Asking someone, “How old are you?” seems simple enough, but it is a little more complicated in Japanese. There are different ways to ask someone their age, depending on the situation. Knowing how to answer this question properly is also important.
So, let’s jump right into the different ways to ask, “How old are you?” in Japanese.
1. How Old Are You?: おいくつですか？ (Oikutsu Desu Ka)
おいくつですか (Oikutsu desu ka) is a polite way of asking someone’s age.
お (o) is an honorific prefix generally placed before nouns. It adds politeness and shows respect to the person you’re addressing.
1. マイク: おいくつですか？
Maiku: (Oikutsu desu ka?)
Mike: How old are you?
Eri: (Yonjussai desu.)
Eri: I’m forty years old.
A More Casual Way to Ask “How Old Are You?”
When you ask the age of a child, you can drop the honorific お (o) and ask,” いくつ (ikutsu)?” This expression is usually used when speaking to children (example #1 below).
You can also use this casual version when speaking to someone you know well, like a close friend or relative (example #2 below).
1. 道子: 僕*、今いくつ？
Michiko: (Boku, ima ikutsu?)
Michiko: How old are you, little boy?
Otoko no ko: (Boku wa go-sai da yo.)
A boy: I’m five years old.
*Note: 僕 (boku) is usually used by males to mean “I,” but in this sentence, it is used to mean “you” when addressing a little boy.
**Note: In this sentence, 僕 (boku) means “I.”
2. 道子: 久しぶり、朋子。息子さんは元気？
Michiko: (Hisashiburi Tomoko. Musuko san wa genki?)
Michiko: Long time no see, Tomoko. How’s your son doing?
Tomoko: (Genki yo.)
Tomoko: He is good.
Michiko: (Musuko san wa ima ikutsu?)
Michiko: How old is your son now?
Tomoko: (Ima roku-sai yo.)
Tomoko: He is 6 years old.
Michiko: (Toki ga tatsu no wa hayai wa ne.)
Michiko: Time flies.
2. 何歳 / 何才ですか？ (Nan Sai Desu Ka): How Old Are You?
何歳ですか (nan sai desu ka) is a basic and casual way to ask someone’s age. 何 (nani) means “what,” and 歳 (sai) expresses age, so together, 何歳 (nansai) means “how old?”
The pronunciation of 何 (nani) changes to “nan“ when combined with other words like “歳 (sai)” because it is easier to pronounce.
歳 (sai) can also be written with a different kanji, 才(sai). 才 is the simplified kanji of 歳.
何歳(才)ですか (nansai desu ka) is less polite than おいくつですか (oikutsu desu ka), so you should not use this expression with someone older than you or who has a higher social status than you or even with strangers.
When you talk with your friends or family, you can drop the “ですか (desu ka)” and ask “何歳？ (nansai?) to make it more casual.
However, this expression is used to ask about the age of a third person (example #2 below).
1. A conversation between friends
Tomoko: (Michiko wa ima nansai?)
Tomoko: How old are you, Michiko?
Michiko: (Watashi wa ima hassai dayo. Tomoko wa?)
Michiko: I’m 8 years old. How about you, Tomoko?
Tomoko: (Watashi wa jussai yo.)
Tomoko: I’m ten years old.
2. Asking the age of a third person
Satoshi: (Takaka san wa ima nansai ka shitte imasu ka?)
Satoshi: Do you know how old Mr. Tanaka is?
Takako: (Kare wa sanjū-go sai desu yo.)
Takako: He is thirty-five years old.
3. Talking to a child
Michiko: (Takashi kun wa ima nansai?)
Michiko: How old are you now, Takashi?
Takashi: (Ima jūgo sai desu.)
Takashi: I’m 15 years old now.
How to Say How Old You Are in Japanese
Do you know how to count in Japanese? Let’s review numbers from one to ten in Japanese.
- 一 (ichi):1
- 二 (ni): 2
- 三 (san): 3
- 四 (yon/shi):4
- 五 (go): 5
- 六 (roku): 6
- 七 (nana/shichi):7
- 八 (hachi):8
- 九 (ku/kyū):9
- 十 (jū):10
These basic numbers are easy to remember on their own, but when you combine them with kanji for age (歳 or才), the pronunciation will change for specific numbers:
- 1 year old: 一歳/才 (issai) Wrong: ichi-sai
- 2 years old: 二歳/才: (ni-sai)
- 3 years old: 三歳/才: (san-sai)
- 4 years old: 四歳/才: (yon-sai) Wrong: shi-sai
- 5 years old: 五歳/才: (go-sai)
- 6 years old: 六歳/才: (roku-sai)
- 7 years old: 七歳/才: (nana-sai) Wrong: shichi-sai
- 8 years old: 八歳/才: (hassai) Wrong: hachi-sai
- 9 years old: 九歳/才: (kyū-sai) Wrong: ku-sai
- 10 years old: 十歳/才: (jussai) Wrong: jū-sai
Even though there are two words for the numbers 4, 7, and 9, when talking about someone’s age, you will only use よん (yon) for 4 years old, なな (nana) for 7 years old, and きゅう (kyū) for someone 9 years old.
