I've noticed a couple of words with the character 八 that have (seemingly) nothing to do with the number 8.

  • 八百屋【やおや】 - greengrocer
  • 八つ【やつ】当たり【あたり】 - taking out anger on someone
  • 八丁【はっちょう】 - skillfullness

Furthermore, this is the only number which I've noticed this pattern on. All other words consisting a number have a much more obvious relation, (even when it's a 一).

On jisho.org, the count of #words containing each of the numeral characters shows a noticeable spike on 八 as well.

一    二   三    四   五   六   七   八   九   十
1713  787  1264  438  364  196  172  357  308  320

And here's a table of how common each is in newspapers. Doesn't really show anything but I thought to include it since I looked into it as well. I wonder what the count would be if 九州【きゅうしゅう】 was stripped from the count on 九.

一    二   三    四   五   六   七   八   九   十
2     9    14    47   31   93   115  92   55   8

2 Answers 2


This one puzzled me, so I did some digging.

I couldn't find anything definitive on where the "many" meaning may have come from. This kanji does seem to have this meaning in Chinese as well, as we see over at the Wiktionary entry for the Chinese term, and also over in the Unihan entry.

This is conjecture, but I suspect the "many" sense may come from the idea of the eight directions -- the four cardinals, and the four in-betweens: north, south, east, west, northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest.

The "many" sense appears to be quite old in Japanese, and it's specific to the kun'yomi or native Japanese term, so I don't think this was an import from the Chinese. However, the sense development may have been similar in both languages -- "eight" → "eight directions" → "all over, all directions" → "many, various".


Some words(mainly from old days) have 八 to imply "all" or "so many". 八百屋 is an example of this.(so many)

and as one number. It's one of a good number because the character 八 looks wider to lower(Kanji is written top to bottom, meaning prosperity)

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