How to Tell Time in Japanese

In this article, you will learn how to tell time in Japanese. This is an essential skill in Japan, where punctuality is very important, and transportation always runs on time. Before we begin, you may wish to review the numbers from 1 to 59.

Let’s start with the basic vocabulary of telling time.

Time-Related Vocabulary

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
hour, timeji
minuteふんfun
secondびょうbyou
halfはんhan
time, counter for number of hours時間 じかんjikan
AM午前 ごぜんgozen
PM午後 ごごgogo
morningあさasa
noon, afternoonひるhiru
evening夕方 ゆうがたyuugata
nightよるyoru

Telling time in Japanese involves combining these words with numbers. Let’s see how this is done.

The Hours

A close up or a clock that has one of its hands (the only visible one) pointing to 12.

Hours are made up of the numbers 1 to 12, followed by 時 (ji, meaning hour).

A light blue diagram showing the formula for saying the time in Japanese (number + ji = ~ji).

Example:

1 + 時 (ji) = 1時 (ichi-ji):  1 o’clock

If you wanted to write out the time using kanji, it would look like this: 一時(ichi-ji). Both the kanji version (see the table below) or the numerical version (1時, 2時, 3時, etc.) are correct. They are both read the same way.

However, it is very common for numbers to be used instead of kanji to express time.

12 Hour Clock System

The hours using the 12-hour clock system are shown in the table below. (The 24-hour clock system is also commonly used in Japan, but we will get to that later.)

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
one o’clock一時 いちじichi-ji
two o’clock二時 にじni-ji
three o’clock三時 さんじsan-ji
four o’clock四時 よじyo-ji
five o’clock五時 ごじgo-ji
six o’clock六時 ろくじroku-ji
seven o’clock七時 しちじshichi-ji
eight o’clock八時はちじhachi-ji
nine o’clock九時 くじku-ji
ten o’clock十字 じゅうじjuu-ji
eleven o’clock十一時 じゅういちじjuuichi-ji
twelve o’clock十二時 じゅうにじjuuni-ji

Be Careful!

Notice the numbers 4, 7, and 9.  4 can be read as either “shi” or “yon,” but when talking about time, it is always read as “yo.” 

7 o’clock will also always be shichi-ji, and never nana-ji.  9 o’clock is ku-ji, and NOT kyuu-ji

The Minutes

A smart tablet with the time "AM 08:15" displayed on the screen.

Minutes are added in a similar way. The number of minutes is followed by the kanji 分 (fun – meaning minute).

A diagram of a formula showing how to say the time in Japanese (~時+number of minutes +分=Time~時~分).

Example:

一時 (ichi-ji): 1 o’clock + 二十五(nijuu-go): 25 + 分 (fun) minute(s) = 一時二十五分 (ichi-ji nijuu-go fun): 1:25.

How to Read the Minutes in Japanese

Some numbers modify the pronunciation of the word 分 (fun). Let’s take a look at these first.

For counters beginning with “h” or “f” (hon, fun, etc.), the numbers 1, 3, 6, 8, and 10 modify the pronunciation of the counter to make the word easier to say. 

Today we will learn how this applies to 分 (fun), the counter for minutes, but it also applies to other counters such as 本 (hon) for stick-like objects and 匹 (hiki) for animals.

For minutes, the counter 分 is modified from ふん (fun) to ぷん (pun) after the numbers 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, and 10. 

The number “4” is an exception.  Using “pun” after the number 4 is standard, but “fun” is also acceptable and widely used in conversation, so it’s best to be aware of both.

Minutes: Numbers From 1 to 10

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
one minute一分いっぷんippun
two minutes二分にふんnifun
three minutes三分さんぷんsanpun
four minutes四分よんぷん / よんふんyonpun
five minutes五分ごふんgofun
six minutes六分ろっぷんroppun
seven minutes七分ななふんnanafun
eight minutes八分はっぷんhappun
nine minutes九分きゅうふんkyuufun
ten minutes十分じゅっぷんjuppun

The same endings apply for numbers larger than 10. Repetition helps you remember, so you’ll want to practice these a lot.

