Sino-Japanese Numbers

第34課: Sino-Japanese Numbers

Counting in Japanese involves using two sets of numbers: one derived from Chinese loanwords known as “Sino-Japanese numbers” and another set known as “native numbers” which the language had to start with. In modern speech, both sets are mixed together, so this lesson will be the first of several to tackle this problem.

Spelling Note: For this lesson, all ON readings will be in Katakana to indicate words of Sino-Japanese/foreign origin and all KUN will be in Hiragana to indicate words of native origin. 


There are three ways to say zero.

漢字 Reading Intonation Word Origin
零・〇 れい HL Sino-Japanese
ゼロ ゼロ HL※English
〇※ まる LH(H) Native

※The intonation of ゼロ changes to LH in compounds.
※まる literally means “circle” and may be used to mean “zero” in the same way “o” can in English. In this event, it may be written with any of the other Kanji and given that reading. 

When to use 零・〇(れい)or ゼロ is largely based on circumstance. ゼロ is always interpreted as “zero,” whereas 零, at times, refers to 0% with a margin of error such as in weather forecasts. This is because the Kanji also has the meaning of “trivial/insignificant.” Often times, one word is used over the other in specific phrases. 

1. きょうも気温は【零度・〇℃】を下回っています。
Even today, the temperature is below 0℃. 

2. 零点とは、関数 f(x)について、f(x)=0を満たす元 (げん) xのことである。
Regarding the zero point in the function f(x), it is the unknown “x” that fulfills f(x) = 0. 

3. 自分だけかもしれませんが、未だに【ゼロ歳・零歳】の記憶はちゃんとありますよ。
It may just be me, but I still definitely have memory from when I was zero-years-old.

4. 零細企業とは、中小企業のうち、特に小規模なものを指していう。
Micro-enterprises refer to particularly small-scale ones among small and medium enterprises. 

5. 渋谷0101(マルイ・丸井)でピアスを買ったことがあります。
I’ve bought a ear piercings at the Marui Shibuya store before. 

Note: The department chain 丸井・マルイ’s catchy logo is “0101,” which utilizes the まる pronunciation of zero. 

One to Ten

No. 漢字 Reading(s) Pitch
1 一 イチ LH(L)
2 二 ニ H(L)
3 三 サン LH(H)※
4 四 シ・よん H(L)/HL
5 五 ゴ H(L)
6 六 ロク LH(L)
7 七 シチ・なな LH(L)/H(L)
8 八 ハチ L(H(L)
9 九 キュウ・ク HL/H(L)
10 十 ジュウ HL

※Currently, a majority of speakers now pronounce 3 with a HL intonation.

Some Sino-Japanese numbers are interchangeable with their native number equivalent, so much so that omitting them in this chart would not do you justice in learning how to count. 

4 may either be シ (Sino-Japanese) or よん (native). The latter is more common due to a superstition that 4 is unlucky due to シ being homophonous with the word for death – 死. 

7 may either be シチ (Sino-Japanese) or なな (native). The latter is more common, but the reason is not that it is unlucky, but because シチ can be potentially misheard as イチ or ハチ, especially in loud environments. 

9 may either be キュウ or ク. Both readings are Sino-Japanese, but キュウ was introduced later than ク. This is a major factor in why キュウ is more common, but another reason is that 9 is rendered unlucky due to ク being homophonous with the word for suffering – 苦. 

6. 一から十まで
Literal Meaning: From 1 to 10
From A to Z

7. 1から10までの数え方
How to count from 1 to 10. 

8. 9まで数えてください。
Please count to 9. 

9. 1 + 3 = 4
Reading: イチ たす サン イコール よん

10. 6 – 4 = 2
Reading: ロク ひく よん イコール ニ

11. 3 x 3 = 9
Reading: サン かける サン イコール キュウ

12. 10 / 2 = 5
Reading: ジュウ わける ニ イコール ゴ 

Notation Note: Math is written out the same way as it is in the Western world. Reading out verbs like “to add,” “to subtract,” etc. in the English word order is common. Once we cover more grammar, we’ll see how these sort of sentences would otherwise be said the truly ‘Japanese’ way


Whether you’re counting down from ten to one or counting up from one to ten, the intonation patterns of these basic numbers actually change to match the occasion. With no exception, the intonations change to HL, meaning that the accent is always on the first mora.

No. Reading(s) Pitch No. Reading(s) Pitch
1 イチ HL2 ニ HL
3 サン HL4 シー・よん HL/HL
5 ゴー HL6 ロク HL
7 シチ・なな HL/HL8 ハチ HL
9 クー・キュー  HL/HL10 ジュウ HL

When counting down/up, the readings in bold are actually elongated to two morae. They also happen to be the most common readings when counting down, making counting in this way exceptional when it comes to which form is preferred. Even for 7, the Sino-Japanese reading シチ is preferred in this situation. 

