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Japanese Honorifics Guide: San, Kun, Chan, Sama and More

Have you ever felt confused about all those -kun, -chan and -senpai you hear when watching anime? I am sure you have wondered about the meaning of these Japanese suffixes. After reading this post your Japanese will sound more natural as you will learn how to use Japanese honorifics!

japanese family honorifics suffixes

Remember to take the quiz at the end to test your understanding and to sign up at JapanesePod101.com if you really want to learn Japanese with effective resources.

japanese honorifics suffixes san kun chan sama sensei senpai kouhai

Most languages use them: “Mr.”, “Mrs”, “Sir”, “Dr”… But in Japanese, there are more of them, and they are a lot more nuanced. They are often attached to a name as a suffix, but some can stand alone, such as sensei.

In Japanese there are both formal and informal honorifics, plus some familial honorifics. The use of honorifics is considered very important in Japan, and calling somebody by just his name without adding a title is a lack of good manners.

Here is the list of 10 Japanese honorific titles and how to use them!

-San (さん), the most common honorific, equivalent to “Mr.” or “Mrs.” It’s a title of respect between equals, so it’s okay to use for anyone, especially if you are not sure which honorific to use. It can also be attached to occupation names. For example, ‘bookstore (本屋) + san (さん) = “bookseller” (本屋さん).’

-Kun (くん), the most commonly used honorific in anime. It is used to address young males. It is also used by superiors to inferiors and male of the same age and status.

-Chan (ちゃん), most frequently used for girls and between them, children, close friends, or lovers. This can be used when somebody finds a person, a pet, or something adorable and cute. You don’t want to use it with a superior, unless you want to be fired! -Sama (さま), the more formal version of san. Usually used to refer to customers who are deserving of the utmost respect status in Japan, people of higher rank, or somebody you admire.

japanese family honorifics suffixes

-Niisan/Neesan (兄さん / 姉さん), is used when referring to one’s older brother or sister, or any relative or close friend. -Jiisan/Baasan (じいさん / ばあさん), s used when referring to one’s grandfather and grandmother, and is also used to refer to older adults the speaker is acquainted with. Neither of these are seen as insulting, but watch out not to use them with a person sensitive about his/her age!

-Dono (どの), roughly means “lord” or “master”, and lies below sama in its respect level. It’s a title that has almost gone out of use in daily conversation. When it is used, it is usually as a joke expressing an exaggeration of age.

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Here are some honorific titles that can stand on their own:

Senpai (せんぱい), the equivalent of “senior.” This is used for classmates in higher grades and all people with more experience than yourself either at work, club, or in any kind of group.

Kōhai (こうはい), the equivalent of “junior” and the opposite of senpai. As it can appear condescending, it is not used as a suffix.

Sensei (せんせい), is used to refer to teachers as well as people who are experts in their respective fields, whether doctors, artists or lawyers. It shows respect to someone who has mastered some skill.

To go further and master this lesson:


Now that you mastered Japanese honorific suffixes you can move on prefixes! This video lesson is already available on our website and you will learn why and how to use Japanese prefix!

japanese family honorifics suffixes

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Learn to Read and Write Japanese Kanji Characters

You all have experienced that feeling, right?

…Or this one.

But what if I told you…


With this new series, you will discover the Radical Approach to Mastering Kanji. It’s perfect for Japanese Beginners! You’ll learn how to read, write and understand Kanji through an easy, step-by-step method – radicals – the building blocks of Kanji.

And here is the first Kanji achievement you can successfully unlock: one of the most useful characters, the radical for “person,” 亻.

Next episodes of this series to Master Kanji are already available on the wesbite!

You are just a click away from becoming a Kanji Master!

For Japanese Learners: 10 Japanese Adjectives to Describe Yourself

10 japanese adjectives to describe your personality

In this lesson you will learn what adjective describes your personality best. In this video, Risa a native Japanese speaker, will explain the simple adjectives you need. They’re written in both Japanese characters and the alphabet, giving all the tools you need to get started in your Japanese study. Here is our list!

Click here to listen how to pronounce those adjectives!

1. つまらない。


2. 丁寧。

3. 落ち着いた。

4. 面白い。

5. まじめ。

Watch the full video on our website!

6. 恥ずかしい。


7. 親切。

8. 賢い。

9. 熱心。

10. 感情的。

Make friends? Want to impress native speakers? Learn Japanese with our other vocabulary lists!

How to Learn Japanese in Your Car?

