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Culture

San? Sama? Kun? Chan? – How to use “honorific” when talking to Japanese.

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Noah
Noah
Hi, May-sama! How are you??
May
May
You shouldn’t use “sama” to me… It sounds too weird.
Noah
Noah
Oh… It’s really confusing!

I believe that many people must have got confused by Japanese honorifics when they have a conversation with Japanese people.

People sometimes use honorifics such as “Mr.” or “Ms.” in other countries,  but the biggest difference is that Japanese people use honorifics much more frequently.
So if you have a chance to talk to Japanese people, it would be good for you to know about Japanese honorifics for smooth and better communication.

Japanese people usually use honorifics when they call each other, even they are very close, so if we get called only by name without honorific, we might feel uncomfortable because simply we don’t get used to such situation.

Noah
Noah
Then, do you mind if I call you just May??
May
May
Not at all, because we are family!!
Noah
Noah
Oh… It’s really confusing again!

How to use Japanese honorifics?

You should know at least four major honorifics below. There are others, but these are very minor so you don’t have to worry about them.

San Most common, polite
Sama Very polite. Especially use for client or customer
Kun Casual. Basically for boy (and sometimes men).
Chan Casual. Basically for girl (and sometimes women)

You can learn more details from the table below.

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  San Sama Kun Chan
Friend ×
Colleague
Boss × ×
Client × ×
Kids ×
Older People × ×

 

As you can see, if you are not sure which honorifics to use, you should use “San”, then you are safe!

Interesting differences of honorific between English and Japanese

Both Japanese and non-Japanese people use honorifics, but there are many differences between them.

“Chan” is only for girl/woman?

For example, you can use “Chan” (which is usually used for women) to men , though it is very rare.

If you are a boss and he is a subordinate, or if two of you are very close friend, you can use “chan” to the man. Be careful because this sounds very casual and it might sound rude, so you should use “chan” to men only when you are very close.

Noah
Noah
Do Japanese use honorifics to your pets??
May
May
Um… Sometimes we use “chan” to their pets.
Noah
Noah
Even the pets are boys??
May
May
Yes.
Noah
Noah
OMG, it’s really confusing AGAIN!

Family name or First name?

English honorifics put only to family names. You don’t call someone like “Mr. John”. On the other hand, Japanese honorifics put both family name and first name.

So you can say: Suzuki-san (family name), and Hiroshi-san (first name).

Japanese honorifics are very complicated and there are many exemptions, so if you have a particular question, feel free to let me know from here!!

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