Lesson 6: Basic Kanji Through Numbers

By now you should be able to read hiragana fairly well. Learning kanji can sometimes scare off new students to the Japanese language, but don’t get discouraged! You can learn very basic kanji by learning how to count in Japanese.

The Japanese language has evolved with modern times; many Japanese natives still use kanji for numbers, but an increasing amount of people are using Arabic numerals as well. The numbers are pronounced the same in Japanese no matter what type of character is used. Learning how to count in Japanese brings some basic kanji into the picture which will help you become familiar with writing these symbols.

First, you should learn to count from one to ten. The following list details the kanji for the number along with the hiragana and Romanization. Try to read the hiragana and associate it with the kanji instead of relying on romaji!

  1. 一        いち                Ichi
  2. 二        に                    Ni
  3. 三        さん                San
  4. 四        し/よん           Shi (sometimes written/pronounced as “yon.”)
  5. 五        ご                    Go
  6. 六        ろく                Roku
  7. 七        なな/しち       Nana (sometimes written/pronounced as “shichi.”)
  8. 八        はち                Hachi
  9. 九        きゅう            Kyuu

10.  十        じゅう            Jyuu

By examining this list, you will notice that there are two ways to write and pronounce both four and seven. Most of the time, you can use them interchangeably. Sometimes it is more common to hear one than the other; for example, when saying seven o’clock, many Japanese will say “shichi ji” instead of “nana ji.” You can use either one. The syllable shi しon its own can actually mean “death” in Japanese. The kanji is different for this word than the kanji for the number four, but it is pronounced the same way. For this reason, four and seven are often unlucky numbers in Japan (notice seven also begins with “shi”).

In order to make the next set of numbers, you simply take the kanji for ten and combine it with the kanji for the other number. For example, eleven is made up of the kanji for one and ten. The kanji for ten comes first, so eleven is written 十一 (じゅういち)and pronounced “jyuu ichi.” See the list below for eleven through thirty. Notice that the 十 symbol changes to二 when we get to twenty, but the process stays the same. The pattern keeps repeating all the way through number ninety-nine.

11.  十一                じゅういち                Jyuu ichi

12.  十二                じゅうに                    Jyuu ni

13.  十三                じゅうさん                Jyuu san

14.  十四                じゅうよん                Jyuu yon

15.  十五                じゅうご                    Jyuu go

16.  十六                じゅうろく                Jyuu roku

17.  十七                じゅうなな                Jyuu nana

18.  十八                じゅうはち                Jyuu hachi

19.  十九                じゅうきゅう            Jyuu kyuu

20.  二十                にじゅう                    Ni jyuu

21.  二十一            にじゅういち            Ni jyuu ichi

22.  二十二            にじゅうに                Ni jyuu ni

23.  二十三            にじゅうさん            Ni jyuu san

24.  二十四            にじゅうよん            Ni jyuu yon

25.  二十五            にじゅうご                Ni jyuu go

26.  二十六            にじゅうろく            Ni jyuu roku

27.  二十七            にじゅうなな            Ni jyuu nana

28.  二十八            にじゅうはち            Ni jyuu hachi

29.  二十九            にじゅうきゅう        Ni jyuu kyuu

30.  三十                さんじゅう                San jyuu

Once you become familiar with the pattern of Japanese numbers, you’ll be able to say any number very quickly. One hundred is the first number that is different. One hundred is pronounced “hyaku” and written ひゃくas in hiragana and 百in kanji.

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