Chinese Vs Japanese // Counting and Numbers (What’s The Story?)

How Similar are the Number & Counting Systems in Chinese and Japanese?

How similar are Chinese and Japanese numbers? If you learn to count in one language, does it make the other one easier to learn?

Chinese and Japanese are vastly different in many aspects, particularly grammar and pronunciation (Chinese has tones, Japanese does not), not to mention Japanese has three writing systems, whereas Chinese only has one.

However, a large part of the Japanese writing system, the characters known as Kanji, originated from the Chinese language.

This means there is a surprising amount of crossover in Chinese and Japanese written languages!

In this article, we’ll give you an introductory overview of the similarities and differences between Chinese and Japanese counting systems.

If you would like to learn about each language in greater detail, check out our Japanese Number Guide and Chinese Number Guide!

Note: in this article, when we refer to Chinese, we’re talking about Mandarin Chinese used in mainland China. However, for those keen beans out there we also have courses available for Cantonese, Shanghainese and Hokkien!

Chinese and Japanese Numbers || Reading and Writing 1-10,000

Chinese and Japanese Numbers || How to Say the Date

Chinese and Japanese Numbers || Ages

Chinese and Japanese Numbers || Counters and Measure Words

Chinese and Japanese Numbers || Lucky and Unlucky Numbers

Chinese and Japanese Numbers || Number Slang

Chinese and Japanese Numbers || FAQ’s

Chinese Numbers | The Ultimate Guide (PLUS Free Quiz Inside) Thumbnail

Chinese Numbers | The Ultimate Guide (PLUS Free Quiz Inside)

The Most Comprehensive Online Guide for Counting in Chinese & Talking About Numbers Chinese Numbers are one of the first things you’ll study when learning Chinese. So, we’ve prepared this ultimate guide to Mandarin Chinese numbers which covers numbers in…

Chinese and Japanese Numbers // Reading and Writing 1-10,000

You may expect Japanese and Chinese to use different writing systems for numbers – after all, they’re two very different languages, right?

You may be surprised to learn that Chinese and Japanese both use the same system for writing numbers.

This is because a large portion of the Japanese writing system is made up of Kanji, which are characters imported from Chinese.

For a crash course on kanji, check out this video!

In Chinese, these characters are called hanzi.

This shared system means if you can write numbers 1-10 in Chinese, you can do the same in Japanese!

Still skeptical? Let’s take a quick look at the hanzi and kanji used to write 1-10:

Japanese Kanji
Chinese Hanzi
Two for the price of one! Learning one of these languages gives you a big advantage when you start learning the other.

Is the pronunciation the same?

No! 1-10 are pronounced differently in Chinese and Japanese.

The four tones of Mandarin Chinese

One of the key reasons is that Chinese is a tonal language, meaning each word has to be said using one of the four tones.

You can also check out our ultimate guide to learning and remembering Chinese tones!

Slightly more confusingly, Japanese has two systems of reading numbers: kunyomi and onyomi.

Kunyomi originates from Japan, whereas onyomi has origins in Chinese, which is where Kanji comes from.

To keep things simple, here we’ve just included the Onyomi pronunciation, which you’ll usually learn first and use more often!

Let’s take a look at how Chinese and Japanese pronunciation compare:

NumberHanzi/KanjiChinese PronunciationJapanese Pronunciation
4shi / yon
7shichi / nana
9jiǔkyuu / ku
How to count to ten in both Chinese and Japanese! Did you notice any similarities?
If you want to hear the Chinese numbers spoken by a native, here’s your video

Did you know: If you can say 1-10 in Chinese and Japanese, you can already count to 99 in both languages!

That’s because Chinese and Japanese use the same straightforward counting system.

First, let’s take a look at 11-19. See if you can spot a pattern!

NumberHanzi/KanjiChinese PronunciationJapanese Pronunciation
11十一shí yī juu ichi
12十二shí èrjuu ni
13十三shí sānjuu san
14十四shí sìjuu shi / juu yon
15十五shí wǔjuu go
16十六shí liùjuu roku
17十七shí qījuu shichi / juu nana
18十八shí bājuu hachi
19十九shí jiǔjuu kyuu / juu ku
How to count from 11-19 in Chinese and Japanese!

