Friday, November 23, 2012

Reading Japanese Numbers and Dates

Japan 1945 10-sen
As I've previously discussed, it is useful for a world coin collector to be able to read numbers and dates in different languages. This allows you to determine the proper date and denomination of a coin. That information, along with the coin's country, is the minimum you'd need to look up the coin in a guide, check if it's in your collection, or trade with another collector.

The Chinese Numerals

Japanese is one such language which doesn't use Arabic numerals (0, 1, 2...). Japanese uses a number-writing system that is shared with the Chinese language, and is generally referred to as the Chinese numerals.  The symbols used to represent 0 through 10 are pictured below, with their European/Arabic equivalent:
Japanese numbers 0 through 10
Numbers above (and including) 10 are not made by combining individual digits, like in the Arabic numeral system. Instead, Japanese uses combinations of numerals which add and/or multiply to the number being written. For example, 11 is not written 一一 (1 1) - it is 十一 (10 1, or 10 + 1). 15 is written as 十五 (10 + 5). 20 is 二十 (2 10, or 2 * 10), and 22 is 二十二 (2 10 2, or 2 * 10 + 2).

There are additional Japanese symbols for larger multiples of 10:
   100: 百
   1000: 千

The Japanese number-writing system is known as a non-positional numeral system because individual symbols don't identify their value strictly based on their position in the number. For example, 40 (四十, 4 10), 400 (四百, 4 100), and 4000 (四千, 4 1000) all use exactly 2 symbols in Japanese (while the Arabic numbers 40, 400, and 4000 use 2, 3, and 4 respectively). The position of a symbol doesn't define its value; its effect on or by its neighbors does.

More examples of Japanese numbers:
   32: 三十二
   44: 四十四
   78: 七十八
   99: 九十九

Japanese Dates

In the late 1800s, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar, but with a starting date (a "year zero") that corresponded to the Gregorian calendar's year 660 BC, making Japan's year values larger than the year used by other countries (i.e. 1920 A.D. = 2580 Japan). This practice largely stopped after World War 2, and for most purposes Japan uses the same year as America would use.

Modern Japanese coins, however, use the Japanese era calendar to indicate when a coin was minted. An era starts counting years at 1 with each new Japanese emperor. The date is indicated by the emperor's era name (using its Kanji symbols) followed by the year of the emperor's reign. For example, 1989 was the first year for the current Heisei era (under Emperor Kinjo, or Akihito), so coins minted that year would contain the symbol for the Heisei era (平成)  and the symbol for 1 (一).

Japan's era name examples
Fortunately for those who don't read Japanese, there have only been 4 Japanese eras since 1900:
  • 明治 (Meiji) 1867 - 1912
  • 大正 (Taisho) 1912 - 1926
  • 昭和 (Showa) 1926 - 1989
  • 平成 (Heisei) 1989 - present



On Japanese coins, the date is usually read clockwise (right-to-left). It begins with the symbols for the era name (see the list above), followed by the era year, and ends with the symbol for year (年). While most coins are read right-to-left, some need to be read left-to-right (counter-clockwise). The symbol for year (年) is always at the end of the date, so if you see it at the left-hand end of a number, read it from right-to-left; if you see it at the right-hand end, read it left-to-right.

Examples from actual Japanese coins:
Left to right: 1921 10-sen, 1942 10-sen, 1995 5-yen, 1974 10-yen
From left to right:
  • Taisho year 10 - read clockwise
  • Showa year 17 (10 + 7) - read clockwise
  • Heisei year 7 - read counter-clockwise
  • Showa year 49 (4 * 10 + 9) - read left-to-right 

Showa year 48 100-yen Japanese coin
On recent 50- and 100-yen coins (since 1967), the era year is shown in Arabic numerals instead of Japanese numerals, like the coin pictured here. The rest of the date is read the same way described above - counter-clockwise, starting with the era name and ending with the year symbol (年).







Calculating the Gregorian Date

Once you know the era name and year, you can calculate the Gregorian year using the era table above. Take the era's starting year, add the era year, and subtract 1. For example, Heisei year 3 would correspond to 1991 (year 1 is 1989, year 2 is 1990, and year 3 is 1991). Here are the dates for the coins pictured above:
  • Taisho year 10 = 1912 + 10 -1 = 1921
  • Showa year 17 = 1926 + 17 - 1 = 1942
  • Heisei year 7 = 1989 + 7 - 1 = 1995
  • Showa year 49 = 1926 + 49 - 1 = 1974
  • Showa year 48 = 1926 + 48 - 1 = 1973
Taiwan 1972 1-yuan (year 61)

Comparison to Taiwan Coins

Coins from Taiwan use the same number symbols as Japanese coins, so it is easy to mistake them for each other. In the coin pictured here, the year reads 6 10 1 (61, in yellow highlighting) reading counter-clockwise and ending with the year symbol (年). Taiwan coins will of course not have one of the 4 Japanese emperor era names listed above, and frequently have the flower symbol shown here.

54 comments:

  1. Thank you for this -- very clear and helpful.

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    2. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I'll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon. Big thanks for the useful info. sell coins az

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  2. Helpful thanks. I found a 1976 50 yen in U.S. nickel roll.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What is the hobby "coin collecting" called in Japanese?
    Concepts differ in different countries. Coin Collection may imply gathering coins an depositing it into a bank. If you mention coin collecting,
    "the hobby", they wonder how such a thing ever happens? Collecting antique bottles for example draws "eeweuu!" responses.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In English the word for a person who collects (as in a hobby) or studies money is "numismatist" (and the hobby itself is called "numismatics"). I imagine that there is an equivalent Japanese word that doesn't sound like it means "begging for change on a street corner". Google Translate (translate.google.com) came up with something, but I couldn't tell you exactly what it would mean to a native Japanese speaker.

