I noticed that even though Japanese language has kanji characters for numbers (e.g. 十、百、千、万 etc), there are many places where Arabic numerals are used instead, for example, prices for shop items are written as 100円 instead of 一百円.

I am curious about:

  1. When did Arabic numerals start replacing Japanese numerals for writing numbers for normal daily uses (e.g. price tags, signboards, phone numbers etc)?

  2. Other than writing small numbers like in dates (e.g. 十月九日), are there any places where large numbers are predominantly written using Japanese numerals (e.g. 六万五千七百二十四)?

  3. For places that use Arabic numerals, when there are large yet trivial numbers, for example "three hundred millions", do you still write it as 300000000, or switch back to 三億 (since it saves space)?

  • 1
    Or even weird hybrids like 一00円. Commented Jun 6, 2011 at 1:59
  • 1
    一〇〇円 would be preferable than 一00円, IMHO, even though it is understandable though.
    – YOU
    Commented Jun 6, 2011 at 2:12

3 Answers 3


What I can think of is Japanese numbers are using when registration of house, family registrations, and some contracts.

But they used 壱 弐 参 拾 萬 instead of ー 二 三 十 万 on those kinds of registrations, contracts to prevent obvious modifications. And according to trade law, session 2, No. 48 「壱、弐、参、拾」 are mandatory.

Old books using those Japanese numbers a lot in (years, phone numbers, addresses, postal codes) but recent one most of them are in arabic numerals.

Here is screenshots of the Old one (Natsume Souseki「夏目漱石」's Kokoro「こころ」) and one of recent book at 2009.

Regarding big numbers like company capitalization, they may just used roman numbers of japanese units like 3億円, for example like this for this company

資本金 : 1,887億7,534万円

But for statistical data like company achievement/results data for stock share owners, they may use those numbers in long numbers like following, and they may use one Million's equivalent 百万円 Unit.

売上高 : 3,004,640 百万円

  • 3
    For YOU's second point, see this page. "In handwritten documents, for example, it would be easy for a forger to add a line above or below a numeral 一 to make 二, changing, say, 一万円 (10,000 yen) to 二万円 (20,000 yen); the alternate numbers prevent such alterations."
    – Amanda S
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 22:21
  • Wow, I haven't seen those hard-looking kanji before. So I imagine any other official government-related documents still use Japanese numerals then.
    – Lukman
    Commented Jun 5, 2011 at 14:46
  • 1
    Btw, if it's not too much, can you also address the 1st and 3rd questions, please?
    – Lukman
    Commented Jun 5, 2011 at 14:48
  • @Lukman, those Japanese Numbers are used in old books but recent books most of them are all in arabic numbers. May be I will scan some and post it. But regarding 3rd one I am not sure about that, but I personally don't think reason for using 三億 is to save space.
    – YOU
    Commented Jun 5, 2011 at 14:54
  • That こゝろ example is a bit misleading. The novel was first published in 1914, but this re-edition is well into post-war Japan, as it states "first edition 1951". That said, I have got a book from 1927 and it uses the same conventions for numbers. Interestingly, while Japanese characters are written right to left, page numbers are written left to right in regular Arabic numerals.
    – user145
    Commented Jul 26, 2011 at 12:56

This may be obvious but not has been stated explicitly on this page: in vertical writing, kanji numerals are much more preferred than Arabic numerals. Moreover, in vertical writing, we sometimes use the positional system with kanji, especially for large numbers; that is, 六万五千七百四円 is sometimes written as 六五七〇四円.

  • Yeah, I remembered that I need to rotate the book to able to read smoothly for alphabets and numbers, when they are in vertical writing.
    – YOU
    Commented Jun 6, 2011 at 2:20

Another thing that others haven't said (that might not be apparent from the off) is related to technology (specifically gaming) and Gunpei Yokoi.

Whilst he didn't invent the LCD screen, and I'm willing to accept that Arabic numberals had been used by the Japanese for years before this; the invention of alarm clocks and the Game & Watch greatly influenced the use of Arabic numerals.

This is because it was far easier to produce LCD screens with Seven Segments displays than Dot Matrix displays. The latter are very well suited for kanji or (almost) any other character set, whereas the former aren't.

When Gunpei Yokoi created the Game & Watch series, he wanted to create a series of games that would be extremely cheap to manufacture (as Nintendo didn't give him a massive budget for them), but that could also serve as clocks (hence the "& Watch" portion of the name) and educational devices (by helping to teach the Arabic numerals to those who played the games).

This probably only scratches the surface of point one of the OP, but I thought it might be worth sharing.

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