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Welcome to - Lesson 2 Japanese Writing: Honorifics

It's time for another lesson in Anime Vice Japanese Lessons. Last time we covered how names are written in Japanese. This time we are going to cover Japanese Honorifics. It's something you will hear quite often when watching Japanese dub work of animes, and most fan sub groups keep them in the mangas. Most publishers cut them out. Some are pretty basic and easy to learn. Some are more obscure. In this lesson I'm going to teach you some of the kinds you are most likely to see in anime/manga, and how they should be used.

The concept of Japanese Honorifics is one of the strongest in the Japanese language and culture that is based upon politeness that has existed since the Feudal Era (1185-1603). The use of honorifics makes clear a person's relationship or status in either the their friends, coworkers, or general society. They are a sign of the level of respect you have for a person. Honorifics in the Japanese language are attached to the name as a suffix.
A common misunderstanding of honorifics from most outside of the culture is that honorifics are used when a person is speaking of them self. Using an honorific when addressing yourself is seen as a sign of arrogance. It's the equivalent of talking about yourself in the third person. It's why I always find it funny when people have an honorific in their online handles.

Used in manga and anime, the Japanese honorifics gives the reader an insight to the relationship standing characters have with one another. These often have such subtle nuances that they are not easily translated into other languages. This being the cause while most publishers remove them. This can at times distort a story from it's Japanese origins.

General Honorific

These are examples and descriptions of many of the most common and uncommon Japanese honorifics you can find in Japan. Though most honorifics are written in the hiragana form of Japanese writing. Occasionally, they're written in kanji.


The honorific "-san" (さん) is one of the most common and well known honorific in Japan. It is the basic equivalent of Mr. Miss, Ms, & Mrs. It covers all of these. Use of "-san" is directed toward a person you know generally or have just met.  If you are unsure of which honorific to ever use. This is the safest choice. 


The honorific "-han" (はん) is a variant of "-san" used in the Kansai dialect.


The honorific "-sama" (様 / さま) is best described as one level higher than -san. More often used toward those you hold in high regard. It's a sign of respect. It's also used in the service industry quite widely. When addressing a customer an worker would refer to the person as "-sama".
This honorific can also be found at the end of certain statements that express gratitude for a person's efforts or hard work. 

English - " I appreciate your effort. "
Japanese - " ご苦労様 (go-kurō sama) "


The honorific -dono (殿 / どの) originally comes from the word "tono" (殿 / との) that means "lord". It would be similar to addressing someone as "milord". The use of which is a higher level than "-sama". Use of "dono" is for those in which you have a very high level of respect for. This is not regularly used in modern Japanese conversation.
In manga/anime, a character from a samurai upbringing will often refer to others with "-dono". The character Shinobu from Nagasarete Airantou refers to everyone outside her family as "-dono".


The honorific "-kun" (君 / くん) is a very common suffix added to the end of boy's names, and sometimes used for men. Normally with people who have known each other since the past. It is a sign of closeness and endearment toward that male. The use of "-kun" can also be used for men who are of a junior status. It can also be used by a girl for a man she is emotionally attached to or very close with.
The use of "-kun" on males is not an absolute rule. It can be used in a business setting by men addressing younger female employees. The use for women can also be used when speaking to a girl you have known since infancy. In the series Detective Conan, the police chief Juzo Megure always addressed Ran Mouri as "Ran-kun". He has known her since she was born.


 Though Shinichi is a boy, his mother still uses the honorific "chan".
 Though Shinichi is a boy, his mother still uses the honorific "chan".
The honorific "-chan" (ちゃん) is a common suffix added to the end of a girl's name, and sometimes used for women. Normally with people who have know each other since the past. It's a sign of closeness and endearment toward that female. The use of "-chan" can also be used for women who are of a junior status.
The use of "-chan" on females is not an absolute rule. It gives a sense of child-like cuteness. A mother will often use "-chan" for her own son his whole life. It can also be used for the names of pets and lovers. In the series Detective Conan, Shinichi Kudo's mother Yukiko Kudo always addresses her son as "Shin-chan". 


the honorific "-ojōsama" (お嬢様 おじょうさま) is a title that is often given to the daughter or sister of a family from high social or political status. As with "-senpai" and "-sensei", it can be used in place of the person's name.  


The honorific "-bōzu" (坊主 / ぼうず) is a way of addressing boys in an informal manner. The use of which could be endearing or disparagingly.
In the manga/anime series Negima!, many of the students of Negi Springfield still refer to him as "-bōzu", despite the fact he's their teacher.


The honorifics "anisan" (兄さん / にいさん) is a generic term used for any boy, but more commonly one who is older. It's often shortened to "nisan".


The honorific "-anesan" (姉さん / あねさん) is a generic term used for any girl, but more commonly one who is older. It's often shortened to "nesan".


