Japanese Numbers: Counting in Japanese from 1-100+
Ready to learn how to count from 1-100+ with Japanese numbers? The Japanese number system can be quite complex, especially when you first start learning.
While basic counting in Japanese is easy, there are several ways to count… even just to 10. And counting objects can become confusing because of a dreaded thing called “counters”.
But I’m here to help guide you through it! I’ll share all my best tips for counting in Japanese and tricks for getting around some of the difficult parts.
Table of contents
- How to Count in Japanese: A Japanese Numbers Overview:
- Numbers in Japanese, 1 – 100: A Helpful Chart
- Kanji Numbers in Japanese: 1 – 1 Trillion!
- The Japanese Number System: The Most Common Japanese Counters
- Japanese Ordinal Numbers
- Japanese Days of the Month
- How to Say “Number” in Japanese + Some Math Words
- Japanese Phone Numbers
- Japanese Number Superstitions
- Japanese Lucky Numbers
- You’re the 007 of Japanese Numbers Now!
How to Count in Japanese: A Japanese Numbers Overview:
Let’s take a look at the Japanese numbers 1 – 10 in the Sino-Japanese Number system, which is most common:
- 1: 一 (いち , ichi)
- 2: 二 (に , ni)
- 3: 三 (さん , san)
- 4: 四 (よん / し , yon or shi)
- 5: 五 (ご , go)
- 6: 六 (ろく , roku)
- 7: 七 (なな / しち , nana or shichi)
- 8: 八 (はち , hachi)
- 9: 九 (く / きゅう , ku or kyuu)
- 10: 十 (じゅう , juu)
You’ll see I first wrote the Japanese numbers in kanji but included how to read them in hiragana and romaji (English characters) as well.
The Japanese number system has two sets of numbers: the Sino-Japanese numbers and the Native Japanese numbers.
The most common Japanese numbers are the Sino-Japanese numbers. But you will often come across 1 – 10 in Native Japanese numbers.
Let’s check out the Native Japanese row first. You’ll only see this system used up to 10, so that makes it easier.
The other cool bonus of this counting system: no counters!
I’ll cover counters in a moment, but this set of numbers is considered the universal counter. You can use it to count everything except money, time, and people. So, if you forget the right counter, use these numbers!
The tip to remembering these numbers is that they all end in つ (tsu) except for 10, which is とう (tou).
This also makes it easier when reading the kanji for these numbers. You can always tell which counting system is being used by whether the kanji is followed by つ or not (except 10).
Now, let’s look at the Sino-Japanese numbers. These are the Japanese numbers you’ll use most often, and they combine with counters for counting objects.
Once you memorize these 10, counting to 100 is easy!
But take note: three numbers have two different readings: 4, 7, and 9.
The numbers 4 and 9 are considered unlucky in Japanese because し (shi) and く (ku) sound the same as the words for death (死, shi) and agony (苦, ku). So, Japanese people avoid using those readings whenever possible.
Even though 7 is a lucky number, it’s reading しち (shichi) also has し so it’s more common to say なな (nana).
As for zero, the Japanese word is 零 (rei), but it’s more common to say it like in English. ゼロ (zero) is most often used, or まる (maru) which means “circle” and is like saying “oh” in English instead of zero.
Counting to 100 in Japanese is super easy once you learn the first 10, and it only uses one system! In Japanese, once you get past 10, you count as if you’re adding. Here’s how that looks:
11 is 十一 (juuichi): 10 + 1 12 is 十二 (juuni): 10 + 2
and so on up to 19.
Once you get to twenty, it’s the same concept, but you start by counting the 10s:
20 is 二十 (nijuu): 2 10’s 21 is 二十一 (nijuuichi): 2 10’s + 1
and so on, up to 99.
100 gets a new word: 百 (hyaku).
A note about Japanese numbers: While counting Japanese numbers is straightforward, sometimes the readings change when used for things like dates and age.
