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The Kanji 一, one

This is 5 Minute Kanji, and today we are going to go over quite possibly the easiest kanji you are going to ever learn, the kanji for one.


On ONE of my Japanese adventures, I met ONE old man. HE TOld me of a ninja named ITCHY, who fought with HIs TOTSU. ITSU ONE amazing story of the power of easy to carry baggage.


ichi       itsu


hito      hito.tsu

If you are not familiar with onyomi and kunyomi, the onyomi is usually used in kanji compounds called jukugo.  For example, with the kanji for times, which is read どう (dou), you would read the compound as いちど (ichido). While the kunyomi, generally speaking, is used when the kanji is by itself or if the word has okurigana, which is the extra hiragana after the kanji.  For example, 一つ, the generic counter for 1.

Those are general rules of course, and like any language, Japanese has its own set of exceptions and irregularities to keep in mind. In the case of numbers, the Chinese pronunciation is more often used.

So if you want to count up in Japanese, you would say いち. And the kanji would technically be written by itself. However, in practice, the kanji for one is not often used for such things as pricing, room numbers, house numbers etc… Instead, the Arabic numbers we know and love so well are used.  ひとつ meanwhile is used as a generic counter for objects that don’t have a specific counter or that you just plain forgot which counter to use.

Mnemonic Factory

At the beginning of the video, I went through the mnemonic I made for this kanji, but sometimes other people’s mnemonics don’t fit, and also the very process of coming up with a mnemonic can help you remember a kanji. So, I’ll go over some hints you can use to make your own.

There are two parts to a kanji mnemonic. How the kanji looks and how the kanji is read.

First for how it looks, 一 is quite easy right. You can think of it as one finger, one sword, etc…

The reading can get a little trickier though. For ichi, you can use itchy as in scratchy, or the word easy sounds similar. ITSU can really only be It’s. So, you can make a mnemonic like “IT’SU EASY to be number ONE!”  For the kunyomi, HITO and HITOTSU, you can use the combination HE TOld or the katakana pronunciation of hit, HITO. For HITOTSU, how about HI TOld TSU (you)? You can also use TOTES as in totally awesome. So how about “HI TOld TSU to HITO him” or “HI TOTES rocks brah!”

Example Words

Let’s look at some examples where the kanji ICHI is used.


For Onyumi, of course we have いち for one. The kanji is rarely written for counting, but can be used for formal documents, like awards or legal documents when numbering or counting things like years.  It will be written in jukugo, the kanji compounds I mentioned before.

You can think of ITSU as い and ちいさい つ, so it’s kind of a いっ sound. A common word that uses it is 一緒いっしょに or together.


For Kunyomi, a common word is 一人ひとり, one person or alone. Note that the kanji for person has an irregular pronunciation in this kanji compound. It’s usually read as じん or にん.  This compound 一人 and 二人 are the only two common words that use this reading.

There is also the generic counter ひとつ, which is a generic counter. It’s best to use the specific counter you need for a particular item like ほん for long cylindrical objects, but if you run into trouble, you can always fallback on ひとつ.  So, it’s a very important word to keep in your back pocket.


There is one irregular word that you should be aware of too and that is ついたち or the first day of the month. This is a unique reading limited to basically this one word and seems like something they might test you over on the JLPT.

Story Review

Can you remember the story from the beginning? Let’s give it a try. Yell out the words that are missing.

On ___ of my Japanese adventures, I met ___ old man. __ __ld me of a ninja named _____, who fought with __s _____. ____ ___ amazing story of the power of ____ to carry baggage.

Did you get it? How about one more try.

On ___ of my Japanese adventures, I met ___ old man. __ __ld me of a ninja named _____, who fought with __s _____. ____ ___ amazing story of the power of ____ to carry baggage.

Word Review

Can you read these?  Click on the down arrow to reveal their readings.


All right that’s it for today. Be sure to download the kanji practice sheet, which will walk you through how to remember this kanji’s reading and help you use it well.

If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below. If you’d like to learn more kanji, hit the subscribe button.


一 kanji worksheet (PDF/76kb)