こんにちにゃあ、皆様!! This is Kiki+Koko, your guides to Japanese language and culture, joined by our favourite Heisei era computer friend, QUIZBO™くん！
Welcome to the B-side of our first honorific mixtape. ＳＩＤＥ Ａ acquainted you with Japanese names, how to use honorifics, when to use honorifics, and even when not to use honorifics. We’ve turned over the tape and pressed ‘PLAY’ on ＳＩＤＥ Ｂ.
In store for you are some basic honorifics that will assist you in addressing people in Japanese with the proper amount of respect or maybe playfulness. You always want to be polite by default, especially when first meeting someone.
But, in order to properly learn these honorifics, we’ll need the help of our computer friend, QUIZBO™くん！(The ™ is silent) This is a portable version, QUIZBO™ Mini, who lives here on the site. He’ll be here to help sound out these honorifics for you. You can click the sound ‘bytes’ as many times as you’d like, QUIZBO™ won’t mind.
Ready? Let’s NihonGO!!
Ex. ダニエルさん, Daniel-san
Ex. 田中さん, Tanaka-san
If you’ve watched ベスト・キッド, besuto kiddo,or as people outside of Japan would know it as: The Karate Kid, then you’re probably already familiar with Daniel-san.
~San is arguably the most used honorific out of any of them. It gives a sense of basic respect to the listener and best of all, it’s gender neutral. The English equivalent is close to Mister or Missus, but it doesn’t matter the age or marital status of the addressee. Online and in person, it’s the default honorific, but there are many times it would be better to use another honorific. So, if you’re not sure what they would like to be called, just ask them! No shame in asking.
Ex.神様, kami-sama, God, or deity
Ex.お姫様, ohime–sama, princess
Ex.ボウイ様, Bouie–sama, Mr. Bowie
Ex.お客様, okyaku–sama, customer
Sometimes, ~San just doesn’t cut it, which is apparently a lot of the time according to cultural phrases. You need a higher form of respect. With customers, honoured guests, deities, or even those of whom you are a huge fan, you can use 様 or さま、sama. If anything, this might be someone you simply really admire. You might write to a musical artist and refer to them with ~様, sama.
Again, this is gender neutral, so no need to worry. To get the feeling for this honorific, you might want to think in terms of Honorable Mister/Missus So-and-So. While you may or may not ever run into a time when you’ll be able to use this next one, we wanted to include the baby-talk version of さま、sama, which is ちゃま, chama. This is a semi-diminutive slang form that you probably won’t use that combines the honorific with a diminutive, endearing suffix ちゃん, chan. It implies both love and respect, so you might use this with a grandparent, parent, or an older close family friend like お母ちゃま, okaa-chama or 山田ちゃま, Yamada-chama.
~Chan is an often-heard term of endearment for close friends or informally about anyone you’re fond of conversationally. That is to say, it’s meant to be a feminine suffix, but sometimes, close friends might use this describing people or celebrities that they are fond of. You’ll often hear people use this for female children, pets/animals, and objects when they’re trying to personify or make an object cute. This also happens with さん, san, but this is in a diminutive sense. But, you’ll also hear people of all ages using this to show affection to women. That being said, make sure to only use this with someone you’re close to if you’re working with a woman. It would be rude not to give them the same respect of さん, san, or 様, sama in the workplace or out-and-about just to express affection if you aren’t close. It’s always best to default to being very respectful when and where you can, then let the addressee let you know if it’s alright to call them informally.
たん, Tan, is the baby-talk version of ちゃん, chan. There’s really not much else to say about this except it has similar rules to ちゃん, chan, but it’s a level further. If it’s someone you are very close to an would call by a nickname, たん, tan, is a fun suitable suffix. Sometimes very close friends will shorten names as a nickname with たん, tan, like 嬉ったん, kittan. This also applies to pet names for characters and celebrities conversationally.
This is basically the masculine version of ちゃん, chan. It’s used to address young and younger boys, but it’s also a term of endearment when someone is close as well. There is an exception in the workplace where superiors may call women by ~くん, ~kun. When written, there is a kanji form and a hiragana form, but you’ll see both used. Alone, the kanji is 君, kimi, meaning you in informal language. 君, kun, when written, to us at least, feels more formal despite being informal. くん, kun, using hiragana feels softer and more endearing.