For instance, 20 is called はたち (hatachi) when someone turns 20 years old because that is the age when one is considered to become an adult. Its other irregularity is はつか (hatsuka), which is the 20th day of the month.
Japanese kanji make it easier to read numbers, as the Hiragana can get pretty long as you start getting to bigger numbers.
Plus, you don’t have to memorize too many of them, because of how the numbers are stacked to make bigger ones.
|Kanji||Kana + Romaji|
So, as you can see, the numbers continue to stack themselves all the way up past a trillion!
The biggest difference is that the big numbers are divided by units of 4 (or 10,000) rather than 3 (1,000). So once you get past 10,000, it can be a bit confusing to think of one million as “one hundred ten-thousands” at first.
One note, though: Romanized numbers (1, 2, 3) are often used instead of kanji nowadays.
When those large numbers come up, they are written the same as in English. But, it’s still important to learn the kanji because they *do still pop up, especially when paired with other kanji.
So we talked about them a bit earlier, but… What are Japanese counters?
Counters specify what kind of object you’re counting in Japanese. Japanese has many, many forms of counters for everything, from long objects to machinery.
It’s considered one of the most confusing points of learning Japanese. But, there are some tips to help you learn your way around it.
As I said earlier, if you don’t know the counter for an item, you can use the 一つ、二つ (hitotsu, futatsu) system to count your objects up to ten. This will save you a lot of trouble if you memorize the Native Japanese numbers!
The other thing to take note of is that some numbers conjugate differently with certain counters. The ones to look out for are 1, 3, 6, and 8.
Number 1 changes about half the time, while 3, 6, and 8 change most of the time.
三 (3) changes the first letter of any counter from the “h” column of the kana chart to “b” or “p,” like in 三分 (sanpun, “three minutes”).
六 (6) changes the “h” kana to “pp,” like 六匹 (roppiki, “six animals”).
八 (8) changes “h” counters the same as 6, usually. This is not quite a rule, but common enough to help you when you’re getting started.
Sometimes, the less common readings of 4, 7, and 9 are used with certain counters, like 七時 (shichiji, “7 o’clock”).
Now that that’s out of the way, here are the most common counters you should know:
When counting people in Japanese, you use the counter ~人 (nin) for 3 or more people.
For one person, you say ひとり (hitori), and for two people you say ふたり (futari). Any number after that is the Sino-Japanese number system followed by ~人, such as 三人 (sannin, “three people”).
For long, thin objects, like pens, chopsticks, or bottles, the counter is ~本 (hon).
An example would be 四本のペン (yon hon no pen, “four pens”).
Although 本 means “book” in Japanese, it isn’t the counter for books (that’s ~冊, satsu, which is the counter for bound objects, like manga).
~本 is also the counter for things like roads, rivers, and train tracks – anything that travels that is very long and thin. It’s also used for long-distance telephone calls and travel routes.
Used for small objects, connect ~個 (ko) to the number to count it. And it’s also used for round objects, like apples: リンゴ二個 (ringo niko, ‘two apples”).
When counting small animals, you use ~匹 (hiki), like dogs and cats.
For larger animals, like horses or elephants, you use ~頭 (tou).
For example, 三匹の犬 (sanbiki no inu, “three dogs” – also note the change from h to b in hiki) and 三頭の馬 (santou no uma, “three horses”).
Yes, even cars, your washer and dryer, and your video game console for playing games in Japanese have their own counter. Bicycles fall under this category, too.
You use ~台 (dai) for these objects, like 二台の車 (nidai no kuruma, “two cars”).
To express time in Japanese, you’ve guessed it, you use counters! You express seconds with ~秒 (byou), minutes with ~分 (fun or pun), hours with ~時 (ji), and length of time with ~時間 (jikan).
For months, you use ~月 (getsu), and for years you use ~年 (nen).
Other counters you’ll stumble across often are ~枚 (mai), ~回 (kai), and ~階 (kai or gai).
~枚 is used to count flat objects, like paper. ~回 is used to express the number of times, like the number of times in a week you workout. ~階 is used to count the number of floors in a building.
