How to Call Siblings in Japanese?

Introduction

Have you ever wondered what “Onii-chan“, “Onee-chan“, “Onii-san“, “Onee-san” and other Japanese variants of siblings mean? If you have seen Japanese anime or comics, you’ll hear this a lot. Yes, these words are used in the Japanese language to mean brothers and sisters and are commonly heard in anime in everyday life as well.

In English, people are always addressed by their names. However, when Japanese people have an older brother or sister, they are usually called “Onii-chan” or “Onee-chan” In this article, we will explain the meaning and the difference in these words. Not only about this, but you can also read the other article I wrote about Japanese and Japanese Culture. Please click here!

1. History

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You may wonder why there are so many different words for “sibling” or other expressions for honorific titles in Japanese. It has to do with Japanese history. The relationship between brothers and sisters differs significantly between Confucian countries like Japan, Korea, China, and Western countries.

In Western countries, not only brothers but also colleagues are called by name, no matter how old they are and what their relationship is. On the other hand, in the sphere of influence of Confucianism, there is a concept of respect for age and seniority. There is not only one brother, but many honorary titles such as senior and teacher. For this reason, Japanese and Chinese kanji are distinguished from siblings. In Japan, the culture of respect for elders is still deeply rooted, so different titles have probably developed.

2. Difference in the use of ~san and ~chan

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If you enjoy watching Japanese TV or comics, you may have heard of kinship names such as “Otoo-san [Father]” and “Okaa-san [Mother].” In Japan, the name is used when the upper generation calls the lower generation. When the lower generation calls the upper generation, kinship names such as “Otoo-san” and “Okaa-san” are used.

Why does the lower generation not call the upper generation by name in Japan? unlike other countries such as the United States? First of all, in Japan, it is impolite to say “name” directly. The name has long been associated with the person individually.

Therefore, the name was very “sacred”. Calling a person by name was considered very rude. As it was intended to control the person. As a result, many kinship names were used. From that time on, even among family members, they began to use “relative names”. Instead of calling their superiors by name, this custom has continued to this day.

The family names are based on the viewpoint of the youngest child. That is, from the youngest child’s point of view. Even if you have “Onii-chan [older brother]” and “Onee-chan [older sister]” “younger brother” and “younger sister” do not exist. So the names “Otouto-chan” and “Imouto-chan” are not used by anyone. But why is the youngest child the standard? This is to avoid confusion in the family at home.

When you have many families and a child is born, the eldest son, who was first named is called “Onii-chan” by his parents. Then, the eldest daughter is called “Onee-chan“. Depending on the youngest child, the form of address changes for the family members to understand them better.

3. How to call “siblings” in Japanese

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3.1 What is “Onii-san”and “Otouto”?

While English does not distinguish between older and younger siblings, Japanese has words that classify both the gender and age (relative to the speaker) of a sibling. There are four basic terms as the following:

1. 弟 (Otouto) ~ Younger Brother2. 妹 (Imouto) ~ Younger Sister
3. 兄 (Ani) ~ Elder Brother4. 姉 (One) ~ Elder Sister

Then, how to call them? See the following:

弟 (Otouto) -> unchanged as ‘Otouto’妹 (Imouto) -> unchanged as ‘Imouto’
兄 (Ani) -> Onii-san or Onii-chan姉 (One) -> Onee-san or Onee-chan

お兄ちゃん (Onii-chan)” and “お姉ちゃん (Onee-chan)” is nothing more than an informal way of speaking of the older brother and older sister. Onii~ literally means big brother and Onee~ means big sister. “Chan” is typically used for children or women younger than the speakers, but it is often used for intimate relationships or when you want to get closer.

The most formal and common is to use the prefix “San”, so we also often hear the words “お兄さん (Onii-san)” for older brother and “お姉さん (Onee-san)” for older sister. Both expressions “Onii-chan“, “Onee-chan“, “Onii-san” and “Onee-san” can be used as honorific after the name, such as Kevin-oniichan.
These four terms are usually used when the speaker is describing siblings. For example, when the speaker talks about his older and younger brothers as the following:

Watashi no Ani or Otouto, respectively. (My elder or younger brother)

Or When someone is describing someone else brother or sister. For example Hanako’s younger brother, then the sentence will be:

Hanako no Otoutosan. ~san to express respect

3.2 How to address siblings with the honorific expression?

Additionally, “Ani” and “Ane” may take the honorific title “O” indicating further respect. These are usually used in conjunction with the honorific title. “San” or “Chan” is the most common for all these four calls. Although “Sama” is sometimes used for respecting the older siblings.