Stuck in traffic? Losing time in your car? Have you ever felt that in all this wasted time, you could have watched the 750 episodes of One Piece, finished the last Super Mario ten times, or even better…you could have learned Japanese? Between family, friends and work, in addition to this time-consuming commute, it can become difficult to find time to properly learn Japanese.

How to Learn Japanese in Your Car? Learn language in car

Fortunately, every problem has a solution, and what could be a better solution than turning that commute time into learning time? Stop passing the time mindlessly listening to the radio and try some of our best tips for mastering Japanese in your car!


Here are the 5 reasons why you should start learning Japanese!

You can learn Japanese in your car, hands free
While driving, it’s important that you keep your focus on the road, so this is why our top tips won’t require you to use your hands!

Listening to Japanese audio content in the car is a good way to learn
This is because it is a fun and efficient way to learn. With JapanesePod101.com podcasts, you will be able to discover Japanese culture through topics about everyday life. Instead of the radio, listen to a Japanese podcast adapted to your level, from Absolute Beginner to Advanced, and you will make progress sooner that you would expect!


You can listen to Japanese music in the car
Did you know that you can learn Japanese by singing while driving? Listen to songs from anime or Japanese idols and try to identify some words you learned.

You can also go to our YouTube Channel and play our Kids’ Songs playlist! Challenge yourself! Use the Japanese you’ve studied up to this point and see how much you understand! Making the jump to real-life Japanese is a scary one, but friendly children’s songs are a great place to start!


Click here to listen to our Top 10 Songs for Children To Learn Japanese!

You can learn alone in your car
When you’re driving alone, you can be as loud as you want – there is nothing better for remembering your Japanese lessons than repeating loudly, again and again. Next time you see a driver who seems to be talking alone, you will know he or she is just learning Japanese!


You can learn through repetition with your passengers
If there are passengers in the car, it can be more stimulating to learn together. You can set a role play with Japanese dialogues. With JapanesePod101.com, you can download all the lessons transcript including the dialogues, as a PDF. Print it out and have some fun speaking in Japanese!

One of the passengers can answer the quiz available on each of our lessons, while another can correct that person. Listening to someone at a more advanced level of Japanese or a better accent is positive and helps you improve.

You can learn Japanese offline
Do you have a poor connection or are unable to use the Internet? It’s not a problem for learning Japanese! Before you start your commute, use our App to download the lessons you want to study and the podcast you want to listen to in your car, and you will be able to enjoy your lessons offline. Entering a tunnel won’t be a problem anymore. What a pleasure to listen to audio content without having the host freezing every 5 seconds!


Click here to download the App and learn offline!

You can learn every day at your own pace
One of the best approaches for learning a language is little by little and often. It’s not efficient to take in a huge amount of information at one time. What you need is to study on a regular basis – a little bit of Japanese every day. You commute several days a week, and that is all time you can take advantage of!

You have the freedom to choose the lessons and podcasts you want to focus on, at your own rhythm. You may want to do a little revision or discover how to talk about a new topic. And if you’re wondering what to learn next, you can use the new Learning Paths, which is our customized pathway feature that gives you a step-by-step way to learn Japanese without getting lost!


Click here to access Learning Paths at JapanesePod101!

If you don’t have a car and commute by another method, these tips are still valid! Learning Japanese is no longer limited to the classroom or your house; there are so many benefits to learning in your car or elsewhere. Reaching a conversational level will take you less time than you could ever have imagined! Don’t forget to sign up for your Free Lifetime Account and enjoy our content!

Top 10 Compliments You Always Want to Hear in Japanese


Click here to listen to the audio pronunciation!

1. きみは最高の友達だよ。
きみはさいこうのともだちだよ。Kimi wa saigō no tomodachi dayo
You are an awesome friend.


2. そのジャケット、似合っていますね。
そのジャケット、にあっていますね。Sono jaketto, niatteimasu ne
That jacket looks nice on you.


3. ハンサムですね。
Hansamu desu ne
You’re handsome.


4. よくやった!
Yoku yatta!
Great job!


5. 見た目より内面のほうがずっとすてきです。
Mitame yori naimen nohōga zutto suteki desu
Your inside is even more beautiful than your outside.


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6. 頭いいですね!
あたまいいですね!Atama ii desu ne
You’re smart!


7. センスがいいね。
Sensu ga ii ne
You have good taste.


8. 笑顔が素敵です。
えがおがすてきです。Egao ga suteki desu
Your smile is beautiful.


9. いつも楽しそうだね。
いつもたのしそうだね。Itsumo tanoshisō da ne
You always look like you’re having fun


10. いつもポジティブだね。
Itsumo pojitibu da ne
You’re always positive.


