I feel like it would make more sense to use 五 since it literally means 5.

I know that 正 has 5 strokes and 五 has 4, but you could still tally like so: enter image description here

I also know this question isn't just limited to Japanese, but since I'm learning that and not the other languages that tally this way, I thought I'd ask here.

Thank you!

  • 1
    "I know that 正 has 5 strokes and 五 has 4" That's exactly the reason. Because no Japanese person would write 五 in 5 strokes...
    – istrasci
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 21:56
  • It's possible to write a 5 numeral with 5 straight lines. Is there a deep reason you don't tally this way? Lots of things could be done some way and simply aren't for the flukes of history
    – Leebo
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 0:58

1 Answer 1


You have effectively answered your own question---五 only has 4 strokes. What you have drawn as stroke 3 and 4, only exists as one stroke in Chinese calligraphy, and this applies to Japanese and Korean as well. It is the same stroke as the second stroke of 口, for example, or the right-hand side of both the left and right elements of 門. The horizontal line abuts the vertical line on its right end, hence they are drawn with one brush stroke.

The general rule is left-to-right, top-to-bottom.

  • I was hoping the answer would be more than "because it's only 4 strokes". I do get that calligraphy is strict, but I thought people would make exceptions, especially since you're not using the character to write a sentence. Using 正 just seems like an arbitrary choice that happened to stick. Someone linked this Wikipedia article to me that said that in the Edo period, 玉 was used (一二三王玉). ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E7%94%BB%E7%B7%9A%E6%B3%95 Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 20:55
  • The use of this character for counting clearly starts with the Chinese, a Japanese innovation like using 玉 is not at all surprising, but even in this case, there is no flaunting of the rules of calligraphy. It is best to assume that, as a Westerner, you have nothing usefu
    – N. Hunt
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 21:45
  • Addendum: ...nothing useful to add in the way of advice to Japanese (or Chinese, or Koreans). It's all been thought of or done, a long time ago.
    – N. Hunt
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 21:48
  • I'm not trying to start an orthography revolution or anything. I was just curious as to why and was hoping the answer would be deeper than "just because it's 4 strokes". Please don't take it as me trying to shake things up. Commented Sep 28, 2023 at 1:50
  • I suspect the problem lies in how you see the character, as a collection of vertical and horizontal lines or as brush strokes. In graph theory you would see each line as a separate edge, but that is not how a person who has learned brush writing sees it.
    – N. Hunt
    Commented Sep 28, 2023 at 2:23

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