How to count in Japanese

Getting to know rudimentary Japanese is one of the rights of passage that comes with training in Okinawan karate.

Here are some tips on how to count to ten in Japanese. Practice a little, and in no time you will be counting like a native!

NumberJapanesePronunciation tip
1ichiThe “i” is pronounced “ea”, as in “each”. The “chee” is pronounced like “cheek”.When spoken quickly, the “ee” part is barely pronounced, which makes the whole word sounds like “each”
2niPronounced “knee”
3sanPronounced “sahn”
4shiPronounced “she”(Can alternately be pronounced “yon”, which is pronounced “yohn”)
5goWhen you say “go” in Japanese, leave your mouth rounded when you’re done to prevent slipping towards a “w” sound. English speakers have a tendency to say the word “go” as if it were spelled “gohw”.
6rokuThe Asian “R” is pronounced as cross between R and L. When pronouncing “roku”, it should sound similar to “loh-koo”. The Japanese R is pronounced using only the very tip of the tongue. (An English R is pronounced at the center of the tongue, and an English L is pronounced slightly back from from the tip of the tongue. )
7shichiPronounced like “she-chee”, with a hint of tch on the “chee”.(It can also be pronounced “nana”, with the As pronounced “ah”)
8hachiPronounced as “ha!” and “tchee”
9kyuPronounced as the English letter “q”. Similarly to “go”, English speakers tend to pronounce it as “kyoow” – make sure you keep your mouth rounded on the “oo” sound so you don’t slip towards “w”.
10jyuPronounced “joo”, with a hint of “zh” on the “j”


Counting from 10 to 19 is also easy — simply add the word “jyu” (10) before the word for the “ones” digit. For example,14 is said “ju shi,” which literally means “10 – 4.”

For 20 say “ni ju”.

11jyu ichi
12jyu ni
13jyu san
14jyu shi
15jyu go
16jyu roku
17jyu shichi
18jyu hachi
19jyu kyu
20ni ju

Happy counting!

Brian is a life-long martial artist, athlete, and serial entrepreneur. He teaches martial arts and self defense to adult and teen students in San Diego, at the Full Potential Martial Arts dojo in Carmel Valley.

One comment on “How to count in Japanese
  1. AG says:

    Very Helpful. I have bookmarked it…

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