Honorifics in Japanese are a complex system of addressing others, similar to “Mr.” and “Ms.” or “Sir” and “Madame” in English. Mastering Japanese honorifics will help you engage in all formal conversations with utmost confidence and grace.

There are eight most common Japanese honorifics. We will start with the most common ones and eventually move toward the advanced ones used in specific situations. If you are a Japanese learner and looking for a suitable platform to learn Japanese online, you have come to the right place. Now, you can learn Japanese online with italki without compromising the comfort of your home. The italki Japanese tutors are the best of the best providing learners with all the right set of tools to become fluent speakers.

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Eight most common Japanese honorifics

さん — San

If there is any equivalent to Mr. or Ms. in English, this is the one. It is used in both formal and informal situations, and it is generally acceptable to use for anyone when you are unsure which honorific to use. San can also be used to show respect for businesses and shops, as well as the people who work for them.

(くん) — Kun

You may have heard the term kun in an anime, which usually refers to a young boy. Kun is typically used to address young males or any man (or woman) who joined a company after the person who is addressing them.

It is also used by women when referring to boyfriends, husbands, or extremely close male friends. Many times, you will hear a woman attach kun with a certain fondness behind her words. But keep in mind that kun is generally used to refer to young men or boys.

ちゃん — Chan

Chan is a hilarious honorific. It is used when a person (or thing, or pet) is adorable, sweet, or endearing. It’s usually used to address or talk about babies, young boys, and girls, teenage girls, girlfriends, boyfriends, or even a male friend who is too close to warrant a san.

It is crucial to understand Japanese culture while using particular honorifics. Understanding people and culture is important to avoid any kind of embarrassment or awkward situation.

() — Shi

Although you are unlikely to hear shi spoken aloud, it is a fairly common honorific in writing. It is mostly heard or written about a famous person or notable figure. It can also be used in place of a pronoun once the identity of the person in question has been determined.

(さま) — Sama

Sama is a more formalized form of san.

It is typically used to refer to customers, those of higher rank, or someone who has earned (or simply deserves) your respect. Customers of any kind of shop or service are automatically treated with “utmost respect,” so you have probably heard this if you have ever gone shopping in Japan.

先輩 (せんぱい) — Senpai

Senpai is another honorific that is frequently used in anime and Japanese series. It is used to address a senior in your school, workplace, club, or any other group to which you may belong. If you are a sophomore, a freshman in your college will address you as senpai. In turn, you will use it to address or refer to a more experienced colleague.

In a nutshell, you can use senpai to refer to someone who is of the same rank as you but at a higher level.

先生 (せんせい) — Sensei

You may already know that this one is used to address teachers, but sensei is also used to address people who are experts in their respective fields in general. It can refer to scientists (doctors, biologists, physicists, etc.), artists (novelists, painters, musicians, manga artists, etc.), people in law and politics (politicians, lawyers, judges, etc.), and martial arts masters.

As with sensei, it can be used as a stand-alone title and is so frequently used in this manner that you may forget who you are referring to.

殿 (どの) — Dono

When neither san nor sama is appropriate, 殿 (どの) is usually simply added to a name. It is a tricky little honorific that’s usually used when the person you are referring to is on the same level as you but deserves more respect than usual.

It roughly has the meaning of “master” or “lord,” but it is not commonly used in the same context.

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Japanese honorifics for the Family

You can use these terms to tell someone about your family members.

– 父 (ちち) — Father

– 母 (はは) — Mother

– 兄 (あに) — Older brother

– 姉 (あね) — Older sister

– 弟 (おとうと) — Younger brother

– 妹 (いもうと) — Younger sister

– 祖父 (そふ) — Grandfather

– 祖母 (そぼ) — Grandmother

– おじ — Uncle

– おば — Aunt

お父さん (おとうさん) — Father, Dad

This is fairly standard, but it can be substituted for a variety of other options depending on your relationship. (親父 (おやじ — dad, old man) can be used to refer to an older gentleman in an affectionate or somewhat rude manner.

お母さん (おかあさん) — Mother, Mom

A lot of the time you can drop the お prefix when speaking to your mother.

おじさん — Uncle

This one can also be used to describe an older man you may or may not know… However, use this one with caution. You don’t want to ruin someone’s day by calling a 30-something an “old man.”

おばさん — Aunt

You may have heard people in TV shows use this for women they don’t know but believe to be older women.

Japanese honorifics for job or company

– 社長 (しゃちょう) — President

– 副社長 (ふくしゃちょう) — Vice president

– 部長 (ぶちょう) — Department head

– 課長 (かちょう) — Section head

– 係長 (かかりちょう) — Team leader

– 弊社 (へいしゃ) — Our company, humble

– 自社 (じしゃ) — Our company, neutral

– 貴社 (きしゃ) — your company, noble [*Use 貴社 when it’s written.]

– 御社 (おんしゃ) — your company, honorable [*Use 御社 when it’s spoken.]

– 当社 (とうしゃ) — Our/your company, the company in question, neutral

You can also learn Japanese greetings to structure your sentences properly. These greetings show your manners and behavior towards the people around you.

Frequently asked questions

Q. What exactly do Kun San and Chan mean?

A. If you’ve ever read a manga or watched an anime, you’ve probably heard people addressed as -san, -chan, -sensei, or even -kun. These are Japanese honorifics that are used in the same way that “sir” or “ma’am” are.

Q. What is the most respectful Japanese honorific?

A. Samaさま is a more formal term of address for those deserving of the utmost respect, those of higher rank, and anyone you would like to communicate deference and admiration for.

 Q. Can you use kun to address a female?

A. Kun is not only used to address females formally, but it can also refer to a close friend or family member.


Understanding Japanese culture requires an understanding of what they are. This is especially true in terms of Japanese formality, politeness, and acceptable behavior.

An honorific is used to refer to the person you’re speaking with or about (if that person is not around). While we would use these expressions in front of the last name in English (Mr. Johnson, Ms. Adams), they are always expressed with a suffix in Japanese.

If you want to speak and write Japanese effortlessly, you need to master greetings, phrases, expressions, and Japanese writing systems such as kanji (the most complex one)

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