Valuable Things to Know about Japanese Honorific Titles

Do you like watching Japanese Anime or Comics? When you study Japanese, you will come across suffixes used to address people called “honorifics” such as “San” “Chan” and “Kun”. If you look at the subtitles while watching a Japanese movie or comic, you might have noticed that -san translates as “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, or “Ms.” This is a Japanese honorific and the most common one.

Japanese honorifics are an important way to convey respect, formality, and friendship to those you interact with. Both formal and informal honorifics are common in Japanese, which is why every speaker needs to get the basic suffixes down. Nevertheless, are there any other Japanese name endings too? Actually, there are a lot of ways to show respect in Japanese with honorifics!

It is really important to learn “Honorifics” to master Japanese, let’s begin.

Why Japanese “Honorifics” are so important?

Each language represents the culture of the people who use it. Here’s why Japanese honorifics are important. If there’s one thing to know about Japanese culture and language, it’s that everything is extra polite. Watch any Japanese movie or show, and you’ll see plenty of ways the Japanese show respect to one another. They bow, have set phrases to show appreciation, and add -さん (-san) to the end of names.

In English-speaking countries, we often call them by their first names, however In Japan, no matter how close you are, we rarely call them by their first names the other person by business email, and business situation. Japanese people tend to respect and respect the other person so often. Honorifics in Japanese are the easiest symbol to used by the speaker with respect to the other person.

English Mr., Mrs., Miss, and French M., Mme., Mlle. are placed before the name, however, in Japanese, they are added later. Honorifics in Japanese are often derived from euphemisms that avoid direct expression and are often derived from Chinese words.

The most common formal thing nowadays is “Sama”, and in spoken language, “San” is used for both men and women and “Kun” is used for boys. In addition, there are many titles such as “President”, “Manager”, and “Teacher” depending on gender, age, occupation, position, etc., but “san” is the most commonly spoken language. Let’s see the example of the Japanese Honorifics to call other people from here!

Main Japanese Honorific Titles

At this part, let’s discuss the formal honorifics title: “San”, “Sama” and “Dono” with the example as the following.

1. “San” さん

The most common Honorific title is used both verbally and in conversation and is not uncomfortable to use in any situation. Attach it to someone who has a certain distance or who cannot measure your relationship with you for the first time. Moreover, it is a suffix for common kinship names. “Oto-san [Father]” “Oka-san [mother]” “Oni-san [brother]” “One-san [sister]” “Oji-san [grandfather]” “Oba-san[grandmother]” etc.

It is also common to use it after the job title or job title. “Shacho-san [President]”, “Tencho-san [Store manager]”, ” Untenshu-san [Driver]”, etc. It is also common to attach it to the name of the store. “Hukuya-san [Cloth shop]”, “Ramenya-san [Ramen shop]”, “Omochaya-san [Toy shop]” etc. At business sites, it is often given to the name of the other party’s organization, such as “Shoji-san [Company name+San”. The most common formal honorific is “San” and it translates (approximately) to Ms. and Mr.

The Japanese “San” suffix is 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. When in doubt, you can always use the “San”. It’s the safest way to address someone with respect, without going overboard.

2. “Sama” 様

The most formal honorific suffix is “Sama”. It is used to respect the other person. It is a title that is used in both conversations and in writing and is not uncomfortable to use in any situation. It is mainly used in business situations, mail, and letters. It is the most respectable honorific in daily use, so in business situations, most Japanese use it in a company.

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.” Although these formal Japanese honorifics are not often used in conversation (except for sarcasm’s sake), you will commonly hear them in movies, shows, and song lyrics.

3. “Dono” 殿

In official texts, “Personal name + Dono” was widely used as a custom, but “Sama” is gradually being used. In modern times, it is not common to use “Dono” in conversation, and It is used just in documents. Also, while “Sama” can be used freely in conversations and documents, “Dono” is limited to documents. Even if the other person is a colleague or a subordinate, using “Dono” in a conversation can give the impression of looking down on the other person.

