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Japanese honorifics: Sama, Kun, Chan, San…

What are Japanese honorifics? Japanese keigo | 敬語

Japanese Keigo (敬語) are Japanese honorifics and these are suffixes and prefixes that are used when talking to someone or talking about someone. They are used to establish a relationship between the two and can be polite or informal. In Japanese, it is impolite to refer to someone by name in most cases. These names will add to or replace someone’s name as a function of honorifics.

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The easiest way to get a similar statement between Japanese and English is that it is similar to “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Ms.”, “Miss”, “wife”. If you plan to speak Japanese, or simply want to better understand Japanese society and culture, then stick with us to find out more.

Japanese honorific suffixes | Japanese san | Japanese kun | Japanese chan | Japanese chan

Sama | ~様 (~sama) | Japanese sama | Japanese honorifics | Japanese suffixes

Sama is at the higher end of the politeness hierarchy and is reserved for more specific situations. When referring to gods or goddesses, sama or okami-sama is used, where kami means god. It can be used to show respect when speaking to guests/clients or corporate clients.

It is also used to refer to members of the Japanese emperor’s family, with the exception of the emperor, who is simply called “Hika”. The usage of sama is also slightly different. For example, sama is used with various names, such as: “Gochisou sama deshita”, which means “thank you for your food”, and I will say it after eating.

The Japanese imperial family is considered Sama, if you want to know more about them click on the link and it will take you to their official website.

Kun | ~君 (~kun) | Japanese kun | Japanese honorifics | Japanese suffixes

kun in Japanese
Japanese boy (kun)

Kun is mainly aimed at young men, male friends and men in general. People of higher status also use it when conversing with the younger boy. Although it is mainly used for men, it is not a strict rule, but the meaning of using it when referring to girls is different.

Generally, Kun is less polite, but for girls, it is more respected than Chan. In a business environment, older men may still use it for younger women. Also, in schools, male teachers may use this suffix to refer to female students. Regardless of gender, it can be used among close friends. The use of Kun is very flexible and will change slightly depending on usage.

Chan | ~ちゃん (~chan) | Japanese chan | Japanese honorifics | Japanese suffixes

Japanese chan
Japanese children (chan)

Chan is generally used for girls, young children, babies, close friends and grandparents. It can also be used between lovers, even for cute animals. The person to whom it is addressed has tenderness or affection, so it is not appropriate to use it to address a stranger.

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San | suffix ~さん (~san) | Japanese San | Japanese honorifics | Japanese suffixes

san japanese
Japanese elders (san)

Japanese San is the most common and universal honorific title. This is the safest choice because you can use it regardless of your age, gender or social status. If you are not sure which honorific to use, then san is a safe choice.

Tan | Japanese suffixes

Similar to chan, but more tacky and cheesy. Tan is mainly used for young children. Because it sounds like a child with incorrect pronunciation, it can be seen as naive conversation.

Bo | Japanese suffixes

Similar to tan, bo is used for small children. However, it is only for children.

Japanese honorific prefixes | Japanese suffixes

Some words in Japanese begin with what is known as the “honorific ‘o'”. This prefix can be seen in the word for tea, where cha (茶) is spelled or said as ocha (お茶).

Certain specific nouns may have the honorific “o” attached to them to make them more polite when they sound. You will also see it in familiar titles like the word for mother, when you treat them with utmost respect but without making them look close affection, ka-san (母ンン) and father tou-san (父ンン) becoming oka-san (お母ンンン) and otou-san (お父ンン), respectively. (We know that if we wanted to show affection though it would be less respectful it would be oka-chan).

The prefix “go” can also be added to some words, specifically for words that use the Chinese onyomi reading (音読/おンよみ), rather than the Japanese kunyomi reading (訓読/くンよみ). A common example of this can be seen in the word gohan (ご飯), which means “cooked rice” or “food”.

Other Japanese honors and Japanese suffixes

sensei in Japanese
Sensei in the dojo

In addition to the suffix of the person’s name, there are some titles that can be placed after the person’s name or replaced altogether. There are many different situations, such as work or school, that require the use of this particular type of honorific.

Senpai

Use this title when talking to older people and people in your circles. For example, I call a colleague who has more work experience as Senpai. The term can also be used in schools or clubs for people one year above you. This does not apply to teachers, who are called “sensei”.

Hakase

To locate experts in a given field, you can use hakase. Sensei is a more common usage and can replace hakase in many cases.

KouHai

Kouhai in the school environment, on the other hand, is a young classmate and therefore lacks experience. Despite the existence of the title kouhai, it has never been used to refer to someone. Instead, use the suffix kun.

Sensei | Japanese sensei | 先生

The Japanese honorific Sensei (先生) is used when addressing any authority figure in a particular field of knowledge. Many people think of this as just a teacher. However, it is used for teachers, lawyers, politicians, doctors, etc. It can be used with someone’s name or it can be used alone.

If you have any questions about Japanese suffixes, leave a comment.

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We are specialists in Japan, one of us graduated in Japanese culture, studying in Japan at Keio university, also with Japanese language course, and qualified in Japanese noken 3 (n3). We are a family of 4 and we love to travel. We love Japan, its culture, its people, its language, its cities, its small towns, its nature, its food, anime and manga, souvenirs.... EVERYTHING ABOUT JAPAN!

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