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Japanese uses a broad array of honorific suffixes for addressing or referring to people. These honorifics are gender-neutral and can be attached to first names as well as surnames.

When addressing or referring to someone by name in Japanese, an honorific suffix is usually used with the name. Dropping the honorific - referred to as yobisute (呼び捨て?) - implies a high degree of intimacy and is reserved for one's lover, younger family members, and very close friends, although within sports teams or among classmates it can be acceptable to use family names without honorifics. When referring to a third person, honorifics are used except when referring to one's family members while talking to a non-family-member, or when referring to a member of one's company while talking to a customer or someone from another company. Honorifics are not used to refer to oneself, except to be arrogant (see ore-sama, below), to be cute (see chan), or sometimes when talking to small children, to teach them how to address the speaker.


Common honorifics


Chan (ちゃん?) is a diminutive suffix; it expresses that the speaker finds a person endearing. Thus, using chan with a superior's name would be condescending and rude. In general, chan is used for babies, young children, and teenage girls. It may also be used towards cute animals, lovers, close friends, or any youthful woman.

Although traditionally honorifics are not applied to oneself, some young women adopt the childish affectation of referring to themselves in the third person using chan. For example, a young woman named Kanako might call herself Kanako-chan rather than using a first person pronoun.


Kun ( in Kanji ?, くん in Hiragana) is used by persons of senior status in addressing or referring to those of junior status, or by anyone when addressing or referring to male children or male teenagers. It can also be used by females when addressing a male that they are emotionally attached to or have known for a long period of time. Although kun is generally used for boys, that isn't a hard rule. For example, in business settings, young female employees may also be addressed as kun by older males of senior status.

In the Diet of Japan, chairpersons use kun when addressing diet members and ministers. An exception was when Takako Doi was the chairperson of the lower house: she used the san title.


Sama (様 【さま】?) is a markedly more respectful version of san. It is used mainly to refer to people much higher in rank than oneself, toward one's customers, and sometimes toward people one greatly admires. When used to refer to oneself, sama expresses extreme arrogance (or self-effacing irony), as with ore-sama (俺様?, "my esteemed self").

Sama customarily follows the addressee's name on postal packages and letters and in business email.

Sama also appears in such set phrases as o-machidō sama ("sorry to keep you waiting"), o-tsukare sama (an expression of empathy for people who have been working long and hard), and go-kurō sama (an expression recognizing someone's labors), but although this is written with the same kanji, it is semantically distinct from the sama used as a term of address.


San (さん?), sometimes pronounced han (はん?) (Kansai dialect) in the Kyoto area, is the most common honorific and is a title of respect similar to "Mr.", "Miss", "Mrs.", or "Ms." However, in addition to being used with people's names, it is also employed in a variety of other ways.

San is used in combination with workplace nouns, such that a bookseller might be addressed or referred to as honya-san ("bookstore" + san), and a butcher as nikuya-san ("butcher shop" + san).

San is sometimes used with company names. For example, the offices or shop of a company called Kojima Denki might be referred to as "Kojima Denki-san" by another nearby company. This may be seen on the small maps often used in phone books and business cards in Japan, where the names of surrounding companies are written using san.

San can also be attached to the names of animals or even inanimate objects. For example, a pet rabbit might be called usagi-san, and fish used for cooking can be referred to as sakana-san. Both uses would be considered childish (akin to "Mr. Rabbit" in English) and would be avoided in formal speech. It's not uncommon for even married couples to refer to one another with san, either.

Online, Japanese gamers often append a numeral 3 to another player's name to denote san (e.g. Taro3 conveys Taro-san), since the number three which is written (さん, san) in Japanese is pronounced "san".

Senpai and kōhai

Senpai (先輩 【せんぱい】?) is used to address or refer to one's senior colleagues in a school, company, sports club, or other group. So at school, the students in higher grades than oneself are senpai. Students of the same or lower grade are not senpai, nor are teachers. In a business environment, colleagues with more experience are senpai, but one's boss is not a senpai. Like "Doctor" in English, senpai can be used by itself as well as with a name.

A kōhai (後輩 【こうはい】?) is a junior, the reverse of senpai, but it is not normally used as an honorific.


