Updated: Jan 17
You should know that sentence now! Anyway, today’s lesson will take us away from learning the basic ひらがな symbols, because there are quite a lot of them to remember, but don’t worry, we’ll get back to learning them again soon. For now, we’ll remain in the realm of Romaji and Romanized versions of Japanese words, so that it’s easier to understand them.
That doesn’t mean we won’t also throw in a ひらがなsymbol here and there, or a kanji, but it does mean that we’ll be focusing on pronunciation, so that when we do finally learn what the symbols mean, we’ll already know how to pronounce them.
So, today, we’ll be learning how to count! You’re probably already familiar with the mnemonic that teachers use on children, to teach them how to count in Japanese, but we’ll be looking at a more in-depth version than that. The actual pronunciation of Japanese numbers is a little different from the ones you’re probably used to.
What Do You Know?
Alright, so the little rhyme that many people should know is this…
Itchy knee, sun, she, go, rock you, she chi, hat chi, queue, jew.
Do you guys remember it?
Well, it’s mostly correct, but in terms of pronunciation, you’d be completely wrong. Remember how I said that pronunciation is key? It is very key here. If you counted in this way, in front of a native, they’d know immediately that you are 100% a tourist.
The correct pronunciation is quite different from what we’ve learned.
What Is The Correct Pronunciation?
Well, I’ll tell you, but you’ll need to listen to a proper podcast or an audio file by a native speaker to get the right intonation. And for those who are really curious, I’ll be writing out the proper ひらがなform of the number. Of course, in Japan, you’re most likely to get an actual number, instead of the ひらがな form, but like in English, there might be texts where the ひらがな form is necessary, so that’s why it’s best to remember it.
Alright, here we go. Let’s learn some numbers!
What’s With The Two Versions?
Now, you might have noticed a few of the numbers here have two versions. That’s because some of the pronunciations have a very badly superstitious background, particularly the phonetic sound “shi” (し) and “ku” (く). In Japanese, the sound “shi” is mostly associated with “death”, and the sound “ku” is associated with suffering. That’s why 4, 7 and 9 have two different versions.
What about 6? It has a “ku” in it. That’s true, but I think it’s mostly to do with the Kanji, or the Chinese equivalent, because in the Chinese version of the number system, which Japanese itself is derived from, the number 6 doesn’t include the symbol for “death” or “suffering”. That’s why, even though, in the Japanese pronunciation, 6 has the syllable “ku” it doesn’t have the same superstitious impact as 9.
So, that’s why these three numbers are considered unlucky, and are sometimes left out in the number systems in Japan, for example, some hotels and buildings don’t have rooms or floors with the number 4. That’s why you have to be mindful if you travel to Japan, many superstitions are still prominent in their culture, and if you aren’t careful, the locals might think you’re an omen of bad luck.
Practice Makes Perfect
Ok, so we’ve learned how to count to 10. Next time, we’ll count even further, and the reason why I don’t want to do that today is because I want you to practice pronouncing these numbers correctly. It’s easy to read it, but if you don’t know what the proper intonation is, you’ll end up sounding like the poem we first talked about.
Remember, double vowels don’t mean you pause and say the vowel again. It means you elongate the vowel. Do you see what I mean? You guys need to practice! So, get down to it! Repeat these numbers over and over again, until you can confidently say you can count in Japanese! I’ll be watching you! Until next time!