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Unraveling the Origins of Japan's Quirky Time and Date Readings

As a Japanese learner, you've likely encountered some puzzling ways that times and dates are read aloud differently from regular counting numbers. 🤔


But these quirky readings actually arose from the convergence of multiple linguistic traditions in Japan over centuries.


Let's explore their fascinating origins!😀


The three number reading systems in Japanese are:

  1. Wago (native Japanese): hito, futa, mi, yo, itsutsu, mu, nana, ya, kokonoo, too

  2. Go-on (derived from Wu (in Japanese “Go”) region of China in 5th-6th centuries): ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku, shichi, hachi, kyuu, juu

  3. Kan-on (derived from regions north of Wu (in Japanese “Kan”)  in 7th-8th centuries): itsu, ni, san, shi, go, riku, shitsu, hatsu, ku, jitsu


Wago lacks readings beyond 10, necessitating other systems.


For telling 12-hour time, go-on is primarily used, with exceptions like "yo-ji" (4 o'clock) using wago "yo" to distinguish from "shichi-ji" (7 o'clock). (If not, “Shi-ji” for 4 o’clock and "shichi-ji" for 7 o'clock😂)


And "ku-ji" (9 o'clock) uses kan-on "ku" to avoid conflating with "kyuu-ji" and "juu-ji" (10 o'clock).




For dates, wago is used from 2nd-10th, with go-on employed thereafter.


But the 14th is "juu-yokka" (go-on+wago hybrid) to differentiate from the 17th's "juu-shichi-nichi."


Similarly, the 19th is "juu-ku-nichi" (go-on+kan-on) to avoid mixing with "san-juu-nichi" (30th).

(If not so, Kyuu(9) and Juu(10) might be troublesome again.😂)


Interestingly, the 8th evolved from "yaka/yauka" to the modern "youka."


And "tsuitachi" (1st day) derives from "tsuki-tachi" meaning the month’s new phase beginning.




While just one theory among many, this outline highlights how Japan synergised its native wago with number systems introduced from China's Wu region and areas further north over different eras.


So next time you encounter these quirky readings, remember they encode valuable insights into the fluid convergence of linguistic traditions underpinning the rich complexity of the Japanese language!


A little curiosity unveils amazing cultural histories.


And in Tomo Japanese Language School, we use laminate sheets to help our students easily remember and refer to these bit confusing number reading systems :)✨


ゆうた


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