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The Story behind our second collection: Kan’ji ⌚️

Kan’ji Numerals

After launching our very first watch collection with Eastern Arabic Numerals, we wanted to represent a new set of numerals. A set of numerals which looked distinctively different to the Eastern Arabic Numerals.

After much research, we decided to launch our second watch collection with Kan’ji numerals. Kanji (漢字) are the adopted logographic Chinese characters that are used in the Japanese writing system. They are used alongside the Japanese syllabic scripts hiragana and katakana. The Japanese term kanji for the Chinese characters literally means “Han characters”. It is written with the same characters as in Traditional Chinese to refer to the character writing system, hanzi (漢字).

These Sino-Japanese numbers are used in combination with counter words (助数詞), when counting things, actions and events. When counting people there are different forms of the native numbers from 1–10, and there are also different forms of these numbers for dates.

Japanese counting board with grids

The Chinese invented their own system of numerals in ancient times. When the Japanese adopted Chinese characters (漢字 — kanji) as their writing system circa 600 A.D., Chinese numerals were also adopted. Today, this number system is referred to as the “Sino-Japanese number system.” Although Indo-Arabic numerals are more commonly used in China and Japan these days, kanji numerals are still widely used throughout Japan. Consequently, it is very helpful (and even necessary) for one who intends to travel to Japan to learn these characters and the system in which numbers are formed by using them.

The Pluralist Kan’ji

During the Ming and Qing dynasties (after Indo-Arabic numerals were introduced into China), some Chinese mathematicians used Chinese numeral characters as positional system digits. After the Qing period, both the Chinese numeral characters and the Suzhou numerals were replaced by Indo-Arabic numerals in mathematical writings.

Traditional Chinese numeric characters are also used in Japan and Korea and were used in Vietnam before the 20th century. In vertical text (that is, read top to bottom), using characters for numbers is the norm, while in horizontal text, Indo-Arabic numerals are most common. Chinese numeric characters are also used in much the same formal or decorative fashion that Roman numerals are in Western cultures. Chinese numerals may appear together with Indo-Arabic numbers on the same sign or document.

This incredible history of the Kan’ji numerals inspired us to launch our second collection, ‘Kan’ji’.

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