Japanese month days (and 訓読み vs 音読み)

Happy New Year!

This week I will need to resume my Japanese class, so I reviewed our last lesson which is about how to say days of a month. Similar to the weekdays which seems to be random and hard to memorise, month days are special but there is a logic to follow.

To introduce the logic, let’s first touch the concept of 訓読み (kun’yomi) and 音読み (on’yomi) of Kanji. o(≧v≦)o In most cases each Kanji has 2 ways to pronounce:

訓読み: this is the pronunciation in original Japanese language (before Kanji time) and later used for the Kanji with the same meaning. For example: vehicle is called Kuruma by ancient Japanese before Kanji. So 車 is also spoken as Kuruma in 訓読み, as it has the same meaning of vehicle.

音読み: this is the pronunciation of the Kanji itself, which is originated in China. For example: 車 is spoken as Sha in 音読み, which is evolved from Che in Mandarin.

Apparently with or without Kanji ancient Japanese people need to count. Naturally there are 訓読み and 音読み for numbers. Below is the table explains this. I have marked the Mandarin eastern dialect in bracket which geographically is closer to Japan and hence sounds more similar to Japanese. From the table you can tell the month day uses 訓読み for 1-10; I assume it’s because 訓読み has much longer tradition and people are more used to it in daily language.

Number Kanji Mandarin Japanese (音読み) Japanese (訓読み)
1 yi ichi hito
2 er (ni) nichi futa
3 san san mi
4 si shi yo
5 wu (ng) go itsu
6 liu (ro) roku mu
7 qi (chi) shichi nana
8 ba (pa) hachi ya
9 jiu kyu kokono
10 shi (zie) ju to

Below is how the month day vs. 訓読み. Ka = day so in most cases first 10 days are just 訓読み+ka. The only special one is the 1st of every month, which is derived from ‘start of the month’.⁄(⁄ ⁄ ⁄ω⁄ ⁄ ⁄)⁄

Number Japanese (訓読み) Month Day
1 hito tsuitachi
2 futa futsuka
3 mi mi ka
4 yo yo ka
5 itsu itsuka
6 mu muika
7 nana nanoka
8 ya yoka
9 kokono kokonoka
10 to toka

Well unfortunately knowing this will not solve the problem of memorising them… (((o(*゚▽゚*)o))) But it will help link the dots and make sense of it. Learning a language is not only about picking up the skills, but also to discover the culture and stories behind it.

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