And kanji with manga
Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Japanese Tally Mark - 正 for Counting

If you watch too much anime, you're bound to come across this kanji eventually: 正. At first glance there's nothing special about it. It's used in words like tadashii 正しい, "correct," "right," "just," as in, "justice," seigi 正義. But then you come across a bunch of 正 side by side like this 正正正正正 and you're left wondering what the hell is going on.

正 Japanese tally marks used in the anime Hyouka 氷菓

Is this like when you have a stalker psychopath and they start writing the same name on the walls over and over and over again but this time they're stalking a kanji or something? Maybe. But it's more likely it's being used as the Japanese tally mark.

How to Count

If you don't know what a tally mark is, it's a mark, symbol, used to keep a tally, counting a number of something, specially scores and stuff. (like how many points or goals a team has, etc.)

There are a bunch of tally marks across the world. One used in the west is drawing four sticks vertically then crossing them diagonally to count five. Another one is drawing a square with four sides and then a diagonal to count five. Anyway, human beings love to count from five to five, so it's no wonder the Japanese tally mark has five strokes, too.

Stroke Order

Here's how you write the tally mark:

How to write 正, tally mark stroke order.

Vertical or Horizontal?

When counting, after five comes six, so you gotta start a new 正 character. The question is, in Japanese, do you put them side by side horizontally or vertically?

Disregarding the fact that Japanese can be written top-to-bottom, left-to-right, and even right-to-left, it's a tally mark, for kamisama's sake! You could write them diagonally if you wanted. The only important thing is finishing one 正 before moving on to the next one.

Saying "Tally Mark" in Japanese

To refer to the tally mark itself you could say:
  • sei no ji 正の字
    The 'sei' character.
    (because sei is one of the readings of the kanji)
  • sei no kanji 正の漢字
    The 'sei' Chinese character.
  • sei no moji 正の文字
    The 'sei' letter.

To refer to the method of counting with a tally mark:
  • kakusenhou 画線法
    "Stroke lines method."
    (technical term literally nobody uses.)
  • sei no moji de kazoeru 正の文字で数える
    To count with the 正 letter.
    (descriptive phrase even a baka would understand.)


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  1. This is like the only site where I can get answers to all these things I encounter in Japanese. Thanks to this article, I'm a little less confused now. Thanks :)

  2. Are you sure the kanji stroke order is correct? Based on stroke order, its like 5 before 4.

    1. Wow, you're right. Which is weird, because I thought I had double checked this. Thanks for noticing, I've fixed the image now.