Japanese, Uncategorized

Telling Time in Japanese

You may wonder why I put Japanese things on a blog called “American in Korea.”  I put Japanese things here because I listen.  I have a follower who left a comment for me that he looks for Japanese things in my blog because he knows I have an association also with Japan.  You see, I listen.  If you want to see something in particular on my blog, please leave a comment telling me, and I will do my best to include the blog or the kinds of blogs you want.  I went a couple of semesters in the university in Japan.  I have also taught Japanese at two different universities and have a Japanese son in law.  Besides that, I spent a year teaching at a Japanese language school. I am not the best at Japanese, but I did learn to speak and have college hours in Japanese. Telling time in Japanese is complicated in some ways and easy in other ways, and I will attempt to explain it to you,  When I taught my Japanese classes, I didn’t lecture a lot.  I did a lot of conversation with my students to teach them, but here we have a blog form, so there isn’t a lot of give and take between the reader and I, so I will just explain.

To begin with, the basic way of counting in Japanese is the eechee, nee, san, shee, go, lokoo, shichi, hachi, kyoo, jyoo, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 10. You need to understand that before we get started.  Sometimes “yon” is substituted for “shee: (4), and “nana” is substituted for “sheechee” (7).  My Japanese friend tried to explain to me that they do this because “yon” and “nana” are easier to understand, especially when you are speaking on the phone.

Here is a chart with the Japanese numbers in kanji (Chinese characters) in the left column. Next to that, I wrote the hiragana (Japanese letters) to show the pronunciation.  After that, I wrote the pronunciation in English letters so you know how to pronounce them.  The last column is the kanji for the hours.  The first one means 1:00, then 2:00, then 3:00, etc., all the way to 12:00. I will explain the other considerations on the bottom too.

On the bottom of the chart above, I wrote the hiragana for “hour” or “time,” and the pronunciation in English letters, “jee.”  “Jeekan” actually means “hour” in Japanese, but when you tell time, you just say “jee.”  On the next line, I explained how to say “minutes.”  This is one of the complicated things about Japanese.  The hiragana for “minutes” is changed according to what letters it is used in front of.  I have written the pronunciation of each above: “foon” means minute; “poon” means minute; “boon” means minute. Underneath all that, I also gave you the kanji (the Chinese characters) for “hour” and “minute.”  You can see that the writing gets complicated.  Actually speaking Japanese is not as complicated at the writing.

This is a chart of how to saw the minutes in Japanese.

You can see on the chart above that they use the “eechee, nee, san, shee, go” numbers, but they change them.  They shorten some of them.  “eechee” becomes “ee”  (1), “rokoo” becomes “ro” (6),  and “hachee” becomes “ha” (8). They also prefer you use the “nana” for “sheechee” (7) and the “yon” for “shee” (4).

When you say the time, you will say the number of he hour, then “jee” then the number of the minutes, and then according to which one you use, you will say “foon,” or “poon.”  On some of them, the “p” is doubled on “poon” and becomes “ppoon.”  That is because there is a small “tsu” in front of the Japanese letter for “foo.”  The small “tsu” looks like a small hook, and it is not pronounced. It only doubles the letter after it.

After the chart, I have shown you some ways to say time in Japanese. At the very bottom, I gave you the kani for 1/2 that you can use for half past.  For example, “jyoo eechii jee han poon” would be 11:30.

The next thing you need to know about telling time in Japanese is that they, like the Koreans, use what I call military time.  When we express 1:00 in the morning, we say 1:00 a.m., and when we express 1:00 in the afternoon, we say 1:00  p. m.  Our numbers begin again, but theirs don’t.  To actually know how to tell time in Japanese, you have to also know the larger numbers past 12.  To a Japanese, if we say 1:00 p.m., they would say 13:00, and for 2:00 p. m., they would say 14:00, etc. all the way to 24:00.


In this chart, I wrote the kanji for some of the larger numbers for you to help you understand how Japanese numbers are put together.  After that, I wrote the hiragana for the kanji, and then what it is in our numbers, and then the pronunciation in Japanese.  You can see that their using of more than one system of writing can get confusing.  They also use “katakana” which is a special way of write foreign words.  If you aren’t Japanese, your name would be written in katakana.  They also have a form of our letters they call “romaji,” basically “roman letters.”  They don’t particularly use English pronunciation, but more of a Latin based pronunciation.  That is why when I write Japanese for you in English letters, I usually don’t use “romaji,” but try to write it in a way that you are less likely to get the pronunciation wrong because I know how we pronounce things in English.  I use part of what the Koreans use with English letters, but even they have their own system of writing English, and in the beginning, their system confused me in some ways.  For example, can you pronounce “gangseo” or “oayoeel” for sure?  In the first word, the name of the area of Seoul where I live, “seo” had me stumped until I listened to them.  In the second word, “oa” is “wah,” and the word is pronounced “wah-yo- eel.”

alarm alarm clock analog analogue
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In some ways, telling time in Japanese is easier than in Korean because they only use one system of numbers in the hours and the minutes.  However, if they change those numbers or shorten them, you have more to learn.  If you have already learned the kani (the Chinese characters) and the hiragana (the Japanese letters), then it is easier to read, but you haven’t, it makes it more complicated to learn.  You can learn to speak Japanese with only knowing a few kanji because that is what I did, but with limited knowledge of how they write, you can’t read complicated books or signs.  When I go to Japan, I always ask people what the signs say because I can’t read many kanji.  When my oldest daughter studied Japanese, she concentrated on kanji (the Chinese characters), but they are so complicated they overwhelmed her, and she never got around to Japanese conversation.  If you want to speak Japanese, you just have to forget learning so much kanji unless you can spend 12 years going to school in Japan. Learn the hiragana (Japanese letters) so you can know the pronunciation. Learn the katakana (Japanese letters used for foreign words) so you can recognize the foreign words they use, and then concentrate on speaking.  The basic speaking isn’t that difficult. It is the kanji that will overwhelm you.

By the way, if you want to ask someone what time it is, it isn’t hard.  Just say; “Nan jee desuka?”  When they respond “yoo san jee ha ppon” it means 1:08 in the afternoon.


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4 thoughts on “Telling Time in Japanese”

  1. My son had a very creative teacher in elementery school. There was a Korean child in class, so all the kids learned to count in Korean.

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