You may have noticed, for both Japanese and Chinese, you simply need to say 10, followed by the number 1-9. Easy, right?

How about numbers 20-90? Just like last time, see if you can spot the pattern!

NumberHanzi/KanjiChinese PronunciationJapanese Pronunciation
20二十 èr shí ni juu
30三十 sān shí san juu
40四十 sì shíshi juu / yon juu
50五十 wǔ shí go juu
60六十 liù shí roku juu
70七十 qī shí shichi juu / nana juu
80八十 bā shí hachi juu
90九十jiǔ shíkyuu juu
How to count from 20-90 in Chinese and Japanese!

Seeing a trend here?

For 20-90, you simply need to add the number 2-9 before 10. For example, thirty in both languages is “three ten” and fifty is “five-ten”. A lot more straightforward than English!

Before we show you 21-29, test your knowledge!

Using what you’ve just learned, can you guess which kanji/hanzi is used to write 21 in Japanese and Chinese?

  • A)二十二
  • B)十二一
  • C)二十一
21 written in Chinese and Japanese is…

C) 二十一

That’s because 二 is two, 十 is ten and 一 is one. So 二十一 (‘two ten one‘) in both languages equals 21!

Let’s try a bigger number!

Can you guess which hanzi/kanji is used to write 99?




99 written in Chinese and Japanese is…

B) 九十九

That’s because 九 is nine, 十 is ten and 九 is nine. So 九十九 (‘nine ten nine‘) in both languages equals 99!

By now, you’re probably getting the hang of how numbers are written in Chinese and Japanese.

Just to help you really understand, here’s how to write 21-29 in both languages!

NumberHanzi/KanjiChinese PronunciationJapanese Pronunciation
21二十一 èr shí yī ni juu ichi
22二十二 èr shí èr ni juu ni
23二十三 èr shí sān ni juu san
24二十四 èr shí sì ni juu shi / ni juu yon
25二十五 èr shí wǔ ni juu go
26二十六 èr shí liù ni juu roku
27二十七 èr shí qī ni juu shichi / ni juu nana
28二十八 èr shí bā ni juu hachi
29二十九 èr shí jiǔ ni juu kyuu / ni juu ku
How to count from 21-29 in Chinese and Japanese!

For every single number from 1-99, you can check out our Ultimate Japanese Number Guide or our Ultimate Chinese Number Guide!

Now, how about bigger numbers?

As with writing smaller numbers in Chinese and Japanese, the written characters for larger numbers are the same in both languages – but the pronunciation is different!

NumberHanzi/KanjiChinese PronunciationJapanese Pronunciation
100-10,000 in Chinese and Japanese!

You may have noticed, 10,000 in Chinese and Japanese is not ‘ten thousands’, or ‘十千’. Instead, 10,000 has its own unit in kanji and hanzi: 万.

Did you know: Japanese and Chinese characters are written in a specific stroke order

If you’re feeling very ambitious, check out our crash course below for writing bigger numbers in Chinese, all the way up to one trillion!

Chinese and Japanese Numbers // How to Say the Date

How similar are the dates in Chinese and Japanese numbers?

Well actually, very, very similar!

In Japanese and Chinese, the date is written in order of biggest to smallest.

In other words, that means the year is written first, followed by the month and then the day.

Using numbers only, can you guess how would we would write the date for New Year’s Eve, 2022, in Japanese and Chinese?


Remember, the year is written first (2022), then the month (12), then the day (31).

In both languages, we can also add the characters for year (年), month (月) and day (日), which would look like this: 2022年12月31日.

In English, months all have their own distinctive names and don’t follow a numerical system.

Whilst this can be a headache for English learners, Japanese and Chinese learners don’t have this problem at all!

The character 月 has a lot of uses in Chinese!

That’s because in both languages, there is special character used to write the word month: 月, which also means moon.

So conveniently, if you can read the months in one of the languages, you can recognize the word in both languages!

