Japanese

How to Say Age in Japanese – It Depends on This…

Normally when you want to learn a new word, you check out a dictionary first. But sometimes you still can’t learn what you’re looking for in it, or you’re just not sure how to search for it, and then you have to turn to the internet.

Well today I’m going to explain how to say age in Japanese, along with some useful phrases that you’ll probably want to remember.

The interesting thing about the Japanese language is that you will typically use different words for “age” depending on if you’re talking about a person’s age, an object’s age, the age of the times (or the era, so to speak) and so on.

So let’s go ahead and hop right into it, and begin this lesson!

The Normal Word for “Age” in Japanese

Alright, so the typical answer that you find when you look up the Japanese word for age in a dictionary is 年「とし」which is technically correct, but perhaps a bit misleading since it’s not always used this same way as the English word.

The two most common situations that I see it in when referring to age are the following:

  1. 年上「としうえ」older
  2. 年下「としした」younger

And these are usually used when comparing two people’s ages to one another.

The word 年 by itself is actually a lot closer to the word “year” in English, in both its meaning and its usage. So instead of going over this word too much, what I’d like to do now is go over how you ask someone what their age is, and then we’ll move on to the common words for a person’s age, an object’s age, and so on.

In Japanese there are two primary ways to ask a person their age. They are:

  • おいくつですか?
  • 何歳「なんさい」ですか?

Both of these sentences will work, with the first one being slightly more formal than the second one.

Now one of the things you should know is that the word 歳「さい」is actually the Japanese counter for years that a person has amassed in their lifetime. But what you may have noticed is how complicated that kanji is. So many times nowadays people just use the counter 才 instead, since it has the exact same meaning.

君は25才なの?
You are 25?

違うよ!19歳だよ!
No, I’m 19 years old!

Alright, so let’s move on to the actual ways we can talk about age in Japanese.

How to Talk About a Person’s Age

The word that you use to talk about a person or animal’s age is 年齢「ねんれい」. The main thing to keep in mind here is that this word is used for just “age” in general, and not a specific age (like 25 years of age, for example) which would use the strategy mentioned above.

彼女のお父さんは僕の名前とか年齢などを尋ねた。
My girlfriend’s dad asked me my name, age (and such).

母は年齢より若く見える。
My mother looks young for her age.

-Tatoeba

The kanji 齢「よわい」on its own means “(one’s) age” in English, but I haven’t ever really encountered it alone, so I’m not all that familiar with it. Have you seen it used in a manga or light novel before? If so, let me know by posting a comment with the sentence you read it in. I’d be interested in reading it.

Anyway, let’s move on to talk about objects now.

How to Talk About an Object’s Age

According to my Random House Japanese-English dictionary, the word 年数「ねんすう」means “number of years” and is used for “inanimate objects” in Japanese, but in my experience it’s much more often used as a part of compound words in order to bring that connotation of “age” to them.

I don’t want to get super esoteric on this one, so let me just give you some examples of what I mean by the above explanation:

  • 年数証明書「ねんすうしょうめいしょ」= a certificate of age
  • 使用年数「しようねんすう」age of service
  • 償却年数「しょうきゃくねんすう」years of depreciation
  • 勤続年数「きんぞくねんすう」length of service

Sometimes you can get a better understanding of a Japanese word by looking up its definition in a Japanese-Japanese dictionary instead of one that translated it into English.

Here is the dic.yahoo.co.jp entry for 年数:

年のかず。また、多くの年。
Number of years. Also, many years.

Hopefully this little explanation on 年数 has helped you understand it a little bit better than before. But it not, first of all my bad everyone, but also I would say don’t worry about it too much.

In order to get really good at Japanese you are going to have to learn and know 10,000 of Japanese words, and it’s totally okay to have a very simple understanding of them for the first few years, before you get really in depth on them.

In fact, I think it’s actually a smarter strategy to only gain a surface level understanding of new words at first, since you are going to need to encounter them in numerous situations and contexts before you truly get a grasp on what the word means and how its actually used by natives in the real world.

I mean, in English, how many different understanding for the word “dog” do you have? Here’s my list currently:

  • This is my dog (man’s best friend).
  • Oh man, you dog! (you rascal).
  • His date was a total dog (very ugly woman).
  • I’m just doggin you, bro! (joking with you).

In other words, a word can mean a lot of different things depending on the context, so don’t fret over mastering it the first couple of times you see it.

Anyway, let’ move on since I’ve ranted enough!

How to Talk About an Era’s Age

In English, we will often talk about a time in our history as an “age” such as “the Bronze Age” or “The Age of Man” and such.

But in Japanese, they have a specific word for this usage of “age” and it is the word 時代「じだい」 a “temporal noun” for period; epoch; era; age etc.

You may have already seen the word for “The Edo Period (Age)” in Japanese which is 江戸時代. Here are some other common ones that you should at least become familiar with now:

  • 石器時代「せっきじだい」The Stone Age
  • 明治時代「めいじじだい」The Meiji Period
  • 幼年時代「ようねんじだい」childhood
  • 青銅器時代「せいどうきじだい」The Bronze Age

And there are many more, but the main point that I want to make here is that when you run into 時代, it’s referring to a historical peoriod of time.

But it can also refer to a time period in one’s own life, such as the time spent during high school:

この本を読んだことがある? ええ、高校時代にある。
Have you read this book? Yes, in high school.

Did you read a lot of books during high school? I know I sure did, but it was mostly sci-fi and fantasy type stuff.

Do Those Explanations Help?

Hopefully those explanations on the specific words, along with the example sentences, have helped you to understand how to say “age” in Japanese. But if not, let me know by leaving a comment down below and I’ll do my best to clarify any points that are (perhaps) still a little muddy.

Thanks!

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