two break pattern, using the other number set. To be even more confusing, 一人 and 二人 are pronounced as いちにん (ichinin) and ににん (ninin) in certain longer words and phrases, such as 一人前 (ichininmae) and 二人称 (nininshou), but normally they're ひとり and ふたり, especially when used alone. Fortunately, everything beyond two behaves itself.
The question form is 何人 (nan nin).
More politely: 名 (mei)
Meaning "name", the counter 名 (mei) counts people in a more polite way, and is often followed by 様 (sama) for further respect. This acts as a normal counter with no special tricks or exceptions.
(O-kyaku-sama nan mei-sama desu ka.)
(loosely) "How many are in your [dining, etc.] party?"
The question form is 何名 (nan mei), again optionally followed with 様 (sama), as shown above.
Counting Multiple Births (twins, triplets, etc.): 子 (go)
I'm not sure this would properly be considered a counter, but it acts like one, so here it is. This one is remarkable mostly because it uses the older concrete number set instead of the general abstract number set. There's also some irregularity to make things interesting. These terms are generally used only for human births.
- There is no particular term for a single birth. Expect to see 一人 (one person), read ひとり (hitori).
- Twins use a special term, 双子, read ふたご (futago)
- 三つ子: みつご (mitsugo)
- 四つ子: よつご (yotsugo)
- 五つ子: いつつご (itsutsugo)
- 六つ子: むつご (mutsugo)
- 七つ子: ななつご (nanatsugo)
- 八つ子: やつご (yatsugo)
- 九つ子: ここのつ (kokonotsugo)
Additional terms may technically exist, but anything beyond these is surpassing absurd for a human. Eight at once is apparently the most ever carried to term and delivered alive, and that's ridiculous enough already.
Counting Days: 日 (nichi / ka)
These, unfortunately, are far more complicated than they need to be. Many follow the usual pattern of adding the counter にち (nichi) to the abstract number, but the first ten and a few others don't. Many of these also use the alternate reading か (ka) for the counter.
Day 1 makes it even more confusing. When referring to one day in the general sense or as a period of time, 1日 (or 一日) is read いちにち (ichinichi), as you'd probably expect. However, when it's the first day of a month, 1日 is instead ついたち (tsuitachi). This pronunciation has no connection to these kanji, and apparently comes from an old reading of 月立ち, meaning the onset of the month (tsuitachi may also be written 朔日 or just 朔; both refer to the new moon, which fell on the first day of the month in the old lunarsolar calendar system).
Other days are listed below. These apply both when used in the general sense and when referring to days of the month. I've omitted the kanji writings for the days past ten in order to conserve space.
|2日 (二日): ふつか (futsuka)||3日 (三日): みっか (mikka)||4日 (四日): よっか (yokka)|
|5日 (五日): いつか (itsuka)||6日 (六日): むいか (muika)||7日 (七日): なのか (nanoka)|
|8日 (八日): ようか (youka)||9日 (九日): ここのか (kokonoka)||10日 (十日): とおか (tooka)|
|11日: じゅういちにち (juu ichinichi)||12日: じゅうににち (juu ninichi)||13日: じゅうさんにち (juu sannichi)|
|14日: じゅうよっか (juu yokka)||15日: じゅうごにち (juu gonichi)||16日: じゅうろくにち (juu rokunichi)|
|17日: じゅうしちにち (juu shichinichi)||18日: じゅうはちにち (juu hachinichi)||19日: じゅうきゅうにち (juu kyuunichi)|
|20日: はつか (hatsuka)||21日: にじゅういちにち (nijuu ichinichi)||22日: にじゅうににち (nijuu ninichi)|
|23日: にじゅうさんにち (nijuu sannichi)||24日: にじゅうよっか (nijuu yokka)||25日: にじゅうごにち (nijuu gonichi)|
|26日: にじゅうろくにち (nijuu rokunichi)||27日: にじゅうしちにち (nijuu shichinichi)||28日: にじゅうはちにち (nijuu hachinichi)|
|29日: にじゅうきゅうにち (nijuu kyuunichi)||30日: さんじゅうにち (sanjuu nichi)||31日: さんじゅういちにち (sanjuu ichinichi)|
Higher numbers for days don't get much use, since they're most often days of the month, but the established pattern continues from this point on, with the higher multiples of ten behaving themselves. 四十日, for example, has the expected reading よんじゅうにち (yonjuu nichi) instead of something outlandish.
