The Japanese counting system has been taken over from the Chinese. While the Western counting system counts up to 1,000, the Japanese and Chinese system counts up to 10,000. Please find more information on our page on Japanese Numbers & Higher Numerals.

Another difference is the way numbers are constructed. The basic rule is that the location of the digit is indicated as in “two thousand five hundred”. When counting from 1 to 10 “shi” is used for 4 and “shichi” for 7, but when using numbers, the preference is given to the readings “yon” for 4 and “nana” for 7.

24 二十四 (ni jū yon)

4,096 四千九十六 (yon sen kyū jū roku)

Some combinations are contracted:

300 三百 (sanbyaku)
600 六百 (roppyaku)
800 八百 (happyaku)
3,000 三千 (sanzen)
8,000 八千 (hassen)
1,000,000,000,000 一兆 (ichō)
8,000,000,000,000 八兆 (hachō)
10,000,000,000,000 十兆 (juchō / jichō)

一 (ichi) is only placed before 万 (man), 億 (oku), 兆 (chou) and 京 (kei). 十 (juu), 百 (hyaku) and 千 (sen) are never preceded by 一 (ichi).

111,111,111
一億千百十一万千百十一(ichi oku sen hyaku jū ichi man sen hyaku jū ichi)

Unlucky numbers

4 and 9 are considered unlucky numbers in Japanese because of sound association. “Shi” (4) is associated with death (死 shi) and “ku” (9) is associated with suffering (苦 ku).

Telephone Numbers

Telephone numbers are commonly read as follows:

0 maru
1 hito
2 ni
3 san
4 yon
5 go
6 roku - no
7 nana
8 hachi
9 kyū

Therefore, the fictional phone number 0312-54-9678 would then be read as:

“maru san hito ni no go yon no kyū roku nana hachi”.

Counting Time

When counting time elements, several irregularities occur.

Age

For counting one’s age, you use the classifier 才 or 歳 (sai). Here too several contractions occur, but especially “20 years old” has an irregular reading.

一歳issai1one year old
二歳ni sai2two years old
三歳san sai3three years old
四歳yon sai4four years old
五歳go sai5five years old
六歳roku sai6six years old
七歳nana sai7seven years old
八歳hassai8eight years old
九歳kyū sai9nine years old
十歳jissai / jussai10ten years old
二十歳hatachi20twenty years old
二十一歳ni jū issai21twenty one years old
三十歳san jissai / san jussai30thirty years old

Hours

Hours are counted with two different classifiers, depending on whether you are counting the duration of time, 時間 (jikan), or reading time, 時 (ji). Pay particular attention to numbers ending on 4, 7, and 9.

1時ichi ji1 o'clock1時間ichi jikan1 hour
2時ni ji2 o'clock2時間ni jikan2 hours
3時san ji3 o'clock3時間san jikan3 hours
4時yo ji4 o'clock4時間yo jikan4 hours
5時go ji5 o'clock5時間go jikan5 hours
6時roku ji6 o'clock6時間roku jikan6 hours
7時shichi ji7 o'clock7時間nana jikan7 hours
8時hachi ji8 o'clock8時間hachi jikan8 hours
9時ku ji9 o'clock9時間ku jikan9 hours
10時jū ji10 o'clock10時間jū jikan10 hours
11時jū ichi ji11 o'clock11時間jū ichi jikan11 hours
12時jū ni ji12 o'clock12時間jū ni jikan12 hours
13時jū san ji13 o'clock13時間jū san jikan13 hours
14時jū yo ji14 o'clock14時間jū yo jikan14 hours
15時jū go ji15 o'clock15時間jū go jikan15 hours
16時jū roku ji16 o'clock16時間jū roku jikan16 hours
17時jū shichi ji17 o'clock17時間jū nana jikan17 hours
18時jū hachi ji18 o'clock18時間jū hachi jikan18 hours
19時jū ku ji19 o'clock19時間jū ku jikan19 hours
20時ni jū ji20 o'clock20時間ni jū jikan20 hours
21時ni jū ichi ji21 o'clock21時間ni jū ichi jikan21 hours
22時ni jū ni ji22 o'clock22時間ni jū ni jikan22 hours
23時ni jū san ji23 o'clock23時間ni jū san jikan23 hours
24時ni jū yo ji24 o'clock24時間ni jū yo jikan24 hours

Days

Days can be counted as days of the month or the number of days. In particular 1 – 10, 14, 20, and 24 are irregular. Every number ending on 4 has the same irregularity as 14 and 24. See our page on Japanese weekdays.

