Honorifics are a lot like “Sir” and “Ma’am.” They are not used in the same way, but they still have some similarities.

Honorifics can denote respect for a person’s age and social status (elders); show closeness between friends.

In Japanese, they are essential and used on official documents such as passports and legal papers.

Tourists need to know that it’s not just about respect for elders.

The Japanese language has many dialects, and the honorific suffixes are an essential part of understanding what people say to each other.

Why Do Japanese Add San and Kun to Names?

San And Kun are suffixes that are added to names. San is an honorific best translated as ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’ Kun is usually applied to males under 15 and denotes closeness between friends in Japanese culture. It also allows children of any sex to refer respectfully to adults without invoking discomfort due to gender inequality.

Why do the Japanese use honorifics?

Japanese people often use suffixes with their names.

We can see suffixes on official documents like Japanese passports and legal papers.

They can also be employed when speaking to someone of higher status or age than oneself out of respect.

However, there is more to it than just being polite: Japanese speakers employ San and Kun depending on their dialect.

In Tokyo and Osaka, you are most likely to hear people use San with family members.

In Nagoya or Kyushu, they would probably say Kun when talking about their wives.

Whatever region of Japan that a person is from, it’s worth noting that it can indicate age differences in conversation. 

For example, a teenager may use Kun when speaking with someone much older than them since they would not seem disrespectful using the more formal San.

The suffixes are also often used in other colonized countries and influenced by Japan – South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and even China.

What Does it Mean when Japanese add San or Kun to Names?

The Japanese suffixes Kun and San are used to indicate the level of formality in conversation. 

When naming people, these two words can also indicate relationships within a family or group setting. 

In general, using San indicates that one person has more authority than another while using Kun means that the two people are on equal footing.

The suffixes can also indicate age differences in conversation. 

For example, a teenager may be inclined to use Kun when speaking with someone younger than them. 

Kun is typically used as a suffix for young men or juniors and applies to women in some work environments.

Chan is used for young female children.

The suffixes are also used in the professional setting to demonstrate specific levels of rank or seniority among workers and employees.

San is typically reserved for more authority than others, such as a boss speaking to an employee.

At the same time, Kun would be appropriate when discussing work-related matters between peers.

In addition, there are instances when the suffix is used to indicate respect.

Basic Japanese Honorifics for Family

There are various ways to refer to family members in Japanese, depending on the hierarchy of relationships.

Momさん (Okaasan)
Dadお父さん (Otousan)
Older brotherお兄さん (Oniisan)
Older sisterお姉さん (Oneesan)
Younger brother弟さん (Otoutosan)
Younger sister妹さん (Imoutosan)
Uncle叔父さん (Ojisan)
Aunt叔母さん (Obasan)
Grandfatherお祖父さん (Ojiisan)
Grandmotherお祖母さん (Obaasan)

What does Okaasan mean?

Okaasan is the term for mother, and it means “Parent.”

What does Otousan mean?

It can refer to either father or grandfather. Translated, it means “Parental Man.”

What does Oneesan mean?

Oneesan refers to an older sister of any age. It translates as “Older Woman.”

What does Oniisan mean?

It can refer to either brother or son. Translated, it means “Younger Man.”

What does Imoutosan mean?

Imoutosan is the term for a younger sister, and it means “Younger Girl.” It can also refer to either brother or son.

What does Otoutosan mean?

It can refer to either brother or son. Translated, it means “Younger Man.”

What does Ojisan mean?

We can Translate the term ojisan into English as the uncle who makes sense given its role definition; however, younger generations have also used this title to refer to adults who are not family members out of politeness.

What does Obasan mean?

The word obāsan is a Japanese term referring to an aunt or woman older than her years. Obasaan-neesan can be used as a sign of respect for elders. While it’s not always translated into English the same way in every situation, its literal meaning means “respected lady.”

What Ojiisan and Obaasan Mean?

Japanese people use a respectful vocabulary when referring to their elders. When speaking about grandparents of any age, you can call them Ojiisan and Obaasan, respectively.


Other Japanese Honorifics


What does Senpai mean?

Senpai (先輩) is a Japanese honorific for someone who has seniority over you. It can be applied to students in school, coworkers at work, or even martial arts masters and their disciples. Senpai might also refer to the elder brother of one’s spouse as 主夫 (Shuufu).

What does Kohai mean?

Kohai (後輩) is a Japanese honorific for someone who has less seniority than you. The term can apply to students in school or coworkers at work but not as commonly used for masters and their disciples. Kohai might also refer to the younger brother of one’s spouse as 主妻 (Shuusai).

What does Sensei mean?

Sensei is an honorific that denotes a degree of expertise in any given subject. It carries with it the connotation of being someone’s teacher or mentor and can be applied to virtually anyone who has demonstrated mastery over something – from children to authors. It refers to teachers in schools in Japan, but not as much for masters and their disciples.

What does it mean, Tono?

The word “tono” is Japanese for a person who ranks higher than the average. Though it may not sound like much, tonos is considered prestigious and respectable in Japan’s society; they represent what some would call nobility.

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