Table of Contents
- The Basics
- Beyond The Basics
Talking about the date and time in Japanese is pretty simple! Apart from knowing how to count in Japanese, you just need to know the right words for each component and to follow the format. This page will talk about all the necessary components one by one, so let's get started.
Prerequisites: Before diving in, make sure you’re familiar with the basics of counting and counters in Japanese. If you need a refresher (or an introduction), feel free to check out this page!
The most typical date format in Japan is "Year Month Day (Weekday)," in which each number is followed by the respective Japanese characters 年 (year), 月 (month), 日 (day), and 曜日 (day of the week). So for example, Friday, February 4, 2022 will be written as 2022年2月4日金曜日 in Japanese. It can also be abbreviated, like '22/02/04（金）or 22.2.4（金）, but the order of the format remains the same.
It might be helpful to note here that in Japan, the order of things like this usually starts with more general info, then gets narrowed down to more specific info. With names, for example, the family name comes first, followed by the given name. Similarly, addresses in Japan start with the postal code, followed by the prefecture, city, street number, and finally building. You can think of the date as following the same pattern!
Now, let's take a look at each element and discuss how to use it.
年 for "Year"
To talk about "calendar years," you use 〜 年. Take a look at the chart below to make sure you know how to read each number:
|Year (numeral)||Japanese (kanji)||Reading|
|7||七年||ななねん / (しちねん)|
Although the above table lists kanji writing, it's very common to use numerals with dates in horizontal writing. In vertical writing, which is how Japanese books are traditionally written, kanji is typically employed.
Even though the majority of people in Japan use — or at the very least are familiar with — the Western calendar ( 西暦), the traditional imperial calendar is still employed, especially for official documents. When using the imperial calendar, the name of the era comes before the year. For example, the year 2011年 is 平成23年 on the imperial calendar because it's the 23rd year of the Heisei era. 2011年4月1日金曜日 can also be written as 平成23年4月1日金曜日. The name of the era may be abbreviated to its first single character, as in 平23/04/01, or its initial letter in romaji (the roman alphabet), as in H23.04.01.
If you want to convert Western calendar years to Japanese imperial calendar years, websites like this one may come in handy!
月 for "Month"
To talk about "calendar months," you use 〜 月. Take a look at the chart below to make sure you know how to read each number:
|一月 / １月||いちがつ||January|
|二月 / ２月||にがつ||February|
|三月 / ３月||さんがつ||March|
|四月 / ４月||しがつ||April|
|五月 / ５月||ごがつ||May|
|六月 / ６月||ろくがつ||June|
|七月 / ７月||しちがつ / (なながつ)||July|
|八月 / ８月||はちがつ||August|
|九月 / ９月||くがつ||September|
|十月 / １０月||じゅうがつ||October|
|十一月 / １１月||じゅういちがつ||November|
|十二月 / １２月||じゅうにがつ||December|
It's pretty straightforward, right? Bear in mind this is all about calendar months, not about counting months. To count months, as in "I've been in Japan for two months," things are a bit different — you'll have to use a counter like 〜ヶ月 or 〜月. If you aren't familiar with those, check out the counter 月 page!
日 for "Date"
To talk about "calendar days," you use 〜 日. Take a look at the chart below to make sure you know how to read each number:
|1||一日||ついたち / (いっぴ)||1st|
|17||十七日||じゅうしちにち / (じゅうななにち)||17th|
|27||二十七日||にじゅうしちにち / (にじゅうななにち)||27th|
|Which day||何日||なんにち||Which day|
As you can see in the table, 日 can be read as either か (wago) or にち (kango). Readings for numbers can also be a mixture of wago and kango, so watch out! There aren't any tricks to remember them quickly, but continuous practice using a Spaced Repetition System like WaniKani will probably help you get used to them!
曜日 for "Days of The Week"
To talk about "days of the week," you use 〜 曜日. For days of the week, you don't use numerals but kanji characters, each of which indicates an element of nature. Take a look at the chart below to make sure you know how to read each character:
|Element of Nature||Japanese||Pronunciation||English|
|N/A||何曜（日）||なんよう（び）||Which day of the week?|
So, why does each kanji character indicate an element of nature? It's because the naming concept was developed by fusing the yin and yang of Chinese philosophy with the five Taoist elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water). Pretty cool, huh?
Note that 曜日 is often abbreviated to 曜 both in speaking and writing, as in 日曜 or 月曜. The 曜日 part can also often be completely omitted as an abbreviated form in writing, but in that case, the first single character is often put in parentheses, as in （日） or （月）.
Okay, let's move on to learning how to discuss time in Japanese. First, let's talk about the general stuff, and then check out each element.
When writing a specific time in Japanese, 時 (o'clock) and 分 (minute) are added after the numerals. So, for example, 7:15 is written 七時十五分, though it's typical to simply write 7:15 in Japanese as well. If you want, you can also add 秒 (seconds) after the minute part, like 七時十五分二十三秒.
In Japan, both the 12-hour and 24-hour formats are common. When using the 12-hour format, 後前 (a.m.) or 午後 (p.m.) can be added before the time, as in 後前7時15分 (7:15 a.m.) or 午後7時15分 (7:15 p.m.) for clarification. AM/PM signs are also used, however, and unlike 後前 and 午後, AM and PM can be put either before or after the time (AM7:15 or 7:15PM).
For the 24-hour format, it's particularly employed in schedules for public transit to prevent people from mixing up AM and PM. Interestingly, times beyond midnight after the 24-hour mark can also be counted continuously sometimes. This often occurs when the activity from before midnight extends past midnight, indicating that your day has kept on extending past the 24-hour threshold. For instance, a radio program that starts at 1:00 and ends at 2:00 in the morning might say it starts at 25:00 and ends at 26:00 on their time table.
