Guide to Japanese Honourifics
Firstly, what are honourifics? In Japanese, they are suffixes added to the end of someone’s name that indicates varying levels of politeness or closeness, with meanings that range from formal, to super casual, respectful, reverent, friendly, and everything in between! Some honourifics are also titles or ranks and can be used separate from the person’s name if it is obvious within the context who is being referred to. In general it is rare for people to call each other by name without any honourific (especially for opposite sex) unless they are good friends or intimiate.
In my translations, as is common in JP -> EN translations, I add a hyphen between the name and the suffix to make it easier to read. In addition, you will notice, that they will be in italic text, which is what I do to all japanese words written in latin script (ie: romaji)
Here is a list of common honourifics you will come across in Anime, Manga and novels:
- –san : The most basic one of them all. The english equivalent would be Mr or Ms. It’s polite but not super formal, and used between equals of any age. People who are not particularly close will refer to each other as –san, typically using their family names.
- –kun : An honourific almost exclusively used for males (there are rare cases its used for females). Used by adults to refer to males of lower status (eg: adults to children). Also used by girls on boys if they are close enough to be on a first name basis.
- –chan : Pretty much the female version of –kun however it has a wider range of uses. Girls (including young adults) often call each other by their first name with -chan to indicate closeness. Adults (or anyone older really) will always call children -chan if the child is female.
- –sama : A formal one, used to indicate significant respect. It is often used to refer to people of superior rank, status, or someone whom you greatly admire (eg: Captain of the army, or a wise old sage, a gifted blacksmith, a deity, etc.). You will also commonly find it as a polite speech replacement for -san in customer service settings (eg: okyaku-sama)
- baba – lit. ‘old woman’. To actually call someone baba is incredibly rude, like calling someone an ‘old crone’ or ‘old hag’. Asian culture emphasises respecting elders, so one would usually use terms like baa-sama (respectful), baa-san (casual).
- baka – stupid. Often used as a lighthearted insult, but quite casual.
- bishōjo / bishoujo – Beautiful girl (typically refers to young-mid teens). Anime/manga female protagonists are almost always these super beauties who will be called bishoujo
- bijin – beautiful person, pretty much only used to refer to females. Can be used interchangeably with bijo.
- bijo – the adult version of bishoujo. These are super beauties who are of adult age & appearance. (~17/18 years onwards).
- chuunibyou – A colloquial Japanese term, often (stupidly/wrongly) translated as “eighth grade syndrome” is used to describe people with delusions of grandeur like having special powers and imagining they are some fantasy character you’d read in Manga.
- dogeza – A manner of prostrating by getting down on all fours and having your head touch the ground. In Japanese culture it’s seen as the ultimate form of lowering oneself, and most of the time is a deeply humiliating act. Used to show a very deep apology, or when begging someone from the bottom of your heart.
- Irasshaimase – means ‘welcome’ but is only said to customers when they first come in to a store, restauraunt or other place of business. You’d never use it to welcome someone to your home or office. It’s just something salespeople/storekeepers in Japan say to welcome customers. You’ll hear this all the time whenever you step in to any store in Japan.
- Isekai – Literally means “another world”. In LN/manga it’s pretty much synonymous with fantasy / rpg type worlds.
- Jiji – The male version of baba, Lit. ‘old man’. It’s very rude to actually call someone jiji. Like calling someone an ‘old hag’ or ‘old fogie’. Asian culture emphasises respecting elders, so one would usually use terms like jii-sama (respectful), jii-san (casual).
- Katana – The quintessential Japanese Samurai sword. See here for more info.
- Kawaii – Often translated as ‘cute’, but it means so much more depending on the usage. Girls who are said to be ‘kawaii‘ are pretty and cute, whereas girls who refer to something cute as ‘kawaii‘ are saying that its really adorable and endearing. Kawaii can be anything from a cute little girl dressed up, to a puppy, to a keychain that a girl finds attractive.
- Kisama – You. Typically a very rude form of referring to someone, just one step above temē, which is the rudest/worst. Often translated as “you bastard” or similar. In archaic japanese oddly enough, kisama is a respectful way to refer to someone.
- Kodachi – An older short sword of samurai, before the katana and wakizashi became the norm. It may have been used as an off-hand sword by duel wielders, or as a sword for teens. See here for more info.
- Manzai – a traditional 2-man style of Japanese stand-up comedy consisting of a boke (fool) and tsukommi (straight man). See Wikipedia for more info.
- Nē-chan / Onē-chan – Older sister (casual). Often used by females or children.
- Nē-san – Older sister (polite)
- Nē-sama – Older sister (respectful)
- Nii-chan / Onii-chan – Older sister (casual). Often used by females or children.
- Nii-san – Older brother (polite)
- Nii-sama – Older brother (respectful)
- Ojisan – means ‘uncle’, but often used to refer to any middle aged man.
- Onē-chan – Older sister (casual). Often used by females or children.
- Onii-chan – Older sister (casual). Often used by females or children.
- Ore – Casual, masculine singular pronoun. Used exclusively by men in casual settings with friends, peers etc. This is the most common form of ‘I’ used by males. In the rare case when a female uses it, it signifies a very aggressive/tomboyish female.
- Orekko – A term for girls that use ore instead of the expected watashi.
- Ossan – Same meaning as Ojisan, but won’t be used to refer to your actual uncle. Also more masculine.
- Riajuu – Normies. A term to refer to regular people able to form romantic relationships and/or get along well with the opposite sex. You often hear of males in LN saying stuff like “riajuu bakuhatsushiro!” (Normies go blow up! or Normies go die!).
- temē – The rudest form of the 2nd person pronoun ‘you’ there is. Typically used by boorish gangster type characters and the like. It implies deep disrespect towards the other party. Unlike kisama which is only used in media, temē is actually used in real life, though like I said, it’s extremely rude and you only use it when you’re trying to pick a fight with someone.
- Warawa – An archaic uppety first person pronoun. Apparently it’s only used in media and isn’t actually meant to be used that way. Typically some ancient vampire princess will refer to herself as warawa. Google translate will always wrongly translate this as Mistress/concubine (mekake)
- Watashi – Polite / feminine singular pronoun (I). Its used by women in all speech and by men in polite settings such as with a superior in the office or with strangers you are meeting for the first time.