To write a specific month in either Chinese or Japanese, you simply write the character for 1-12 followed by 月.

For example, January is the first month, so we simple take the character for one (一) and add it before 月. In other words, January is 一月.

But don’t forget – the pronunciation of each of the months is very different in Chinese and Japanese!

MonthHanzi/KanjiChinese PronunciationJapanese Pronunciation
January一月yī yuèichi gatsu
February二月èr yuèni gatsu
March三月sān yuèsan gatsu
April四月sì yuèshi gatsu
May五月wǔ yuègo gatsu
June六月liù yuèroku gatsu
July七月qī yuèshichi gatsu
August八月bā yuèhachi gatsu
September九月jiǔ yuèku gatsu
October十月shí yuèjuu gatsu
November十一月shíyī yuèjuuichi gatsu
December十二月shí’èr yuèjuuni gatsu
How to read and write the months in Chinese and Japanese

Note: when writing the date in both languages, you can also make life easier and simply write the numerals 1-12 before 月, instead of using the hanzi and kanji!

2 being February for example
All the months in Japanese

Note: the word ‘month’ by itself is pronounced slightly differently (tsuki).

How about the date?

In both Chinese and Japanese, we can use the character for sun, (in Chinese 日 is pronounced , in Japanese it is nichi) after a number to represent the day of the month.

The character 日 is used to represent the day of the month. In Japanese, this character is pronounced ‘nichi’.

However, the similarities stop there!

In Chinese, you also have the option of using the character 号 hào, which means number, instead of 日 rì.

Additionally, in Chinese the system is very regular, meaning you simply say a number and add 日 rì or 号 hào to express the date.

Meanwhile in Japanese, almost half of the days of the month are irregular, including the first ten days of the month!

This means that whilst the written system doesn’t change, the pronunciation does.

For example, when talking about the date in Japanese, 1日 is not pronounced ichi nichi (literally ‘one day’), it instead has a whole new pronunciation: tsuitachi.

Let’s take a look at how the days of the month in Chinese and Japanese compare in closer detail…

Day of the monthHanzi/KanjiChinese PronunciationJapanese Pronunciation (* = irregular)
1st一日yī rìtsuitachi*
2nd二日èr rìfutsuka*
3rd三日sān rìmikka*
4th四日sì rìyokka*
5th五日wǔ rìitsuka*
6th六日liù rìmuika*
7th七日qī rìnanoka*
8th八日bā rìyouka*
9th九日jiǔ rìkokonoka*
10th十日shí rìtooka*
11th十一日shíyī rìjuuichi nichi
12th十二日shí’èr rìjuuni nichi
13th十三日shísān rìjuusan nichi
14th十四日shísì rìjuuyokka*
15th十五日shíwǔ rìjuugo nichi
16th十六日shíliù rìjuuroku nichi
17th十七日shíqī rìjuushichi nichi
18th十八日shíbā rìjuuhachi nichi
19th十九日shíjiǔ rìjuuku nichi
20th二十日èrshí rìhatsuka*
21st二十一日èrshíyī rìnijuuichi nichi
22nd二十二日èrshíèr rìnijuuni nichi
23rd二十三日èrshísān rìnijuusan nichi
24th二十四日èrshísì rì nijuuyokka*
25th二十五日èrshíwǔ rìnijuugo nichi
26th二十六日èrshíliù rìnijuuroku nichi
27th二十七日èrshíqī rì nijuushichi nichi
28th二十八日èrshíbā rìnijuuhachi nichi
29th二十九日èrshíjiǔ rìnijuuku nichi
30th三十日sānshí rìsanjuu nichi
31st三十一日sānshíyī rìsanjuuyichi nichi
How to read and write the days of the month in Chinese and Japanese

Note: when writing the date in both languages, you can also make life easier and simply write the numerals 1-31 before 日, instead of using the hanzi and kanji!

Due to their regularity, Chinese days of the month can generally be learned a lot faster.

So whilst learning days of the month in Japanese is certainly a challenge, at least all of you Chinese learners out there can relax!