These are used when the speaker is describing another’s older sibling. But also when addressing his or her own older sibling. Thus, the speaker may call his older brother (e.g., Kenta) “Onii-san,” “Onii-chan,” “Kenta-Niisan,” etc.. Depending on how he sees Kenta, though the most common form is a simple “Onii-san”. This is part of modern etiquette in Japanese.

While it is normal in English to address older siblings by their names, in Japanese it is a serious breach of etiquette if it is not associated with a familial term. Similar to addressing parents by their names, and marks a distance between the two siblings. On the other hand, younger siblings are pretty much always addressed by their first name.

4. Unique Styles to Classify Gender and Age for Siblings in Japanese

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While English does not distinguish between older and younger siblings, Japanese has words that classify both the gender and age (relative to the speaker) of a sibling. There are four basic terms:
‘Kun’ and ‘Chan’ are the most common, although ~san and even ~sama are often used for respecting older siblings or when addressing other people’s siblings.

In addition, Nii [兄] and Nee [姉] can be addressed with the honorific title “O”, which expresses even more respect. However, this is not obligatory. When speaking to your older brother, you would address him as “Niisan” or “Oniisan.” Older sisters would address you as “Neesan” or “Oneesan” and younger siblings usually by their name.

Next, for these four basic words, there are numerous variations due to regional differences in pronunciation and colloquial usage. Here are some of the alternate versions of Nii [兄] you may encounter in manga and anime, to name just one example:

1. Oniisan [お兄さん] or Oneesan [ お姉さん] > General term for older brother and sister.
2. Oniichan [お兄ちゃん] or Oneechan [お姉ちゃん] > Term for older brothers and sisters. Signifying closeness. This is used as a term of endearment.
3. Oniisama [お兄さま] or Oneesama [お姉さま] > Term for older siblings that is the most formal. It is considered an honorific name and is very respectful.
4. Otouto [弟] or Imouto [妹] > term you would use when referring to your own younger brothers and sisters. It is quite informal.
5. Otoutosan [弟さん] or Imoutosan [妹さん] > When referring to someone else’s younger brother and sister. The “san” makes the term much more respectful.

5. Similar Words for Brother and Sisters in Japanese

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There are also several variations on the way younger siblings can refer to their older siblings. These are distinguished between the general, close, and formal conjugations. Different prefixes are attached to the ends of many of these words to change their connotations.

Some of these can be considered synonyms for each other, but many have subtle distinctions in meaning, like the differentiation between “Bro,” “Big brother,” and “Older brother” in English. These are all listed below!

Alongside their meanings, from Anime and TV Tropes. Note that the terms for older and younger siblings are used differently. Younger siblings frequently address older ones by “Title”, but the reverse is far less common.

Older siblings tend to address younger ones by “Name”. The words aniue and aneue have a more polite, respectful tone to them. Meanwhile, “Aniki” as well as “Aneki” are also a way to call the “Boss” of your gang. Normally the boss is a guy, so “Aniki”, but if the boss is a girl, then “Aneki”.

Aniki [兄貴] / Aneki [姉貴]: Informal slang term similar to the English “Bro.”and “Sis”. It can also be used to refer to high-ranking gang members.
Aniue [兄上] / Aneue [姉上]: This is a very formal, but archaic and rarely used way to say older brother and older sister.
Oni [お兄]: This is a homophone for the Japanese word that means “ogre,” but can be employed as a pun for a joking way to refer to a brother or sister.

5.1 Summary Chart

To help you memorize the talk above, please look at the following table!

Description
Elder BrotherElder Sister
Keigo – Too formal – SovereignOnii-sama [お兄さま]Onee-sama [お姉さま]
Sonkeigo (brothers from above)Aniue [兄上]Aneue [姉上]
Old fashion Formal – Daily life – CommonOnii-san [お兄さん]Onee-san [お姉さん]
A little more informalNii-san [兄さん]Nee-san [さん]
Without any respectful, informal suffixNii [兄]Nee []
Informal and diminutive suffixOnii-chan [お兄ちゃん]Onee-chan [お姉ちゃん]
Totally informal with diminutive suffix Nii-chan [兄ちゃん]Nee-chan [姉ちゃん]
Alternative to nii and nee
Ani [兄]Ane [姉]
Precious, esteemed, honorableAniki [兄貴]Aneki [姉貴]

Furthermore, “Aniue” as well as ”Aneue” and “Onii-sama” also ”Onee-sama” are rarely used in daily life. It is because it is too formal. Now, it is only used in Japanese Anime. Most Japanese often use “Onii-san” and “Onee-san” as formal conversation. And people say “Onii-chan” and “Onee-chan” for casual case. Also, “Ani” ,”Ane” and “Aniki” ,”Aneki” are only used own family members, not for another family.