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Top 10 Hardest Words to Pronounce in Japanese

Click here to listen to the audio pronunciation!

1. ツイッター。 - Twitter.


2. 伝えられなかった。 - Could not tell.


3. 侵略。 - invasion.


4. 便利。 - Convenient.


5. 出力。 - Output power.


6. 店員。 - Clerk.


7. 旅行。 - Traveling.


8. 暖かくなかった。 - Was not warm.


9. 駐車場。 - Parking lot.


10. おっちょこちょい。 - Clumsy.


Click here to access this lesson for FREE!

Here are some handy ways you can master the quotes with this lesson:

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  • Leave us a comment and put these quotes to use
  • Speak and master even more Japanese with our fun audio and video lessons made by real teachers. Click on “Browse Lessons” in the top menu to access our massive library. Then, start speaking minutes into your lesson.

    Click Here to Learn Japanese Quotes with FREE Audio Pronunciation!

    どのくらい日本語を勉強していますか。Do you know how to answer this question?

    Do you know how to answer this question?

    どのくらい (dono kurai):how long, how many, how much

    Here is how to ask how long someone has been studying Japanese:

    • どのくらい日本語を勉強していますか。How long have you been studying Japanese?

    Here are some ways to answer this question.

    • 一か月間です。 For 1 month.
    • 二年間です。For 2 years.
    • 半年間です。For half a year.

    How long have you been studying Japanese?

    Click here and leave your answer!

    P.S. Get Your Daily Dose of Japanese with 1-Minute Mini-Lessons
    The Daily Dose of Japanese is a Calendar that gives you new, 1-minute lessons every day. Why? Because learning a little every day is easy, strengthens your habits and motivation and you improve your Japanese over time. Lessons range from culture and holidays to grammar, slang, phrases and more. Find it in the Japanese Resources menu or in the Quick Links menu on your Dashboard.

    Click here to check out the Daily Dose of Japanese Calendar.

    How JapanesePod101 makes learning grammar easy and fun - JapanesePod101 Review

    Understanding is alright, but speaking is hard!

    Hi, my name is Noemi and this is what I have been saying for over a year whenever someone asks me about my level in Japanese.

    I have tons of learning books, and I think they are all good but just too heavy to carry. My Japanese friends are helping me, but it is impossible to remember everything they are teaching me, especially in a more casual context. I also took Japanese classes for 2 years, and those are generally a great option, but not so much for my wallet.

    In other words: I was stuck at my let’s say lower intermediate level and this needs to change. I am in Japan now, so it’s time to learn.

    Basically, what I need is something light and inexpensive that allows me to learn at my own pace.

    I started using JapanesePod101. I was afraid I would give up, but I have now been learning by myself for a few weeks and I enjoy it!

    The three main reasons I like learning with JapanesePod101 are:

    1. Audio Lessons
    Commuting in Japan or anywhere in the world can be quite long and boring. I am getting tired of my iTunes playlist so I’ve decided not to waste my time and listen to those lessons while I’m in the subway.
    What about when I don’t have any data in the subway? It doesn’t matter, because if I download the lessons I can listen to them anywhere at anytime!
    I can always check the script if there are words I couldn’t catch or kanji I am wondering about.
    I am not only learning Japanese, but also about important cultural points, which is really important to me in such a unique country.

    You can find them here:

    2. The Grammar Bank
    Grammar has always been my nightmare – in English, German, and even my native language French.
    Of course, this is also my biggest problem in Japanese and the reason I can not talk fluently for more than 20 seconds. “Grammar” is therefore the first word I looked for when I signed up to JapanesePod101.
    Filters can be used to study grammar points by JLPT level, category, series, and more. For each item, there are examples in both romaji and kana. Audio and explanations are also available. The Grammar Bank is an extremely useful tool for everyone struggling like me with grammar. I promise you that you will progress!

    But first of all, you should check this introduction to grammar:

    3. The Practice Tests
    Checking my progress and realizing I am actually learning new grammar points, words, or kanji is one of the most important things overall.
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    There other points that I really appreciate as well:

  • If you don’t like wasting your time on complicated websites or waiting forever for a confirmation email, well JapanesePod101 is amazing, because everything is simple and fast.
  • Do you have a question? Just ask it and a JapanesePod101 staff member will answer you!
    The vocabulary. Although it’s not what I am currently focusing on, there is a 2,000-word dictionary, with examples, that you can study by subject.
  • You can easily find what you are looking for. The website is well organized by subject, level, JLPT or alphabetical order. You won’t do the same lesson twice ;)
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  • Kanji learning. They are my second biggest nightmare and as they are just everywhere in Japan, it’s very frustrating to understand only 20% of them. JapanesePod101 is helping me to increase this percentage though ;)
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    What are some Japanese abbreviated and contracted words?