三十日 may also have the reading みそか (misoka), from the kanji 晦日 (literally "fading day", as this used to be the day before the new moon in the old calendar system). Though reportedly more common when the 30th comes as the last day of the month, this seems to have mostly fallen out of use.
Other alternate readings include じゅうななにち (juu nanainichi) and にじゅうななにち (nijuu nananichi) for days 17 and 27, and じゅうよんにち (juu yonnichi) and にじゅうよんにち (nijuu yonnichi) for days 14 and 24. These seem to be relatively unpopular, though, probably because ななにち and よんにち mix the kun reading of the numbers with the on reading of the counter.
Note that days of the month do NOT add 目 (me) to form ordinal (1st, 2nd, etc.) numbers. The 15th day of the month is simply 十五日 (juu gonichi), or, more often, 15日. English does the same thing half the time (April 15, for example), but less consistently. If you see 15日目 (juu gonichi me), then it's referring to the fifteenth in a series of days usually other than days of the month, perhaps the fifteenth day of an event or the fifteenth day since something happened.
The question form is 何日 (nan nichi).
Counting Months: 月 (gatsu) and ヶ月 (kagetsu)
Months have two different counters. Which one to use depends on whether you're counting the months of the year (or indicating a particular month in a series of months) or a duration in months.
Months of the year:
These use the counter 月 (gatsu), and are fairly straightforward, certainly moreso than in English.
- 一月 (1月) = January: いちがつ (ichigatsu)
- 二月 (2月) = February: にがつ (nigatsu)
- 三月 (3月) = March: さんがつ (sangatsu)
- 四月 (4月) = April: しがつ (shigatsu)
- 五月 (5月) = May: ごがつ (gogatsu)
- 六月 (6月) = June: ろくがつ (rokugatsu)
- 七月 (7月) = July: しちがつ (shichigatsu)
- 八月 (8月) = August: はちがつ (hachigatsu)
- 九月 (9月) = September: くがつ (kugatsu)
- 十月 (10月) = October: じゅうがつ (juugatsu)
- 十一月 (11月) = November: じゅういちがつ (juu ichigatsu)
- 十二月 (12月) = December: じゅうにがつ (juu nigatsu)
As with days of the month, months of the year do NOT appear in ordinal (1st, 2nd, etc.) form. April is simply 四月 (shigatsu), or, more likely, 4月, as Arabic numerals tend to appear more often in writing than the kanji numbers.
The question form is 何月 (nan gatsu).
Traditional month names:
Before adopting the Gregorian calendar in 1873, Japan used a lunarsolar calendar based on the Chinese one. These months do not correspond directly to the modern ones, as the old first month would start anywhere roughly from late January to late February, and each month was 30, sometimes 29, days long. Most of these terms have fallen out of use, but since they may still be of interest regardless, here they are.
- First month: 睦月 (mutsuki)
- Second month: 如月 or 衣更着 (kisaragi)
- Third month: 弥生 (yayoi)
- Fourth month: 卯月 (udzuki)
- Fifth month: 皐月 or 早月 (satsuki)
- Sixth month: 水無月 (minadzuki)
- Seventh month: 文月 (fumitsuki)
- Eighth month: 葉月 (hadzuki)
- Ninth month: 長月 (nagatsuki)
- Tenth month: 神無月 (kannadzuki), or 神有月 (kamiaritsuki) in the Izumo region.
- Eleventh month: 霜月 (shimotsuki)
- Last month: 師走 (shiwasu)
Although the Japanese lunarsolar calendar no longer remains in use, some of these month names may occassionally be applied to the correspondingly numbered months of the Gregorian calendar, even though the Gregorian months come roughly a month earlier. In particular, the term 師走 conveys a sense of a frantic year-end rush that still applies to modern-day December.
