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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lesson 3.3: The Numbers Game: Counting From 1-99 in Japanese

There are many things we learn as kids that, as we grow, we take for granted, one of those being the ability to count numbers.As I'm sure you can wrap your head around, this is also important in learning Japanese, so let's start with the numbers we learned when we were first in diapers, 1-10

いち[1]、 [2]、 さん[3]、 よん[4]、 [5]、 ろく[6]、 なな[7]、 はち[8]、 きゅう[9]、 じゅう[10](Can't read it?)

To help you remember them in Japanese, try counting them on your hands(or anything that can amount to ten, at this point). When you feel you have them down solid, count these numbers in Japanese:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Did you count them well? You did? Very good! Once you have those down pat, learning numbers 11-99 is a snap.

Making them is as easy as 十[number]for 11-19(IE 十+八=the word for the number 18, 十八じゅうはち) and [number]十[number] beyond that up to 99(IE 四+十+二= the word for 42, 四十二よんじゅうに)

To see this in motion, observe these examples:




Get the mechanics down and you'll know how to count up to 99 in Japanese in no time. Of course, as should be common knowledge by now, many things in Japan cost more than 99 yen. The question is, how much more?(short answer: a whole lot, and you'll some of see those numbers in detail next post)

Now that the seed has been planted for some of the how, let's get into a bit of the why behind these numbers. In Japanese, 4, 7 and 9 have specific readings unique to them-4's being し, 7's being しち and 9's being く-and the reason you don't see those readings too often is tied to the culture that powers their language. With these numbers, it's much akin to why the number 13 in English has rather dark associations, in that one of し's homonyms(word that sounds like another word)is the word for death(死), one of しち's being the word for a good place to die/the brink of death(死地) and one of く's,  the words for suffering and pain(苦).Consequently, when you put 4 and 9 together, it tends to mean something like "Die in agony" Keep this in mind when reciting numbers and giving out multiples of things to your Japanese friends(and when they're given to you.).

This isn't to say it's all bad stuff, though.

Along with the Western idea of the lucky number 7, the symbol used in Japanese for eight(八), with it's shape widening the further it goes, is linked to the ideas of growing prosperity with the passage of time(both the shape of the word and prosperous concepts, in this context, referred to as 末広すえひろがり, 末広, itself, being a type of folding fan found in Japan). Also keep in mind that, as various numbers have strong ties to cultures and individuals -like the year America became independent, or the day you discovered the freedom of driving the open road-Japan has numbers closely linked to it's own history and development, with some involving readings beyond the ones seen here.

In the historical context, two of the most time tested number combinations are 108 and 893. Why? Well 108 is one of the most highly respected and well known among Japanese society-and perhaps might be familiar to you, if you've spent a bit of time studying Buddhism. The reason for this is that 108, within the Buddhist tradition, is the number of earthly desires one must detach themselves from to achieve spiritual enlightenment; since Buddhism has played a large part in how the country developed, it still has a great presence in Japan's daily life, and you'll hear about it and see it more often-and in more places-than you'd might think(more on their religious traditions later on)

In contrast, 893, when read as や-く-ざ, is the losing combination in a Japanese card game played way back when-called おいちょかぶ, if you're curious-and is where the Yakuza(collective name for Mafia-style gangs in and from Japan) draw their name from. When this number combo is assigned to your name, nothing good is normally associated with it, as it implies all the gambling and violence that's made the Yakuza name so infamous among ordinary folk and hooks it right onto you. It can be read this way because of the aforementioned different readings their numbers can have, the basic ones being those invented in Japan, those emulating the way it's read in China-which you're seeing here-and any from other foreign languages, most commonly English(all of which will be examined in greater detail as time marches on).

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