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Jappleng Mini-Lessons
Chapter: 3 Lesson: 0 - Introduction to Japanese Numbers 0 to 9
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Lesson added on: March 11, 2018 02:53pm
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Introduction to the Japanese number system
Learning to count in Japanese or in any other language is one of the most important things to learn in a practical perspective. It allows the speaker to order quantities such as at a restaurant, aid with directions, counting money, among many other things.

When learning how to count in Japanese you will be able to remember the order of the numbers with relative ease, but being familiar enough to say 5 is “go”, on the spot or reverse the order will take time with plenty of practice.The Japanese number system came to be over 1,300-years ago when Chinese words were more prevalent within Japanese and as such when the introduction of the number system was implemented.

There are two-types of readings in Japanese, onyomi(音読み) and kunyomi(訓読み) where kunyomi is native from Japan and onyomi comes from old Chinese. Although there is a rich history behind the number system, requires its own historical editorial, please leave a comment if you would like us to expedite such editorial.
Japanese Numbers (Theory)
The following are different numbers have detailed description such as Japanese beliefs, and learning aids. Please be sure to read through this if you are unfamiliar with the different usage of onyomi and kunyomi numbers, or the meaning behind numbers as number meanings are important in Japan.

Zero Zero / Rei 零 or 〇 / 例 There are two different ways to say zero in Japanese but only one of them can be used when counting. The first way is Zero, which is the exact same meaning as in the English word Zero. It may be used when counting.

The second term for Zero is Rei. Rei has many usages for it from saluting to using it in the number system. Rei is also associated spiritually because the word itself represents spiritual wisdom in traditional beliefs. Rei is often viewed as not an exact number but something neutral, or that of which doesn’t exist.
One Ichi / Ich Ichi represents the number one, and can also be pronounced as ich for short.
Two Ni In Japan, the superstitions of numbers are very common and in this instance, “ni” is believed to be associated with something that is easy.
Three San San represents the number three; it is believed to be a lucky number amongst Japanese folklore mainly because it comes before the number four which also means death. Seeing things such as “three’s a pair” is common in Japan. However there are some who believe that the number three is unlucky because in China, the number three is unlucky. As mentioned earlier, superstitions and folklore are fairly big in Japan and knowing about them is advisable.
Four Shi / Yon Shi is the number four and represents an important number in Japanese. It is commonly believed that it is considered an unlucky number because ‘Shi’ has the same pronunciation as death. The reason why this is important to know is because many apartments, airline seats, and hotels often skip the number 4 (along with 9 and 13 as we will discuss later). Because of this superstition, a lot of gifts are given as sets of three or five but will rarely be given as a set of four. If you have a negative experience shopping for a set of four in Japan, this is the very reason why.

Alternatively the number four can be expressed with Yon. Yon means the same thing as four except they are both used in different scenarios and to answer the age old question “When do you use yon or shi to count in Japanese?” the answer is here.

Shi is onyomi (音読み) while Yon is the kunyomi (訓読み) reading. When counting, even for months, you should use the onyomi reading. But if you are numbering such as saying there are x amount of y, then you should use the kunyomi reading

But there are many debates that surround this topic, some argue that you must use the kunyomi reading after 10, meaning 14 is ju-yon while others argue that it must be used once you pass 40 (while counting). There is no absolute rule to this, at least with numbers under 100. In some regions, the onyomi reading is preferred over kunyomi but in Tokyo, kunyomi is preferred.

From 1 to 10 use onyomi, but beyond it always use kunyomi.
Five Go Go represents the number five and has no major associations to Japanese mythology
Six Roku Roku is the number six.
Seven Shichi / Nana Sichi is the onyomi reading and nana is the kunyomi reading. Please refer back to number 4 for details on how to use them.
Eight Hachi Hachi represents the number eight.
Nine Ku / Kyuu When nine is pronounced as ku, it can also mean suffering and just as before, many places ignore the number 9 or refuse to use the onyomi reading if they are tetraphobic (fear of numbers relating to superstition). Ku is thought to be cursed with bad fortune because it has the same pronunciation as torture or agony.
Practice Memorization
Now that we have spent time learning the theory behind the Japanese numbers 0 to 9, it is time to memorize them. In this section you will be presented with a chart to create your own flash cards, a printable version, and a random number generator to improve your learning skills.

You may wish to first practice the numbers from zero to nine in order, and then in descending order. Once completed, it is recommended that you practice using shuffled flash cards, number generators and even doing math while counting in Japanese.

Null Rei
0 Zero 零 or 〇
1 Ichi / Ich
2 Ni
3 San
4 Shi / Yon
5 Go
6 Roku
7 Shichi / Nana
8 Hachi
9 Ku / Kyuu
Practice Tips
There are many ways to practice counting and as mentioned before, numbers are tricky because in your mind you can have them easily memorized but in practice it is entirely different. What you will need to do is count up from 0 to 9 over and over again. Then when you feel confident, randomize the order with flashcards.

Once you feel confident with that method, reverse the order from 9 to 0, you may do this at any point in time. We have found that this method is the most effective to learning how to count.Be sure to count as much as you can but unless you completely replace the counting language in your mind, you will be translating from your native tongue to Japanese and vice versa for a very long time as this is the nature on how we work.

Don’t worry though; you will see just how quickly learning these new numbers can be once you try.
Printable Flash Cards
The printable flashcards are given at the end of the article in resources. Alternatively, you may use this link (PDF) to access them.
Japanese Number Generator
The random number generator can be found in the JPLearn! Course. You can gain access to it here which contains a more comprehensive lesson and practice mateiral.
Final Notes
As you may have noticed, learning your first numbers was not a necessarily difficult task and all it really took was a little bit of practice. To count to a trillion will take just about the same amount of time as it has taken you to count from zero to nine.

Once you have completed all counting lessons, we recommend that you learn about number counters to learn how to tell the time, day of the year, describing an object and so forth. Good luck on your journey!

To learn numbers 10 to 99 you may read: How to count in Japanese numbers 10 to 99.To learn numbers 100 to trillion / quadrillion you may read: How to count in Japanese numbers 100 to Trillion / Quadrillion.
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