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Old Japanese / Formal Numbers – 大字

Have you ever noticed the Kanji character used on the 10,000 yen Japanese banknote? If you’ve got your basic Japanese numerals down, you know that the character for 10,000 is 万 (まん) – a standard unit in the Japanese counting system. But what about the strange character in front of it? Why does the banknote read 壱万円? It all has to do with the use of formal numerals.

10000yen

In addition to the basic set of Japanese numerals exists another set of Kanji numbers known as 大字 (だいじ) – literally the ‘big characters’. These formal characters are used in financial and legal documents, such as family registries and business accounts, to avoid problems arising from nefarious individuals adding an extra stroke or two to simple Japanese characters. 一 (いち), the number one, easily becomes 二 (に), 三 (さん) or even 十 (じゅう) – two, three or ten – with just an extra line or two! Clearly a big problem when your’re dealing with important monetary matters. As such, Daiji are deliberately made more complicated to write.

So, the Kanji 壱万円 as written on the 10,000 yen banknote is written using Daiji characters.

壱万円

いちまんえん

Ten-thousand yen

You may not have ever seen one before, but there also exists a 2,000 yen Japanese banknote. They are quite rare – usually only surfacing from foreign exchange bureaus – but you’ll notice that the note does not read 二千円 (にせんえん) like you’d expect.

2000yen

It uses the Daiji character for two, as below.

弐千円

にせんえん

Two-thousand yen


Daiji – Formal Japanese Numerals

Below is a handy list you can refer to when confronting these difficult characters.

Number Reading Regular Kanji Current Daiji Obsolete Daiji
0 れい、まる、ゼロ
1 いち
2 貮、貳
3 さん
4 よん、し
5 五、伍
6 ろく
7 なな、しち 柒、漆
8 はち
9 きゅう、く
10 じゅう
20 にじゅう 廿 弐拾 貳拾
100 ひゃく 陌、佰
1,000 せん 阡、仟
10,000 まん 万、萬

You may also come across Daiji when examining old Japanese documents. In a recent haikyo exploration, I found an old Japanese war bond which used characters which are now considered obsolete, as well as providing a perfect example of older Japanese text written right to left.

See if you can use the table above to work out the wartime value of this bond!

Read more: Wikipedia

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9 Responses to Gakuu. Studying with Real Japanese

  1. Sabrina September 29, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    This is pretty cool! Right now I’m studying on Textfugu which is great! I belive Gakuu can be really helpul too. What I like most is that its for pre-intermediate to advanced level students. So you can’t say its the same thing over and over again… students can actually improve their knowledge here. Thank you very much for creating this site. Have a nice day :)
    -Sabrina

    • Gakuranman September 30, 2010 at 1:09 am #

      Hi Sabrina! Thank you for your comment :).

      That’s definitely our aim. I love Textfugu for beginners and really getting students a solid grounding in the language, but afterwards (and even while) studying the basics, it can really help to encounter raw Japanese material. You don’t have to understand everything at first, but feeling challenged and picking up little bits here and there that are extra to your learning the basics helps expand your mind. Let me know if you have any more questions! More demonstration material will be up soon! We are currently having a special launch sale price for early adopters, so check out the pricing page if interested :).

      • Sabrina September 30, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

        Thanks for your reply. :) Unfortunately I’m even still miles away from the intermediate level. But I’ll definetly return to Gakuu when I get to this point. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the extra demonstration material. :) Keep up the good work.

        • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 12:21 am #

          Sure thing :). Let me know if you have any other questions or suggestions for things you’d like to see on Gakuu!

  2. missingno15 October 1, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    When I looked at this, I first thought to myself, “aw hell no, gakuranman is doing the same thing as koichi…even the website layout is similar”. But then I realized “it’s aimed at pre-intermediate to advanced level students” which is perfect for my situation right now because I now really want to excel way past beginner. So basically, Gakuu really complements Textfugu. Can’t wait for more lessons to see how this is gonna be like so I can decide if its worth getting.

    • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 7:37 pm #

      Hey there! Thanks for dropping by :). No way – Koichi and I are buds. I’ve always loved teaching the more advanced stuff so it worked out perfectly. I’ll be adding more stuff in the coming days, so please stay tuned!

      • Lee Aloy October 23, 2016 at 5:20 am #

        @Gakuranman:

        I am sorry to ask this silly question. Are you Japanese?
        am hoping to find a Japanese friends here please shot me an email:

  3. DumbOtaku (percent20) October 3, 2010 at 12:58 am #

    This is really cool. I am glad to see more online content going beyond just teaching hirigana and katakana. That is what I try to do on my blog, but with to little consistency. Glad to see an expert do it, btw already a signed-up paid member now. :)

    • Gakuranman October 3, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

      Glad to have you man! Look forward to hearing any suggestions you have for the site and future lessons :)

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