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10,000 or 1,0000? Japanese schools are starting to move commas on big numbers, but why?

27 Comments
By Scott Wilson, SoraNews24

Japanese is a tough language. With subtle differences in ways of expressing things, some of which may get you fired if you use them wrong, it can be very intimidating.

But one difficult aspect of the language may come as a surprise: the number system.Japanese does numbers a little differently than English. Instead of being based on thousands and getting a new word every three-digit places (thousand, million, billion), Japanese is based on ten-thousands and gets a new word every four-digit places (man — ten thousand, oku — 100 million, cho — one trillion).

▼ So while in English the commas signify to use a new number-word…

numbers-insert-2.png

▼ …in Japanese the same is not true. The commas are almost arbitrary.

numbers-insert-1.png

This can get confusing quickly. For example, if you’re trying to count how many hairs are on your cat and you get the number 57,680,000, trying to convert it into Japanese could be a nightmare, since the commas mean nothing. (For reference it’d be 5-thousand 7-hundred 6-ten 8-ten-thousand — go-sen nana-hyaku roku-ju hachi-man).

With all this number confusion, a recent tweet by Japanese twitter user @ito3com may come as a relief to many:

Me talking to my third-grade twins:

Me: “I memorized the number 1,000,000 as hyaku-man (100 ten-thousands) because it has two commas in it.”

Boy: “What? No, the number with two commas is ichi-oku (“one” hundred-millions).”

Girl: “Yup, that’s right.”

Me: “What?”

According to my wife, recently at schools they’re teaching to use commas every four digits, not three!

That’s a lot to take in, so let’s break it down:

The number 1,000,000 in Japanese is hyaku-man (100 ten-thousands).

But since Japanese is based on ten-thousands and not one-thousands like English, the comma placements don’t make sense.

If it were instead written as “100,0000” then that would make more sense in Japanese. It looks a lot more like “100 ten-thousand!”

In fact, it seems as though this new system is what his kids are now learning in school.

So a number with two commas in this new system would be 1,0000,0000 (“one” hundred-millions, ichi-oku), not “one million,” like the kids said.

Anyone who has learned Japanese is probably nodding their heads in approval right now. For example, let’s take that number from before: 57,680,000. Converting it into the new system as 5768,0000 is way easier to read in Japanese, because the comma lines up with where the new number-word is used.

Here’s how Japanese netizens reacted to this new system:

“Is this normal? I definitely wasn’t taught this.”

“Yes, Japanese is based on four-digits, but the rest of the world isn’t. Three-digits is the universal norm, so this is just stupid.”

“Doesn’t seem like this will help the kids in the future.”

“I say we just change our language itself to be based on three-digits instead.”

“Such little gain in ease of reading for such loss in worldwide comprehension.”

“I learned this new system, and I turned out just fine. There’s a difference between reading big numbers and international standards.”

Overall it seems as though most are not in favor of the new four-digit system, seeing it as something that Japanese people just need to get used to in order to remain uniform with the rest of the world. Although considering they’re perfectly fine using a different writing system than most of the world, and a different calendar, a different number system wouldn’t seem that out of the ordinary.

On the other hand though, every time I, as an American, see big numbers represented with periods instead of commas (such as 57.680.000), I tend to freak out. So maybe the international consistency is worth it after all.

Source: Twitter/@ito3com, NicoNico News via My Game News Flash

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© SoraNews24

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27 Comments
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Surely it would be easiest to understand both - one for informal conversation and one for mathematics.

I might say "fifteen hundred" to mean 1,500, but I would never write 15,00.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

First it's not "like English". It's like the rest of the world. Second, If you have time to "count the hairs on your cat" you have too much time on your hands. Get a job. Third, Loan words in Japan are already confusing and incorrect, why add fuel to the fire. Finally, Japan is a country that conducts business internationally. Why confuse the rest of the world?

7 ( +10 / -3 )

"Why confuse the rest of the world?"

The rest of the world isn't confused, Japan is.

I guess it helps them claim 'misunderstanding' when companies get busted for falsifying data?

