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A Quick Glossary of Japanese Terms

by "Hayashi"

Here are some terms that show up frequently in anime.

Honorific suffixes - such as -san, -sensei, -sama, -kun and -chan - are roughly the same as Mr, Miss, Master and so on. Hpnorifics connote respect, and how honorifics are used depends on the relative status of the person that one is speaking to. Note that honorifics are never used when referring to oneself.

-san: the all-purpose honorific, used most frequently.

-kun: Used mainly for men and boys who have some sort of regular relationship with the speaker, such as classmates or acquaintances. Occasionally, in the case of office co-workers or in the military, women are addressed as -kun.

-chan: Used mainly for young girls. -chan is always affixed to the given name. Women who are close friends will also address each other as -chan. If a woman has known a man since childhood, or if they're sweethearts or married, they may address each other as -chan.

-sensei: Usually used to address teachers (the Japanese word for teacher is sensei). It is traditionally used to address people considered to be wise and/or intelligent, like doctors or authors.

-sama: The most respectful form of address. Used to address VIPs... or people you want to suck up to.:D For example, a shopowner will address a customer as o-kyaku-sama, which means "honored guest." It's also an affected way for girls to address boys they like. (-sama is frequently mistranslated as "Lord" or "Lady" - the more accurate translation would be "Master" or "Miss/Madam.")

Other less common honorific suffixes are -han (Osaka version of -san) and -dono (an archaic version of -sama, nowadays only heard in samurai period drama like Kenshin).

Honorific names - such as ojii-san, onii-san, and so on - are used in place of actual names. They're used to denote respect, or if you just don't know someone's name and want to get their attention.

onii-san - (pronounced onee-san) Typically used for older brothers. It is also used by young children to address any boy or man older than they are (though not elderly men, where ojii-san is used).

onée-san - (pronounced onay-san) Typically used for older sisters. It is also used by young children to address any girl or woman older than they are.

ojii-san - (pronounced o-jee-san) Used to address elderly men.

obaa-san - Used to address elderly women, though in real life, hardly anyone uses it anymore for fear of offending.

Occasionally you'll notice that a character will not use an honorific to address another character. This can mean one of three reasons:
- the addresser is a teacher or a person of higher status than the addressee;
- they know each other extremely well; or
- the addresser is ill-mannered, deliberately being rude, ...or is a foreigner.XD

You can also tell the degree of closeness between a man and a woman depending on whether they address each other by given or family names and the honorifics they use. Men and women generally address each other by their family names, followed by -san. If a man and woman are friends, classmates or colleagues, she may address him as [family name]-kun and vice versa. However, if they are close friends, she may address him as [given name]-kun, and he may address her as [given name]-san. If they're sweethearts or married, they may drop the honorifics altogether and address each other by their given names (also see the example of -chan, which in this context means something like "honey").