“Sama” can be used in both spoken language and business documents. It can be used regardless of whether it is internal, current, or external. If you get lost in business email or colloquialism, you need to use “Sama”.

On the other hand, the following titles are informal phrases. Please take a look at the example as follows.

1. “Chan” ちゃん

It is often used lovingly for children, women, or pets younger than the speaker, but it is also a general title that is sometimes used for peers and elders. It is often used for girls, but it is also often used for young boys. It may be used by close friends regardless of whether they are adults or children, and because it is closer than “San”, it may be used for people who want to get close to each other.

Also, it is the suffix for common kinship names. “Oto-chan [Father]” “Oka-chan [Mother]” “Oni-chan [Brother]” “One-chan [Sister]” “Oji-chan [Grandfather]” “Oba-chan [Grandmother]” etc. This is an endearing female honorific.

While it’s most commonly used for children, it’s also used fairly widely among family and friends. You can also use “Chan” for males; one of my second cousins, Dai, has always been Dai-chan instead of Dai-kun, probably because it just sounds better and in a friendly sense. You can use “Chan” the same way, to add a sense of cuteness to names and titles.

2. “Kun” くん

Adding to the end of the name is the same as “San” and “Chan”. Often used for men. This is the male equivalent of “Chan” it’s used for kids and between peers and friends. Then, it may be used by familiar objects. When we want to get closer and want to build a better relationship, we always use “Chan” or “Kun” in conversation. To do so, people think more friendly and feel comfortable with each other.

In fact, when I taught Japanese in Vietnam, all of my students were called this way to have great relationships.

Other Japanese Honorific Titles

There are a lot of Japanese honorifics, but some of the most common phrases are: Buchou (部長), Kachou (課長), Shachou (社長) or Kaichou (会長), which refer to specifically ranked people in a company; and there are also honorifics used mostly in a school context like Senpai (先輩, older person), Kouhai (後輩, younger person) or Sensei (先生, teacher).

[Job titles]

Daijin [大臣Minister], Kaicho [会長Chairman], Shacho [社長President], Sousai [総裁Governor], Honbucho [本部長Managing Director], Bucho [部長Director], Kacho [課長Manager], Kakaricho [係長Section Manager], Shunin [主任Section chief] etc.

[Representing qualifications and functions]

Sensei [先生Teacher],Bengoshi [弁護士Lawyers], Isha [医者Doctors], Kyoujyu [教授Professors], Kenchikushi [建築士Architects], Zeirishi [税理士Tax accountants], Untenshi [運転士Drivers], etc. Senshu [選手Player], used by those engaged in sports. For your information, most of the articles and news related to the press, especially the game, are omitted and not used Honorifics.

How to use honorific titles in daily life

If you’re familiar with Japanese culture, you already know that people rarely use another person’s first name. Therefore, Japanese honorifics are tied to last names. It’s very rude to simply call someone by their last name.

Sometimes the honorific will be attached to the person’s first name for other reasons, such as when two people are especially close or if you’re a foreigner. Unlike Japanese people, foreigners usually use first names more and Japanese people tend to respect that choice.

The word “honorific” here is very important. It is the key to understanding Japanese culture. “Honorifics” are the symbol of respect for others’ spirits. To use “Honorifics”, people can build great relationships and smooth communication in daily life.

Also, Japanese honorifics are not only vary depending on the person, but also on other factors like the level of trust, the person’s background, their education, or even gender. Even as a foreigner, it is important to respect those rules in order to feel welcome in this country. First, why don’t you use these “Honorifics” to start studying Japanese?

Summarize

To sum up, please look up once again at the following points:

  • Honorifics are very important to build good relationships in daily life in Japan.
  • There are some Honorifics in Japanese, and the most useful one is “San” in conversation
  • In a business situation, Japanese often use “Sama” in documents.
  • Better to learn some other Japanese Honorifics when you go to Japan in the future. 
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.