Japanese numerals

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The Japanese numerals are the number names used in Japanese. In writing, they are the same as the Chinese numerals, and the grouping of large numbers follows the Chinese tradition of grouping by 10,000. Two pronunciations are used: the Sino-Japanese (on'yomi) readings of the Chinese characters and the Japanese yamato kotoba (native words, kun'yomi readings).

Basic numbering in Japanese[edit]

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 (Kun reading) used somewhat less formally for numbers up to 10. In some cases (listed below) the Japanese reading is generally preferred for all uses. Archaic readings are marked with †.

Number Character On reading Kun reading[1] 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
20 二十 ni-jū / にじゅう (hata / はた)† ni-jū
30 三十 san-jū / さんじゅう (miso / みそ)† san-jū
40 四十 shi-jū / しじゅう (yoso / よそ)† yon-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)† nana-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)† kyū-jū
100 hyaku / ひゃく (momo / もも)† hyaku
500 五百 go-hyaku / ごひゃく (io / いお)† go-hyaku
800 八百 hap-pyaku / はっぴゃく (yao / やお)† hap-pyaku
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. 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 (10,000), 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, where numbers begin with 一 if no digit would otherwise precede starting at 100.) 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.

As noted above, yon (4) and nana (7) are preferred to shi and shichi. It is purported that this is because shi is also the reading of the word 死 ("death") which makes it an unlucky reading; while shichi may sound too similar to ichi (1), shi or hachi (8). However, in quite a number of established words and phrases, shi and shichi are preferred; additionally, when counting (as in "ichi, ni, san, shi,..."), shi and shichi may be preferred.

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. In contrast, numbers 7 and sometimes 8 are considered lucky in Japanese.[2]

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[edit]

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).

Powers of 10[edit]

Large numbers[edit]

Following Chinese tradition, large numbers are created by grouping digits into myriads (every 10,000) rather than the Western thousands (1,000):

Rank 104 108 1012 1016 1020 1024 1028 1032 1036 1040 1044 1048 1052
(or 1056)
1056
(or 1064)
1060
(or 1072)
1064
(or 1080)
1068
(or 1088)
Character 𥝱, 秭 恒河沙 阿僧祇 那由他, 那由多 不可思議 無量大数
Reading man oku chō kei gai jo, shi kan sei sai goku gōgasha asōgi nayuta fukashigi muryōtaisū

Variation is due to the Jinkōki (塵劫記), Japan's oldest mathematics text. The initial edition was published in 1627. It had many errors. Most of these were fixed in the 1631 edition. In 1634, there was yet another edition which again changed a few values. The above variation is due to inconsistencies in the latter two editions. There are different characters for 1024 (of which 秭 is in Chinese today), and after 1048 they differ in whether they continue increasing by a factor of 104 or switch to 108. (If by a factor of 108, the intervening factors of 104 and produced with 万 man. The current edition of the Jinkōki, the 11th, follows a factor of 104 throughout, though individuals even today some people use the values from the 8th edition.)

The first three numbers with multisyllabic names and variation in assigned values ultimately derive from India, though they did not have defined values there. 恒河沙 gōgasha was originally used in Buddhist scripture for an indefinitely large quantity; it derives from गङ्गा gangā 'Ganges' (which conveniently includes the character 河 ka 'river') and 沙 sha 'sand', referring to the innumerable sands of the Ganges River. 阿僧祇 asōgi, from Sanskrit असंख्येय asaṃkhyeya 'uncountable/innumerable', with the negative prefix 阿 a, and 那由他 nayuta is from Sanskrit नयुत/नयुतः nayuta(h). After that, the numbers are Buddhist terms translated into or coined in Chinese and later assigned numerical values: 不可思議 fukashigi 'unimaginable' and 無量大数 muryōtaisū 'immeasurably large number'.

Examples: (spacing by groups of four digits is given only for clarity of explanation)

  • 1 0000 : 一万 (ichi-man)
  • 983 6703 : 九百八十三万 六千七百三 (kyū-hyaku hachi-jū san man, roku-sen nana-hyaku san)
  • 20 3652 1801 : 二十億 三千六百五十二万 千八百一 (ni-jū oku, san-zen rop-pyaku go-jū ni-man, sen hap-pyaku ichi)

However, numbers written in Arabic numerals are separated by commas every three digits following English-speaking convention. If Arabic numbers and kanji are used in combination, Western orders of magnitude may be used for numbers smaller than 10,000 (e.g. 2,500万 for 25,000,000).

