Numbers in Japanese: A complete guide to counting in Japanese

Numbers in Japanese can be confusing as it has a different counting system in English, but with practice, you’ll get used to it. Counting from 1 to 10 is probably the easiest first step, but reaching up to a million (or a hundred million) can seem like a pipedream. 

We’re breaking down how to count in Japanese, or Japanese numerals, and the Sino-Japanese (onyomi) and native Japanese number system (kunyomi), from beginner-level tenths to millions. Head here for our guide on Japanese counters.


Basics of Counting Japanese Numbers 

Sino-Japanese and Yamato Kotoba

Now, let’s take a look at the counting system. Since it advances on a base-ten system, so you’ll be able to use the numbers by learning 1 to 10 and then learning expressions for the digits such as 10, 100 and 1,000.

In writing, number names used in Japanese use the same Chinese numerals — and even follow its grouping system by 10,000. 

Now, you’ve probably heard this phrase in Japanese anime before:

One, two, three! 

But if you’ve learned Japanese for a while, you might notice that depending on the object and context, the Japanese word pronunciation for these numbers differs. For example:

Give me one, please. 

Notice how the number “one” is both pronounced ichi and hitotsu? That’s because there are two types of pronunciation in Japanese: onyomi (Sino-Japanese) and kunyomi, which is based on original Japanese native words). 

Using Japanese native words (or kunyomi or yamato kotoba), the number 1 to 10 is pronounced this way:

  1. ひとつ (hitotsu)
  2. ふたつ (futatsu)
  3. みっつ (mittsu)
  4. よっつ (yottsu)
  5. いつつ (itsutsu)
  6. むっつ (muttsu)
  7. ななつ (nanatsu)
  8. やっつ (yattsu)
  9. ここのつ (kokonotsu)
  10. とう (tou)

Unlike the Sino-Japanese numerals, numbers in kunyomi do not need additional counters as it is considered universal. Regardless if it’s a “stick” (本) or a “small item” (個), you can use pronounce the numbers as it is.

Kami o hitotsu kudasai.
Give me one paper. 

Kami o ichimai kudasai. 

The bad news? Native Japanese reading goes as far as 10. Beyond that, you’ll have to use the Sino-Japanese reading, which is why that’s the one you’ll use more often.

The tricky part is you will need to use Japanese counters for Sino-Japanese, which depends on the kind of object you’re referring in Japanese.

On the other hand, the word “zero” is often pronounced as a loanword (similar to English) in Japanese:ゼロ. If you’re looking to use the Japanese word, it would be 零 (rei) or まる (maru) which means “circle”. Even Japanese people seldom use零 (rei), so we advise using either ゼロ or まる.

Keep in mind that we use まる to mention individual numbers. For example, you’re trying to confirm your address over a phone call. 

Yuubin bango wa ichi maru ni no maru maru nana ni desu. 
My postal code is one-zero-two, and zero-zero-seven-two. 

Instead of saying hyaku ni (102), you’d say ichi-maru-ni. The same goes for 0072. Think of maru as the same way you use “oh” instead of “zero”. 

How to Write Numbers in Japanese

Besides the pronunciation, you can actually write two ways for Japanese numbers. The first one is the easier of the two: Arabic numerals, which we all universally use (1, 2, 3, 4). The second one is in Chinese numerals, or kanji (一, 二, 三). 

Luckily, most people, even Japanese, don’t use kanji-based numbers. Instead, they’ll use Arab numerals when writing, especially when the number is below 100. 

On banks and more formal establishments, you will still encounter Japanese numbers written in kanji for large amounts: a thousand, ten thousand and a hundred thousand. 

Now, let’s first learn the digits up to 10,000.

Counting from 1 to 10,000 in Japanese

  • 1: ichi 「いち」
  • 2: ni 「に」
  • 3: san(pronounced as on tenths, hundredths and so on) 「さん」
  • 4: yon or shi 「よん/し」
  • 5: go 「ご」
  • 6: roku 「ろく」
  • 7: nana or shichi 「なな/しち」
  • 8: hachi 「はち」
  • 9: kyuu / ku 「きゅう/く」
  • 10: juu 「じゅう」
  • 100: hyaku (3-byaku/6, 8-ppyaku) 「ひゃく(3びゃく/6,8っぴゃく)」
  • 1,000: sen (3-zen, 8-ssen ) 「せん(3ぜん/8っせん)」
  • 10,000: man 「まん」 「万」

Counting up to 100 in Japanese is relatively easy, as you just need to add the numbers accordingly. Once you can memorize the numbers to 10, it’s all about compounding and adding.

For example, 28 looks like this: ni-juu-hachi (にじゅうはち). Think of it as: 2 (ni) + 10 (juu) + 8 (hachi(). For 10 to 100, leave out 1 (ichi). 

Say the numbers as follows:

  • 12: juu-ni (not ichi-juu ni): じゅうに
  • 157: hyaku go-juu nana (not ichi-hyaku go-juu-nana): ひゃく ごじゅう なな
  • 1861: sen ha-ppyaku roku-juu ichi (not ichi sen ha-ppyaku roku-juu ichi): せん はっぴゃく ろくじゅう い

As another example, 369 looks like this: sam-byaku roku-juu-kyuu (さんびゃく ろくじゅう きゅう). while 18,257 would be: ichi-man ha-ssen ni-hyaku go-juu nana (いちまん はっせん にひゃく ごじゅう なな).

Once you reach one hundred, you add a ひゃく, and continued by stacking the numbers as usual. Once you reach 1,000, hyaku becomes sen. 

Like this, all you have to do is piece together the elements and speak them. In parentheses, you will read the numbers with changes in pronunciation for euphonic reasons.

How to say Numbers in Japanese: Numbers Above 100,000

Now, let’s take a look at large numbers over 100,000. Whereas English uses 1,000 as one unit and expresses 10,000 as 10 times 1,000 (ten-thousand), Japanese uses man (万) as one unit.

Let’s just remember 4 zeros is 「万」(man). 320,000 is san-juu-ni man. 「さんじゅう に まん」. They continue as follows:

  • 10,000: ichi-man 「1万」
  • 100,000: juu-man 「10万」
  • 1,000,000: hyaku-man (one million) 「100万」
  • 10,000,000: issen-man 「1000万」

In English the next unit corresponding to 1,000 x 1,000 is 1,000,000 (million). In Japanese the next unit corresponding to 10,000 x 10,000 is 100,000,000 (ichi-oku 「1億」/ hundred million).

How to say Numbers in Japanese: Numbers Over 100,000,000

  • 100,000,000: ichi-oku 「1億」
  • 1,000,000,000: juu-oku ( one-billion) 「10億」
  • 10,000,000,000: hyaku-oku 「100億」
  • The unit after oku is choo (兆), which consists of 12 zeroes: 1,000,000,000,000.

All in all, Japanese numbers are fairly simple. However, expressing dates in Japanese can be much more complicated and we will cover this in another article.

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