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This article is in the series Teach Yourself Japanese

5.2. Large numbers

The East Asian number system is based on ten thousand, which means multiplying ten thousand to a unit makes the next unit, while the European number system is based on one thousand, which means multiplying one thousand to a unit makes the next unit, for instance thousand times thousand is a million, and thousand times a million is a billion.

The Japanese units shown below are from Jinkôki, 1634 A.D. edition. There are several less common large number names other than them. The units larger than けい "kei" ( 1016 ) are rarely used, like units larger than trillion are seldom used in American English.

UnitJapaneseAmerican English
ma n
ten thousand
o ku
hundred million
one trillion
ke i
ten quadrillion
ga i
hundred quintilliton
one septillion
ten octillion
hundred nonillion
ka n
one undecillion
se i
ten duodecillion
sa i
hundred tredecillion
go ku
one quindecillion
ga sya
ten sexdecillion
a gi
hundred septendecillion
na yu ta
one novemdecillion
hu ka si gi
ten vigintillion
mu ryô ta i
hundred unvigintillion

Reading large numbers in Japanese may be awkward if your native language uses a system based on one thousand. To read large numbers in Japanese, divide them into four-digit groups, and read the groups separately and add appropriate units. If a four-digit group is zero, omit both the group and the unit. Don't omit a four-digit group even when it is one. For example, number 10000 is pronounced as いちまん "itiman" (1 × 10000), not just まん "man".

Since digits should be divided into four-digit groups in the Asian number system, commas for every three digits in English are not useful at all. But Japanese people do use a comma (not Japanese comma but European comma) for every three digits, not for every four digits.

The units of big numbers affect the phonemes of the last mora of the preceding four-digit group. See the euphonic change rules of small numbers.

Here is a big number example. Blue letters indicate changed phonemes.

Number 9784510283700004037 is pronounced as follows:
GroupDigits and units
0978( 9 × 100 + 7 × 10 + 8 ) × 1016​
kyû hya ku na na zyû ha k ke i
4510( 4 × 1000 + 5 × 100 + 10 ) × 1012​
yo n se n go hya ku zyu t tyô
28372 × 1000 + 8 × 100 + 3 × 10 + 7 ) × 108​[/size]
ni se n ha p pya ku sa n zyû na na o ku
40374 × 1000 + 3 × 10 + 7
yo n se n sa n zyû na na

The result is きゅうひゃくななじゅうはっけいよんせんごひゃくじゅうっちょうにんせんはっぱゃくさんじゅうななおくよんせんさんじゅうなな "kyû hya ku na na zyû ha k ke i yo n se n go hya ku zyu t tyô ni se n ha p pya ku sa n zyû na na o ku yo n se n sa n zyû na na".

These are Japanese translations of American English large numbers.

UnitAmerican EnglishJapanese
103ten thousandまん
ma n
103one millionひゃくまん
hya ku ma n
109one billionじゅうおく
zyû o ku
1012one trillionいっちょう
i t tyô
1015one quadrillionせんちょう
se n tyô
1018one quintillionひゃっけい
hya k ke i
1021one sextillionじゅうがい
zyû ga i
1024one septillionいちじょ
i chi zyo
1027one octillionせんじょ
se n zyo
1030one nonillionひゃくじょう
hya ku zyô
1033one decillionじょっこう
zyu k kô
1036one undecillionいっかん
i k ka n
1039one duodecillionせんかん
se n ka n
1042one tredecillionひゃくせい
hya ku se i
1045one quattuordecillionじゅっさい
zyu s sa i
1048one quindecillionいちごく
i ti go ku
1051one sexdecillionせんごく
se n go ku
1054one septendecillionひゃくごうがしゃ
hya ku gô ga sya
1057one octodecillionじゅうあそうぎ
zyû a gi
1060one novemdecillionいちなゆた
i ti na yu ta
1063one vigintillionせんなゆた
se n na yu ta
1066one unvigintillionひゃくふかしぎ
hya ku hu ka si gi
1069one duovigintillionじゅうむりょたいすう
zyû mu ryô ta i

Further reading:
Next article in the series 'Teach Yourself Japanese': Japanese counters
Previous article in the series 'Teach Yourself Japanese': Small numbers in Japanese
About author
My name is TAKASUGI Shinji. TAKASUGI is my family name, and Shinji is my given name; a family name is placed before a given name in Japan, as in other Asian nations. My family name is capitalized to avoid misunderstanding.

I have been living in Yokohama since I was born. Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan, which is just 30 kilometers away from the biggest city Tôkyô. It takes 30 minutes to go by train from home to Shibuya, which is the hottest town now in Tôkyô.

I work as a display engineer.

One of my hobbies is creating things with computers; creating programs, computer graphics and web pages is the thing I spent a lot of time doing. I am also interested in a wide range of sciences, and linguistics is my favorite. I like English and I like using it, but my focus is mainly on Japanese, which is my native language. I'm proud of knowing the language, and the difference between English and Japanese has been fascinating me. I have been thinking whether I can introduce it to people outside of Japan. My attempt of introducing Japanese with some Java applets has had more than 1 million visitors.


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