Ex. ジョン坊, Jon–bou
This is basically also another version of ちゃん, chan, but you really only ever hear this for boys exclusively due to the meaning of it being pretty close to just saying: boy. You’ll hear people very informally refer to someone as 坊や, bouya, like 「おい、坊や！」「Oi, boy!」 or oddly enough in a very formal honorific style to others’ male children as 坊ちゃん, bocchan, which is like ‘the young master~’ or even as a sort of term that’s implying a rich, naive, young boy. Yet, 坊さん, bousan, is both familiar and honorific referring to a monk. Then, there’s 赤ん坊, akanbou, which means baby, but that’s probably more than enough to think of when it comes to this apparently very versatile 坊, bou.
Ex. 中川先輩, Nakagawa-senpai
Ex. スミス先輩, Sumisu-senpai, Smith-senpai
If you’re familiar with school based anime or old internet memes, you might be familiar with the term 先輩, senpai. e.g. 「(๑•́‧̫•̀๑)先輩、気づいてください～ 」(Notice me, Senpai~) This isn’t really a very proper form of 告白, kokuhaku, but that’s for another lesson.
先輩, senpai, can actually be used on its own when referring to your senior at school or work. You can attach this to the name of someone in a higher year of school or someone who has been at a company longer than you have. There’s also the opposite of 先輩, senpai, which is 後輩, kouhai, but we don’t recommend calling someone this unless you want to sound like a bully from an 80s movie. If you want to use something as an opposite of ~先輩, ~senpai,as a suffix, just use ~くん, ~kun. It still gives off the sense that you are talking to someone either younger or less experienced, but it’ll sound friendlier.
Ex. 嬉嬉先生, Kiki-sensei
Ex. 興子先生, Kouko-sensei
This is a fairly simple seeming honorific at first, but it oddly has many applications. 先生, sensei, is used as an honorific for any teacher or professor. But, you’ll also find that doctors, artists, musicians, barrister, and pretty much anyone accomplished in their trade that you want to whom you want to show respect.If someone has a doctorate or PhD, they would be referred to as, or with the honorific: 博士, hakase.
This is a bonus honorific that isn’t common in spoken Japanese, but it is seen very often in formal writing! If you’re reading the newspaper, articles, documents, or journals, you’ll find 氏, shi, added instead of 様, sama. It’s definitely an honorific that’s on-par if not higher than 様, sama, in some ways. Though, you’ll also find 氏, shi, used in the word boyfriend as 彼氏, kareshi, as 彼 alone used to be the word for boyfriend, but it’s also an acceptable word as a masculine pronoun.
And there you have it! That’s 8 honorifics to use and a bonus one you can recognise. Even though these already seem like quite a few honorifics, there are quite a few more. But, these are just basic honorifics that should get you through greeting almost all of the people you’ll come across casually. There are a lot of very occupation specific or status specific honorifics as well as other fun ones. But, let’s just focus on the honorifics at hand before overloading you with too many others~! After learning these accompanied by the previous article’s helpful honorific and name rules, you can really feel confident greeting people by name! First impressions are important no matter the language, and the extra stretch of effort to try to use the proper honorific will be a positive one. And, if you don’t get it quite right the first time, they’ll appreciate if you ask them what they prefer to be called.
Oh, but the mystery of our preferred honorific?? Hmm… Well, we kind of want to leave that up to you! We’d be flattered to be called ~先生, ~sensei,to truly feel like your official Japanese teachers, but if you’d rather be very friendly with us, we would be equally endeared to be called ~ちゃん, ~chan. But, honestly, whichever you feel most comfortable with! We’re here as friends, teachers, and study buddies! —Your guides to Japanese language and culture. And, we hope that this assisted in your Japanese language learning journey! We hope that you’ll continue your Japanese learning journey with us.
And, in order to properly function with Japanese language, you might be interested in knowing how to read and write in Japanese. So, while you’re here, why not learn with us? You can join the mailing list and be notified when the next lesson is available. If you learn with us, you’ll have the benefit of a doable pace in enjoyable internet sessions whenever and wherever. Thank you so much!