Sensei (先生 【せんせい】?) (literally meaning "former-born") is used to refer to or address teachers, doctors, politicians, and other authority figures. It is used to show respect to someone who has achieved a certain level of mastery in an art form or some other skill, and is also applied to novelists, poets, painters, and other artists, including manga artists. In Japanese martial arts, sensei typically refers to someone who is the head of a dojo. As with senpai, sensei can be used not only as a suffix, but also as a stand-alone title.

Sensei can be used fawningly, and it can also be employed sarcastically to ridicule such fawning. The Japanese media invoke it (rendered in katakana, akin to scare quotes or italics in English) to highlight the megalomania of those who allow themselves to be sycophantically addressed with the term.


Shi (氏 【し】?) is used in formal writing, and sometimes in very formal speech, for referring to a person who is unfamiliar to the speaker, typically a person known through publications whom the speaker has never actually met. For example, the shi title is common in the speech of newsreaders. It is preferred in legal documents, academic journals, and certain other formal written styles. Once a person's name has been used with shi, the person can be referred to with shi alone, without the name, as long as there is only one person being referred to.

Other titles

Occupation-related titles

It is common to use a job title after someone's name, instead of using a general honorific. For example, an athlete (選手 senshu?) named Ichiro might be referred to as "Ichiro-senshu" rather than "Ichiro-san", and a master carpenter (棟梁 tōryō?) named Suzuki might be referred to as "Suzuki-tōryō" rather than "Suzuki-san".

In a business setting, it is common to refer to people using their rank, especially for positions of authority, such as department chief (部長 buchō?) or company president (社長 shachō?). Within one's own company or when speaking of another company, title + san is used, so a president is Shachō-san. When speaking of one's own company to a customer or another company, the title is used by itself or attached to a name, so a department chief named Suzuki is referred to as Buchō or Suzuki-buchō.

For criminals and the accused

Convicted and suspected criminals were once referred to without any title, but now an effort is made to distinguish between suspects (容疑者 yōgisha?), defendants (被告 hikoku?), and convicts (受刑者 jukeisha?), so as not to presume guilt before anything has been proven. These titles can be used by themselves or attached to names.

However, although "suspect" and "defendant" began as neutral descriptions, they have become derogatory over time. When Gorō Inagaki was arrested for a traffic accident in 2001, some media referred him with the newly made title menbā (メンバー?), originating from the English word member, to avoid use of yōgisha (容疑者?, suspect).[citation needed] But in addition to being criticized as an unnatural term, this title also became derogatory almost instantly.

For companies

There are several different words for "our company" and "your company." "Our company" can be expressed with the humble heisha (弊社?, "clumsy/poor company") or the neutral jisha (自社?, "our own company"), and "your company" can be expressed with the honorific kisha (貴社?, "noble company", used in writing) or onsha (御社?, "honorable company", used in speech). Additionally, the neutral tōsha (当社?, "this company") can refer to either the speaker's or the listener's company. All of these titles are used by themselves, not attached to names.

When mentioning a company's name, it is considered important to include its status depending on whether it is incorporated (株式会社 kabushikigaisha?) or limited (有限会社 yūgen gaisha?). These are often abbreviated as 株 and 有 respectively.


Tono (殿 【との】?), pronounced dono (どの?) when attached to a name, roughly means "lord" or "master". It doesn't equate noble status; rather it is a term akin to "milord" or French "monseigneur," and lies between san and sama in level of respect. This title is no longer used in daily conversation, but it is still used in some types of written business correspondence, as well as on certificates and awards, and in written correspondence in tea ceremonies.

No kimi

No kimi (の君?) is another suffix coming from Japanese history. It was used to denominates Lords and Ladies in the Court, especially during the Heian period. The most famous example is the Prince Hikaru Genji, protagonist of The Tale of Genji who was called "Hikaru no Kimi "(光の君). Nowadays, this suffix can be used as a metaphor for someone who behaves like a prince or princess from ancient times, but it is very rare. Its main usage remains in historical dramas.

This suffix also appears when addressing lovers in letters from a man to a woman, as in, "Murasaki No kimi" or "My beloved Ms. Murasaki".


Ue (?) literally means "above", and denotes a high level of respect. While its use is no longer very common, it is still seen in constructions like chichi-ue (父上?) and haha-ue (母上?), reverent terms for "father" and "mother" respectively. Receipts that do not require specification of the payer's name are often filled in with ue-sama.

Royal and official titles

  • Heika (陛下?) is used for sovereign royalty, similar to "Majesty" in English. For example, Tennō Heika (天皇陛下?) means "His Majesty the Emperor" and Kōgō Heika (皇后陛下?) means Her Majesty the Empress. Kokuō Heika (国王陛下?) is His Majesty the King and Joō Heika (女王陛下?) is Her Majesty the Queen. Heika by itself can also be used as a direct term of address, equivalent to "Your Majesty".
  • Denka (殿下?) is used for non-sovereign royalty, similar to "Royal Highness". For example, Suwēden Ōkoku, Vikutoria Kōtaishi Denka (スウェーデン王国、ヴィクトリア皇太子殿下?, "Her Royal Highness, Crown Princess Victoria of the Kingdom of Sweden"). Denka can be used by itself, like "Your Royal Highness."
  • Hidenka (妃殿下?) is for addressing the consort of the prince, and is used the same way as the other royal titles.
  • Kakka (閣下?) means "Your Excellency" and is used for ambassadors and heads of state. It too can be used by itself or attached to a specific title.
  • Shushō (首相?) is used for the Prime Minister of Japan.

Martial arts titles

Martial artists often address their teachers as sensei. Junior and senior students are organized via a senpai/kōhai system.

Various titles are also employed to refer to senior instructors. Which titles are used depends on the particular licensing organization.


Shōgō (称号?, "title", "name", "degree") are martial arts titles developed by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai,[1] the Kokusai Budoin and the International Martial Arts Federation Europe.

  • Renshi (錬士 : れんし?): instructor.
  • Kyōshi (教士 : きょうし?) refers to an advanced teacher.
  • Hanshi (範士 : はんし?) refers to a senior expert considered a "teacher of teachers". This title is used by many different arts for the top few instructors of that style, and is sometimes translated "Grand Master".
  • Meijin (名人?): awarded by a special board of examiners. See also Meijin.

Other martial arts titles

  • Kensei (剣聖?, sword's saint) an honorary title given to a warrior of legendary skill in swordsmanship.
  • Kyōshi (教師 : きょうし?), which in everyday Japanese can be a more modest synonym for sensei, is sometimes used to indicate an instructor.
  • Oyakata (親方 : おやかた?), master, especially a sumo coach. The literal sense is of someone in loco parentis.
  • Shihan (師範 : しはん?), merely means chief instructor; unlike the titles above it is not related to grade.
  • Shidōin (指導員:しどういん?), intermediate instructor, also unrelated to grade.
  • Shishō (師匠 : ししょう?) is another title used for martial arts instructors.
  • Zeki (関 : ぜき?), literally "barrier", used for sumo wrestlers in the top two divisions (sekitori).

Other titles

  • hōshi (法師: ほうし?), Buddhist monk

Euphonic suffixes and wordplay

In informal speech, some Japanese people may use contrived suffixes in place of normal honorifics. This is essentially a form of wordplay, with suffixes being chosen for their sound, or for friendly or scornful connotations. Although the range of such suffixes that might be coined is limitless, some have gained such widespread usage that the boundary between established honorifics and wordplay has become a little blurred. Examples of such suffixes include variations on chan (see below), bee (scornful), and rin (friendly).[2] Note that unlike a proper honorific, use of such suffixes is governed largely by how they sound in conjunction with a particular name, and on the effect the speaker is trying to achieve.

Baby talk variations

Some honorifics have baby talk versions—mispronunciations stereotypically associated with small children, and hence, cuteness. The baby talk version of sama is chama (ちゃま?), for example, and in fact chan was a baby talk version of san that eventually became regarded as an ordinary honorific.

There are even baby talk versions of baby talk versions. Chan can be changed to tan (たん?), and less commonly, chama (ちゃま?) to tama (たま?). These are popularly used in the names of moe anthropomorphisms, in which a cute female character represents an object, concept, or popular consumer product. Well-known examples include the OS-tan operating system anthropomorphisms, charcoal mascot Binchō-tan, and the anthropomorphizing of Wikipedia, Wikipe-tan.