1日tsuitachithe 1st day1日ichi nichi1 day
2日futsukathe 2nd day2日間futsukakan2 days
3日mikkathe 3rd day3日間mikkakan3 days
4日yokkathe 4th day4日間yokkakan4 days
5日itsukathe 5th day5日間itsukakan5 days
6日muikathe 6th day6日間muikakan6 days
7日nanokathe 7th day7日間nanokakan7 days
8日youkathe 8th day8日間youkakan8 days
9日kokonokathe 9th day9日間kokonokakan9 days
10日tookathe 10th day10日間tookakan10 days
11日jū ichi nichithe 11th day11日間jū ichi nichikan11 days
12日jū ni nichithe 12th day12日間jū ni nichikan12 days
13日jū san nichithe 13th day13日間jū san nichikan13 days
14日jū yokkathe 14th day14日間jū yokkakan14 days
15日jū go nichithe 15th day15日間jū go nichikan15 days
16日jū roku nichithe 16th day16日間jū roku nichikan16 days
17日jū shichi nichithe 17th day17日間jū shichi nichikan17 days
18日jū hachi nichithe 18th day18日間jū hachi nichikan18 days
19日jū ku nichithe 19th day19日間jū ni nichikan19 days
20日hatsukathe 20th day20日間hatsukakan20 days
21日ni jū ichi nichithe 21st day21日間ni jū ichi nichikan21 days
22日ni jū ni nichithe 22nd day22日間ni jū ni nichikan22 days
23日ni jū san nichithe 23rd day23日間ni jū san nichikan23 days
24日ni jū yokkathe 24th day24日間ni jū yokkakan24 days
25日ni jū go nichithe 25th day25日間ni jū go nichikan25 days
26日ni jū roku nichithe 26th day26日間ni jū roku nichikan26 days
27日ni jū shichi nichithe 27th day27日間ni jū shichi nichikan27 days
28日ni jū hachi nichithe 28th day28日間ni jū hachi nichikan28 days
29日ni jū ku nichithe 29th day29日間ni jū ku nichikan29 days
30日san jū nichithe 30th day30日間san jū nichikan30 days
31日san jū ichi nichithe 31st day31日間san jū ichi nichikan31 days

Months

Months are counted regular, but again the distinction is made between some months and the twelve months of the year. Note the difference between the reading of 月 (getsu / gatsu).

1月ichi gatsuJanuary1ヶ月ikka getsu1 month
2月ni gatsuFebruary2ヶ月ni ka getsu2 months
3月san gatsuMarch3ヶ月san ka getsu3 months
4月shi gatsuApril4ヶ月yon ka getsu4 months
5月go gatsuMay5ヶ月go ka getsu5 months
6月roku gatsuJune6ヶ月rokka getsu6 months
7月shichi gatsuJuly7ヶ月nana ka getsu7 months
8月hachi gatsuAugust8ヶ月hachi ka getsu8 months
9月ku gatsuSeptember9ヶ月kyū ka getsu9 months
10月jū gatsuOctober10ヶ月jikka getsu10 months
11月jū ichi gatsuNovember11ヶ月jū ikka getsu11 months
12月jū ni gatsuDecember12ヶ月jū ni ka getsu12 months

Years

Four digit years are always pronounced in full, and not as in English “eighteen sixty-eight”. When written in kanji you may encounter years without the identifiers. When written in this way, the zero is written as a circle (maru).

99年 kyuu juu kyuu nen '99
一八六八年 sen happyaku roku juu hachi nen 1868
二〇才 hatachi 20 years old

Note: 年 (nen) can be used both to count years and to describe a timespan in years. 年間 (nenkan) can only be used to describe a timespan. In Japan, both the Gregorian calendar and the Japanese calendar are used. In the Japanese calendar, years are started from count one at the rule of a new emperor.

Classifiers

When counting anything, you will need classifiers. Classifiers identify the type of object you are counting. To give you an example, when you want to say “three cars” you cannot merely say 三車(san kuruma), you will need the classifier for machinery 台 (dai): 三台の車 (san dai no kuruma) or 車三台 (kuruma san dai).

Note: You can place the number plus classifier before the counted object by using the particle の (no), if you place the number after the object being counted you don’t use の (no).

Though the Japanese prefer to use the correct classifier, there are so many that even the Japanese do not use or even know all of them. In these cases, the Japanese reading for the numbers 1 – 10 is used, for higher numbers the regular Chinese reading mentioned above is used.

一つhitotsu1one
二つfutatsu2two
三つmitsu3three
四つyotsu4four
五つitsutsu5five
六つmutsu6six
七つnanatsu7seven
八つyatsu8eight
九つkokonotsu9nine
too10ten

Classifier overview

Here you will find the most common classifiers and the type of object they are used for. Below these, you will find the irregular combinations where they exist.