9 ( +12 / -3 )

Here’s one thing I noticed upon coming back here, the Japanese method of counting is inferior.

Whenever there’s a big number like say a million and above everyone around me is closing their eyes and counting their fingers and trying to figure out how many ten thousands...

In my method I can spot a billion, a hundred billion, a trillion a hundred trillion right off the bat. The whole country can barely count big numbers! Lol

10 ( +11 / -1 )

Idiocy. Stop messing with numbers and also start using normal years like 2018 instead of years based on the emperor's reign.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Just use normal commas as the rest of the world. I also got an idea, how about using English terms like million (ミリオン) and billion (ビリオン) rather using man 万 or oku 億?  So, instead of saying 1,000,000 as hyaku man (百万), you can say it as ichi million (一ミリオン). And also ichi billion (一ビリオン) instead of saying 1,000,000,000 as jyu oku (十億). I work in a Japanese engineering company and one thing that surprises me is that even Japanese themselves are using this term, especially when doing international projects that involves lots of money, since it makes calculation much easier. Although this is not common yet in everyday life.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

First I must say this is not a Japanese system; I believe its originally from China. Whereas I can understand the frustration of people confusing Western and Eastern ways of reading numbers, I strongly believe changing the comma position will just work to confuse young minds even more as the world becomes more international. Outside Japan who understands the concept of 万 or 億?

There’s pride in culture but don’t limit young peoples’ minds.

However, there’s more to internationalizing. Is one thousand dollars 1,000.00 or 1.000,00? Where’s the comma in the English language billion, 1,000,000,000 or 1,000,000,000,000?

Let’s work toward A single world standard.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

If they are Japanese, the commas should be straight and slant the other way! ;)

If they want to use curly commas, not used in Japanese, they should put them in the right place.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I get why they want to do this, because of kanji... However it has a few downfalls. first the entire rest of the world uses the Hindu–Arabic numeral system (1 - 9 + 0) It's not actually a western thing it was invented by a Persian, picked up by the Indians,(from India) and spread to the rest of the world. Which is going to make it very confusing for any foreign monetary interaction. Second even the Japanese don't do most meaningful accounting with Kanji so why would you even equate the two? Also it's established that groups of three are used and many people use the comma's for quicker accounting, so that once again is going to make it harder for international monetary interactions. I'm guessing this is going to lead to a lot of calculation accidents that are going to favor foreign monies and detriment the Japanese because of the placement of the comma. 1,000 can become 10,000 when converting into the proposed Japanese monetary system if one is not careful, and 10,000 can become 1,000 when converting out. (Also which is easier for math? 五百万 ÷ 三千八百四十三 or 5,000,000 ÷ 3843 just saying.)

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Yeah, nip this nonsense in the bud stat.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I don't think there is any consistent usage around the world. Some countries write 123,456.789, others write 123.456,789 etc. It would be helpful if the Japanese would decide on one format and stick with it, whatever it is. Although counting of large numbers tends to be done in 10000s I often see accounts using thousands.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just team up with China and Taiwan to start using this new system. Once China gets in on it, we have a billion people use it. The world will have to recognize its usage.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Japan: Obsessed with conformity, but only within the borders of their own country.

But as soon as any foreigner questions this method it'll be labeled as an attack in Japanese culture.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

There’s a difference between reading big numbers and international standards.

That seems a fair comment. But wouldn't it be better to use a different separator character for both cases. So 57,680,000 and, for example, 5768:0000.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"I might say "fifteen hundred" to mean 1,500, but I would never write 15,00."

I would say "one thousand five hundred" for 1,500 and of course never 15,00.

People should be fined if they ever write 100,0000 instead of 1,000,000. Except in this article, lol.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"Rent here costs 5,0000 yen a month. I bought a secondhand car recently for 50,0000.

By the way, can you change 1,0000, please?"

Yes, frightfully useful. Not. This is like trying to go backwards to the 'good old days' when samurai were men who read from right to left. But keep going and you reach ancient Chinese influence. Nostalgic, I grant, but why?