Now you've got the basic idea, let's take a look at each element. We've already talked about the basic ways to use them, so the focus here will be mostly on their readings.
時 for "O'clock"
To give the hour reading on a clock ("o'clock") you use 〜 時. Take a look at the chart below to make sure you know how to read each number:
|7||七時||しちじ / (ななじ)||7:00 a.m.|
|13||十三時||じゅうさんじ||13:00 (1:00 p.m.)|
|14||十四時||じゅうよじ||14:00 (2:00 p.m.)|
|15||十五時||じゅうごじ||15:00 (3:00 p.m.)|
|16||十六時||じゅうろくじ||16:00 (4:00 p.m.)|
|17||十七時||じゅうしちじ / (じゅうななじ)||17:00 (5:00 p.m.)|
|18||十八時||じゅうはちじ||18:00 (6:00 p.m.)|
|19||十九時||じゅうくじ||19:00 (7:00 p.m.)|
|20||二十時||にじゅうじ||20:00 (8:00 p.m.)|
|21||二十一時||にじゅういちじ||21:00 (9:00 p.m.)|
|22||二十二時||にじゅうにじ||22:00 (10:00 p.m.)|
|23||二十三時||にじゅうさんじ||23:00 (11:00 p.m.)|
|24||二十四時||にじゅうよじ||24:00 (12:00 a.m.)|
|0||零時||れいじ||0:00 (12:00 a.m./p.m.)|
|What time||何時||なんじ||What time|
Note numeral 0 is also used to talk about 12 a.m. and even 12 p.m., especially by Japanese broadcasting and newspapers. In this case, the midnight version is 午前零時, also written as 午前0時, AM 0:00, or 0:00 AM, and the noon version is 午後零時, also written as 午後0時, PM 0:00, or 0:00 PM. Also keep in mind that these readings are for specifying the time of day, not for counting hours or saying how much time something takes. To count or talk about the number of hours, you'll have to use 〜時間 instead.
分 for "Minute"
To talk about the "minute" reading on a clock, you use 〜 分. Take a look at the chart below to make sure you know how to read each number:
|3||三分||さんぷん / (さんふん)|
|4||四分||よんぷん / (よんふん)|
|7||七分||ななふん / (しちふん)|
|8||八分||はっぷん / (はちふん)|
|10||十分||じゅっぷん / (じっぷん)|
|What minute||何分||なんぷん / (なんふん)|
Notice how the ふ of 分 often changes to a ぷ? This is called rendaku, also known as "sequential voicing" in English. If you aren't familiar with it, here is our article about rendaku!
Note that to indicate 30 minutes past the hour, you can also use the word 半. So 9:30 can be written either as 九時三十分 or 九時半, along with the numeral versions.
秒 for "Second"
To talk about the "second" reading on a clock, you use 〜 秒. Take a look at the chart below to make sure you know how to read each number:
Thankfully, the readings for 〜秒 are very straightforward. You can just use the kango numbers from 1 to 60 and stick 秒 after them.
Beyond The Basics
Commonly Paired Suffixes
We've learned how to talk about the date and time in pretty precise terms. Now you should have no trouble using Japanese to schedule your next dentist appointment for exactly 4:47 p.m. on a Wednesday two months from now. But not all time-related discussions are so clear-cut. What if you want to give a rough estimate instead of an exact time? Read on to find out!
〜くらい and 〜頃 for "Around 〜"
To give an approximation of the date and time, the suffixes くらい and 頃 are commonly used. Although they both can be used in casual and formal settings, くらい is more casual and 頃 is a bit stiffer.
When speaking casually, more people would probably go with くらい:
- I'll be there around seven.
On the other hand, when talking to your client in a more formal manner, 頃 may come into play more often, as it can add some rigidity to your speech.
- I'll be there around seven.
Note both くらい and 頃 typically get rendaku-ed and become ぐらい or 頃.
〜くらい and 〜頃 with and without Particle に
One heads up is that くらい can be used to indicate not only approximate points in time but also approximate durations, whereas 頃 only denotes approximate points in time. In other words, when the expression can indicate both the point in time and duration, you must have the pinpointer particle に with くらい to show you're talking about the point in time.
Let's imagine, for example, that you text your friend the following message at roughly 2 p.m. When discussing the time implied (because it's within an hour from now or because it was mentioned earlier), it's common to only specify the minute portion of the time in Japanese. In this case, you can still understand it's about a point in time if the particle に is there:
- I'll get on the bus at around 2:45 p.m.
But if the に is taken out, the meaning of the sentence will indicate the duration instead:
- I'll be on the bus for around 45 minutes.
On the other hand, 頃's meaning remains the same with or without に because it never denotes an approximate duration of time.
- I'll get on the bus at around 2:45 p.m.
Try to master this くらい/ 頃 distinction so your friends aren’t confused about your expected arrival time!
〜前 for "Shortly Before…"
To talk about a point in time before a certain time, you can use the word 前 (front/before).
When 前 is attached to a duration of time, it indicates "…ago" or "…earlier," as in:
- I came to the bus stop two hours [ago・earlier].
But 前 can also mean "shortly before" when it's directly attached to a given point in time, like in the following:
- I came to the bus stop shortly before two o'clock.
In this case, 前 indicates an unspecified period just before the given time.
〜過ぎ for "Shortly After…"
- The bus came shortly after two o'clock.
Note that it's also common to write the kanji in kana, as in 二時すぎ.
後 still has its uses though! We can attach it to a duration of time, indicating "…later," as in:
- The bus came two hours later.
Knowing how to tell time exactly is an important basic skill in language. But most discussions about time aren’t super exact, so these expressions will definitely come in handy too!