The honorific "-ojisan" (叔父さん / おじさん) is a generic term that roughly means a "old man" and is used as a family title for an uncle, but when used to address someone it would be the equivalent to "mister". You more often hear it when someone younger is talking to someone older.
The "-ojisan" is commonly abbreviated as "-osan" when addressing someone older. An age range of 30-40s.
Luffy in One Piece will often make up names for some of the people he meets and add "-osan" as their honorific.
 Luffy calls Iceburg as "Ice-osan"
 Luffy calls Iceburg as "Ice-osan"



The honorific "ojii-san" (お祖父さん / おじいさん) is a generic term that means a "male senior-citizen" and is also used as a family title for a grandfather. An age range of 50+
Kanji variants: 御爺さん / お爺さん御祖父さん


The honorific "-oba-san" (伯母さん / おばさん) is a generic term that means a "middle-aged lady" and is also used as a family title for an  aunt. An age range of 30-40s. It would be very similar to calling a woman "Ma'am", something I wouldn suggest you use lightly. Best to stick with "-san".
Kanji variants: 小母さん / 叔母さん


The honorific "-obaa-san" (お祖母さん / おばあさん) is a generic term that means a "female senior-citizen" and is also used as a family title for a grandmother. An age range of 50+. This is a polite honorific to use for an elderly lady. Using just the honorific alone would be similar to calling someone "granny".
Kanji variants: 御祖母さん/御婆さん/お婆さん


The honorific -ue (上 / うえ) is used when a person has an enormous level of respect for a person, but is no longer used in regular conversation in this modern era. It is more often regulated for family members from high social classes or people who were taught to speak formally. A literal English interpretation could be see as " honored mother/father". It is not necessarily isolated to talking about your own family member, but other people's family, as well.
An example in manga/anime could be seen in series such as Soul Eater and Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion. The character Death the Kid addressed his father Shinigami-sama as "chichi-ue". Lelouch Lamperouge not only speaks of his own mother as "haha-ue", but even used that title for Kallen Kozuki 's mother when he first saw her. He also uses "-ue" when talking about the elder members of his family.

 父上 / ちちうえ
母上 /  ははうえ haha-ue Mother
兄上/ あにうえ ani-ue Older Brother
姉上 / あねうえ ane-ue Older Sister

-(blank)/ no honorific

It's an interesting fact, but the lack of using a honorific can be very telling in a number of ways. This is not something you want to do if you have just met someone. You pretty well always want to use a honorific when talking to someone. It's something you actually need someone's permission to do. It's exclusive to family, very-close friends, or your spouse. Not even necessarily your boy/girlfriend or lover. When speaking in Japanese and not using an honorific without permission. That is being extremely rude.

School Setting


The honorific "-senpai" (先輩 / せんぱい) is a way of addressing any upperclassmen as a nod to those who came before you. It's standard use is in the school setting. The use of which could even be in place of the upper-classmate's name and address them simply as "senpai".
Frequently, the "-senpai" honorific is spelled as "sempai". That is because it's the way the word is pronounce.
This honorific has one of the wider uses in manga/anmie. The use of which isn't isolated to the academic levels. It is also used in a business setting by newer employees those who hold seniority over them. 


The honorific "-kohai" (後輩 / こうはい) is a way of addressing any underclassmen and the opposite of "-sempai". Also as with "-senpai" The difference is that the use of this term is hardly ever used as an honorific. More often the "-kun/-chan" honorifics are used.


The honorific "-sensei" (先生 / せんせい) is a suffix of added to the names of those who are teachers or a master at a craft. It's one of the most well known honorific next to "-san". Contrary to common belief, it is not exclusive for just teachers. It could be used as a title for doctors, writers, and even artists, anyone who is a master of a craft.
Similar to "-senpai", the "-sensei" honorific can be used as a stand alone title for addressing a person.


The honorific "-senshu" (選手 / せんしゅ) is a suffix added to the names of those who are athletes, no matter the sport. It can apply to boxers, soccer player, and those who enter martial arts tournaments.

Royalty Honorifics

Similar to many other honorifics, These can all be used alone and not attached to a name when speaking to someone. They don't necessarily need to be attached to a person's name.


The honorific -heika (陛下) is used for sovereign royalty, similar to "Majesty"
Tennō Heika
His Majesty the Emperor
Kōgō Heika
Her Majesty the Empress

Kokuō Heika
His Majesty the King

女王陛下 Joō Heika
Her Majesty the Queen



The honorific -denka (殿下) is used for non-sovereign royalty, similar to "Royal Highness"


The honorific -hidenka (妃殿下) is for addressing the consort of the prince, and is used the same way as the other royal titles.


The honorific -kakka (閣下) means "Your Excellency" and is used for heads of state ministers including the Prime Minister of Japan, ambassadors and other high-rank officials such as the Secretary-General of the United Nations. 

Military Honorifics

 The military ranks in Japanese are handled as honorific suffixes to a soldier's name. A good anime series to watch to get a handle on military honorifics would be Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

Next Lesson: Names - Family Names

Back to Lesson Guide: HERE

-Kristoffer Remmell ( FoxxFireArt) is a freelance graphic artist, writer, and over all mystery geek.- Follow for lesson updates: @ animevice / @ FoxxFireArt
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