Senpai Saturday-What Is The Proper Way To Address Someone In Japanese?

Japanese suffixes…also known as Japanese honorifics. You know those lovely little terms you say after ones name. For example the nickname I was given, Aya-chan. The suffix “-chan” is a type of Japanese honorific.

Ayano-senpai is here to give you a lesson in all things prim and proper today! We will be diving into the realm of Japanese honorifics. Japanese honorifics are a proper way to address someone when you are speaking to them. These guys may seem confusing at first, but once you get the hang of them they are not difficult to learn.

So don’t be afraid my pandas! We can do it!

(P.S. I cannot speak fluent Japanese nor do I claim that I can. I know key words and phrases but that’s about it. I know it’s never too late to learn though! I am just here to bring you the information that I find and break it down so you guys can understand it in more latent terms) 😀

Lets start with the definition of honorific:

1. (in certain languages, as in Chinese or Japanese) a class of forms used to show respect, especially in direct address.
2. a title or term of respect.”

Now I am going to quote some information from so you guys can see the difference between formal and informal Japanese honorifics:

Japanese Honorific Prefixes

If you have some experience with Japanese, you may have noticed that lots of Japanese titles start with “o.” An “o” at the beginning of a Japanese title is usually an honorific prefix.

Removing the “o” makes the title more colloquial, and in some cases, rude.

For example, the word for mother, with honorifics, is oka-san. Without the prefix, it becomes ka-san, which is more like “mom” than “mother.”

Keep this in mind as you learn about Japanese honorific suffixes.

Formal Japanese Honorifics

1. – sama

The most formal honorific suffix is -sama, and it’s used for God (kami-sama) and royalty(ohime-sama).

You can also use -sama to flatter people or to be sarcastic. For instance, if you attach the suffix to the slang male term for “I” (ore) to create ore-sama, this basically means “my royal self.”

2. -san

The most common formal honorific is -san, and it translates (approximately) to Ms. and Mr..

It’s used among peers and in public settings, like offices or schools (unlike in the United States., coworkers and fellow students usually refer to each other formally). It’s also used for acquaintances.

*Note: When in doubt, use –san.

Informal Japanese Honorifics

1. –chan

This is an endearing female honorific. While it’s most commonly used for children, it’s also used fairly widely among family and friends.

All of the women in my family refer to each other as –chan, even my grandma (oba-chan).

You can also use –chan for males; one of my second cousins, Tatsumi, has always been Tat-chan instead of Tat-kun, probably because it just sounds better.

This suffix reminds me of the diminutive –chen in German; lieb means love, but liebchen, which technically means little love, actually means darling.

You can use -chan the same way, to add a sense of cuteness to names and titles.

2. -kun

This is the male equivalent of –chan; it’s used for kids and between peers and friends.

While all of the women in my family refer to each other as –chan, we don’t usually use the –kun suffix (or any suffix at all) for grown men in the family. It could be interpreted as a little too “cutesy.”

3. -bō

This suffix is more cutesy than –chan and –kun.

It’s OK to call an adult male –kun, but it’s definitely not OK to call him –bō, which is reserved for little boys. It’s a derivative of obbochama, which means something like “little lord.”

Formal Japanese Honorific Titles/Suffixes

A few Japanese honorifics can be used as stand-alone titles as well as suffixes. Think of the English prefix Doctor: you can call your doctor “Doctor”, or you can call her “Doctor Smith.”

Sensei: Used for teachers
Senpai: Used to refer to upperclassmen in school or a sports club.

Lastly we have family Japanese honorifics. These are used formally to address older family members. Most of the time they are addressed with these honorifics rather than their names. It is actually possible to address elders with these suffixes without seeming rude or improper. I will now add in a chart for you guys to see these type of titles:

Proper Honorifics

If you feel like you still need more of a lesson in Japanese honorifics you can always check out Reina-senpai’s video over on YouTube. She always makes learning things super fun! ❤

When in doubt make sure to use the suffix “-san.” It is the “go to” honorific, which can work in formal or informal Japanese. It is the best way to address someone especially if you do not know them. You can even use “-san” after a first name or last name. As Reina-senpai states in the video if you are unfamiliar with the person “-san” should ALWAYS go after the persons last name. Make sure to be respectful!

Who is your favorite “-san,” “-sama,” or “senpai?” Which Japanese honorific do you like the best? Let me know in the comments section below! Aya-chan loves hearing from you guys. 😉

Disclaimer: All imagery and photos come from searching for them on the internet. I have no claim or right to them.

6 thoughts on “Senpai Saturday-What Is The Proper Way To Address Someone In Japanese?

  1. Add to this that you should never attach an honorific to your own name, even when introducing yourself 😉 it’s super bizarre. It’s one of my favorite anime jokes that many English speaking audiences miss! When a character declares themselves Moku-chan or something, everyone is weirded out or uncomfortable. It tells people a little about what that person is like right off the bat!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I totally read your sentence “I learned it…” as “I learnt it” haha gotta love that proper English XD

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post!
    Senpai is probably the one I think of most just from watching so many Yandere Sim videos. I noticed it a lot the last time I watched Tokyo Ghoul as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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