Animate objects
  • 頭 (tō): used for large (farm) animals (cows, deer, whales, statues, etc.; 1頭 (ittō), 8頭 (hattō), 10頭 (jittō/juttō), 100頭 (hyattō)
  • 人 (nin): used for people; 1人 (hitori); 2人 (futari); 4人 (yo nin), 14人 (juu yo nin), etc.
  • 匹 (hiki): used for small animals (dogs, cats, etc.); 1匹 (ippiki, 3匹 (sambiki), 6匹 (roppiki), 8匹 (happiki), 10匹 (jippiki/juppiki)
  • 名 (mei): used for people (honorific)
  • 羽 (wa): used for birds and rabbits, chicken, hares, etc.
Inanimate objects
  • 個 (ko): used for small items, dices, paperclips, etc.; 1個 (ikko), 6個 (rokko), 8個 (hakko), 10個 (jikko)
  • 冊 (satsu): used for volumes, books, magazines, etc.; 1冊 (issatsu); 8冊 (hassatsu); 10冊 (jissatsu/jussatsu)
  • 台 (dai): used for machinery , cars, vending machines, etc.
  • 杯 (hai): used for drinks, beer, coffee, etc.; 1杯 (ippai), 3杯 (sambai), 6杯 (roppai), 8杯 (happai), 10杯 (jippai/juppai)
  • 泊 (haku): used for overnight stays; 1泊 (ippaku), 3泊 (sampaku), 6泊 (roppaku), 8泊 (happaku), 10泊 (jippaku/juppaku)
  • 本 (hon): used for long cylindrical objects (pens, bottles, etc.); 1本 (ippon), 3本 (sambon), 6本 (roppon), 8本 (happon), 10本 (jippon/juppon)
  • 枚 (mai): used for thin sheets, paper, record sleeves, etc.

List of counters (in alphabetical order):