A lost cause and a non-starter, IMHO.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Either keep the current system - because people are used to doing the 'ichi, jyu, hyaku, sen, man' dance to work out a big number- or be wild and officially drop the current system in favour of 'thousand', 'million', 'billion' etc.

Moving the comma is just a fudge. Why would we expect people + companies to function with such a confusing system, when we can't even trust people to understand roundabouts.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

There are kanji that work really well for this purpose. Now we have two more ways to separate Japan from the rest of the world...

3 ( +3 / -0 )

There is no reason why speakers of Japanese should have to write commas every three places when the language doesn't work that way. I've seen Indians write things like 12,34,56,000 because they have words for 10^6 (a lakh) and 10^8 (a crore). That's how they say them, so that's how they write them.

Just because the European countries have settled on a thousand=based system -- even the Greeks write "100,000" even though their language allows them to say "ten myriads" just as the Asians do -- doesn't mean that everyone in the world should go along.

The SI (metric) system proposes to solve this by not having commas or periods at all; spaces (10 000) or nothing (10000). The latter is probably the only way to be fair to speakers of every language. Well, every language that uses base ten, that is!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Well, every language that uses base ten, that is!

Those were the days. £5-7-6 (or was it £5-7/6).

I, for one, will be ready to welcome our 12-toed and 20-fingered alien overlords.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Imagine all the relearning WE would have to do? The period when one system is phased out and the other phased in could send the markets for a rollercoaster ride. “Sorry, we used the wrong separator”. Leave good enough alone.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

LSD, Albaleo! £5 7s 6d it was. Five pounds seven shillings and sixpence. Base 12 was so much better.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Converting it into the new system as 5768,0000 is way easier to read in Japanese, because the comma lines up with where the new number-word is used.

No-brainer. It's simple and rational. I've been doing it for years when dealing with numbers in Japanese while doing separate-by-thousands when dealing in English. No confusion. It's good to know that Japanese children are finally being taught a rational way. You don't need mental contortion for counting numbers.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I don't think there is any consistent usage around the world.

Indeed. That is why office software that is available in versions for more than one language has an option to switch a whole range of things including decimal format, comma placement, date formats, etc. to the conventions used in a particular language.

In just one country that has two official languages, the conventions for numbers are very different.

http://www.syllabus.ca/en/didyouknow-en/writing-numbers-in-french-and-english/

Only someone who is mono-lingual would think Japanese usage was peculiar because it is different from the (American) English conventions they are familiar with.

Even within English, there are differences. The British billion and the American billion are quite different. Personal weight in Britain is still typically stated in terms of "stone" (14 pounds). And, as others have pointed out, there is still nostalgia among some in Britain for the system that existed up until 1971 of pounds, shillings, and sixpence.

http://www.vintagecalculators.com/html/sterling_calculators.html

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

£5 7s 6d it was.

Right, but I thought there was a shortened version. (Corresponding to five pounds seven and six.) Age and LSD may not be the best combination.

 That is why office software that is available in versions for more than one language has an option to switch a whole range of things including decimal format, comma placement, date formats, etc. to the conventions used in a particular language.

And when the user's computer is in Thailand and the server is in Iceland and the data on the server comes from Canada and the programmer is in Hungary.... Hey, it keeps me in a job. :-)

The British billion and the American billion are quite different.

Except that no-one in Britain, except for 23.7 university linguistic professors, has ever used a British billion.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Why? There is an international standard! This does not help kids be competitive in the world.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Maybe one in 10 kids will try to go out to be 'competitive in the world'. Actually that goes for most countries. I know that i am the only one out of my school friends who works in a different country now. And those that do go for overseas jobs would have no trouble learning the different comma systems, just as they would have to learn the language.

Computer programs can be patched to handle the commas very easily. Internally no commas are used. Programs already have to deal with the various thousands and decimal separators used around the world

This is only confusing to foreigners in Japan. but you are a very tiny minority here. Have you ever watched a japanese person count digits trying to work out how much a large number is? Thats because they are converting a 3 digit separation into their own language. That problem goes away if you separate digits as they are used

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

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