Months of duration:
These use the counter ヶ月 (kagetsu), also written か月 and a few other uncommon ways. Note that these are all pronounced the same way, and that the ヶ is a simplified form of the kanji 箇, not a katakana character.
|1ヶ月 (一ヶ月): いっかげつ (ikkagetsu)||2ヶ月 (二ヶ月): にかげつ (nikagetsu)||3ヶ月 (三ヶ月): さんかげつ (sankagetsu)|
|4ヶ月 (四ヶ月): よんかげつ (yonkagetsu)||5ヶ月 (五ヶ月): ごかげつ (gokagetsu)||6ヶ月 (六ヶ月): ろっかげつ (rokkagetsu)|
|7ヶ月 (七ヶ月): ななかげつ (nanakagetsu)||8ヶ月 (八ヶ月): はっかげつ (hakkagetsu)||9ヶ月 (九ヶ月): きゅうかげつ (kyuukagetsu)|
|10ヶ月 (十ヶ月): じゅっかげつ (jukkagetsu)||11ヶ月 (十一ヶ月): じゅういっかげつ (juu ikkagetsu) ...and so on.|
This counter implies a duration on its own, so using 間 (kan) with it to indicate a span of time is redundant and technically incorrect.
However, this counter can be used to make ordinal numbers such as 4ヶ月目 (yonkagetsu me, fourth month).
The question form is 何ヶ月 (nan kagetsu).
Date and Time
Combine a day of the month with a month of the year, and optionally the year as well with the counter 年 (nen), to form a date. Japanese normally uses year-month-day order, unlike the day-month-year order common to much of the rest of the world or the frankly nonsensical month-day-year order America typically uses.
- 四月十五日: しがつじゅうごにち
(shigatsu juu gonichi) →
- 2月6日: にがつむいか
(nigatsu muika) →
- 2000年1月1日: にせんねんいちがつついたち
(ni sennen ichigatsu tsuitachi) →
January 1, 2000
When written completely with numbers, Japanese dates use the format yyyy/mm/dd or yyyy-mm-dd. This is again unlike the ddMMMyyyy format popular elsewhere or the nonsensical mm/dd/yyyy format used pretty much only in the USA.
- 6/4: ろくがつよっか (rokugatsu yokka) →
- 1985-12-25: せんきゅうひゃくはちじゅうごねんじゅうにがつにじゅうごにち
(sen kyuuhyaku hachijuu gonen juu nigatsu nijuu gonichi) →
December 25, 1985
In addition to putting month between year and day, where it belongs, this format has the advantage having the same sort order both chronologically and numerically, which is especially nice when working with computers. It also complies with ISO 8601.
The day of the week (usually abbreviated) may follow the date, and the time may follow that if further precision is needed:
- 2011年2月26日 (土) 16:41 →
4:41 pm on February 26, 2011 (Sat)
Thirds of the month:
Approximate dates, such as when summarizing weather patterns or announcing anticipated release dates, are often given by adding 上旬 (joujun), 中旬 (chuujun), or 下旬 (gejun) after the month. 上旬 refers to the first ten days of the month, 中旬 to the 11th through the 20th, and 下旬 to the 21st through the end of the month. For example, a new game scheduled for release 8月上旬 (hachigatsu joujun) should be in stores starting some time during the period from August 1 to August 10, assuming it's not delayed.
Days of the week:
Though these aren't numbers as such, the information goes with dates, so here are the days of the week:
- 日曜日 = Sunday: にちようび (nichiyoubi)
- 月曜日 = Monday: げつようび (getsuyoubi)
- 火曜日 = Tuesday: かようび (kayoubi)
- 水曜日 = Wednesday: すいようび (suiyoubi)
- 木曜日 = Thursday: もくようび (mokuyoubi)
- 金曜日 = Friday: きんようび (kin'youbi)
- 土曜日 = Saturday: どようび (doyoubi)
Similar to the English abbreviations Sun, Mon, and so on, days of the week in Japanese are often abbreviated by using only the first kanji (日, 月, and so on) where it's clear that day of the week is the intended meaning, as in 6月17日 (金) = Friday, June 17.