CounterRōmajiSetCounts
AmeHitoRain
アンペアAnpeaIchiAmperes
BaHito (1-2)Scenes of a play, movie, etc.
BaiIchiTimes, -fold, multiples
BanIchiMatches (sports), theatrical performances; serial numbers
BanHito (1-2)Nights
番地BanchiIchiHouse numbers
晩目BanmeIchi-th
番線BansenIchiTrack numbers
番手BanteIchiYarn count
バーツBaatsuIchiBaht
BenIchiFlower petals
BiIchi; hito (1-2) Small fish and shrimp
BinIchi; hito (1-2)Vases of flowers
便BinIchi Runs or flights
BokuIchiLumber
ボルトBorutoIchiVolts
BuIchiTenth; 1/10 sun; 1/10 mon; 1/4 ryou
BuIchi36 square shaku; 1 tsubo; 10 gou; 2 jou
BuIchiCopies of printed material; sections of text, scriptures
BuIchiTsubo
BunIchiFraction, part
BunIchiSentences, writings
ChakuIchiShirts, suits; place (race)
ChitsuIchiJapanese books
ChouIchiTrillions
ChouIchi360 shaku; 60 ken; 10 tan
ChouIchiStringed instruments; curtains, nets
ChouIchiPowdered medicine
ChouIchiLong objects
ChouIchiLiquor bottles
ChōIchiTools, candles, pistols, saws, scissor, forks, tofu cakes, servings of noodles, sheets bound Japanese style, baskets; 360 shaku; 60 ken; 10 tan
丁目ChōmeIchiWard
DaIchiHits in baseball
DaIchiHorseloads
DaIchiLong oblong chest; nagamochi; trees
DaiIchiGenerations
DaiIchiVehicles; machines; galleys; 16-page units in printing; skis; sliding ponds
DaiIchiProblems
DaiIchiYounger brothers
DanIchiSteps; stages; measures; shots
DanIchiSteps, stages; columns
段落DanrakuIchiParagraphs
ダースDaasuIchiDozen
立てDateIchiCarriage horses; boat oars; films in a multi-feature movie
デカグラムDekaguramuIchiDecagrams
デカメートルDekameetoruIchiDecameters
デカリットルDekarittoruIchiDecaliters
デシグラムDeshiguramuIchiDecigrams
デシメートルDeshimeetoruIchiDecimeters
デシリットルDeshirittoruIchiDeciliters
DoIchiTimes, degrees
DouIchiBuddhist temples
撮りDoriIchiNumber of pictures left in a roll of film
ドルDoruIchiDollars
EIchiHalberd, kitchen knife, cleaver
EHito (1-3)Folds
EdaHitoBranches, flowers
EkiHito (1-2)Stations
EnIchiYen
EnIchiKindergartens
フィートFiitoIchiFeet
FuuIchiLetters
FudeHitoStrokes of a brush
FukuIchiDoses of powdered medicine; puffs of smoke; rests; sips
FukuIchiScroll (paintings)
FukuroHitoBags
ふねFuneIchiFood sold in stores
フランFuranIchiFranc
降りFuriHitoRain
振りFuriHitoJapanese swords, halberds
FusaHitoBunches (fruit)
GaiIchiLid-shaped objects
学期GakkiIchiSemesters
ガロンGaronIchiGallons
GatsuIchiMonths of the year
ゲームGeemuIchiGames
GenIchiYuan
GenIchiStrings (chords)
原子GenshiIchiAtoms
GoIchiWords, languages
IchiNo.; issue; dress size
IchiIncense containers
GonIchiWords, letters
号車GoushaIchiTrain car numbers
GuIchiSets of articles; prayer beads; palanquin
GyōIchiLines
HaHitoEvents occuring in waves
HaHitoLeaves
HachiHitoPotted plants
HaiIchiDefeats
HaiIchiGlasses, spoonfuls, cuttlefish, octopuses, crabs, squid, abalone, boats
HakoHito (1-4)Boxes
HakuIchiBeats; number of syllables
HakuIchiOvernight stays
HanIchiEditions
HanIchiOffenses
HaneHitoHelmets
HaraHitoCodfish roe
HariHitoSeams; stitches; meshes of a net
張りHariHitoStringed instruments; paper lanterns; umbrellas
HashiHitoSingle mouthful of food
HashiraHitoGods; mortuary tablets
HasuriHitoErrand doers
HatsuIchiShots; blows; engines
HeiIchiPotted plants, ikebana
HenIchiFragments
HenIchiTimes
HenIchiPoems
HenIchiChapters; (Chinese) poems
HenIchiTimes
部屋HeyaHitoRooms
HikiIchiSmall animals, ogres
HinIchiCourses of a meal; salable things
HiraHitoFlower plants
HitsuIchiDocuments; ricefields; land registrations
HoIchi(Foot)steps
HoIchiMaps (literary)
IchiTablets (pills); tea; packets of medicine
HonIchiLong/thin items, bottles, guitars, phonecalls, train/bus routes, movies, bounds
HyouIchiBags of rice; cereal; sackfuls
拍子HyōshiIchiBeats; number of syllables
IIchiSpirits; ranking; standard
IroHitoColors
JiIchiBuddhist temples
JiIchiPairs of rabbits
JiIchiCharacters
JiIchiO'clock
JiIchiNumerical order of number of times
時限JigenIchiPeriod (school)
時間JikanIchiHour periods
JikuIchiScrolls
JinIchiOccurring in spells
JoIchiDaughters
JouIchi10 shaku
JouIchiPills
JouIchiVehicles, powers (numbers)
JouIchiTatami
IchiQuires; folding screens; karakimi; volumes of Japanese books; tatami
JouIchiArticles, sections; obi; slender objects
JuIchiTrees
JuuIchiTens