13. 6. 3、2、1、ロケット発射!
3, 2, 1, the rocket is launched! 

14. イチ、二―、サン、シー、ゴー、ロク、シチ、ハチ、クー、ジュウ!(早口)
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10! (Fast Speech)

Eleven to 100

Up until you reach 100, at which a new unit is introduced, any number in between is expressed by what is literally made up of. Say you have 45. The Japanese number literally translates as “four-ten-five”- よんじゅうご.

From 11 to 19, the pitch of the number is continuous as one pattern. Once you hit 20, multiples of ten generally have their own pitch pattern separate from 1 through 9 that follow. Although some instances pitch leveling can be heard on occasion, the internal word/pitch boundary for large numbers works as follows:

45 Four ten – five よんジュウ・ゴ HLL-H(L)

Chart Note: Readings are listed in order of frequency with the most frequently used being listed first

No. 漢字Reading(s) Pitch No. 漢字 Reading(s) Pitch
11十一ジュウイチLHHH(L) 12十二ジュウニLHH(L)
13十三ジュウサンHLLL 14 十四ジュウよん
 15十五 ジュウゴHLL 16 十六 ジュウロク LHHH(L)
 17十七 ジュウななジュウシチ LHHLLHHH(L)18 十八 ジュウハチ LHHH(L)
 19十九 ジュウキュウジュウク LHHLHLL20 二十 ニジュウ HLL
 21二十一ニジュウイチ HLL-LH(L)22二十二ニジュウニHLL-H(L)
 30三十 サンジュウHLL40四十よんジュウ
 50五十 ゴジュウ LHL60六十ロクジュウLHHL
 70七十 ななジュウ
90九十 キュウジュウ

※The secondary readings for 14 (ジュウシ), 40 (シジュウ), 70 (シチジュウ), and 90 (クジュウ) are nonexistent in the spoken language, but in the past native readings were not mixed together with Sino-Japanese ones, especially in the written language. This means that a number of set expressions still have these older readings, and when a speaker does wish to use them, of course, they become valid in the spoken language. 

Although the readings シ for 4, シチ for 7, and ク for 9 are nonexistent before multiples of ten in the spoken language, the readings シチ for 7 and ク for 9 can be seen in free variation after multiples of ten. 

No. 漢字 Reading(s) No. 漢字 Reading(s)
34 三十四 サンジュウよん37三十七  サンジュウななサンジュウシチ
39 三十九サンジュウキュウサンジュウク47 四十七 よんジュウななよんジュウしち
64 六十四 ロクジュウよん69 六十九 ロクジュウキュウ
77 七十七 ななジュウなな79 七十九 ななジュウキュウななジュウク
94 九十四 キュウジュウよん99 九十九 キュウジュウキュウキュウジュウク

Although ignoring older readings not listed makes counting easier, examples of those older readings will pop up, sometimes closer to home than you might expect. If you ever listen to or read historical dramas, such older readings abound. 

Phrase Reading Meaning
七十七銀行 シチジュウシチギンコウ 77 Bank (located in Northern Japan)
   四十七士の討入り シジュウシチシのうちいり The Raid of Forty-Seven Warriors

History Note: The switch to native numbers for 4, 7, and 9 became commonplace in Standard Japanese at the turn of the 20th century. This means that for people still alive who were born during this transition, they may likely use their Sino-Japanese readings more frequently. 


Numbers greater than 100 are broken down just as they were above. For instance, 254 and 5335 are respectively “two hundred – five ten – four” and “five thousand – three hundred – three ten – five.” The hyphens indicate the internal word boundaries which also function as pitch boundaries. The internal word boundaries are also made obvious by how these numbers are spelled in Kanji, with 100 (百) and 1000 (千) possessing separate Kanji. 

The one thing that you do have to be careful of is sound changes that occur for certain multiples of 100 and 1000. To simplify things, we’ll first look at the multiples of 100 and 1000, then we’ll follow with a healthy sample of random numbers within the range of 101 through 9999. 

Chart Note: To make the chart more legible now that we are dealing with even larger numbers, morae with a high pitch are in bold. If the pitch were to drop following a word-final mora, a downward arrow (↓) will signify this drop. 

