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Numbers in Japanese

Let’s learn numbers in Japanese. If you have already learned the basic numbers, please review them. Learning Japanese numbers in hiragana or even kanji are not that hard, but knowing how to count certain objects can be very tricky.

Here’s the number chart in Hiragana and Kanji. Some of them have two options (4, 7 and 9).

# Hiragana Kanji Romaji English
1 いち ichi one
2 ni two
3 さん san three
4 し / よん shi / yon four
5 go five
6 ろく roku six
7 なな / しち nana / shichi seven
8 はち hachi eight
9 きゅう / く kyū / ku nine
10 じゅう ten

11 じゅういち  十一  jū ichi  eleven
12 じゅうに   十二  jū ni   twelve
20 にじゅう   二十  ni jū   twenty
21 にじゅういち 二十一 ni jū ichi twenty-one
40 よんじゅう  四十  yon jū  forty
70 ななじゅう  七十  nana jū  senventy
99 きゅうじゅうきゅう 九十九 kyū jū kyū ninety-nine

Time expressions (~じ - ji)

Time Hiragana Kanji Number Romaji
1:00 いちじ 一時 1時 ichi ji
2:00 にじ 二時 2時 ni ji
3:00 さんじ 三時 3時 san ji
4:00 四時 4 yo ji
5:00 ごじ 五時 5時 go ji
6:00 ろくじ 六時 6時 roku j
7:00 しち 七時 7 shichi ji
8:00 はちじ 八時 8時 hachi ji
9:00 九時 9 ku ji
10:00 じゅうじ 十時 10時 jū ji
11:00 じゅういちじ 十一時 11時 jū ich ji
12:00 じゅうにじ 十二時 12時 jū ni ji

All the expressions end with 時 (ji) to indicate time. Notice that the number in 4 o’clock is irregular; it’s neither し or よん as in the number chart, but it’s じ. (It’s よん with ん dropped.) For 7:00 and 9:00, しち and are used.


When you count things in general, you can use the first chart for plain numbers, or counting Things list below. The numbers in bold are irregular words that require special attention.

# Things⁺ Romaji People Romaji
- ~こ - ko ~にん - nin
1 いっこ ikko ひとり hito ri
2 にこ ni ko ふたり futa ri
3 さんこ san ko さんにん san nin
4 よん yon ko にん yo nin
5 ごこ go ko ごにん go nin
6 ろっこ rokko ろくにん roku nin
7 なな nana ko しちにん shichi nin
8 はっこ hakko はちにん hachi nin
9 きゅう ko にん⁺⁺ nin

⁺ Alternate way to count things: 1 ひとつ (hito tsu), 2 ふたつ (futa tsu), 3 みっつ (mittsu), 4 よっつ yottsu).
⁺⁺ きゅうにん (kyū nin) is used as well.

This next lists are: for long and semi-cylinder shape items such as pens, pencils, sticks and bottles; and for thin and flat objects such as papers, tickets, shirts and petals. You can count sheet of papers with まい mai, but you can’t count pages in the books and magazines. Page in Japanese is ページ (pēji).

# Long Things Romaji Thin Things Romaji
- ~ほん, ぽん, ぼん - hon, pon, bon ~まい - mai
1 いっぽん ippon いちまい ichi mai
2 ほん ni hon にまい ni mai
3 さん ぼん san bon さんまい san mai
4 よんほん yon hon よんまい yon mai
5 ほん go hon ごまい go mai
6 ろっぽん roppon ろくまい roku mai
7 ななほん nana hon ななまい nana mai
8 はっぽん happon はちまい hachi mai
9 きゅうほん kyū hon きゅうまい kyū mai
10 じゅっぽん juppon じゅうまい jū mai

For counting things (#1, 6, 8, 10) こ - ko and ぽん - pon are added which make the end of the number change to small っ(tsu). The pronunciation become double consonant (pp). Counting long items are full of irregular words, that best way to remember is just keep counting and saying out loud.

Practice counting!

Post finder: Language guides to help with learning Japanese

December 3, 2017



If I may add a few observations:

  1. A sign of a “educated” Japanese person (if you will pardon the classist overtones) is to count things using the “proper” counters, and to be aware of the various exceptions. Large animals are counted with “to”, small animals with “hiki”, birds with “wa”. Rabbits, however, are counted with “wa” for some reason.

  2. This said, as a foreigner, you can pretty much get away with using the “tsu” counter for most objects (hitotsu, futatsu, mittsu, etc). The counter really only matters when there is potential ambiguity; if you want to order beer in a bar, you say “ビールをいっぽん” if you want a bottle, but “ビールをいっぱい” if you want a glass.

  3. The “tsu” counter is described above as an “alternate” form, but when speaking, I think it is the most common. I don’t think I ever used the “ko” counter myself (although it is common on signs).

  4. A caution, however, with “hitotsu” and “futatsu”: There is a tendancy for English-speakers to pronounce the “o” in “hitotsu” like in “Robert”, rather than like in “Oblique”. This is wrong; the Japanese “o” is always rounded. This matters because if you say “hitotsu” with a “o” like in “Robert” (a sound which does not exist in Japanese), it will be heard as an “a” and the listener will think meant to say “futatsu”. I have learnt this the hard way, sometimes wanting to order one thing in a restaurant and getting two delivered. :-)

5.. You may wonder where the numbers “hito”, “futa”, “mutsu”, etc come from; they are quite different than “ichi”, “ni” or “san”. The former are from Old Japanese; the latter come from Chinese. The Japanese number system is a fusion of the two.


Let me see if I understood. Counter "wa" is exclusively for birds and rabbits? And for all the other animals are "hiki" and "to"? Why are this... random exceptions? It's very confusing.


I need to straighten up few wrong beliefs in your, otherwise, useful entry.