You may have also noticed that numbers 1, 8, and 10 change when combined with 歳 (sai) counter for age. The last character in each of these numbers is removed and replaced with a small っ(tsu). This small っ (tsu) is called 促音 (sokuon) in Japanese, which means “geminate consonant” in English.
This means the letter that follows the small っ(tsu) will be doubled. Words will differ in meaning and pronunciation when っ is used.
- した (shita): did, played
- しった (shitta): knew
- はと (hato): pigeon
- はっと (hatto): suddenly (coming to mind, being surprised, etc.)
This pattern of changing the pronunciation of numbers (4, 7, 9 and 1, 8, 10) applies to two-digit numbers as well:
- 21 years old: 二十一歳: (nijyū issai) Wrong: nijū ichi-sai
- 34 years old: 三十四歳: (sanjyū yon-sai) Wrong: sanjyū shi sai
- 47 years old: 四十七歳: (yonjū nana-sai) Wrong: yonjū shichi-sai
- 58 years old: 五十八歳: (gojyū hassai) Wrong: gojyū hachi-sai
- 69 years old: 六十九歳: (rokujū kyū-sai) Wrong: rokujū ku-sai
Exception: There is a special way to say 20 years old in Japanese. It is NOT にじゅっさい (nijussai) as you would expect if you follow the pronunciation rules. 二十歳 is pronounced as “hatachi.”
二十歳 (hatachi): 20 years old
3. 失礼ですが、ご年齢は？ (Shitsurei Desu Ga Gonenrei Wa?): I’m Sorry, But May I Ask Your Age?
In general, asking for someone’s age in Japan is not very polite. But if you have to ask it or if the situation allows, you can say:
(Shitsurei desu ga, gonenrei wa?)
Pardon me, but may I ask you your age?
This is a polite way to ask someone’s age. ご (go) is a honorific prefix. 年齢 (nenrei) means “age.” いくつ (ikutsu) means “how old.”
You may have noticed this is an incomplete sentence (nothing comes after the “wa“). However, this is a very natural and polite way to ask someone’s age, especially when asking a stranger or an older person their age.
If you were to say the whole question, it would be:
(Shitsurei desu ga gonenrei wa oikutsu desu ka?)
Pardon me, but may I ask you your age?
The shortened version explained above is natural because any Japanese speaker will understand that you want to know their age just by hearing the word “ご年齢 (gonenrei).” So even though the shortened version (失礼ですが、ご年齢は？) is technically an incomplete sentence, it is natural to use it in conversation.
Isha: (Shitsurei desu ga gonenrei wa?)
Doctor: I’m sorry, but may I ask your age?
Michiko: (Hachi jussai desu.)
Michiko: I’m 80 years old.
Giving General Answers (Plural Noun Numbers): Twenties/Thirties/Etc.
Some of you might feel uncomfortable telling people your exact age. In this case, you could tell someone you are in your twenties, thirties, etc.
You can simply add 代 (dai), the counter for a decade of years (age), to a number like this:
- 10’s (10 to 19 years old): 十代 (jū-dai)
- 20’s: 二十代 (nijū-dai)
- 30’s: 三十代 (sanjū-dai)
- 40’s: 四十代 (yonjū-dai)
- 50’s: 五十代 (gojū-dai)
- 60’s: 六十代 (rokujū-dai)
- 70’s: 七十代 (nanajū-dai)
- 80’s: 八十代 (hachijū-dai)
- 90’s: 九十代 (kyūjū-dai)
- 100’s: 百代 (hyaku-dai)
You can also use this expression when talking about different generations.
(Hachijū-dai no hito wa dainiji sekai taisen o keiken shiteiru.)
People in their 80s have experienced World War.
(Nanajū-dai ni naru to tsukareyasuku naru.)
We get tired easily in our 70s.
(Jū-dai wa genki ippai da.)
Kids in their teens (ages 10-19) are full of energy.
Slang Words For Age
Have you ever seen Japanese fashion magazines? If you have, you might have seen expressions like “アラサー(arasā)” or “アラフォー (arafō).”
- アラサー(arasā) is a shortened form of the phrase “around thirty.”
- アラフォー (arafō) is the shortened version of “around forty.”
There is also an expression “アラフィフ (arafifu)” to mean “around fifty.” It may sound strange, but we often see these expressions in fashion magazines.
Women around 30.