100s 漢字 Reading 1000s 漢字 Reading
1000 千一千※ センイッセン※
200 二百 ニヒャク2000 二千 ニ
300 三百 ンビャク3000 三千 サンゼ
400 四百んひゃくシヒャク↓※4000 四千 よんセ
500 五百 ゴヒャク5000 五千 ゴ
600 六百 ロッピャク6000 六千 ロクセ
700 七百 なヒャク シチヒャク↓※7000 七千 ななセンシチセン※
800 八百 ハッピャク8000 八千 ハッセ
900 九百 キュウヒャク9000 九千 キュウセ

※壱 is a variant way to write 1 and was created to prevent counterfeiting. 

※In the world of accounting, 100 and 1000 are often written out and expressed as literally “one hundred” and “one thousand” to prevent error. In typical spoken language, however, 百 is ONLY read as ヒャク, and as for 1000, 千 and 一千 are used at a 7:3 ratio. 

※The following readings are essentially nonexistent in the spoken language but may exist in archaisms or older language: シヒャク for 400, シチヒャク for 700, and シチセン for 7000. Alternative readings which ought to exist for 4000 and 9000 are omitted from the chart due to not being attested at all in Modern Japanese. 

Phrase Reading Meaning
四百四病 シヒャクシビョウ  Every type of illness
Literally: 404 illness
 七百駅 シチヒャクエキ Shichihyaku Station

Now that we’ve learned how larger numbers from 100-9999 are made, let’s look at more examples of the numbers in between! In this chart, only the predominant reading of the number will be shown. This is because although 7 and 9 may vary from speaker to speaker as the last digit, this variation is largely negligible. 

Chart Note: Although pitch leveling may occur when a low-pitched mora is sandwiched between two high-pitch morae or when a word-final mora should be high but it is in a number that began with a high-pitched mora, pitch patterns are typically split up by the power of 10. As such, pitch notation will be omitted below.

No. 漢字 Reading
101  百一 ヒャクイチ
110 百十 ヒャクジュウ
 357 三百五十七 サンビャクゴジュウなな
 423 四百二十三 よんヒャクニジュウサン
 480 四百八十 よんヒャクハチジュウ
 568 五百六十八 ゴヒャクロクジュウハチ
 677 六百七十七 ロッピャクななジュウなな
 768 七百六十八 ななヒャクロクジュウハチ
 812 八百十二 ハッピャクジュウニ
 934 九百三十四 キュウヒャクサンジュウよん
 3450 三千四百五十 サンゼンよんヒャクゴジュウ
 4567 四千五百六十七 よんセンゴヒャクロクジュウなな
 5492 五千四百九十二 ゴセンよんヒャクキュウジュウニ
 6424 六千四百二十四 ロクセンよんヒャクニジュウよん
 7777 七千七百七十七 ななセンななヒャクななジュウなな
 8351 八千三百五十一 ハッセンサンビャクゴジュウイチ
9069 九千六十九 キュウセンロクジュウキュウ
9999  九千九百九十九 キュウセンキュウヒャクキュウジュウキュウ

There is no place holding 0s in large numbers. This is the norm in both spoken and written Japanese, but in situations such as gambling, reading off prices in the stock market (株式市況), or betting like in horse racing (競馬). 

15. 一千二十四円
Price Reading: 一千とんで二十四円
1024 yen

Something you will also hear in these situations is 2 being read as ふた to avoid any confusion in the price being said.

16. 百万円
Price Reading: ふたひゃくせんまんえん
2000000 yen

10000 & Beyond

Starting at 10000 is where Japanese number formation truly diverges from English. To make things easier, it’s best to view number units by powers of 10. In doing so, we can compare the two languages in the following way. 

10^ JPN Reading(s) English (American)
 10^0 一 イチ one
10^1  ジュウ ten
10^2  ヒャク hundred
10^3  (一) イッセン thousand
10^4 一 イチマン ten thousand
10^5 十万 ジュウマン hundred thousand
10^6 百万 ヒャクマンmillion
 10^7一千万 センマン ten million
 10^8 一 イチオク hundred million
 10^9 十億 ジュウオク billion
 10^10 百億 ヒャクオク ten billion
 10^11 一千億 イッセンオク hundred billion
 10^12 一 イッチョウ trillion
 10^13 十兆 ジュッチョウ ジッチョウ※ ten trillion
 10^14 百兆 ヒャクチョウ hundred trillion
 10^15 一千兆 イッセンチョウ quadrillion

※This is the traditional reading and it is still preferred in news broadcasting.

Japanese changes units every four powers of ten – utilizing 10, 100, and 1000 to make the powers in between each unit. This system is known as the 万進法. 

English changes units every three powers of ten – only utilizing 10 and 100 to make the powers in between each unit. This system is known as the 千進法. 