In Japanese, when long numbers are written out in kanji, zeros are omitted for all powers of ten. Hence 4002 is 四千二 (in contrast, Chinese requires the use of 零 wherever a zero appears, e.g. 四千零二 for 4002). However, when reading out a statement of accounts, for example, the skipped digit or digits are sometimes indicated by tobi (飛び) or tonde (飛んで): e.g. yon-sen tobi ni or yon-sen tonde ni instead of the normal yon-sen ni.

Decimal fractions[edit]

Japanese has two systems of numerals for decimal fractions. They are no longer in general use, but are still used in some instances such as batting and fielding averages of baseball players, winning percentages for sports teams, and in some idiomatic phrases (such as 五分五分の勝負 "fifty-fifty chance"), and when representing a rate or discount. The bu fractions are also used when talking about fevers—for example 九度二分 (kudonibu) for 9 and two parts—the temperature 9.2°C.

One system is as follows:

Rank 10−1 10−2 10−3 10−4 10−5 10−6 10−7 10−8 10−9 10−10
Character
Reading bu rin shi kotsu bi sen sha jin ai

This is the system used with the traditional Japanese units of measurement. Several of the names are used "as is" to represent a fraction of a sun.

The other system of representing these decimal fractions of rate or discount uses a system "shifted down" with a bu becoming a "one hundredth" and so on, and the unit for "tenth" becoming wari:

Rank 10−1 10−2 10−3 10−4 10−5
Character
Reading wari bu rin shi

This is often used with prices. For example:

  • 一割五分引き (ichi-wari go-bu biki): 15% discount
  • 打率三割八分九厘 (daritsu san-wari hachi-bu kyū-rin): batting average .389

With the exception of wari, these are rarely seen in modern usage. Decimal fractions are typically written with either kanji numerals (vertically) or Arabic numerals (horizontally), preceded by a decimal point, and are read as successive digits, as in Western convention. Note that, in written form, they can be combined with either the traditional system of expressing numerals (42.195 kilometers: 四十二・一九五 キロメートル), in which powers of ten are written, or with the place value system, which uses zero (50.04 percent: 五〇・〇四 パーセント.) In both cases, however, the reading follows the traditional system (yon-jū ni-ten ichi-kyū go kiromētoru for 42.195 kilometers; go ju-tten rei-yon pāsento for 50.04 percent.)

Formal numbers[edit]

As with Chinese numerals, there exists in Japanese a separate set of kanji for numerals called daiji (大字) used in legal and financial documents to prevent unscrupulous individuals from adding a stroke or two, turning a one into a two or a three. The formal numbers are identical to the Chinese formal numbers except for minor stroke variations. Today, the numbers for one, two, three, and ten are written only in their formal form in legal documents (the numbers 4 to 9 as well as 100, 1000 and 10000 are written identically to the common ones, cf. table below).[3] These numbers' common forms can be changed to a higher value by adding strokes (1 and 2 were explained above, while 3 can be changed to 5, and 10 to 1000). In some cases, the digit 1 is explicitly written like 壱百壱拾 for 110, as opposed to 百十 in common writing.

Formal numbers:

Number Common Formal
In use Obsolete
1
2
3
4
5
6
7 柒, 漆
8
9
10
100
1000 阡, 仟
10000 万, 萬

The four current banknotes of the Japanese yen, 1000-yen, 2000-yen, 5000-yen, and 10000-yen, have formal numbers 千, 弐千, 五千, and 壱万, respectively.

Old Japanese[edit]

Old Japanese shares some vocabulary with later periods, but there are also unique numerals over 10 which are not used any more, aside from being parts of specific lexemes.

Notes:

Number Reading Examples Notes
1 pi1to2 一日 pi1to2pi1 (1 day), 一年 pi1to2to2se (1 year)  
2 puta 二夜 putayo2 (2 nights)  
3 mi1 三十 mi1so1 (30)  
4 yo2 四十 yo2so1 (40), 四人 yo2tari (4 people)  
5 itu 五年 ituto2se (5 years)  
6 mu 六爪 mutuma (6 claws)  
7 nana 七瀬 nanase (many rapids) Often used to mean many.
8 ya 八雲 yakumo1 (many clouds) Often used to mean many.
9 ko2ko2no2 九柱 ko2ko2no2pasira (9 nobles / gods)  
10 to2 / to2wo 十日 to2woka (10 days)  
10 so1 三十 mi1so1 (30), 四十 yo2so1 (40), 六十 muso1 (60), 八十 yaso1 (80) Found only in compound words; not used alone.
20 pata 二十 patati (20), 二十人 patatari (20 people), 二十年 patato2se (20 years)  
50 i 五十日 ika (50 days)  
100 po 五百 ipo (500), 五百年 ipoto2se (500 years), 五百夜 ipoyo2 (500 nights), 八百 yapo (800), 三百 mi1po (300), 六百 mupo (600), 九百 ko2ko2no2po (900) Used for multiple hundreds in compound numerals. Often used to mean many.
100 mo1mo1 百日 mo1mo1ka (many days) Used for non-multiple hundred and for the number "100" by itself. Often used to mean many.
1000 ti 千年 tito2se (1000 years, many years) Often used to mean many.
10000 yo2ro2du 八百万 yapoyo2ro2du (8000000, myriad) Often used to mean many.