But don’t worry Japanese learners, here’s a breakdown of the days of the month in Japanese to help you practice.

And don’t forget, even though pronunciation can be tricky, if you can read the date in one language, you can still read it in the other!

How to say the day of the week in Chinese

Meanwhile, days of the week are even less similar.

Chinese and Japanese use a different written system, so you’ll have to learn these separately!

Chinese is arguably a little easier here, as it follows a numerical system. You simply need to use the characters 星期 xīngqī and add a number to represent a day.

For example, in Chinese we can write Monday as 星期一 xīngqīyī, as 一 yī means one.

The only exception in Chinese is Sunday, which instead of a number, uses the character for sun: 日rì. This means Sunday is written as 星期日 xīngqīrì.

Alternatively, Sunday can also be written using the character 天 tiān, meaning day or sky. This gives us 星期天 xīngqītiān.

One the other hand, Japanese doesn’t use numbers to name the days of the week.

Instead, Japanese uses characters associated with different planets, the sun and the moon!

Day of the WeekChinese Hanzi and PronunciationJapanese Kanji and Pronunciation
Monday星期一 xīngqī yī月曜日 getsuyoubi
Tuesday星期二 xīngqī èr火曜日 kayoubi
Wednesday星期三 xīngqī sān水曜日 suiyoubi
Thursday星期四 xīngqī sì木曜日 mokuyoubi
Friday星期五 xīngqī wǔ金曜日 kinyoubi
Saturday星期六 xīngqī liù土曜日 doyoubi
Sunday星期日 xīngqī rì日曜日 nichiyoubi
How to read and write the days of the week in Chinese and Japanese. In this case, there’s not a lot of crossover between the two!
Days of the week in Japanese. The third column is written in hiragana, a phonetic alphabet system used in Japanese.

Chinese and Japanese Numbers // Ages

Ages are expressed in Chinese and Japanese using a number followed by a character to express ‘years old’.

The Chinese hanzi and Japanese kanji are actually of the same origin. The only difference is that mainland China uses the simplified character, whereas Japanese uses the traditional character.

In Japanese, ‘years old’ can be expressed with the kanji ~歳 (~sai)

In Chinese, ‘years old’ is most commonly written using the simplified version of the same character, ~岁 (~suì)

Note: In Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, traditional characters are still used!

However, when we put ‘years old’ into a full sentence, Japanese and Chinese start to look very different!

Take our quick quiz to see how much you remember so far!

True or False: Japan uses simplified characters, mainland China uses traditional characters


Japan uses traditional characters, whereas mainland China uses simplified.

True or False: Chinese uses numbers to name the days of the week, Japanese does not


Chinese adds a number to 星期 xīngqī to represent the day, e.g. 星期一 xīngqī yī is Monday because 一 yī means one. Meanwhile, Japan uses names that originate from the solar system.

True or False: 歳 is the character used for ‘years old’ in China

False! 歳 sai is Japanese kanji. Chinese uses the hanzi 岁 suì to represent ‘years old’.

Chinese and Japanese Numbers // Counters and Measure Words

WARNING: Complicated content ahead!

When counting almost anything in Chinese and Japanese, you need to add something called a measure word (Chinese) or counter (Japanese).

For many students, counters and measure words are one of the most confusing parts about learning Chinese and Japanese!

Different objects such as stationary, animals, clothes, food and people all have their own measure words and counters in Chinese and Japanese.

So what exactly are measure words and counters?

You might be surprised to learn that English has a similar concept when counting certain items.

Let’s take a look at an example sentence, see if you can spot the measure word:

I want to eat a slice of bread.

Found it? Here, ‘slice’ acts as a measure word, as it would be pretty weird to say ‘a bread’!

Other examples in English could be a drop, a piece, a roll of, a bottle of, a bowl of, etc.

The only difference in Japanese and Chinese is that almost every single object (unfortunately for learners!) is paired with a specific measure word or counter.

Even more unfortunately, there isn’t an awful lot lot of crossover in Japanese and Chinese measure words.

