Blog post

How to read room numbers in Japanese

Miki - Teacher

The Japanese language has many types of counters. You might even know the basic counter:

0(zero/rei), 1(ichi), 2(ni), 3(san), 4(yon/shi), 5(go), 6(roku), 7(nana/shichi), 8(hachi), 9(kyuu), 10(jyuu)...

And perhaps even a few of the common counters for things, paper, bottles:
ひとつ(hitotsu), ふたつ(hutatsu), みっつ(mittsu)...
1まい(ichi mai), 2まい(ni mai), 3まい(san mai)...
1ぽん(ippon), 2ほん(ni hon), 3ぼん(san bon)...

However, with Japanese, there are about 500 different types of counters! That is a lot of counters, I won’t lie - but…..

I’m Japanese - and do I know every single counter? Noooo!

Even native Japanese speakers don’t use all 500 different types of counters. In everyday life, we may only use a small subset of the many counter types available.

Today, I would like to share a special counter for room numbers! Yep, a counter dedicated to room numbers. Apartment numbers, hotel numbers, and so forth. You might say or hear a room number when you stay in a hotel in Japan or if you are living in Japan. So pay attention, it’s a little different.

Imagine you are at a hotel, how would you say this room number?

Would it be one of the following?

ごひゃくさん?(go hyaku san)?
ご ぜろ さん?(go zero san)?
ご れい さん?(go rei san)?

If you did pick one of the above three counters, a native Japanese speaker would understand - but there is another counter! A counter just for room numbers:

“ご まる さん” (go maru san).

Using “まる” is most commonly used in three-digit room numbers where “0” is in the middle such as:

201 (ni maru ichi)
602 (roku maru ni)
804 (hachi maru yon)

Whereas, when it is a four (or more) digit room number, or where the “0” is not in the middle, it is spoken as:

1102(ichi ichi zero ni)
510(go ichi zero)

A quick note, ご ぜろ さん(go zero san) would also be fine, but many Japanese native speakers use “まる” instead of “ぜろ” in this situation.

I think this is a pretty unique but fun counter as it’s quite common. It’s also a really great way to sound more natural as it’s not commonly taught in textbooks.

Next time you are visiting an apartment or staying at a hotel (even when not in Japan), practice using まる as you look at each room number.