JuuIchiChinese poems
JuuIchiFolds; plies; tiered boxes
JunIchiTen-day periods; decades
KaIchiItems, places, units of time
KaIchiValence
KaHito (2-10, 20)Days of the month for 2-10 and 20 only!
KaIchiLoads, bucket
KaIchiLessons
KaIchiFruits; jewels; seals; small round things
KaIchiFruits
KaIchiFolding screens; framed pictures
花弁KabenIchiFlower petals
KabuHitoStocks; shares; trees; plants with roots
ヶ月KagetsuIchiMonths
KagoHitoBaskets; fruits
KaiIchiFloors
KaiIchiTimes; games
KaiIchiHats
KakeHitoCollars, strings
角形KakkeiIchi-agon
ヶ国KakokuIchiCountries
ヶ国語KakokugoIchiLanguages
KakuIchiAngles
KakuIchiStrokes
KamasuHitoSugar
KanIchiWarships
KanIchi1,000 monme; 1,000 mon
KanIchiVolumes; reels of film
KanIchiArticles or subsections
KanIchiCans
KanIchiWind instruments
ヶ年KanenIchiYears
カップKappuIchiCups
カロリーKaroriiIchiCalories
重ねKasaneHitoMochi; tiered boxes; layers of clothing
KasaneIchiJapanese clothing
KaseHitoThread wound on skeins; items wound on a frame
KashiraHitoHelmets; masks; eboshi
箇所KashoIchiPlaces
KataHitoPersons (honorific)
片付けKatazukeHitoTidying
家族KazokuHito (1-2)Families
KeiIchiScenes
KeiIchiLong and narrow objects; hanging lanterns; writing brushes
Kei/kyouIchi10^16
KenIchi6 shaku
KenIchiCases
KenIchiJapanese swords
KenIchiBuildings
KenIchiKeys
KetaHito (1-4)Digits
KetsuIchiHoles
KiIchiHorsemen
KiIchiTerms
KiIchiPlanes
KiIchiTwelve year periods
KiIchiMachines; elevators; gravestones; placed things; screens; dressing table
切れKireHito (1-3)Slices, strips, bits, cuts
キロKiroIchiKilos
キロアンペアKiroanpeaIchiKiloamperes
キロボルトKiroborutoIchiKilovolts
キログラムKiroguramuIchiKilograms
キロメートルKiromeetoruIchiKilometers
キロリットルKirorittoruIchiKiloliters
キロサイクルKirosaikuruIchiKilocycles
キロワットKirowattoIchiKilowatts
気筒KitouIchiCylinders
KoIchiJars
KoIchiHouseholds
KoIchiSmall round objects; luggage; goods; fruits; mochi; hats
KouIchiSchools; proofs
KouIchiLectures
KouIchiKettles, bowls, plates; swords; bells
KouIchiWatches/lateness of the night
航海KoukaiIchiSea voyages
国語KokugoIchiLanguages
KomaHitoClasses; movie scenes
項目KōmokuIchiItem
KonIchiOfferings of wine
KonIchiFish
光年KounenIchiLight years
コペックKopekkuIchiKopek
KoriHitoRaw-silk; luggage
KoshiHitoObjects that attach to the waist
KuIchiSections, wards
KuIchiStatues of gods
KuIchiHaiku
KuIchiSwords, razors; pots, dishes
KuchiHito (1-2)Mouthfuls, drinks; shares
区間KukanIchiSections between two points
KukiHitoWriting brushes
KukuriHitoPapers
KumiHito (1-4)Sets; suits; sake cups in sets of three; plates, bowls; groups; tiered boxes
クラスKurasuHito (1-2)Classes
クローネKurooneIchiKrone
KusariHitoChain
KuseHitoOut-of-the-ordinary actions
KushiHitoDumplings
KyakuIchiUtensils
KyakuIchiLegged furniture
KyokuIchiPieces of music, dances
KyokuIchi(Board) games
KyuuIchiOrdering
KyuuIchiLarge round objects; pitches (baseball)
MaHitoRooms
曲げMageHitoTsukudani
MaiIchiThin, flat objects; articles of clothing
マイルMairuIchiMiles
巻きMakiHitoRolls of silk, cloth, scrolls, windings, scriptures, sacred books
MakuIchiPerformances
ManIchiTen thousands
マルクMarukuIchiMark (currency)
MeHito (1-2)Monme
MeiIchiPeople
MenIchiFlat surfaces; koto
メートルMeetoruIchiMeters
MiIchiFood, condiments
ミリメートルMirimeetoruIchiMillimeters
ミリグラムMiriguramuIchiMilligrams
ミリリットルMiririttoruIchiMilliliters
ミリバールMiribaaruIchiMillibars
MouIchi1/10000 yen; 1/1000 sun; 1/1000 monme
MokuIchiItems; crosses of a go board
MonIchiCannons
MonIchiQuestions
MonIchi1/1000 kan
MonHitoFootwear size ~2.4 cm
MonmeIchi1/1000 kan; 1/60 ryō; 3.750 g; 132 oz
MoriHitoMeasures of medicine
MotoHitoPlants with roots
MuneHitoBuildings, houses
MureHitoGroups, flocks
流れNagareHitoFlags
NanIchiSons
七日NanukaIchiDeath anniversary weeks
NatsuHitoSummer
NenIchiYears
年間NenkanIchiYears
年生NenseiIchi-grade student
NichiIchiDays (except 2-10, 14, 20, 24)
握りNigiriHitoGrasped objects
NinIchiPeople (except 1, 2, and sometimes 4)
人組NingumiIchiGroup, gang members
人前NinmaeIchiPortions (food)
NukiHitoRosary beads
往復OufukuIchiReturn trips
OkeHitoBathtubs

1. The counter 番 may be used with hito and futa but not when it is used to count serial numbers.
2. Nanuka for 1 is 初七日 shonanuka.
Source: Imabi Japanese Learning Center

Links: