Honorifics in Japan


Honorifics in Japan

Japanese people are one of the politest people. They follow seniority not just by age but also by status or position. It is very important to take note of the senior-junior relationship when using the Honorifics in Japan or the hierarchy. Honorific suffixes are used and attached at the end of each name, regardless of gender.

As Japan is a patriarchal country, which means that women must always respect men, though, over time, gender equality has been seen slowly entering the norms of Japanese society though not as much as other countries, but there are already women holding a higher position in modern Japan.


or – are Japanese honorifics prefixes that can be applied to things or people. is a prefix used for Japanese reading or くんよみ (kunyomi) while is for Chinese reading or おんよみ (onyomi). For example, ごりょうしん means Parents. りょうしん is a term without honorifics for Parents.


Four Basic Japanese honorifics:


さま (sama) – the most formal honorifics.  This honorific is mostly used for divine entities, customers, or people being introduced to in an event or people we admire. We often hear this honorific in Television, movies, or events.


                かみさま (kami sama) – God 

                おうさま (ou sama)– King (Majesty)

さま is also used by some people after their name for self-proclamation, arrogance, or sarcasm. We often hear this in Anime.

                おれさま  (ore sama) – Myself


さん (san) – the most common honorifics. It can be used in formal or informal situations regardless of the person’s gender. The English terms equivalent for this honorific are Mr., Ms., Mrs., Sir, Ma’am.

It is better to use this honorific if one does not know the status of a person or to a stranger.

くん (kun) – this honorific is used by people with a higher position to their subordinates. It can be addressed to junior colleagues by male/female seniors. Women use くん to male whom they share affection or someone close to them or younger than them but they never use this suffix to someone older than them or have a higher position than them.

くん is mostly used by boys, young and adult men. It is hardly used in offices but senior employees would sometimes address their subordinates with くん attached to its name.

In anime, we often hear male character calling a female character with くん attached to her name but we never heard a female character calling another female character with くん. The reason for this is くん is like a masculine honorific suffix that is used by boys and men.

If in doubt to what honorific suffixes you need to use in addressing someone, it is better to use さん than くん.

ちゃん (chan) – this honorific suffix expresses affection or emotional attachment to a person whether male or female. It is used in addressing children, close friends, family members as おとうちゃん、かあちゃん or cute objects or animals. Never use ちゃん to a stranger or to someone who holds a higher position.

Do not use honorific suffixes into one’s own name. It will show arrogance or self-proclaim confidence. Also, if you do not know which suffixes you will use or you don’t know the position of someone, use
さん in addressing that person.


Other Japanese suffixes:

せんぱい (senpai) – this is a very famous suffix. We often hear this in Anime, movies or dramas. This suffix is used to address someone who is older or senior than one self. It can used in senior students or senior colleagues, or in business industry, someone who has gained more experience.

こうはい (kouhai) – this suffix is the opposite of せんぱい. It is used for junior students or colleagues. 

せんせい (sensei) – this suffix is not only exclusive in addressing teachers but it can also be used in addressing someone else profession. It is used in respecting someone’s achievement in mastering a higher skill or have a lot of experiences in some field like arts, science, or other skills. We often hear this suffix in addressing teacher (かかしせんせい) or doctor (いしゃさん). 

See you in the next blog. 

This is Ringo.

If you want to learn my previous post, you can check it through the link below: 

>> Let’s talk about Family

>> Let’s talk about time

>> Basic Greetings in Hiragana

>> Summary - June