Sorry if this question seems to be stupid, but I'm not a japanese speaker, yet I have to "translate" Japanese numbers to Arabic numbers.

I have a problem with the chain 3.2千 :

So what it the real value ?

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    Can you show the source? I think it's weird seeing it written with a decimal, when decimals are used the numbers are usually written just like in English. In the semi-traditional way of writing, the number 3200 would be 3千2百. It could for example mean 3 ... 2 thousand, as in "roughly 3 or 2 thousand", or it could possibly be "3 point 2 thousand = 3200" although the latter would be weird. It is for sure not 32000 unless there's a typo. – a20 Jun 7 '18 at 15:54
  • the source is the first link – Damien Prot Jun 7 '18 at 15:55
  • It's pretty clear that it's 3.2千=3200. In English, numbers are grouped by thousands but it's still standard to write 5.4x10^2 for 540 in scientific notation. – ConMan Jun 7 '18 at 23:20

Reading numbers and prices

In Japan, Arabic numerals are now frequently used. I think this problem will be quite rare since small numbers such as prices as generally displayed in Arabic numerals:


Even though these kanji [百]{100}, [千]{1000}, and [万]{10,000} are used as placeholders. Numbers using them can be read by omitting them (and potentially filling in the trailing zeros):

[3]{さん}千{ぜん}[2]{に}00 = 3,200

[3]{さん}千{ぜん}[2]{に}百{ひゃく} = 3,200

Even though these are written in Arabic numbers, they are read in Japanese (although it will make your life easier as a Japanese learner). Only older style traditional stores and restaurants (or izakaya) would display prices entirely in Kanji:


These would also use 円{えん} rather than ¥ for prices.

Still it is important to understand how these numbers are read in Japanese to say numbers aloud. Bear in mind that counting is different in Japanese.

Larger numbers

Bear in mind that larger numbers will be frequently encountered in Japan. The exchange rate is roughly 100 JP¥ to 1 US$ so prices will often quotes in thousands [千]{せん}or tens of thousands [万]{まん}. While numbers are now written in Arabic format: 1,000 10,000 or 1,000,000, numbers are grouped by [万]{まん} (ten thousand) rather than by thousands.

So a thousand thousand (million) is literally translated to 100 [万]{まん}. Conversely [万]{まん} [万]{まん} is an 億{おく} (100 million). Large items are counted in [万]{まん}s rather than thousands. Similarly government or company spending, populations, or computing will be discussed in 億{おく} rather than millions or billions. This is one of the reasons it very difficult to convert numbers between Japanese and English and people think about numbers differently when using each language.

So traditionally, Japanese numbers written in Arabic numerals would be written in groups of 4 zeros (although they only do this with kanji):

一{いち} [万]{まん} = 10000 (ten thousand)

一{いち} 億{おく} = 1,0000,0000 (one hundred million)

一{いっ} 兆{ちょう} = 1,0000,0000,0000 (one trillion)

In practice you’ll encounter a mixture of traditional Japanese numbers and western influenced groups of 3 zeros.

Abbreviating numbers

Similar to how we abbreviate numbers in English, this can be done with kanji. I suspect that is what is being done in the example you’ve provided.

3.2 千{せん}

This is more commonly done with [万]{まん} as discussed above. I suspect that this is a literal Japanese translation of 3.2 thousand or 3.2K as used in English for 3200. This is unambiguously 3200 rather than 32000 although it would be clearer written in Japanese as:

[3]{さん}千{ぜん}[2]{に} 百{ひゃく}

千{せん} here acts as a placeholder, not just holding the meaning of 1000 so could be read as 3 “point” 2 thousand (3.2K). In kanji, the base 10 kanji basically serve dual purposes as numbers and how we use points or commas to aid reading short or long form numbers respectively.

This goes for larger numbers as well:

3万{まん}2100 = 3.21 ten thousands or 32.1K

3万{まん}2千{せん} = 3.2 ten thousands or 32K

1億{おく}2300万[まん] = 1.23 hundred millions or 123M

123億{おく} = 12.3 billion or 12.3 B (12.3G)

12兆{ちょう} = 12 trillion or 12T

I recommend sticking with standard use of kanji as it is easier to read. 3.2千{せん} (3.2 thousand) could be mistaken for 32千{せん} (32,000) if you don’t see the decimal point or expect 32万{まん} for 32,000. However, I suspect that this will soon become irrelevant as arabic numbers (western/English style) have become common in Japan. Many Japanese speakers learn English or engage in more international activities and often encounter numbers in forms such as 3.2K or 3.2 x 10^3. Arabic numbers are nearly ubiquitous and you will not need to read kanji numbers unless delving through government or company reports, historic documents, or traditional menus in rural areas.

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    "It would usually be written in Japanese [3千2]【さんぜんに】" I disagree. I have never seen it, so I would not say it is "usual" — neither have I seen [3千2百00]【さんぜんにひゃく】. Can you come up with a source that writes numbers this way? – Earthliŋ Jun 8 '18 at 6:23
  • Most of my experience of numbers in Japanese comes from speaking and hearing them. This is based mainly on discussion with native speakers and listening to Japanese news on TV (rather than reading documents or newspapers). Sorry I cannot read Japanese so well and I am still studying Kanji. I’ve lived in Japan for the past year and never heard someone say 3.2せん. However I’m not sure the standard way to write what I’ve heard. Hopefully with these examples new learners can understand any forms of numbers they may encounter (sorry if some are irrelevant or rare). – Tom Kelly Jun 8 '18 at 7:24
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    3千2 3万21 1億23 12兆3<-- えええ・・・そんなふうに書かないでしょ・・・ 「さんぜんに」「さんまんにじゅういち」ちゅうたら "3,002" と "30,021" になるやん。。。 – Chocolate Jun 8 '18 at 8:32
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    @TomKelly If your "experience of numbers in Japanese comes from speaking and hearing them", maybe you shouldn't say "It would usually be written in Japanese 3千2". – Earthliŋ Jun 8 '18 at 8:48
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    120億 = 120*10^8 = 12 billion, not 1.2 billion – a20 Jun 8 '18 at 10:25

「3.2千」 is "3,200". There is no other interpretation possible -- none.

That is not a common way to write "3,200" in our daily life, but when discussing statistics where numbers shown are mostly or exclusively in the thousands, we actually use that form.

「千」 in that context is exactly the equivalent of "K" for "1,000" in English.

See the 5-6th lines from the top in this government paper where it says 「新規漁業就業者数 1.5千人/年」. That means "the numerical goal for the newly employed in the fishery industry: 1,500 persons per year".

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  • それをゆったら、「さんてんに千」ってゆうんですか、それか普通に「さん千にひゃく」ってゆうんですか? 因みに、SI接頭辞のキロは「k」で省略します。 – a20 Jun 8 '18 at 9:29
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    読み方はどちらでもかまいません。”3.2千”の「正しい読み方」というものは存在しないと思います。基本的には書くため専用の言い回しです。 – l'électeur Jul 3 '18 at 9:03

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