Let’s take a look at some common Chinese measure words:

In the above pictures, we can see coffee, tables and presents each have their own measure words.

Some are easier than others, for example 一杯咖啡 yībēi kāfēi translates directly to ‘a cup of coffee’, with the measure word 杯 bēi meaning ‘cup’.

On the other hand, 张 zhāng, the measure word for tables, and 件 jiàn, the measure word for presents, have no direct translation (we know, it’s tough at first!)

Luckily in both Chinese and Japanese, there are patterns in each language the use of measure words and counters.

For a more detailed look, take a peak at our Chinese Measure Word Guide and our Japanese Counters Guide.

There are hundreds of measure words and counters in Chinese and Japanese.

But don’t worry!

Luckily each language has a generic measure word that can be applied to almost anything.

Disclaimer: whilst it’s understandable to native speakers if you use the following generic measure word and counter in most situations, they’re not always 100% accurate so don’t slack on your measure word and counter study guys!

In Chinese, the most helpful of all measure words is the character 个 gè.

Neatly illustrated by Drake in this meme…

Simply add a number before 个 gè and you can pretty much count most objects. For example, 一个 yīgè is one of something, 十个 shígè is 10 of something.

In Japanese, the most generic counter with the widest usage is つ tsu

Similarly to Chinese, in written Japanese, you simply need to add a number before つ tsu to indicate how many of something is being counted.

So whilst the characters are different in Chinese and Japanese, the system is essentially the same.

However, as has been the general theme with some other Japanese counting systems, the reading of numbers with つ tsu is almost entirely irregular.

Let’s take a look at how you could count things using the most generic measure word in Chinese (个 gè) and the most common counter in Japanese (つ tsu).

Number of objects (generic)Chinese Measure Word and Pronunciation
(* = irregular)
Japanese Counter and Pronunciation
(* = irregular)
one一个 yī gè一つ hitotsu*
two 两个 liǎng gè*二つ futatsu*
three三个 sān gè三つ mittsu*
four四个 sì gè四つ yottsu*
five五个 wǔ gè五つ itsutsu*
six六个 liù gè六つ yottsu*
seven七个 qī gè七つ nanatsu
eight八个 bā gè八つ yatsu*
nine九个 jiǔ gè九つ kokonotsu*
ten十个 shí gè十つ toou*
The two most common counters in Japan and China. As you can see, apart from the first half being numbers, there’s not a lot of crossover here!

In a nutshell, Chinese and Japanese both use a complex measure word system, which for learners usually presents a bit of a headache!

However, even though the measure word applications and characters differ in each language, learning either Chinese or Japanese will still give you a head-start in learning the other, as you’ll already have grasped this tricky topic!

Chinese and Japanese Numbers // Lucky and Unlucky Numbers

Lucky Numbers

Any guesses as to why the Beijing Olympics Games started at exactly 8 minutes and 8 seconds past 8pm on 08/08/2008?

That’s right – 8 is a very, very lucky number in Chinese!

The number 8 in Chinese and Japanese

That’s because the pronunciation of the number 8, bā, sound similar to that of the character 发 fā, which means wealthy or becoming prosperous.

The number 8 in China is so lucky in fact, houses or apartments that end in the number 8 are more expensive!

Whilst not as popular as it is in China, the number 8 is also relatively lucky in Japan. That’s because in Japan, 8 also has links to prosperity and wealth.

However, that’s not because of the pronunciation of 8, it’s actually due to the shape of the character 八! This kanji widens at the bottom, symbolising growth.

The number seven in Chinese and Japanese.

The luckiest number in Japan, similar to many western countries, is number 7!

7, pronounced nana or shichi, has strong links to Buddhism, one of the most common religions in Japan.

Buddhists celebrate a baby’s birth after seven days and mourn a life seven days after death.

There are even seven lucky gods 七福神 ingrained deeply in Japanese culture and a star festival, Tanabata, that is celebrated on 7/7 every year.

To learn more about how numbers are viewed in China, check out our full guide to lucky numbers in Chinese!

Unlucky Numbers

In both Japanese and Chinese, there is a number that is the most feared of all…

Number 4!

