I am not sure when Japanese started using Arabic numerals. At the time before it, can 十分 mean "10 minutes" other than "enough"?

  • I believe a notion of a minute came to Japan with the induction of western-style clocks. Western-style clocks surely used Roman or Arabic numerals on their dials. Until the end of the Edo period time of the day was measured in a different way to contemporary. Widespread use of Arabic numerals and common user of 24-hour system very likely coincide historically, but also very likely "academic" writings were using Japanese 十 to indicate minutes before. – macraf Oct 14 '15 at 23:56
  • On top of that 十分 was definitely used in measuring the distance, weight, degree (which also qualify as other than "enough"). And of course 十分 is an expression for a divisor "by/of ten" used in mathematical proportions. It's "enough" that has a derivative meaning here. – macraf Oct 15 '15 at 0:17

In modern usage, 十分 both means 10 minutes (when it's read as じっぷん) and enough (when it's read as じゅうぶん). For example, 十分待った may mean "waited 10 minutes" or "waited enough", depending on the context. In horizontal writings, the former tends to be 10分待った, but in Japanese texts written vertically, kanji numerals are much more common.

I don't know the historical usage of 十分, but as @macraf said in his comment, western clock system was not widely used before the introduction of Arabic numerals, so I doubt there was a period when 十分 only meant 10 minutes. (See: Old Japanese time system used until the Edo period, which did not have "minutes")

EDIT: I don't know if this is important to OP, but to answer only what is explicitly asked with some evidence, my answer would be "Yes and no". Arabic numerals were officially adopted in education by a law called 学制 promulgated on August 2nd, 1872, and Western-style calendar including the concept of minutes officially came into use on January 1st, 1873. Therefore it is unlikely that ordinary Japanese people used 十分 to mean 10 minutes before 1872; only a few professionals did.

  • 3
    Although じっぷん is the "NHK reading", at least here in Tochigi everyone says じゅっぷん. Remember there is also the reading じゅうぶ, as in 一寸は十分; see ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%88%86_%28%E6%95%B0%29 – Brian Chandler Oct 15 '15 at 4:51
  • @macraf If OP understands 十分 still commonly means 10 minutes today, he doesn't need to ask a question like this. That's why I assumed so. – naruto Oct 15 '15 at 10:52
  • Ah, you read it this way... Plausible, I admit. I immediately read it "why a word/character that was so much ingrained in human psyche to be used as a metaphor of fullness (in combination with 10) was chosen for a unit of measure that divided another unit by 60". Oh, engineers... – macraf Oct 15 '15 at 11:14

Here has totally two different meanings.

  1. minute, which is 1/60 hour.
  2. a unit of measure, where means 1/10, and means 1/100, or mean 1/1000 (see 命数法)

So 十分 also has two meanings

  1. 10 minutes
  2. 10 times 1/10 = 1, which means a whole

BTW: Japanese is influenced by Chinese which has been used for more than 2000 years, and 十分 is also a very old Chinese word.


According to this Wikipedia article, a notion of hours and minutes was introduced to common people in Japan by railway companies. The first timetable was published in 1872.

This article mentions that Japanese numerals were used for timetables and in 1925 a timetable was published with times printed using Arabic numerals (does not say explicitly it was the first one, but it might be inferred).

So 十分 must had been used to indicate time before Arabic numerals became prevalent.

  • 1
    Sorry for nitpicking, but Japanese government adopted teaching Arabic numerals at school on August 1872 (see this and this and this), and they officially adopted Western clock on January 1873. Of course it took years before Arabic numerals became prevalent. – naruto Oct 15 '15 at 7:40
  • I don't find your comment nitpicking. Why such an idea? – macraf Oct 15 '15 at 7:49

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