These names were derived from Latin roots after early contact with Europe. Note that 日 = sun, 月 = moon, 火星 = Mars, 水星 = Mercury, 木星 = Jupiter, 金星 = Venus, and 土星 = Saturn (though these are the names of the planets, not gods, unlike in Latin). Modern Italian, French, and Spanish use similar naming schemes, except that Saturday in these languages is derived from "sabbath" and their Sunday has become the Lord's day. English instead managed to keep the weekend as in Latin, but thanks to the Anglo-Saxons got most of the weekdays tangled up in Germanic gods instead (Tiw, Woden, Thor, and Frigg).
The question form is 何曜日 (nan youbi).
Use the counter 時 (ji) for hours and 分 (fun) for minutes. Times may be written either with the counters or in hh:mm format, both for time of day and for durations of time, but are pronounced the same way regardless, as usual. When using the 12-hour clock, optionally add 午前 (gozen) before the time to indicate before noon, or 午後 (gogo) to indicate after noon. 半 (han) after the hour in place of minutes indicates an extra half hour, and 間 (kan) after the time makes a duration explicit.
- 午後9時15分: ごごくじじゅうごふん (gogo kuji juu gofun) →
Nine fifteen at night
- 午前11:03: ごぜんじゅういちじさんぷん (gozen juu ichiji sanpun) →
- 8時30分: はちじさんじゅっぷん (hachiji sanjuppun) →
Eight thirty, or eight hours and thirty minutes
- 8時半: はちじはん (hachiji han) →
Eight thirty, or eight and a half hours
- 8時30分間: はちじさんじゅっぷんかん (hachiji sanjuppun kan) →
Eight hours and thirty minutes
- 8時間半: はちじかんはん (hachiji kan han) →
Eight and a half hours
For additional precision, add seconds with the counter 秒 (byou) or using hh:mm:ss format, or mm:ss if context makes it adequately clear that it's minutes and seconds instead of hours and minutes.
- 5分10秒: ごふんじゅうびょう (gofun juubyou) →
Five minutes and ten seconds
- 1:23:45: いちじにじゅうさんぷんよんじゅうごびょう
(ichiji nijuu sanpun yonjuu gobyou) →
1 hour, 23 minutes, and 45 seconds, or the time 1:23:45
Smaller units such as ミリ秒 (MIRIbyou, millisecond) and ナノ秒 (NANObyou, nanosecond) also exist, but serve little purpose outside of scientific applications.
About 12-hour and 24-hour time:
Unlike in America, where the 12-hour clock is overwhelmingly common, Japan uses both the 12-hour and the 24-hour clock. The 24-hour clock is more common in writing, official usage, and computing, while the 12-hour clock is common in conversation.
Scheduling, such as for television programming, may also go beyond 24 hours when referring to late-night and early-morning hours. 27:30 on Monday, for instance, equals 3:30 Tuesday morning. This may seen a bit odd at first, but makes perfect sense if you think about it. As far as anyone staying up that late is concerned, it probably still feels like Monday, and it's more obvious that a show is two hours long when it's listed as 23:00 to 25:00 than as 23:00 to 01:00 or 11pm to 1am.
Japanese Era Names:
Japan has used the Gregorian calendar—called the グレゴリオ暦 (GUREGORIO reki), or simply the 新暦 (shinreki, new calendar)—since the beginning of 1873, but an older alternate system of indicating the year, though uncommon in everyday use, remains preferred for various forms of paperwork and other official usage. This Japanese calendar system uses era names, called 元号 (gengou) or 年号 (nengou), based on the current emperor's reign. The era name comes before the year number when giving a year in this system. For example, the year 2011 corresponds to 平成23年 (Heisei ni juu sannen).