2) The letter つ is just that: the Hiragana's つ, not a Kanji. Counters since they have been imported from the Chinese language are all Kanji. Naming these Kanji as "counters" is quiet a deliberate choice as they don't count anything. The numbers attached to them do the counting, obviously. These, so called, "counters" tell what it is being enumerated, i.e. they add a meaning to a number. That つ is the last letter of the first nine numbers read in this fashion.

一 ・いち・1turn into 一つ where つ is the 送り仮名 of the Kanji 一 and reads ひとつ

二・に・2turn into 二つ where つ is the 送り仮名 of the Kanji 二 and reads ふたつ

三・さん・3turn into 三つ where つ is the 送り仮名 of the Kanji 三 and reads みっつ

四・よん・4turn into 四つ where つ is the 送り仮名 of the Kanji 三 and reads よっつ

and so on... till the number 9. 十・じゅう・10 is still written with the Kanji 十, but it is read とお.

3) The native Japanese numbers 一つ, 二つ, 三つ, 四つ, 五つ, 六つ, 七つ, 八つ and 九つ are definitely not the most commonly used. The usage of specific Kanji counters is very frequent which shouldn't come as a surprise as they are far more numerous, although that's not the only reason. "ko", written in ローマ字, confuses about its meaning. Moreover coming to the conclusion that since you haven't used "ko", the native Japanese numbers are the most common - you don't give any other argument for it - just doesn't make any logical sense:

個 ・コ counts small compact objects as eggs and round fruits such as oranges, apples, etc. ex. 一個・いっこ, 二個・にこ, 三個, etc.

戸・コ counts houses ex. 一戸・いっこ, 二戸・にこ, etc.

Tempting would be to use this "ko" 個 for pills, but as a matter of fact there is a specific Kanji for counting drugs like that or tablet-shaped: 錠・ジョウ ex. 一錠・いちじょう, 二錠・にじょう, etc. Suffice to say this Kanji counter is ubiquitous on any packaging you can ever buy in a Japanese pharmacy. Obviously you refer to them in the spoken language too. I guess you've never caught a cold... :) How about the Kanji 分 which counts minutes? Not common?

The kanji that counts people is unsurprisingly 人 which 訓読み is ひと (means person). The other two Japanese readings are り and と. "to" is used for names such as 人唯・とい or 人優・とゆ. While "ri" is used when counting one person 一人・ひとり and two persons 二人・ふたり respectively. However they are the only two exceptions to the rule that reads 人 by its 音読み's にん when counting people, ex. 三人・さんにん (3 persons), 十二人・じゅうににん (12 persons), 百一人・ひゃくいちにん (101 persons), etc

So when it is sensitive to use the native Japanese number system? Only when you are a foreigner? They are used when the objects cannot be counted in the standard way - i.e. with the Kanji, because the object is too abstract or too peculiar. For example:

二つ割り・ふたつわり (cutting in two)***

二つに一つ・ふたつにひとつ (one of two... - possibilities, alternatives, etc.)

二つの塔・ふたつの とう (The Two Towers - the one in J. R. R. Tolkien's novel)

*** This is a great example that shows つ for what it is: the 送り仮名 of the Kanji 二 as り is for 割.

5) The Japanese numbering is not really a fusion of "old Japanese" with the Chinese system. The native Japanese numbers were the Chinese numbers read with native Japanese words. As for the different readings of the Kanji, Japanese decided to keep their native words and have a distinctly different usage for them.


I pronounce the "o" in "oblique" and "Robert" more or less completely identically... ^^;


Really? Perhaps a better example would be, “o” as in “Oh, fudge!” :-)


You mean pronounce ここ the same as "cocoa" ?


Yeah, that’s the right “o” sound. I think that ここ would be a said a little bit faster than “cocoa” since the vowels are both short.


I was expecting you to say this wasn't the "o" sound you meant, as I pronounce "cocoa" very differently to how I hear, say, 高校 pronounced.

However, I've just checked "cocoa" in a dictionary and found out that not even cocoa is pronounced the same way universally. You can hear what I mean on the following page, which has audio files of both UK and US pronunciation. Here in the south of England I pronounce "cocoa" exactly the same as their UK audio:


So this turned out to be a bad example too. ^^;


Japanese say Ko-Ko-A when they say cococa. Just wanted to add that


The hitotsu futatsu problem is very real. I have become so insecure that I always show one or two fingers when I say those words, having been mistaken so many times.


Japanese is difficult.


i like the expresion of the hours.thanks for this.


sure you got enough languages there?


I can't even name half of those languages


give this guy a lingot XD


What is your first language?


For counting things (#1, 6, 8, 10) こ - ko and ぽん - pon are added which make the end of the number change to small っ(tus).

っ(tus). should be tsu


the difference between hiragana and katakana is really annoying


Thanks, now I've got that song stuck in my head: 一本でもニンジン,二!二束でもサンダル、さん!。。。(When I was little in Japan, this was a song they sang on an educational show, like Sesame Street to teach us how to count.)

Every language has some area where they over-complicate things. In Japanese, it's counting, which is so ironic, because one thinks of numbers and math as the epitome of straightforward logic.

You have to learn both the native system (ひとつ、ふたつ、みっつ、。。。)and the Chinese system because they are not exclusive of one another. For example, when counting people, you say ひとり、ふたり,さんにん、よにん、ごにん、。。。


Thank you! I don't know why, but in Hiragana 1, they didn't provide number 5


noooo, my brain is too small for this stuff!


it's very helpful! thnx!


Could you please add 分(ふん、ぷん) to the table? Thank you


How to say 7:07 pm Good Luck.


thank you this was very helpful. I love anime and japanese culture so I want to learn the language because I plan to move there one day.

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