Thinking in Japanese Numbers: "man"

Posted on June 26, 2006 | evankirby

It takes a long time of living with the Japanese counting system to be able to be truly comfortable with it, because it has one small but fundamental change from the English one: instead of units of 1,000, Japanese uses units of 10,000 (as does Chinese).
In English, after we get to 1,000, everything up to a million is counted in terms of how many thousands it contains. A million, of course, is a thousand thousand. Then we count up to a thousand again, and when we get there we call it a billion.

In Japanese, however, we count up to 10,000 (ichi-man), and every new unit thereafter is a power of 10,000. Commas are also placed to divide digits up not into groups of 3, but groups of 4. So, a hundred million in Japanese notation is not 100,000,000 but 1,0000,0000. Of course, Western notation is spreading through Japan and it is more common now to see digits in groups of 3. However, dividing into groups of 4 helps to understand the concept of the number naming system. This is important because Japan doesn't have a high-order denomination (for example, 1 dollar= 100 cents), so large amounts of yen quickly become very large numbers indeed.

"X or more", or "More than X"?

Posted on June 24, 2006 | evankirby

One of the problems junior translators always have in Japan is the difference between the phrases "X or more" and "more than X". In Japanese, there are 3 kanji expressions in common use:
- "ijou" - X or more
- "ika" - X or less
- "miman" - less than (but not including) X
Interestingly, there is no commonly used kanji expression for "more than (but not including)". The formal opposite of "miman" is "chou", using the kanji for "koeru", to surpass. However, most Japanese people themselves don't know this word in this meaning, and it is not in common usage. More common are the simple phrases "X yori ookii" (bigger than X) and "X yori chiisai" (smaller than X).