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Written by Maciamo top top 9 may 2004


First that all, watch out for preconceived ideas. Contrarily come what plenty of foreigners and Japanese alike generally think, "san" is not the tantamount of "mister" or "mrs". Because that example, "san" can likewise be offered for animals, and not simply for cats and also dogs, but for any animal. Even a spider can be referred to as "kumo-san" (especially by children). It additionally works with pictures, so the you could call a tiger or monkey on a paint "tora-san" or "saru-san". Cockroaches (gokiburi), which many Japanese strongly dislike, it seems ~ to it is in the exception that confirms the rule, as nearly nobody will provide them a suffix in ~ all.

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Let us say that Japanese suffix are simply untranslatable right into English. The turning back is likewise true, as "Mr", "Mrs", "Miss" or "Ms" are also untranslatable in Japanese.

Besides, Japanese prefixes can be provided either with very first or critical names, when "Mr" and also "Mrs" are not usually used just with given names in English.

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Gender issue

Interestingly, Japanese language go not differentiate gender, while Japanese have always attached a the majority of importance to sex roles separation in the society, and still think strongly in the nowadays. Might it be that the lack of sex nuance in the language shows by a stronger traditional rift between men and also women ?

Politeness levels

Gender notwithstanding, Japanese suffixes present various levels of respect, which we could compare to English as follow :

san (さん), sama (様) => Mr, Mrs, Missdono (殿) => Sir, Madamkyou (卿) => Lord, Lady, Dame

Nevertheless, "sama" is supplied for Shintō gods ("kami-sama"). But as there are countless them, they perform not necessarily deserve the very same respect or fear as the solitary and omnipotent Judeo-Christo-Islamic god.

The most referential titles room "denka" (殿下) and "heika" (陛下). The very first one means "His/Her/Your Highness" and is provided for royal/imperial family members members. The second method "His/Her/Your Majesty" and also is supplied for the Emperor or Empress - or King and also Queen, in various other monarchies around the world.

Everyday suffixes

In daily life, "san" is the most typical suffix. "-chan" is a much more affectionate term, used largely with friends, family members and also children. "-tan" is a type of slang version. "-kun" is usually scheduled for guys or young men, however can sometimes be supplied for girls or young females too. There is also "-shi" (氏), i m sorry is one intermediary kind between "san" and "sama" in regards to politeness, and also is largely used for professionals like designers or lawyers.

Then come "sensei" (先生), i beg your pardon is offered for anybody v a understanding superior come ours. The is most typical for doctors, teachers and professors, however can likewise be provided for politicians, martial arts masters, etc. Contrarily to other suffixes for this reason far, "sensei" have the right to be used alone, without a name prior to it, as with "doctor" or "professor" in English. So, one can say "Nomura-sensei" or just "Sensei", choose one might say in English "Professor Nomura" or "Professor".

"Sempai" (先輩) is another really common method of addressing someone with much more experience or a ordered superior. It can be provided alone or ~ a name, choose "sensei".

Flexible politeness

It is feasible in Japanese to change the suffix, and politeness level attached come it, you use v one details person. That means that "politeness" in Japanese is situational and also not a resolved status offered to someone choose in most European languages. Girlfriend could speak to a girlfriend or family member alterning the suffix "-chan", "-kun", "-san", "-sama", or even "sensei" if that human being is in a position of better knowledge 보다 you in the situation and teaching girlfriend something. A husband teaching his wife how to journey a car or use a computer could be called "sensei" by she at that particular time. She could an extremely well adjust suffix in the course of the same conversation.

Name short-forms and noun combinations

It is really common because that Japanese to usage the first syllable of someone"s name and also combine it with a suffix. For example, "Mi-chan" can be the short-form of Miki, Michiko, Miko, Misa, Minato, Mickey, Minnie, etc.

Suffixes can likewise be used with some common nouns referring to a person. E.g. "kyaku-san" or "kyaku-sama" (customer, client, guest), "okaa-san" (mother) or, more informally, "okaa-chan" (mum, mom).


Suffixes can additionally be merged in a much more or less humoristical manner, choose "-chama" (chan + sama), together in "obaa-chama" because that "grand-mother", i m sorry is both affectionate and respectful. Over there is a lot of of liberty in the possible combinations, which is the pure opposite the "Mr, Mrs, Miss" in English, which room fixed and also non interchangeable.

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Situational & emotionally VS logical and systematic

In addition, no one will contact a girlfriend or family members member "Mr" or "Mrs" in English, while it is habitual in Japanese and also has no real meaning. Like many cultural differences in between Japan and Western countries, Japanese suffixes perform not have actually a logical an interpretation or usage, but give one emotional measurement which count on the situation. It"s the same similar to the sentence finishing "da yo", "da ne", "da yo ne", "da zo", etc.

In various other words, we can say the the Western method of thinking is logical, accurate and also systematic, if the Japanese (and various other East oriental ones) are emotional, vague and situational.

Impolite suffixes

Other less polite suffixes also exist. Their intensity count a lot on the intonation and context, like "-baka" (馬鹿), or the ever before ruder "-yarou" (野郎) - and combination "bakayarou", i m sorry is however normally supplied alone as an insult.So, "kyaku-yarou" would be a very impolite means of talking around a customer someone strongly dislikes. This can also be supplied individually, prefer in "ano yarou !" ("this a*shole !") or "baka !" ("" !)