Counting in Japanese

By Nuu Hightower

Counting isn’t hard, right? We’ve all learned that the second we walk in the school building back in Pre-K. However, the number system in Japanese isn’t all the same, and instead uses different systems depending on the context. These contexts include people, objects, and just in general. The first time I learned to not use the general numbers for counting how many people are in my family, I was confused, and didn’t get why there was a different way of counting just to count up the number of people. Then again, I shouldn’t have expected a different language to be like English.

Now here’s the general Japanese counting system:

1 = ichi

2 = ni

3 = san

4 = shi/yon

5 = go

6 = roku

7 = nana

8 = hachi

9 = kyuu

10 = jyuu

However, you don’t use these numbers when you count, let’s say…potatoes. Instead, you use these numbers instead:

1 = hitotsu

2 = futatsu

3 = mittsu

4 = yottsu

5 = itsutsu

6 = mutsu

7 = nanatsu

8 = yatsu

9 = kokonatsu

10 = to

Now you know how to count potatoes (at least, from one to ten). Notice how almost all of them end with “-tsu”. These are the numbers that you use for objects, as mentioned earlier. But how about counting people, you may ask. Well, you use these numbers:

1 = hitori

2 = futari

3 = san-nin

4 = yon-nin

5 = go-nin

6 = roku-nin

7 = shichi-nin

8 = hachi-nin

9 = kyuu-nin

10 = jyuu-nin

As you can tell, there’s another pattern that’s present in these numbers; almost all of them end with “-nin”. You may think that it can be confusing to constantly keep switching to different ways of saying “three” depending on the context, and you’re right in a way. However when you start to keep using these sorts of numbers over and over again while learning different subjects slowly, you can get used to it. In one class period, we’ve learned to count how many family members we have, and started to learn that number system before moving on to a different subject and thus a different number system to get used to. It’s nice that when I thought that learning counting in Japanese would be really difficult due to many ways of just saying numbers, but then realizing that I’m getting the hang of it is good to know. Remember: “-tsu” is for objects, “-nin” is for people.

Kakehashi Calligraphy

By Charity Chukwu and NUU Hightower

Charity: As part of the Kakehashi Exchange program, a group of college students from Japan came to meet the Japanese Plus program as a way for them to advocate for Japan. They made a beautiful powerpoint about the prefecture where they go to school, and then presented with six different stations, each with a different aspect of Japanese culture. One of the stations was about Japanese calligraphy—stylized. First, you would choose to have your name written in either katakana or kanji. One of the students would write it first, then you would write it.

NUU: The paper itself was really thin and the ink could easily seep through it. However, the technique they did was put one blank sheet first, then the paper you write on above it. Once you’re done writing, they’d put another sheet on top of the written paper and apply pressure on the ink to dry it off. I was able to take the written papers home without having it look so messy with ink. It almost looked like it was printed in fact, it was that neat..!

Charity: It was one of my favorite stations. Even WRITING can look like art! I chose katakana, and my name looked amazing! I tried to do it the exact same way as the demonstration, but I put too many strokes with my brush, so it made a small tear in the paper… Whoops! I still love it though, and definitely plan on eventually framing it.

NUU: My thoughts on the presentation were similar; really fun..! I remember learning calligraphy in Chinese classes, so I thought to maybe try it out again here since I liked it so much. I wrote my name three times, although the third time was unintentional. It was because one of the Japanese students was telling me something but I couldn’t hear it that well so I asked “Moo, ichido?” to repeat herself. She kind of mistook it as wanting to write again and handed me another sheet, but I didn’t try to protest since I wouldn’t want to make a big deal out of it. Other than that small awkward moment on my end, it was nice meeting the students and learning of their station!

Charity: Afterward, I had a thought-provoking conversation with the student who did the calligraphy with me. She was telling me about how schools in Japan still teach calligraphy as a class. It reminded me of when my elementary school teachers would teach cursive writing. I told her that, nowadays, it’s rarely expected for a child to know how to do it, but I wonder if it would hold any benefits if it were still a general class in present-day schools.

Imagine learning how to write like in cool calligraphy art!

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New Year Tradition and Celebration in Japan

By Nuu Hightower

Around the Christmas holiday season, we were having a discussion of how people in Japan celebrate New Year’s. I figured we would eventually talk about that since it was the season. Plus, I actually was wondering about that at some point and thought that maybe it would be similar to Chinese New Year, like wearing more traditional colors and such; even thinking that they send red letters to family members. Part of me also thought they celebrate it according to the Lunar Calendar since Japan follows Chinese Zodiacs in their calendar. Let’s start off with the fact that the Japanese don’t necessarily celebrate it at Lunar Year, unlike some other East/South East Asian countries. They celebrate it at the usual January 1st like western countries. Their activities, customs and traditions, however, are different to how usual westerners would celebrate. And no, they don’t send red letters. They DO send something else however!

Those letters are called “Nengajo”, which are basically greeting cards to send as appreciation and good luck for the New Year. Although, don’t give those cards to people who have a family member who died recently to cheer them up because they “need time to mourn.” While I understand that, I personally wouldn’t mind a card to show that someone cared but I guess it’s just a different mindset…!

Another tradition is these small, bamboo-like trees outside people’s homes called a “kadomatsu (門松)”. While I thought they were for decoration (though people definitely decorate them though), they’re essentially there to purify homes and welcome gods. Also they apparently always have an orange along with the tree to offer as a gift to said gods. What if you end up changing up the fruit instead of the usual orange? Like an apple? I mean I’d take the apple.

Anyway, a lot of these traditions are from their belief called Shintoism, which wasn’t discussed in class at all…not yet anyway. There were other ways New Year’s is celebrated in Japan, like flying kites and visiting shrines and temples (again, following their beliefs), but they weren’t discussed in detail in class. If we had enough time to talk about that further, it would’ve been nice to have a discussion of cultural differences…! Something about discussing cultural differences really intrigues me, like the fact that people celebrate things DIFFERENT from my own culture!! That’s wild. Wonder how much fun they have on that holiday with lots to do…