6. The Additional Aspects to Know

“Onii-san” “Onii-chan” and “Onee-san” “Onee-chan” is also not uncommon for sibling terminology to be used for certain non-siblings such as sales clerks asking or calling situations.

For example:

Chotto! “Onee-san! Kore doudesuka? Yasuidesuyo.
Which means, Hey! Mis. [Lady]! How about this? It’s so cheap!

“Onii-san” and its variants are often used by children for older non-relatives. This one’s hard for translators, you want to stay true to the original, but can’t exactly have the kid call the hero a “Big brother”. even though they’ve never met before.

While the word “Onii-chan” is used in the Japanese language to refer by a little sister or little brother to their actual older brother, this honorific has gained traction among non-Japanese anime and manga fans as a term of endearment for attractive male characters in the shows and comic books, sometimes extremely inappropriately. It is somewhat close to the equivalent of an English speaker calling an attractive male character a “Daddy.”

7. Variations on How to Call Siblings You May Find in Anime

When you watch Anime, you may hear the following ways that the Anime characters use when they call their siblings. What’s your favorite one? leave me your answer in the comment section below:

Anime TitleThe Way to Call Siblings
(1) Magical Teacher Negima!Chamo addresses Negima as “Aniki” given the ermine’s personality and habits, it’s almost certainly intended as the gang slang as much as the literal meaning. Negi also refers to his older cousin as “Oneesan”.
(2) Yu-Gi- Oh!Marik Ishtar calls Ishizu “Nee-san”, and Yami Marik calls Ishizu the extremely respectful “Aneue- sama” (curiously enough, while he’s threatening to kill her.
(3) NarutoKonohamaru refers to the title character as “Naruto-niichan”, giving an example of using older-sibling terminology towards an unrelated older kid one respects and admires. He also calls Naruto “Boss“.

Hinata calls her cousin Neji “Neji-nii-san”, leading some onlookers to believe he is her older brother. Many fans interpret that as her considering him one.
(4) Flash BacksThe main character is always called Itachi “Nii-san”, which got translated to “brother” in the dub.

Simon naturally uses “Aniki” to refer to Kamina on Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, though with the same amount of respect you’d expect from “Onii-sama”. The dub simply uses “Bro.”

Kon likes to call Rukia “Nee-san”, but this is due to the use of the term as meaning “Hey lady!”.

Ganju (youngest of the Shiba siblings) refers to Kaien, the eldest, as “Aniki” and older sister Kukaku as “Onee-chan”, while middle child Kukaku uses “Onii-san”.
(5) Gin TamaShinpachi addresses his sister Otae as “Aneue”; Kagura, despite not being related to either of them, calls her “Anego.”
(6) One PieceWapol calls his older brother Mushul “An-chan,” despite Mushul’s desire to be referred to with “Onii”. In the manga, Hancock’s younger sisters refer to her as
“Ane-sama”.
(7) YuYu HakushoKuwabara usually calls his big sister Shizuru “Aneki,” switching to “Neechan” when he’s sucking up to or teasing her.

Summary

To sum up, please look at the following points:

  • There are a lot of different phrases of how to call “Siblings” in Japanese.
  • “Onii-san”, “Onii-chan” and “Onee-san”, “Onee-chan” are different meanings depending on who called it or the situation.
  • It is better to learn basic “Sibling” phrase to begin with.
  • Sometimes“Siblings” phrases such as “Onii-san“Onii-chan” and “Onee-san” and “Onee-chan” are used by other not sibling people.
  • “Aniue” “Aneue” and “Oni-sama” “Onee-sama” are rarely used in daily life, it is only used in Japanese TV or Comics, so, if you want to use it, keep in mind that.

About Yuri Sensei 25 Articles
I am Yuri. I have worked for several companies, involved in assisting foreigners and teaching Japanese. I have also worked in Vietnam, teaching Japanese. I would like to help students abroad and teach Japanese culture. My hobbies are traveling abroad and sports, like tennis. Following excitement and discovering new things inspires me a lot. My joy in life is to help people overseas so that I can pass on the charm of Japanese culture.