Before adopting the Gregorian calendar, Japan used a lunarsolar calendar based on the Chinese one. However, this has since been abandoned, and the day and month now remain the same whether using the Gregorian year or the Japanese era name year, which is one less thing to worry about, as long as you're not looking too far back into history.
The four most recent eras as of October 2017, starting with the current one and working back, are 平成 (Heisei), 昭和 (Shouwa, often romanized as "Showa"), 大正 (Taishou, often romanized as "Taisho"), and 明治 (Meiji). Most earlier eras were much shorter and have little modern relevance, but you can find listings on Wikipedia and elsewhere if you're interested. Sample equivalent years follow:
- 明治1年 (Meiji 1) = 1868
- 明治10年 (Meiji 10) = 1877
- 明治25年 (Meiji 25) = 1892
- 明治33年 (Meiji 33) = 1900
- 明治45年 (Meiji 45) = 1912
- 大正1年 (Taisho 1) = 1912
- 大正10年 (Taisho 10) = 1921
- 大正15年 (Taisho 15) = 1926
- 昭和1年 (Showa 1) = 1926
- 昭和10年 (Showa 10) = 1935
- 昭和20年 (Showa 20) = 1945
- 昭和35年 (Showa 35) = 1960
- 昭和50年 (Showa 50) = 1975
- 昭和64年 (Showa 64) = 1989
- 平成1年 (Heisei 1) = 1989
- 平成10年 (Heisei 10) = 1998
- 平成12年 (Heisei 12) = 2000
- 平成20年 (Heisei 20) = 2008
- 平成29年 (Heisei 29) = 2017
Counting Age: 歳/才 (sai)
Age uses the counter 歳 (sai), informally simplified to 才 (sai) since most people would rather not write the official kanji. Normally, it's straightforward, but there is one notable complication: Ages from 1 to 10, plus 20, often use the older generic concrete number system by itself instead of a number and counter. This means, for example, that while someone who is 17 years old is 十七歳 (juu nanasai), one who is 6 is as likely to be referred to as 六つ (muttsu) as 六歳 (rokusai). Twenty years of age may be written either as the bare number 二十 or as 二十歳, but is usually pronounced はたち (hatachi) regardless.
There are many more than I have listed here, some of which have very specific and obscure uses, but this chart should include the most common ones, along with others that are only moderately common and some that I just find interesting. For counters explained in more detail above, the chart links back to the detailed entries.
|個||こ (ko)||Miscellaneous. This is used for anything
that doesn't have a more specific counter,
or for when the more specific one is too obscure to bother with.
|人||にん (nin) / り (ri)||People.
Like the related noun for people, 人(hito),
this usually includes any civilized creatures,
especially if humanoid, such as elves or dwarves in fantasy settings.
|名||めい (mei)||People, in more polite or formal settings. Often followed by 様 (sama).|
|体||たい (tai)||Statues, dolls, (usually dead) bodies, etc.|
|匹||ひき (hiki)||Most or all animals, especially the relatively small ones.|
|頭||とう (tou)||Various large animals like cows and horses, though 匹 is also used.|
|羽||わ (wa)||Birds (and rabbits), though 匹 is also used.
Why rabbits? The story goes that monks once
classified them as "birds" (with the ears as their "wings") to get around dietary restrictions.
