Before we go much further let’s go through the Japanese number system, starting with 1-10.

Number Kanji Hiragana
1 いち
2
3 さん
4 よん、し
5
6 ろく
7 なな、しち
8 はち
9 きゅう
10 じゅう

Note that the pronunciations for “four” and “seven” can change, although the pronunciations in bold in the table are the most commonly used.

The numbering system in Japanese is “mathematical” in the sense that you talk in terms of multiples and additions. For the “teens” we talk in terms of addition only. For example, to say 13 you just say “10 3” (10 + 3).

Number Kanji Hiragana
11 十一 じゅう・いち
12 十二 じゅう・に
13 十三 じゅう・さん
14 十四 じゅう・よん
15 十五 じゅう・ご
16 十六 じゅう・ろく
17 十七 じゅう・なな
18 十八 じゅう・はち
19 十九 じゅう・きゅう

Beyond 19 we start talking in terms of multiples and additions. For example, to say 28 we say “2 10 8” (2 x 10 + 8). Using this logic we can get all the way to 99. A few examples:

Number Calculation Hiragana
43 (4 x 10) + 3 よん・じゅう・さん
67 (6 x 10) + 7 ろく・じゅう・しち
96 (9 x 10) + 6 きゅう・じゅう・ろく

Now you might be thinking 100 is simply “10 10”, but this would quickly get cumbersome as the numbers got larger. Instead additional words to signify larger milestone numbers are used.

Number Kanji Hiragana
100 ひゃく
1,000 せん

The logical, however, does not change. 229 is “2 100 2 10 9”.

229 = (2 x 100) + (2 x 10) + 9

Another example:

2,488 = (2 x 1,000) + (4 x 100) + (8 x 10) + 8

As you can see from the orange hiragana in the table below, the readings can change depending on the combination. This is true for 100 and 1,000 multiples of 1, 3, 6, and 8.

Number Kanji Hiragana
300 三百 さんゃく
600 六百 ろっゃく
800 八百 はっゃく
1,000 一千 せん
3,000 三千 さん
8,000 八千 せん

As a general rule (not only applicable for numbers), when the joining of two kanji results in the following combinations a bridging っ replaces the last syllable of the preceding kanji, and sometimes a dakuten or handakuten is added to the first syllable of the succeeding character.

  • う + は
  • つ + し
  • ち + ひ
  • く + か
  • く + こ
  • ん + a-ending syllable (only dakuten or handakuten added)

Take the word “school”, for example. Individually, the two kanji that make up the word for school have the following readings:

学 = がく
校 = こう

But when put together the reading becomes:

学校 = がっこう

Indeed, this is actually a lot easier to pronounce (try repeating がくこう at any speed).

Back to our number system. Beyond 9,999 things start to change. The logical of multiples and additions still applies—the issue is that different numerical groupings are used. In Japanese there is no specific word for “million” or “billion”; instead you count things in terms of tens of thousands and one-hundred millions. Whenever I’m weighing up the cost of bigger things (televisions, flights, hotels, etc.) I think of the price in terms how many tens of thousands of yen in exactly the same way as if I was back in the UK I would think about the price of car in terms of thousands of pounds. You will come across the counter for 10,000 (“man”) every day in Japan and after a while you’ll be so used to it that if someone tells you something costs ¥110,000 you’ll find yourself converting that back in “man” (Ah, right, 11 man).

Number Kanji Hiragana
10,000 まん
100,000,000 おく

Admittedly at first this is a bit confusing because as English speakers we instinctively want to say “10 1,000” for 10,000. So…

689,614 = (68 x 10,000) + (9 x 100) + (6 x 100) + 10 + 4

It may help to move the comma one place to the left when thinking about larger numbers, e.g. 689,614 = 68,9614.

Number Hiragana
16,700 いち・まん・ろく・せん・なな・ひゃく
90,001 きゅう・まん・いち
200,200,200 に・おく・に・じゅう・まん・に・ひゃく

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