Karate as a sport is rapidly gaining popularity around the world and across media.
Due to this rise in popularity more people are looking into learning it, which is where learning to count in Japanese is important.
Karate can literally be translated to ‘empty hand’ and originated in Japan. It used to be a common fighting system in Okinawa (the smallest of Japan’s five islands) called ‘Te’.
When trade relationships were established with China in 1372, different forms of martial arts were introduced.
Then a series of policies began being put in place banning weapons, and the practice of unarmed combat became popular.
China’s open palm fighting style kung fu became one of these popular styles.
There were many different styles of ‘Te’ because of all these influences.
One man called Itosu Anko learned some of these styles and created simplified katas (meaning model or shape – these are the proper postures to get into for moves) from them.
Itosu then worked to introduce karate to the Okinawa school system in 1902. Gichin Funakoshi, credited as introducing karate to the main islands of Japan, was a student of Itosu.
As an art karate has the values of self development, fearlessness, leadership and having the proper attitude. Many people who learn karate choose to follow in the philosophy of the Samurai.
This code of conduct also known as the Bushido (the way of the warrior) promotes loyalty, kindness, duty and honor.
Funakoshi said a karateka (those who practice karate) must “never be easily drawn into a fight” and that anyone who misuse their karate skills are a disgrace to the art and bring dishonor upon themself.
Due to Itosu’s creation of simplified katas, karate has become more accessible for everyone. Creating a solid foundation for learning, and one of the key features of learning katas is counting.
There are a different number of moves per kata and being able to count in Japanese will help you learn and remember them, most karate classes will choose to count in Japanese rather than English.
Counting in Japanese doesn’t just show up in katas and will also be used in other techniques as well as everyday stretching.
Below you will find how to count in Japanese, how to count objects in Japanese (yes it is different), and why some numbers won’t be as common.
Learning karate will teach you many Japanese words but the numbers are the basics and will be the first you will probably need.
Japanese Numbers Up To Ten
While Japan does have their own unique way to write each number they will tend to use the Arabic way just like English does.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful to know them when learning Japanese.
Below you will find the Japanese character for a number, the hiragana for it, the romaji for the hiragana, and finally how to pronounce it.
- One – 一 – いち – Ichi “Ee-chee”
- Two – 二 – に – Ni “Knee”
- Three – 三 – さん – San “Sahn”
- Four – 四 – し – Shi “She” or よん Yon “Yon”
- Five – 五 – ご – Go “Goh” making sure not to say “Gohw”
- Six – 六 – ろく – Roku “Lockoo” – Japanese ‘R’ and ‘L’ sounds are blended
- Seven – 七 – しち – Shichi “She-chee” or なな Nana “Nah-nah”
- Eight – 八 – はち – Hachi “Ha-chee”
- Nine – 九 – きゅう – Kyuu “Kyou”
- Ten – 十 – じゅう – Juu “Joo”
- Zero is ゼロ “zero”. May be seen as 零 pronounced as “rei” in place of ゼロ, for example in the time for 0 o’clock.
You may see that 4 and 7 have 2 different pronunciations. That is because one is Sino-Japanese (a dialect influenced by China) and the other is native Japanese.
Sino-Japanese is more common when counting. Four is an exception because of its unlucky belief and seven is because it can sound similar to four.
Japanese Numbers From Ten
If you can count up to ten in Japanese then you can count up to 99 easily. Once you get to 11 you merely say ten then one.
When you get to 20 you say two then ten. 21 is two then ten then one. Below are some examples of the pattern to help you understand.
- 16 – Ichi Juu Roku (One Ten Six)
- 30 – San Juu (Three Ten)
- 52 – Go Juu Ni (Five Ten Two)
- 89 – Hachi Juu Kyuu (Eight Ten Nine)
Once you reach one hundred it is 百 Hyaku “He-yah-koo”.
Counting Items In Japanese
In English we use different words to count objects, for example 4 slices of cake or 20 pieces of a puzzle.
Japan uses similar words to count, don’t get overwhelmed as most of them fall under one category.
When counting objects in Japanese you will use Native Japanese to count instead of Sino-Japanese. The most common suffix you will find is つ “tsu”.
Below is how to count objects up to 10 with the つ included.
You will see a smaller っ, this doesn’t necessarily have a pronunciation by itself but instead changes the sound of the letter that follows it.
- One – ひとつ – Hitotsu “He-toh-tsu”
- Two – ふたつ – Futatsu “Foo- tah-tsu”
- Three – みっつ – Mittsu “Meet-tsu”
- Four – よっつ – Yottsu “Yoht-tsu”
- Five – いつつ – Itsutsu “Ee-tsu-tsu”
- Six – むっつ – Muttsu “Moot-tsu”
- Seven – ななつ – Nanatsu “Nah-nah-tsu”
- Eight – やっつ – Yattsu “Yaht-tsu”
- Nine – ここのつ – Kokonotsu “Koh-koh-noh-tsu”
- Ten – とう – Tou “Toh-oh”
Superstition In Japanese Numbers
Like the Western superstition around the number 13, Japan has a similar apprehension to the number 4. This is because the Sino-Japanese pronunciation of it “shi” sounds the same as 死 which means death.
You typically won’t find the 4th floor of a hotel or a 4 pack of items because of this superstition.
Nine can be pronounced “ku” which can also mean agony or suffering so you won’t find it pronounced this way often.
The number 7, while sounding similar to ‘shi’, is actually a lucky number just like in western culture. Additionally the number 8 represents growth as the character 八 looks likes the trunk of a tree.