This number is associated with perhaps the worst thing of all (except taxes) death.

Both the Chinese pronunciation sì and the Japanese pronunciation shi sound like the word for death.

In both languages, the character for death is 死. In Chinese this is pronounced sǐ and in Japanese it is pronounced shi.

This number is so widely feared, that often in Chinese and Japanese buildings the fourth floor will be totally missing.

So next time you’re in an elevator in either of these countries, take a look to see if there’s a number 4 button!

How many gifts should you NOT give in Japan? Watch this video to find out!

Chinese and Japanese Numbers // Number Slang

11/11 is the biggest shopping day on the planet.

It’s known as Single’s Day and it’s celebrated in China and Japan. Can you guess why it’s celebrated on November 11th?

Because of course, all the 1s!

Chinese and Japanese are both exceptionally creative with numbers as both languages have many, many homophones (words that sound the same with different meanings).

As homophones and slang are pretty specific to a language, there’s not a lot of crossover between Chinese and Japanese.

But here’s three of our favorites from each language!

Chinese Number Slang

  1. 520 = I love you. 5 wǔ 2 èr 0 líng sounds very much like 我爱你 wǒ ài nǐ. This slang has become so popular that May 20th (5/20) has even become a new form of Valentine’s Day!
  2. 88 = bye bye. Bye bye is also commonly used in Chinese, but it also sounds like two number 8s: bābā!
  3. 514 = I want to die. This one is a little bit dramatic, but is often used to exaggerate in mildly disappointing situations! 514 is pronounced wǔyīsì, which sounds like I want to die 我要死 wǒyàosǐ.

Japanese Number Slang

  1. 888 = hahaha. The kanji for 八 looks identical to the Japanese katakana (another alphabet used in Japanese) character 八, which is pronounced ha. Therefore, 八八八 would sound like hahaha!
  2. 555 = go go go! In Japanese, 5 is pronounced as go, so this one is also a play on English. This one is a favourite of online gamers, particularly before going into battle!
  3. 39 = thank you. This number slang is another play on English. 3 in Japanese is pronounced san and 9 is kyuu, so together sankyuu sounds like a very cute thank you!


How do I count to 10 in Chinese?

1 一 yī

2 二 èr

3 三 sān

4 四 sì

5 五 wǔ

6 六 liù

7 七 qī

8 八 bā

9 九 jiǔ

10 十 shí

How do I count to 10 in Japanese?

1 一 ichi

2 二 ni

3 三 san

4 四 yon / shi

5 五 go

6 六 roku

7 七 nana / shichi

8 八 hachi

9 九 kyuu / ku

10 十 juu

Are numbers the same in Chinese and Japanese?

Yes and no!

The written characters for each number in Japanese and Chinese is the same, as the Japanese kanji originates from Chinese hanzi.

However, the pronunciation is very different.

What are measure words and counters?

Measure words (Chinese) and counters (Japanese) are used before nouns. There are different measure words and counters for different types of objects.

Similar equivalents in English include ‘a glass of’, ‘a piece of’ or ‘a slice of’.

Is it easier to learn to count in Japanese or Chinese?

When learning numbers 1-1000 (and above!) in either language, counting systems are actually very similar.

Initially Chinese may be harder for native English speakers, as the language uses tones.

However, when it comes to saying dates, days and counting objects, Japanese is a little harder as a lot more of the language is irregular and doesn’t follow a numerical pattern like Chinese.

Where can I get online Japanese lessons?

Take a look at our online Japanese Flexi Classes!

Where can I get online Chinese lessons?

Take a look at our online Chinese Flexi Classes!

Want more from LTL?

If you wish to hear more from LTL Language School why not join our mailing list.

We give plenty of handy information on learning Chinese, useful apps to learn the language and everything going on at our LTL schools!

Sign up below and become part of our ever growing community!

BONUS | Want to study the local Taiwanese dialect known as Hokkien? We provide Hokkien classes in person and online.

Leave a Reply

You will get a reply from us
Your email address will not be published. Name and Email are required.