Tuesday, June 7, 2016

I Need Advice on Japanese Honorifics

I am in need of advice on the use of Japanese honorifics. So far, I've found the following: San, Sama, Kun, Chan, Bō, Senpai and kōhai, Sensei and hakase, Shi, Dono/tono, No kimi, Ue, Shōgō and I suspect there are dozens I am missing.

For first time visitors, I am writing a requested piece on a conflict between five Inari shrine maidens who are kitsune, defending their shrine against an invading body of Inugami. The working title is The Shrine War.

The structure of the kitsune shrine maidens is as follows: Sen is the head of them all determined by seniority (she is over 900 years old). Sen's commands are followed without question (though Chiyo may speak up and respectfully point out another option). Directly below her is Chiyo who is second-in-command and would succeed Sen if something ever happened to her. Kiku and Kuwa are twins, next in line and equal in status. At the bottom is young Hoso who is subservient to all.

The structure of the Inugami is they have a leader, Akumu, the unquestioned warlord of the pack of ten. The remaining nine are equals and totally subservient to Akumu who has a goddess-like status to them (though she is not).

If important, all characters are female.

Question: How would they address each other? How would they refer to each other in discussion when the other person was not present.

Any advice or insight would be greatly appreciated.

Oh! One last question. My human character, Brennan Woodbrygg, is an American and in the story will interact only with Sen and Hoso. He is aware that Sen is the authority in the shrine (it does not have a priest, only miko, i.e., shrine maidens), but is not clear on the status of Hoso though aware she is under Sen in authority. Though American, he is very sensitive to Japanese culture. How would he address these two?How would they address him? (Sen looks somewhat down on all humans, Hoso is awed by the first human she has ever seen.)


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_honorifics

    This has helped me a great deal, for being Wikipedia.

  2. Received many responses (most on Facebook and offline). I appreciated them all.

    Here is the best explanation:

    Japanese honorifics : the use of ~san ,~kun , ~chan and ~sama
    April 22, 2010 at 12:43pm

    note : if the writing is small use "Ctrl" and "+" to zoom in ^^

    Japanese uses a broad array of honorific suffixes for addressing or referring to people. These honorifics are gender-neutral and can be attached to first names as well as surnames.

    When addressing or referring to someone by name in Japanese, an honorific suffix is usually used with the name. Dropping the honorific - referred to as yobisute (呼び捨て) - implies a high degree of intimacy and is reserved for one's lover, younger family members, and very close friends.

    "~ san (~さん)"
    is a title of respect added to a name. It can be used with both male and female names, and with either surnames or given names. It can also be attached to the name of occupations and titles.

    surname | Yamada-san | 山田さん | Mr. Yamada
    given name | Yoko-san | 陽子さん | Miss. Yoko
    occupation | honya-san | 本屋さん | bookseller
    title | oisha-san | お医者さん | Doctor

    "~ kun (~君)"
    is used to address men who are younger or the same age as the speaker. A male might address female inferiors by "~ kun," usually in schools or companies. It can be attached to both surnames and given names. It is less polite than "~ san." It isn't used between women or when addressing one's superiors.

    "~ chan (~ちゃん)"
    is often attached to children's names when calling them by their given names.
    It can also be attached to kinship terms in a childish language.
    It may also be used for babies, young children, and teenage girls , lovers, close friends, or any youthful woman.

    Mika-chan | 美香ちゃん | Mika
    obaa-chan | おばあちゃん | grandma
    oji-chan | おじちゃん | uncle

    "~ sama (~さま) "
    is a markedly more respectful version of san. It is used mainly to refer to people much higher in rank than oneself, toward one's customers, and sometimes toward people one greatly admires. When used to refer to oneself, sama expresses extreme arrogance (or self-effacing irony),
    as with ore-sama (俺様, "my esteemed self").


    Shi (氏 【し】) is used in formal writing, and sometimes in very formal speech, for referring to a person who is unfamiliar to the speaker, typically a person known through publications whom the speaker has never actually met

    Sensei (先生 【せんせい】) (literally meaning "former-born") is used to refer to or address teachers, doctors, politicians, and other authority figures. It is used to show respect to someone who has achieved a certain level of mastery in an art form or some other skill, and is also applied to novelists, poets, painters, and other artists, including manga artists.

    Senpai (先輩 【せんぱい】) is used to address or refer to one's senior colleagues in a school, company, sports club, or other group.

    kōhai (後輩 【こうはい】) is a junior, the reverse of senpai, but it is not normally used as an honorific.