Kanji Numerals

The Chinese invented their own system of numerals in ancient times. When the Japanese adopted Chinese characters (漢字 - kanji) as their writing system circa 600 A.D., Chinese numerals were also adopted. Today, this number system is referred to as the "Sino-Japanese number system." Although Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.) are more commonly used in Japan these days, kanji numerals are still widely used throughout Japan. Consequently, it is very helpful (and even necessary) for one who intends to travel to Japan to learn these characters and the system in which numbers are formed by using them. The goal of this page is to briefly explore kanji numerals and number formation with them.

There are essentially 14 number related characters which one should know at the very least. Thirteen of them are numbers, and the other is the symbol for ¥ (Yen -- Japanese currency).

As you can see, the characters are not terribly complicated. Below is a listing of the characters. First we have the character, then we have the pronunciation in parenthesis, and after the ~ we have the Arabic numeral with the English pronunciation in parenthesis. Here is the listing:

一 (ichi)        ~  1      (one)
二 (ni) ~ 2 (two)
三 (san) ~ 3 (three)
四 (shi/yon) ~ 4 (four)
五 (go) ~ 5 (five)
六 (roku) ~ 6 (six)
七 (shichi/nana) ~ 7 (seven)
八 (hachi) ~ 8 (eight)
九 (kyuu/ku) ~ 9 (nine)
十 (jyuu) ~ 10 (ten)
百 (hyaku) ~ 100 (one hundred)
千 (sen) ~ 1,000 (one thousand)
万 (man) ~ 10,000 (ten thousand)*
円 (-en) ~ N/A (Yen)
*10,000 is read as 一万 (ichi man) in Japanese.
The "-" on "-en" is used to indicate that "-en" is a suffix.

Kanji numerals are formed by combining kanji 1-9 with 10, 100, 1,000, and 10,000. For example:

十一 (jyuu ichi) 11 (eleven)
十二 (jyuu ni) 12 (twelve)
三十五 (san jyuu go) 35 (thirty-five)
百二十七 (hyaku ni jyuu nana) 127 (one hundred twenty-seven)
四百六十九 (yon hyaku roku jyuu kyuu) 469 (four hundred sixty-nine)
七千五百七 (nana sen go hyaku nana) 7,507 (seven thousand five hundred seven)
三万五千四百四十五 (san man go sen yon hyaku yon jyuu go) 35,445 (thirty-five thousand four hundred forty-five)

Additionally, there is some pronunciation variation caused by voiced consonants. 三百 (300) and numbers with that sequence of characters are pronounced "sanbyaku". Also, 六百 (600) is "roppyaku" and 八百 (800) is "happyaku" (e.g. 千六百五十 "sen roppyaku go jyuu").

The alternate pronunciations, "shi", "shichi", and "ku" are not used in the formation of numbers greater than 10. For example, 七百 is pronounced "nana hyaku".

Adding 円 to the end of a number will make it into a price in Yen. The pronunciation of the number remains the same except for the "-en" added to it. For example, 五万円 (go man en) is ¥50,000 (fifty thousand yen).

Additional suffixes are needed for counting objects other than money. There are also native Japanese numbers which can be used to count up to 10 objects without the aid of a counter. For more information about this please consult a Japanese Textbook or the following wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_counter_word.

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