Familial honorifics

Words for family members have two different forms in Japanese. When referring to one’s own family members while speaking to a non-family-member, neutral, descriptive nouns are used, such as haha (母) for "mother" and ani (兄) for "older brother". When addressing one’s own family members or addressing or referring to someone else’s family members, honorific forms are used. Using the suffix san, as is most common, "mother" becomes okaa-san (お母さん) and "older brother" becomes onii-san (お兄さん). Sometimes the diminutive honorific chan or the reverent honorific sama are used instead of san. Meanwhile, whereas younger siblings address elder siblings as "elder brother" or "elder sister", elder siblings call the younger ones by name, usually without an honorific. Similarly, parents address their children by name, also usually without using an honorific.

  • Otou-san (お父さん): father, or otou-sama (さま?). From chichi (?).
    • Oji-san (叔父さん/小父さん/伯父さん 【おじさん】): uncle (or middle-aged gentleman). -san can be replaced by -sama or -chan (ちゃん?).
    • Ojii-san (お祖父さん/御爺さん/お爺さん/御祖父さん 【おじいさん】): grandpa (or male senior-citizen). -san can be replaced by -sama or -chan.
  • Okaa-san (お母さん): mother, or okaa-sama. From haha (?).
    • Oba-san (伯母さん/小母さん/叔母さん 【おばさん】): aunt (or middle-aged lady). -san can be replaced by -sama or -chan.
    • Obaa-san (お祖母さん/御祖母さん/御婆さん/お婆さん 【おばあさん】): grandma (or female senior-citizen). -san can be replaced by -sama or -chan.
  • Onii-san (お兄さん): big brother (or a young gentleman), or onii-sama, or onii-chan. From ani (?).
  • Onee-san (お姉さん): big sister (or a young lady), or onee-sama, or onee-chan. From ane (?).

See also


  1. ^ Patrick McCarthy. "Dai Nippon Butokukai". Retrieved 2007-08-25. 
  2. ^ Rin is thought to have been inspired by European girl's names like Katherine and Marilyn; see
  • Poser, William J. (1990) "Evidence for Foot Structure in Japanese". Language 66.1.78-105. Reprinted in Natsuko Tsujimura (ed.) Japanese Linguistics: Critical Concepts in Linguistics. Oxford: Routledge, 2005, pp. 159–190.

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Han character

(radical 30 +4, 7 strokes, cangjie input 尸大口 (SKR), four-corner 17607)

  1. sovereign, monarch, ruler, chief, prince, lord


  • KangXi: page 177, character 7
  • Dai Kanwa Jiten: character 3323
  • Dae Jaweon: page 394, character 15
  • Hanyu Da Zidian: volume 1, page 595, character 6
  • Unihan data for U+541B



(Yale gwan1)


Etymology 1

/ki1mi1/: *[kimi] > [kimi].



(hiragana きみ, romaji kimi)

  1. lord

Etymology 2

/ki1mi1/: *[kimi] > [kimi].



(hiragana きみ, romaji kimi)

  1. (informal) second-person personal pronoun; you

Etymology 3


(hiragana くん, romaji kun)

  1. indicates respect
  2. indicates familiarity
Usage notes

-kun is often used as a suffix when calling someone. The listener is lower or the same level in social position and is often, but not always, male.

External links

Etymology 4

Voiced form of kimi due to compounding in suffixation.


(hiragana ぎみ, romaji gimi)

  1. indicates respect
    your father
Usage notes

There is no direct translation in English – as with other Japanese honorifics, it might roughly correspond to dear, as in “your dear father”.

Respectful suffixes also serve to indicate whose relative is in question: rather than “my father” and “your father”, one would say 父 (“father”) and 父君 (“dear father”).

Used of nobles. Attaches to close family relationship nouns such as (mother), (sister), (daughter of a noble family, princess).

Etymology 5


(grade 3 kanji)



  • Kojima, Noriyuki; Arai Eizō [905] (1989). Shin Nihon Koten Bungaku Taikei 5: Kokin Wakashū (in Japanese). Iwanami Shoten. ISBN 4-00-240005-0.




  • Sound (hangeul):  (revised: gun, McCune-Reischauer: kun)



(pinyin jūn (jun1), Wade-Giles chün1)


Han character

(quân, vua)

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