To convert a large number from English to Japanese, first write out the number without any commas, then insert them every four digits. 

i. 36466234757205 →  36,4662,3475,7205

Then, you can mark the commas with the appropriate unit for that power. 

ii. 36466234757205

From here, it’s just filling in the rest. When reading the number out back into English, though, you’ll need to ignore where the units are in Japanese and switch every third power. 

iii. Thirty six trillion, four hundred sixty six billion, two hundred thirty four million, seven hundred fifty seven thousand, two hundred five. 

Spelling Numbers 数字の表記

Nowadays, spelling numbers is usually done so with Arabic numerals (アラビア数字): 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Because of how they are used in math to write out calculations, they are colloquially known as 算用文字. They may either appear as 全角 (full-width/two-byte) characters or as 半角 (half-width/one-byte) characters.

17a. 1個500円 (Full-Width)

17b. 1個500円 (Half-Width)
1 item, 500 yen 

Even when Arabic numerals are used, larger units greater than 1000 are often written in Kanji (漢数字) to aid in readability. Inserting English-style commas to mark units (位取り) may still done every 3 digits despite not reflecting Japanese units. Although not so common, commas may also be inserted even when Kanji are being used as unit holders. In this method, the English and Japanese units are being used simultaneously.  

18a.10京2535兆( 0 )353億4620万4623ドル
18b. $102,535,035,346,204,623
18c. $ 10京2,535兆,( 0 )35,3億46,20万4,623


Because zeroes are not spoken to the left of the decimal point, whether someone writes out the 0 in parentheses in a number like the one above is left to personal discretion. 

Curriculum Note: There are, of course, words for numbers greater than 10^15. In fact, the unit for 10^16 is 京(ケイ). These larger numbers will be discussed in a future lesson. We will also look at how decimals are made and read out then. 

Notation Note: Up to this point, commas used as place holders have been avoided to prevent ambiguity for those who may be used to periods being used for the same purpose. For the rest of this lesson, however, they will be implemented to familiarize yourself with how this is also done in Japan. 

The traditional Kanji spellings that you have seen throughout this lesson may still be used, however, especially in texts written vertically, set phrases, and older documents before the introduction of Arabic numerals. They will also be seen in everyday life on signs, menus, etc. 

19. この正月を迎えて、謙信は、ことし三十三とはなった。
As of this first month, Kenshin had become thirty three as of this year.  

20. 一万三千といえる兵数だ。
The number of soldiers, one can say, is 13,000. 

21. 違反者は一万円以下の過料の対象となります。
Violators will be subject to a fine of 10,000 yen or less.

When Kanji are used, you may also see them used in the same way as Arabic numerals. In this method, only the Kanji for 1-9 are used with 0 being 〇. In this method, large units greater than 1000 are typically written with their Kanji to aid in readability. 

22. 第一〇〇課Chapter 100

23. 一二三四万五六七八円
1,234,5678 yen

Phone Number 電話番号の読み方

In Japan, phone numbers typically take the form 012-345-679 with Japan’s country code being (+81). However, you may also see numbers with the formats 01-2345-6789 or even 0123-45-6789. Some numbers may even be 10-11 digits long. 

The parts of a phone number can be broken down as follows:

(+81)  2-3 digits 2-4 digits 4 digits
 Country Code Area Code Exchange Number Subscriber Number

For instance, the area code of Tokyo is (03), and a local number from here would take the format: +81 (03) ####-####. 

Mobile phone numbers start with either (090), (080), or (070). So, if you’re calling someone’s cellphone, you’ll be used to the format: (090) ####-####.

Toll-free numbers typically start with (0120), (0531), or (0088), producing the format:  (####) ###-####. 

When reading out numbers, numbers are typically pronounced as follows:

1 イチ2 ニ―3 サン
4 よん5 ゴー6 ロク
7 なな8 ハチ9 キュウ

As for how 0 is read, ゼロ is most common these days, but many people including most newscasters will pronounce it as レイ. Lastly, hyphens are indicated with the particle の.  

24. 電話番号は何番ですか。
What is your phone number?

25. 電話番号を教えてください。
Please tell me your phone number.

26. 03-1245-6789です。
【ゼロ・レイ】サンの、イチ ニー よん ゴーの、ロク なな ハチ キュウです。

It’s 03-1245-6789.

Additionally, it is important to know of several emergency/special services that can be dialed with particular 3-digit numbers. 

No. ReadingEmergency/Special Service
118 ヒャクジュウハチバン  Maritime emergencies
119 ヒャクジュウキュウバン  Ambulance/fire brigade
171 ヒャクななジュウイチバン Earthquake assistance
 100 ヒャクバン NTT Operator
 115 ヒャクジュウゴバン Telegram services
 117 ヒャクジュウななバン Speaking clock
 177 ヒャクななジュウななバン Weather forecast