Learning a new language is no easy task for anyone, which is why it is important to correctly master the basics – and there is nothing more basic and fundamental that numbers.
To quickly master counting from 1 all the way to 99,999,999 in Japanese whilst using Kanji, simply follow this easy guide!
Numbers 1, 2, 3
These are the easiest and quickest to learn Kanji characters in Japanese. To write them, simple draw a horizontal line from left to write, with the number of lines matching the number you wish to write. Note that the lower line in a number 2 is slightly bigger, and that the middle line of a number 3 is the smallest. If you’re still having trouble remembering them, simply imagine the numbers rotated 90 degrees in your head – now you have the Roman numerals I, II, III.
Now that you can write them, you also need to know how say them.
One = ichi （いち） Two = ni （に） Three = san （さん）
This is where Japanese numbers get a little bit more complicated. As you can see, the Kanji is considerably more difficult. You start by drawing a square with 3 separate strokes. Starting from the left and going downwards make your first stroke. For the second, draw a 90 degree angle from the top of the first stroke, down to the right. Then complete the bottom of the box from left to right. After that, simply add the two little ‘legs’ in the box to complete your number 4! Having trouble remembering it? Just think of how many sides a square has!
Learning to say the number 4 can be tricky as it has two variations. To learn when to use each pronunciation can take some time, but don’t worry, even if you get it wrong, everyone will still understand.
4 = yon（よん） shi（し）
To write the number 5, first draw one line from left to right. From the centre of that line, draw a slightly longer line going downwards (often with a slight slant to the left). For the third line, draw a 90 degree angle from left of the middle line (easier to look at the picture). Finally, draw a long line going across the bottom. Easy way to remember this Kanji? Simply count how many vertical and horizontal lines it has – yep, you guessed it, five!
To pronounce it, simply say ‘go’, as in I go to the shop.
5 = go （ご）
To write the number 6, draw a small vertical line, followed by a longer horizontal line so that the first line meets in the middle. Then draw two more lines that head outwards in opposite directions.
To pronounce the number 6 in Japanese, we say ‘roku’ – but be careful, the Japanese R sound is both similar to the English L and R, so it can take some time to master. To remember this Kanji, perhaps you can think of ‘roku’ being like rock – and how many strings does a rock guitar have? Six!
6 – roku （ろく）
The number 7 only has two strokes, so it is quite simple to write. Draw one slightly diagonal line from right to left, and then one more line going straight down the centre that turns right at the bottom. For those of you that write your number sevens with a cross, if you imagine the Kanji upside down, you should be able to picture a number 7 quite easily!
As with the number 4, the number 7 also has two different pronunciations that changes depending on the thing you are counting.
7 – nana （なな） shichi（しち）
The number 8 is drawn with two simple lines that spread apart, starting from the top and going down and outwards. To pronounce the number 8 we say ‘hachi’. If you’re having trouble remembering this Kanji, perhaps you could think about how 8 is divisible by 2 – the 2 lines in this character.
Hachi can also refer to the bee insect, so don’t get them confused!
8 = hachi （はち）
Number 9 is written with one curving vertical line from top to bottom, and one horizontal line that crosses over the previous line at about 20% of the way down, that then becomes vertical to form a corner with a flick at the end.
If you squint your eyes at this Kanji, you may be able to see the letter ‘n’, and what number begins with n? That’s right, nine!
9 in Japanese is said as ‘kyuu’ or ‘ku’. Those familiar with Naruto should be well aware of the 9-tails ‘Kyuubi’.
9 – kyuu （きゅう） ku （く）
Another very easy to remember number! Simply draw a plus sign starting from the horizontal, and finishing with a vertical line. To remember this character, just tilt your head a little, and you should be able to see the Roman numeral for 10, X.
The pronunciation for 10 in Japanese is ‘juu’
10 – juu （じゅう）
Counting to 99
Once you have the first 9 numbers down, all the numbers up to 99 are all just a combination of these – Yes, just like English. However, unlike English, their pronunciation keeps relatively similar.
So how do we create larger numbers? It’s quite simple, for example we now know 10 is 十 (juu) and one is 一 (ichi), so to make 11 we just say 十一 (juu-ichi)
So what would the number 15 be? That’s right, it would be 十五 (juu-go)
Really simple right? Well to say numbers above 19, we just add the number relating to the 10-digit column to the start of the number. So, 24 would be 2-10-4 二十四 (ni-juu-yon) and 58 would be 5-10-8 五十八 (go-juu-hachi) – to put it simply, 5 x 10 + 8.
Counting in Japanese is actually a very logical and a very effective way of counting, so with a bit of practice you should get the hang of it pretty quickly!
Counting large numbers
With just a few more, you can even count large numbers! Try to learn these next few too.
100 百 ひゃく hyaku
1000 千 せん sen
10,000 万 まん man
Using these characters, just like you did before, you can count all the way up to 99,999,999! Amazing, right?
As you can see, there is no character for ‘1 million’, instead we just say ‘百万 ひゃくまん hyakuman’, which is literally 100 lots of 10,000. This can get very confusing when it comes to Japanese money. Unlike America, Europe, and the UK; Japan’s currency does not change when it reaches 100 yen (for example cent into dollar, pence into pound). This means the numbers on Japanese prices can get very high very quickly. For example, $10 is roughly 1000 yen. And $10,000 would be 1,000,000 yen, so please be careful when spending money.
Of course, in order to truly master numbers and counting in Japanese, you will need to spend a large amount of time learning and practising not only numbers and pronunciation, but also a huge amount of object counters which the Japanese language uses. That’s right, depending on the shape or type of the object, there may be many different counters you need to learn! But don’t worry too much, people will still understand.
Japan often uses Arabic numerals too, just like we do, so don’t worry if you’re only visiting Japan and plan to do a bit of shopping, as long as you know the currency exchange, you should be okay. For those wanting to learn the Japanese-style numbers, try to see if you can change the following numbers into English and Japanese!
9, 14, 36, 101, 572, 1908, 10455, 50822