Minutes: Numbers Greater Than 10

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
eleven minutes十一分じゅういっぷんjuu-ippun
thirteen minutes十三分じゅうさんぷんjuu-sanpun
fourteen minutes十四分じゅうよんぷんjuu-yonpun
sixteen minutes十六分じゅうろっぷん juu-roppun
eighteen minutes十八分じゅうはっぷん juu-happun
twenty minutes二十分にじゅっぷんni-juppun
thirty minutes*三十分さんじゅっぷんsan-juppun
forty minutes四十分よんじゅっぷん yon-juppun
fifty minutes五十分ごじゅっぷん go-juppun

*Note: It’s more common to use 半 (han) to express 30 minutes when telling time, which we’ll cover below. The reading, san-juppun (30 minutes) is mainly used when talking about the duration of something, e.g., 三十分間(san-juppun kan): A period of 30 minutes.

Examples Telling time Using 分 (Fun):

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
1:15 一時十五分いちじじゅうごふんichi-ji juu-go fun
2:40 二時四十分 にじよんじゅっぷんni-ji yon-juppun
3:02 三時二分 さんじにふんsan-ji ni fun
6:45 六時四十五分ろくじよんじゅうごふんroku-ji yonjuu-go fun
4:39 四時三十九分 よじさんじゅうきゅうふんyo-ji sanjuu-kyu fun

Using 半 (Han) Instead of 30 Minutes

As mentioned above, the word for half is 半 (han). It is used for half past the hour. Add it after the hour, as shown in the examples below.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
1:30 一時半 いちじはんichi-ji han
5:30五時半 ごじはんgo-ji han
8:30八時半 はちじはんhachi-ji han
12:30十二時半 じゅうにじはん juuni-ji han

Different Ways to Write the Time in Japanese

Just like the hours above, minutes can also be expressed with Arabic numerals (1,2,3…) instead of kanij. In fact, it is common in Japan to not use any kanji at all, and just use numbers (e.g. 10:15, 2:15, 4:10 etc.).

So there are 3 ways to write the time in Japanese. Let’s say you want to write 3:15. You could write it in the following ways:

  • 3:15
  • 3時15分
  • 三時十五分

If you ever go to Japan, you’ll find that the number version (3:15, 10:45, etc.) is the most common, while the all-kanji version is the least commonly used in most situations.

Seconds

A hand holding a yellow stopwatch with a man running on the road blurred in the background.

The word 秒 (byou) means second, and its reading is not modified by the number before it, making it much easier to use. It doesn’t come up in conversation very often, but it’s good to know for reference. Simply add it to the time after the minutes.

Example:

二時 (ni-ji): two o’clock + 三十五分 (sanjuu-go fun): 35 minutes +  九 (kyuu): 9 + 秒 (byou) second = 二時三十五九秒 – にじさんじゅうごふんきゅうびょう (ni-ji sanjuu-go fun kyuu byou): 2:35:09

Since 秒 (byou) is not modified by the number in front of it, counting seconds is pretty straightforward.

Counting Time in Seconds

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
one second一秒いちびょうichi byou
two seconds二秒にびょうni byou
three seconds三秒さんびょう san byou
four seconds四秒よんびょう yon byou
five seconds五秒ごびょうgo byou
six seconds六秒ろくびょうroku byou
seven seconds七秒ななびょうnana byou
eight seconds八秒はちびょう hachi byou
nine seconds九秒きゅうびょうkyuu byou
ten seconds十秒じゅうびょうjuu byou

The 24-Hour Clock System

A digital clock at a train station that is displaying the time, "13:21."

It is common in Japan to use the 24-hour clock for scheduling (13:00, 14:00, etc.), but the 12-hour clock is more commonly used in conversation. It is good to be familiar with both. 

Examples:

The next train departs at 18:10 (6:10 PM). – 次の列車は十八時十分に出発します。(Tsugi no ressha wa juuhachi-ji juppun ni shuppatsu shimasu.)