    What are some Japanese abbreviated and contracted words?

    皆さん、おはこんばんちは!(mina san, o ha kon ban chi wa!)

    This is one of my favorite words and it’s from Dr. Slump (a manga series), and it’s actually おはよう (ohayou, “good morning”), こんばんは(konbanwa, “good evening”), and こんにちは (kon ni chi wa, “good afternoon/hello”) all mixed together to make one word.

    アニメ(anime) is a truncated version of アニメーション (a nimēshon, “animation”).

    Japanese people love shortening words. I’m pretty sure there are a few that you already know like アニメ(anime), which is a truncated version of アニメーション (a nimēshon, “animation”) and ポケモン (pokemon), which is a contracted version of ポケット・モンスター (poketto monsutā) but there’s more of them than you can even imagine! You probably didn’t notice that many of them are contracted word because they’re used so much! Take 高校 (kōkō), for example. I always thought that was the Japanese word for “high school,” because we say 高校生 (kōkōsei) for high school students, but the original word for “high school” is actually 高等学校 (kōtō gakkō). Did you know about this? Or is it just me? (๑˃́ꇴ˂̀๑)

    Check out the 5 Japanese Phrases To Make You Sound Like a Pro!

    コンビニ (konbini) is a truncated version for コンビニエンス・ストア (konbiniensu sutoa, “convenience store”).

    Anyway, let me share more examples with you so that next time your Japanese friends use these words, you can be cool because you understand what they’re saying! :) Some of them are pretty easy to figure out, like 携帯 (keitai) instead of 携帯電話 (keitaidenwa), which is the word for “cell phone.” I think コンビニ (konbini) is fairly easy as well, as it’s a truncated version for コンビニエンス・ストア (konbiniensu sutoa, “convenience store”). Some words, however, may be a bit more challenging like 東大 (tōdai), from the word 東京大学 (tōkyōdaigaku) and パソコン (pasokon) from the word パーソナルコンピュータ (pāsonaru konpyūta).

    So how do you actually do it? Well, there are some common patterns to it.

    For words that are in kanji like 東京大学 (tōkyōdaigaku), the first kanji of each word is usually taken and combined together, to form a contracted version, so it becomes 東大 (tōdai). It’s a little bit different when it comes to loan words, depending on whether it is made up of one or two words. アニメーション (animēshon), for example, is one word, so only the first part of the word is taken as a contracted form, thus アニメ (anime). ファミリーレストラン (famirīresutoran), on the other hand, is made up of two words, and so the first two kanas are usually taken and combined to form a single word: ファミレス (famiresu).

    Here are some commonly used contracted words:

    Japanese Word Romaji English Meaning
    キムタク kimutaku Kimura Takuya
    (Famous singer)
    テレビ terebi Television
    リモコン rimokon Remote Control
    デジカメ dejikame Television
    スタバ sutaba Starbucks
    メアド meado Email Address
    プリクラ purikura Photo booth
    (a.k.a Print Club)

    There are a lot of fun abbreviated and contracted words in Japan!

    Contracted words are used so much in Japan that people might tend to forget—or, even worse, not be aware of—the original word! It may be a bit hard for non-native Japanese speakers to understand some of them as well, but once you know what it stands for, it won’t be a problem anymore! I find this aspect of Japanese culture really interesting! I hope you feel the same way too!

    Click here to learn more Japanese words!

    That’s all for today!

    では、また! :)

    Must-Know Japanese Holiday Words: Bean-Throwing Ceremony

    Click here to check out the lesson for free and learn more about this holiday!

    Click on the video below to learn about Setsubun for FREE!

    Setsubun (the Bean-Throwing Ceremony) is celebrated on February 3rd in Japan. Can you talk about this holiday in Japanese?

    In this special Weekly Words lesson, Risa will teach you about the customs and vocabulary related to Setsubun.

    You can also get the lesson notes, review the vocabulary and try fun quizzes on our lesson page.
    >> Click here to visit the lesson page on JapanesePod101!

    Want to find out more about Setsubun?
    >> Check out our FREE advanced video on JapanesePod101!

    Are there any events like Setsubun in your country? Let us know in the comments!