In Japanese, numbers can come before or after the item being counted.
But they typically come after the item + particle, such as はがきを五枚買います (Hagaki wo gomai kaimasu, “I will buy 5 postcards”). はがき (item counted) を (particle) 五枚 (number + counter) 買います (verb).
If you put the number before the item, then it needs の (no) to connect them.
Reversing the last sentence, 五枚のはがきを買います (Gomai no hagaki wo kaimasu) means the same thing but puts the emphasis on the quantity. It’s usually said this way in response to a question (like “How many did you buy?”).
Don’t feel too discouraged about counters in Japanese. They may seem strange or foreign, but we use them all the time in English too.
In English, we count lettuce, cabbage and garlic in heads, thin/fine objects like hairs and threads in strands, and pants in pairs. Some counters are unique to one noun, such as a skein of yarn.
If anything, Japanese is more logical than English when it comes to counters because there’s a counter for every noun instead of only a few select ones.
Japanese ordinal numbers express order or sequence, like first, second, and third.
In Japanese, you add 第~ (dai) before the number.
So first is 第一 (dai ichi)、第二 (dai ni), and so on.
For numbers with counters that you’re giving in a sequence, you add ~目 (me). So “for the first time” is 一回目 (ikkai me). “Third person” is 三人目 (sannin me).
After counters, this is another difficult aspect of Japanese.
The days of the month are quite inconsistent, especially the first 10 days, plus the 14th, 20th, and 24th.
The first 10 days are more like the Native Japanese counting system, but… not quite. It’s best to just memorize them.
The days of the month in Japanese are:
1st – ついたち (tsuitachi) 2nd – ふつか (futsuka) 3rd – みっか (mikka) 4th – よっか (yokka) 5th – いつか (itsuka) 6th – むいか (muika) 7th – なのか (nanoka) 8th – ようか (youka) 9th – ここのか (kokonoka) 10th – とおか (tooka) 14th – じゅうよっか (juuyokka) 20th – はつか (hatsuka) 24th – にじゅうよっか (nijuuyokka)
The rest of the month follows the regular number stacking system + 日 (nichi), like 二十三日 (nijusan nichi, “23rd of the month”).
To say “number” in Japanese, you can say 数 (kazu) to express a number as quantity, or 数字 (suuji) as in figures or cardinal numbers. “To count” is 数える (kazoeru).
If you need to express yourself in mathematical terms, here are some words you can use:
Plus: プラス (purasu) or 足す (tasu) Minus: マイナス (mainasu) Equals: は (wa) Multiply: 掛ける (kakeru) Divide: 割る (waru) Half: 半分 (hanbun) Point: 点 (ten)
Saying Japanese phone numbers out loud is pretty straightforward. You always read the numbers as single digits, then you say “の” (no) wherever the dash is.
So the number 123-456-7890 would be いち に さん の よん ご ろく の なな はち きゅう まる(ichi ni san no yon go roku no nana hachi kyuu maru).
The last thing you need to know for Japanese numbers? Superstitions!
I already mentioned how 4 and 9 are considered to be unlucky numbers. Because they sound the same as “death” and “suffering,” you’ll notice throughout Japan that those numbers are missing.
There may not be a 4th floor of a building, or room number 49.
The number 7 is considered an extremely lucky number and this is deep-rooted in the culture. From national holidays like 七夕 (Tanabata, Evening of the 7th, on July 7th), to the celebration of life 7 days after birth, it pops up often.
The number 8 is also lucky because it’s said to bring prosperity. The kanji, 八, widens at the bottom to bring in more luck and success.
You’re all set! You’ve had your crash course for numbers in Japanese, and now you can smooth talk your way through the many number systems.
It’s a lot to take in at first, but little patterns emerge as you practice using the numbers which makes it easier.
Plus check out Mimic Method Japanese so you can master Japanese pronunciation!
頑張ろう！(Ganbarou, “Good luck!”)