In my native language (not Japanese), the Sino-Xenic word for "ten thousand" (萬) is only used in historical contexts. In modern times, the Western way of counting in thousands is much preferred, and thousand separators are used. All that makes it quite difficult to intuitively discern large numbers in Japanese, because Japanese counts in myriads instead. After ten thousand (一万), it starts to become more difficult to immediately know what larger numbers, like say 二百五十万, actually mean, without taking some time to break them down.

So is there a methodology for practicing thinking in myriads in order to count more easily in Japanese?

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    You should be clear that your native language is Vietnamese. That first sentence is quite easily misunderstood =.=
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 7:45
  • I didn't find it necessary to say specifically what my native language was, because it doesn't have much bearing on the question. The point is simply that my native language is not Japanese and it doesn't work like Japanese, even though we do use the word for "ten thousand" to some very limited extent. Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 8:50

1 Answer 1


This answer may not be very helpful but...

I agree that large numbers are very difficult to intuitively understand when you are used to counting in units of thousands. I still have difficulty with it even after years of study. The only way I found that helped was to memorize certain key numbers as reference points and drill them in English. Some of the key numbers I use as reference points are:

五十万 half a million
百万 one million
千万 ten million
一億 one hundred million
十億 one billion

I committed them to memory and revised/drilled them often until I knew them very well. When I come across a number, I calculate it using those reference points. For example, you gave 二百五十万. In my head, I would first see the 万 and then the 二百 and think "that is two million". Then I would add the 五十万 (half a million) to arrive at the answer 2.5 million.

I know it's probably not a very efficient way of doing it, but when you get used to it, you can calculate fairly quickly.

I have the most trouble with money because there is an additional mental calculation of how much a number in yen is valued in Dollars or Euro (or whatever other currency).

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    A big +1 to kandyman's description of memorization drills. During interpreting coursework years ago, drilling the numbers was a big part of what we had to do -- the native-EN speakers struggled with 万 and 億, and the native-JA speakers struggled with million and billion (the 兆・trillion convergence was easy all around :) ). TL;DR: some things you just have to memorize. Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 15:48
  • Of course, it still doesn't overcome the problem. For example, I found myself a little confused at the number 五十億円 recently. If 一億 is one hundred million, and I have 50 of these, I still need to calculate how to say 50 hundred millions in English. Ok so it's obviously 500 million, but I still found that I was doubting myself. And with not-so-round numbers it's even more annoying :)
    – kandyman
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 11:19
  • "...五十億円...how to say 50 hundred millions in English. Ok so it's obviously 500 million..." -- Oh, dear! 五十億円 = 50億円 = 50 × ¥100mn = ¥5,000mn = ¥5bn. Good example of how confusing this can be, though. :) Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 16:37
  • Lol @ my own stupidity :)
    – kandyman
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 17:07
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    As you said, a good example of how easy it is to go wrong.
    – kandyman
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 17:07

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