Hand counting[edit]

Japanese uses separate systems for counting for oneself and for displaying numbers to others, which both proceed up to ten. For counting, one begins with the palm open, then counts up to five by curling up (folding down) the fingers, starting from the thumb – thus one has just the thumb down (and others extended), while four has only the pinkie extended, and five has a fist. One then counts up to ten by proceeding in the reverse order, extending the fingers, starting at the pinkie – thus six is the same as four, seven the same as three, and so forth, with ten ending with the palm open. While this introduces ambiguity, it is not used to present to others, so this is generally not a problem. When displaying for others, one starts with the hand closed, and extends fingers, starting with the index, going to the pinkie, then ending with the thumb, as in the United States. For numbers above five, one uses an open hand (indicating five) and places the appropriate number of fingers from the other hand against the palm (palms facing each other) – so six has the index finger against the palm, and so forth.[4] To display ten, one presents both hands open and palm outwards.

Digits in written words[edit]

Since the adoption of Arabic numerals, numbers have become written in Arabic numerals more and more often. Counters and ordinal numbers are typically written in Arabic numbers, such as 3人 (three people), 7月 (July, "seventh-month"), 20歳 (age 20), etc., although 三人、七月、and 二十歳 are also acceptable to write (albeit less common). However, numbers that are part of lexemes are typically written in kanji. For example, the term yaoya 八百屋 (tr.: vegetable stand / grocer) translates into "800 store", uses the Old Japanese pronunciation for 800, ya(h)o. The notorious Japanese organized crime syndicate, the yakuza, can be written 八九三 (or 893), a hand in oicho-kabu that is worth 0 points, indicating that yakuza are "worthless persons" or "gambling persons".[5]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ スーパー大辞林 [Super Daijirin] (in Japanese). Sanseidō.
  2. ^ "The number of death: Lucky and unlucky numbers in Japan". The Science of Language Self-Study | LinguaLift Blog. Retrieved 2016-03-24.
  3. ^ *大正十一年大蔵省令第四十三号 (会計法規ニ基ク出納計算ノ数字及記載事項ノ訂正ニ関スル件) Archived 2012-02-26 at the Wayback Machine 第一条: 会計法規ニ基ク出納計算ニ関スル諸書類帳簿ニ記載スル金額其ノ他ノ数量ニシテ「一」、「二」、「三」、「十」、「廿」、「卅」ノ数字ハ「壱」、「弐」、「参」、「拾」、「弐拾」、「参拾」ノ字体ヲ用ユヘシ但横書ヲ為ストキハ「アラビア」数字ヲ用ユルコトヲ得
    • 戸籍法施行規則 Archived 2012-02-26 at the Wayback Machine 第三十一条 2: 年月日を記載するには、壱、弐、参、拾の文字を用いなければならない。
    • 小切手振出等事務取扱規程 Archived 2012-02-26 at the Wayback Machine 附則 (昭和四〇年四月一日大蔵省令第二〇号) 2: 小切手の券面金額は、当分の間、所定の金額記載欄に、漢数字により表示することができる。この場合においては、「一」、「二」、「三」及び「十」の字体は、それぞれ「壱」、「弐」、「参」及び「拾」の漢字を用い、かつ、所定の金額記載欄の上方余白に当該金額記載欄に記載の金額と同額をアラビア数字で副記しなければならない。
    • 商業登記規則 Archived 2009-02-02 at the Wayback Machine 第四十八条 2: 金銭その他の物の数量、年月日及び番号を記載するには、「壱、弐、参、拾」の文字を用いなければならない。ただし、横書きをするときは、アラビヤ数字を用いることができる。
  4. ^ Counting on one's fingers, About.com, Japanese Language, Namiko Abe
  5. ^ "What is the origin of yakuza?". www.sljfaq.org. Retrieved 2016-03-24.

External links[edit]