|尾||び (bi)||Shrimp and small fish, though 匹 is more common in general usage.|
|秒||びょう (byou)||Seconds. See above for more information on expressing date and time.|
|分||ふん (fun)||Minutes. See above for more information on expressing date and time.|
|時||じ (ji)||Hours. See above for more information on expressing date and time.|
|日||にち (nichi) / か (ka)||Days. See above for more information on expressing date and time.|
|月||がつ (gatsu)||Months (of the year). See above for more information on expressing date and time.|
|ヶ月||かげつ (kagetsu)||Months (as a duration).|
|年||ねん (nen)||Years. See above for more information on expressing date and time.|
|代||だい (dai)||Eras and generations.|
|歳 or 才||さい (sai)||Years of age. Though less official, the simpler kanji is very common.|
|時限||じげん (jigen)||Divisions of time, such as class periods in school.|
|泊||はく (haku)||Nights of a stay at a hotel or other form of lodging away from home.|
|番||ばん (ban)||Ranking, position, turn order, etc.|
|畳||じょう (jou)||Tatami mats. Used as a unit of area when measuring rooms.|
|度||ど (do)||Number of times. Also degrees (angle, temperature, and coordinates) and musical steps.|
|回||かい (kai)||Number of times. More commonly used for larger numbers and inherently repetitive things than 度.|
|倍||ばい (bai)||Multiples. 3倍 (sanbai) means "triple", for example.|
|分||ぶん (bun)||Fractional parts. Portions or sections. Don't confuse this with the minutes counter 分 (fun).|
|割||わり (wari)||Tenths. Common in sale prices, such as 九割 (kyuuwari, 90%) or 2割引き (niwari hiki, 20% off).|
|円||えん (en)||Japanese yen. You may also see the yen sign ¥, but 円 seems to be more common in Japan.|
|ドル||ドル (DORU)||Dollars, typically but not necessarily USD.|
|枚||まい (mai)||Various flat objects. Includes pancakes, coins, papers, plates, boards, and many articles of clothing.|
|足||そく (soku)||Pairs of shoes, socks, or other footwear.|
|階||かい (kai)||Flights of stairs, floors in a building.
Also used to refer to a given floor of a building,
without any need to convert to an ordinal number, such as 三階 (sankai, third floor).
|本||ほん (hon)||Long, thin objects. Includes pencils, flowers,
pipes, bottles, pretzel sticks, poles,
swords, spears, and Freud's infamous "anything longer than it is wide".
|冊||さつ (satsu)||Bound volumes, usually books.|
|部||ぶ (bu)||Newspapers, magazines, or other things made of papers.
Technically books as well, but those normally use 冊 instead.
|章||しょう (shou)||Chapters in a book or other story, or major divisions of other works.|
|行||ぎょう (gyou)||Lines (of text) or verses.|
|面||めん (men)||Flat surfaces, such as mirrors, game boards, and the ground.|
|杯||はい (hai)||Cups, glasses, cupfulls, spoonfuls, etc. Various mollusks like octopi and squid. Boats.|
|台||だい (dai)||Vehicles and machines, such as cars, bicycles, and appliances.|
|話||わ (wa)||Stories, episodes (of serial television), etc.|
|発||はつ (hatsu)||Discharges, shots.
Includes such things as gunshots and fireworks,
and also the going off of Freud's infamous something longer than it is wide (and related acts).
Deliberate use of an inappropriate counter is one form of wordplay that doesn't translate well. For instance, someone could refer to a group of people with the 体 counter for bodies to suggest that they're as good as dead, or someone exaggerating the size of the mouse that just ran by might refer to it as 一頭, using the counter for large animals such as horses.
Many units used elsewhere also appear in Japanese, typically using the metric system. Several such units are listed below, along with some metric prefixes. Either the unit abbreviations (kg) or the katakana (キログラム) may be used when written.
The metric prefix is sometimes used alone when context makes the unit clear, particularly センチ for centimeters and キロ for kilograms or kilometers.
Temperature in Japanese is normally expressed in degrees Celsius, pronounced using the degrees counter 度 (do), though the writing 25°C is as common in Japan as anywhere else. The temperature scale used may be noted for clarity, using the katakana writing セルシウス (SERUSHIUSU), the Chinese-derived kanji writing 摂氏 (sesshi), or the hybrid form セ氏 (SEshi). Thus the example of 25°C might be pronounced as セルシウス25度 (SERUSHIUSU nijuu godo), 摂氏25度 (sesshi nijuu godo), or セ氏25度 (SEshi nijuu godo), but since temperature defaults to Celsius, a simple 25度 (nijuu godo) will usually work just fine.
Fahrenheit, when mentioned, is ファーレンハイト (FAARENHAITO) or 華氏 (kashi), often written カ氏 for simplicity.Back to top