Is it Nana or Shichi? A Brief Introduction to Japanese Numbers — Step Up Japanese - Japanese Lessons Online with Fran Wrigley (2024)

/ Fran Wrigley

Is it Nana or Shichi? A Brief Introduction to Japanese Numbers — Step Up Japanese - Japanese Lessons Online with Fran Wrigley (1)

Counting 1-10 should be easy, right?

“Ichi, ni, san, yon... (or is it shi?), go, roku, nana (orshichi), hachi, kyuu (but sometimes ku)...”

Oh, yeah...Japanese has multiple words for the same number! Seven can be either "nana" or "shichi", for example.

So how do you know which word to use?

Sometimes, either is fine – like when you count 1-10, for example. But sometimes, only one word will do.

Let's take a look at some of those special cases.

FOUR -yon / shi / yo

Yon is used in ages:

よんさい yonsai four years old

and in big numbers:

よんじゅう yonjuu 40

よんひゃく yonhyaku 400

よんせん yonsen 4,000

よんまん yonman 40,000

But you have to use shifor the month:

しがつ shigatsu April

And there’s yo, too, occasionally. Think of it as an abbreviated "yon":

よじ yoji 4 o’clock

よにん yo’nin four people

SEVEN - nana / shichi

Nana is also used in ages:

ななさい nanasai 7 years old

...and in big numbers:

ななじゅう nanajuu 70

ななひゃく nanahyaku 700

ななせん nanasen 7,000

ななまん nanaman 70,000

But shichi must be used in the month AND the o’clock:

しちがつ shichigatsu July

しちじ shichiji 7 o’clock

Is it Nana or Shichi? A Brief Introduction to Japanese Numbers — Step Up Japanese - Japanese Lessons Online with Fran Wrigley (4)

NINE - kyuu / ku

Nine is usually kyuu, but a notable exception is:

9時くじ kuji nine o’clock

When is a one not a one? When it’s January

So why does Japanese have multiple words for the same number?

It's partly to do with superstition - “shi” sounds like the Japanese word for death and “ku” can mean suffering; “shichi” can also mean “place of death”.

But actually, most languages have multiple words for numbers. We have this in English, too:

  • 1st is “first” (not “one-th”)

  • The first month of the year is “January” (not “month one”)

Is it Nana or Shichi? A Brief Introduction to Japanese Numbers — Step Up Japanese - Japanese Lessons Online with Fran Wrigley (5)

Practice makes perfect

Once you've learned which number word to use when, the next step is to practise until they stick!

Anyway, I hope these examples have demystified Japanese numbers for you a little bit. How do you like to practise numbers?

This blog post started life as the answer to a question in one of my Japanese classes (back in 2015!)If you have a question you can't find the answer to, please let me know in the comments or on Facebook /Twitter.

First published November 2015
Updated 27th January, 2019

Is it Nana or Shichi? A Brief Introduction to Japanese Numbers — Step Up Japanese - Japanese Lessons Online with Fran Wrigley (2024)


Is it Shichi or Nana in Japanese counting? ›

As noted above, yon (4) and nana (7) are preferred to shi and shichi. It is purported that this is because shi is also the reading of the word death (死), which makes it an unlucky reading (see tetraphobia); while shichi may sound too similar to ichi (1), shi or hachi (8).

What is Nana in Japanese? ›

Japanese numbers: 1 to 10
しち / ななsevenshichi / nana
きゅう/くninekyu / ku
6 more rows

What does Shichi mean? ›

SEVEN - nana / shichi.

How do you say 1 2 3 4 5 in Japanese? ›

When counting up (0 to 10)
  1. いち (ichi)
  2. に (ni)
  3. さん (san)
  4. し (shi)
  5. ご (go)
  6. ろく (roku)
  7. しち (shichi)
  8. はち (hachi)
May 28, 2022

What do we say 0 in Japanese? ›

The kanji character “零,” which is pronounced as “rei,” also represents “0.” In some instances, “まる” (“maru”) is also used to express zero. “Maru” in Japanese also means “circle.”

Why does Japanese have two words for 7? ›

As for 7 which can be SHICHI and NANA there is no cultural reason for using a different version. Many times different versions are used simply because they are easier to say or over time perhaps a certain version has become the standard.

What does 33 mean in Japan? ›

The numeral 33, for example, can be pronounced sanzan, which may mean either "troublesome" or "birth difficulty," the numeral 42 can be pronounced shi ni, meaning "to death," and the number 19 can be pronounced jū ku, meaning "intense suffering." In 1955, the anthropologist Edward Norbeck dismissed such explanations as ...

What does 39 mean in Japanese? ›

39 can be read as "san-kyū", referring to "thank you" in English.

Does NANA mean girlfriend? ›

For most British people, the word nana is used to describe a grandmother, but in French it has a very different meaning - as a slang term for girlfriend or just a girl.

Is 88 a lucky number in Japan? ›

One explanation is that 88 is a lucky number, and believe me, luck is a necessary blessing on this pilgrimage. Earlier than 1689, it was mentioned although briefly in Murasaki Shikibu's Tales of Genji around the 11th century.

What is 31 in Japan? ›

Japanese Numbers
39 more rows
Feb 28, 2020

What is 1000 in Japanese? ›

Part 1: How to count from 100 to 1,000 in Japanese
700nana hyakuななひゃく
800ha ppyakuはっぴゃく
900kyuu hyakuきゅうひゃく
6 more rows
Feb 19, 2018

What is 100000 in Japanese? ›

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

What is 111 in Japanese? ›

3. Counting in Japanese: Numbers up to 1000
漢字 Kanjiひらがな Hiragana
9 more rows
Oct 24, 2019

Is 3 a lucky number in Japan? ›

It is known that Japanese tend to be superstitious. There are certain things or circ*mstances that are uniquely explained sometimes through superstitious beliefs. One of those things are the concept about Lucky Numbers! Did you know that the number 3 is considered as one of the lucky numbers in Japan?

Is it Shichi Ji or Nana Ji? ›

7:00 is usually read as shichi-ji, but nana-ji is also acceptable. Gozen & gogo"a.m. & p.m." "a.m." is gozen, "p.m." is gogo. These words precede the time indicated.

Is it Shichi or Nana Gatsu? ›

April is shi-gatsu, not yon-gatsu, July is shichi-gatsu, not nana-gatsu, and September is ku-gatsu, not kyuu-gatsu. The audio files in the lists below provide verbal guides on how to pronounce the months, days, and seasons in Japanese.

Why are there 2 ways to say 4 in Japanese? ›

There are two ways to say numbers. A big simplification is that the native Japanese system is used to count to ten and the Chinese system used to count higher. It's true that 'shi', or four in the Chinese system, is avoided because of superstition because it sounds identical to the word for death.

Does shi mean 4 in Japanese? ›

In general counting, for speed the Japanese tend to use し/shi/四/4 because it is MUCH easier to say quickly than よん/yon/四/4. ichi ni san shi go roku shichi hachi kyu juu….

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