His plane arrives at 21:00. – 彼の飛行機は二十一時に到着します。 (Kare no hikouki wa nijuu-ichi-ji ni touchaku shimasu.)

AM & PM in Japanese

a.m. = 午前 (gozen)

p.m. = 午後 (gogo)

Although there are words for a.m. and p.m., it is more common to use words for the time of the day (e.g., morning, evening, etc.) in conversation. You can see these in examples #3 and 4 below.  

Examples:

  1. Work starts at 5 a.m. – 午前五時から仕事が始まります。(Gozen go-ji kara shigoto ga hajimarimasu.)
  2. The bus leaves at 6:00 p.m. – バスは午後六時に出発します。 (Basu wa gogo roku-ji ni shuppatsu shimasu.)
  3. It started raining at 8:00 in the morning (8:00 a.m.) – 朝八時に雨が降り出しました。 (Asa hachi-ji ni ame ga furidashimashita.)
  4. I go to the gym at 9:00 at night (9:00 p.m.). – 夜九時にジムに行きます。 (Yoru ku-ji ni jimu ni ikimasu.)

Counting A Number of Hours

A smart device tablet with the word "TIMER" and 12 hours being displayed on the screen.

The counter for the duration in hours is 時間 (jikan). Use this when you want to say how many hours something takes. Let’s look at how to use it.

Number of Hours

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
1 hour一時間いちじかんichi jikan
2 hours二時間にじかんni jikan
3 hours三時間さんじかんsan jikan
4 hours四時間よじかん yo jikan
5 hours五時間ごじかんgo jikan
6 hours六時間ろくじかんroku jikan
7 hours七時間しちじかん/
ななじかん
shichi jikan /
nana jikan
8 hours八時間はちじかんhachi jikan
9 hours九時間 くじかんku-jikan
10 hours十時間じゅうじかんjuu jikan

Example Sentences:

How many hours does it take? – 何時間かかりますか。 (Nan jikan kakarimasu ka?)

How many hours did you sleep? – 何時間寝ましたか。(Nan jikan nemashita ka?)

I slept for 7 hours. – 七時間寝ました。 (Shichi-jikan nemashita.)

The same can be done with minutes. Just add the counter 分 (fun) to the word 間 (kan) to describe how many minutes something takes.

  • 5 minutes – 五分間 (go fun kan)
  • 20 minutes – 二十分間 (ni-juppun kan)
  • 90 minutes – 九十分間 (kyuu-juppun kan)

Time-Related Expressions

Now that you know how to tell the time in Japanese let’s learn some time-related phrases.

  • What time is it? – 今何時ですか。(Ima nanji desu ka?)
  • It’s 8:30. 八時半です。(Hachi-ji han desu)
  • What time is (the party)? – (パーティー)は何時ですか。 (Paatii wa nanji desu ka?)
  • It’s from 6:00. – 六時からです。 (Roku-ji kara desu.)

Practice Telling Time

Can you answer these questions about your day? Use these to help you practice telling time.

  1. What time do you wake up? – 何時に起きますか。(Nanji ni okimasuka.)
  2. What time do you leave home? – 何時に家を出ますか。 (Nanji ni ie o demasu ka.)
  3. What time do you eat lunch? – 何時に昼ごはんを食べますか。(Nanji ni hirugohan o tabemasuka.) 
  4. What time do you return home? – 何時に帰りますか。 (Nanji ni kaerimasu ka.)
  5. What time do you go to bed? – 何時に寝ますか。 (Nanji ni nemasu ka.)
  6. How many hours do you sleep? – 何時間寝ますか。 (Nanjikan nemasuka.)

Now you know how to tell time in Japanese. This is an extremely useful skill for everyday life and conversation, and I’m sure it will come in handy for you. Practice it well, and you will never have to worry about being late!

As the saying goes, 時は金なり(toki wa kane nari), time is money, especially when traveling in Japan. Happy studying!

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