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    2. Thank you. After searching for a while, I found your site the ONE that was really helpful. I found what I needed, and learned a whole lot in the process. Tks, Pete

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    3. I'm glad that this information was able to help you, Pete.

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  4. how much is it worth in the USA

    ReplyDelete
  5. i know that. 101 yens equal 1 us dollar

    ReplyDelete
  6. um.... i have a 500 yen coin form hesei year 20 which means 2008 , right?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Awesome! If I've calculated right, I have a 1982 10 yen. Which I dug up in my back yard, go figure.

    ReplyDelete
  8. i have two heisei coins and the number that show is 4, 7, and 10. but im still confused on it. how much is the coin value and how old is it? please email me and tell me warcup8@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. its 5 yen the one it shows in the picture, too. i'm not sure how to read it and if its still circulating still in japan. if you can tell me and who would buy them? im in springfield missouri so its kinda hard finding places here

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    2. Hello, Sammi. It sounds like the number is 47 (4, then a 10, then a 7), which would only be from a Showa-era coin. Its date would then be 1972 (1926 + 47 - 1). The gold-colored 5 yen coins are still used in Japan, but they only have an exchange value of around US$0.05 so it may not be worth trying to sell them.

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    3. Thanks a lot for this info. Had a one yen silver coin for a long time without knowing the mint date. Meiji year 15! (1882) Surprised me, thanks again!

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  9. >For example, 1989 was the first year for the current Heisei era (under Emperor Kinjo, or Akihito), so coins minted that year would contain the symbol for the Heisei era (平成) and the symbol for 1 (一).

    This is not correct. 1989 is written as 平成元年 on coins. The first year of era is always written as 元(gan).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is an example of a Japanese coin minted in 1989. The coin reads, "平成元年".
      http://www.google.co.jp/imgres?imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fthumbnail.image.rakuten.co.jp%2F%25400_mall%2Fyamabun-r%2Fcabinet%2F03318965%2F03349860%2F03355265%2Fimg58947098.jpg&imgrefurl=http%3A%2F%2Fitem.rakuten.co.jp%2Fyamabun-r%2Faa5a2008r%2F&h=480&w=640&tbnid=789LahCbl-Ui2M%3A&zoom=1&docid=aKyz2DwuDeDruM&ei=5De9U_I4iKuRBamggaAF&tbm=isch&ved=0CB8QMygEMAQ&iact=rc&uact=3&dur=536&page=1&start=0&ndsp=33

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    2. This blog post was so helpful for me after coming home from my first trip to Japan; your reply/correction was the last piece I missed to fully understand what I was looking at. Now I understand completely!

      Much thanks to the blogger, and thanks to you especially.

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  11. i want sel my japanese 100 yen coin from 47,56,55,54,20,47and one without a number

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  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  13. thanks for posting. very helpful! i have a 10 yen from 1935 :) anyone know if its worth anything? i have 27 showa era pieces (1, 5, 10, 50, 100) between years 1935-1963 and i have 17 heisei era pieces (1, 10, 50, 100) between years 1989-1997. any of those worth anything?

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  16. Hi
    Do you have an email address I can send a picture of the coins I have and have no idea about
    Thanks

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  17. Hi i have a coin that i have no idea of. It looks to be japanese or chinese i dont have a clue....

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  18. Living in the mountains of Colorado and a resident in my current home for 14 years. I just found a 5 yen in my yard on the top of the ground. Water from the roof of my shop wash out soil to reveal this coin.I have added soil to this area before. also. Thanks to you for all your information that helped me determined its year to 1951. BTW, I collect coins. Steve V.

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  19. I have 1 no Meiji year 16 coin, it belong to what year and what the value now.
    Thanks

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  20. This was so helpful! I found a 10-yen coin from 1962 in my family's change drawer! Nobody knows how it got there...haha

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  21. Hey,

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  22. Ok everyone I need help! I have a silver olympia coin. One side has the Olympic symbol and the other side says Olympia on the upper and lower part of the coin. Now in the middle in Japanese it says stadium. There's no date on it.

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  23. Ok everyone I need help! I have a silver olympia coin. One side has the Olympic symbol and the other side says Olympia on the upper and lower part of the coin. Now in the middle in Japanese it says stadium. There's no date on it.

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  24. Ok everyone I need help! I have a silver olympia coin. One side has the Olympic symbol and the other side says Olympia on the upper and lower part of the coin. Now in the middle in Japanese it says stadium. There's no date on it.

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  25. Coin collecting books are a valuable asset for anyone interested in collecting coins.
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  26. I have tried to figure this out, I did get as far as showa. I am using my glassed and a magnifying glass and see it or can't get it figured out. Help please ???????
    100 yen showa 58 & 55. 50 yen showa 53 & 42

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  27. For anyone learning Japanese numbers and maths here is a good resource (with a practice sheet) (^_^) https://lingualift.com/blog/numbers-in-japanese/

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  28. Hi, my friend found a yen coin that reads 100 and on the bottom for the year is 19, I haven't been able to find anything on one with the 19 on the bottom, trying to find him some more info and what it could be worth.

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  29. I cannot discern what year these 10 yen coins I have are. It looks like they contain symbols for 2 emperors to me. I guess I will just have to find a local coin expert and have them looked at. I'm dying to know.

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  30. Perhaps they should join the modern world and just put the date plainly on it????

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