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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!

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

Discover the Top 10 Anime to learn Japanese!

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.

For Japanese learners: here are 5 phrases your teacher will never teach you!

-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. -Jisan/Basan (じさん / ばさん), is used when referring to one’s uncle or aunt or any middle-aged adult the user is already acquainted with. Also there is Jiisan/Baasan (じいさん/ばあさん), which literally refer 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:

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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!

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  • Learn to Read and Write Japanese Kanji Characters

    You all have experienced that feeling, right?

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    But what if I told you…

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    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!

    How To Learn Japanese with Anime?

    We always see this kind of advice on the Internet: “You should watch Japanese drama, it helped me to quickly progress” or “There is nothing better than anime without subtitles for learning Japanese”.

    How to learn Japanese with Anime?

    Can you really learn a language without much effort by watching anime?

    Following this advice can bring many advantages:

  • Attuning your ears to Japanese by listening to native speakers
  • Boosting your vocabulary
  • Boosting your dialogue-related listening comprehension
  • Letting you hear a language used in context
  • Learning passively while having fun

    At the end of the day, it seems like a great idea, but in reality it’s not totally true… Actually, it varies! We definitely recommend that you expose yourself to a lot of resources in their original language such as movies, drama, anime, music…for the reasons above. But you will never learn Japanese like that.

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    Click here to download our free App and listen to native speakers for free!

    Anime as a complement to your learning tools
    It’s best to see these videos as a Japanese learning complement. You need to acquire a certain amount of vocabulary and grammar in order to better comprehend a Japanese video or conversation.

    This is our approach: JapanesePod101.com brings you tons of audio and video lessons, from songs to dialogues and cultural insights, and each of these lessons has a grammar focus, a vocabulary list, a lesson transcript and notes so that you don’t miss any points. We give you the foundation you need to be able to understand anime and benefit from watching it.

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    Here are the 10 animes that can help you learn Japanese!

    The myth of learning by only watching anime

    The “watch anime and learn Japanese” concept is just a myth. A lot of high school students improve their English level by reading books and comics, or watching dramas and movies in English with subtitles in their own language. You, meanwhile, might watch all 700 episodes of One Piece or Dragon Ball in Japanese but still not make any progress!

    The difference? Those foreign students are not starting from scratch when they use this method to learn Japanese. Even though they might still be at a low level, they were working on some solid foundations.

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    Basically, what you will hear after 6 months of watching anime in Japanese, while hiding the subtitles, would probably be something like:

    bla bla bla bla bla Hello bla bla bla bla Thank you for this meal bla bla bla bla die A**hole bla bla bla Kawaiiii bla bla bla bla bla It hurts! bla bla bla bla I love you bla bla bla bla bla bla really!?

    Still quite far from fluency, right?

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    Start learning Japanese for free right now!

    The key to learning through anime

    The key is the amount of passive vocabulary you already have. It’s all the vocabulary you understand when listening to or reading Japanese, without having the need to search in the dictionary. Our brain has limited capacity and if it doesn’t recognize 70-80% of the words in a sentence, it will be incapable of filling in the blanks to give a sense to the unknown words based on the context.

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    Let’s look at these two cases:
    1. You are at a beginner level of Japanese
    2. You are at an intermediate level of Japanese

    In both cases, you must expose yourself to a lot of Japanese media: podcasts, videos and so on…

    In the first case, your brain won’t be able to analyze what you hear when you’re watching anime because you miss too many words. Of course we don’t forbid you from watching anime, but be aware that you are only training your ears to become accustomed to the sounds of Japanese. This is a good start, though. But you will also need to start learning grammar basics and vocabulary. Our Japanese for Absolute Beginners series will offer you the resources you need to quickly understand the foundations of the Japanese language, through entertaining topics.

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    If you are at an intermediate level, you will need to acquire a lot of vocabulary covering a large range of topics. Challenge yourself with our Listening Comprehension series on YouTube, listen to our podcasts and verify through the lesson notes and transcripts that you understood everything, from the grammar point to the explanation of the kanji used in the lesson.

    Access all the reading, audio and video resources you need to become fluent in Japanese!

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    Anime can be a great learning tool because it’s fun and there is a lot of it around. Just make sure to do a little extra work to optimize its use! Don’t forget to sign up for your Free Lifetime Account to access all our resources and be able to watch anime without subtitles!

  • 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!

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    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!

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    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!

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    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!

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    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!

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    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!

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    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 15 tips to remember words when learning Japanese

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    Hey Japanese learner!

    We recently gave you some shortcuts to learn Japanese.
    In your journey to become fluent and conversational in less time that is needed to say “Gotta catch ‘em all”, we will this time give you the Top 15 tips to remember words!

    1. Use repetition: reading, writing and speaking words over and over again.

    2. Associate words with drawings, pictures and funny scenes.

    3. Try to use the language routinely in the context of daily life.

    4. Reading as much as possible, especially the newspaper, helps you to remember words.

    Click Here To Start Learning Japanese Right Now!

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    5. Learn about the roots of words and how different words are related to each other.

    6. Speak as often as possible with native speakers.

    7. Categorize new words with other related words that you already know.

    8. Be persistent in practicing everyday by talking to your family or your dog, even though they don’t understand you.

    Click Here To Sign Up For A FREE Lifetime Account!

    9. Say words out loud so that you can actually hear them.

    10. Associate new words with words that sound similar in your native language.

    11. Listen to songs and memorize the lyrics.

    12. Often watch TV or YouTube videos that are designed for young children.

    Access tons of Audio and Video lessons for Free!

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    13. Associate new words with stories, games or movies.

    14. Try to use the new word in a simple sentence so you learn whole phrases, not just individual words.

    15. Try to think in Japanese, so it becomes natural to your thought process.

    No money, no credit card required, just you and the ton of lessons!

    If you follow all those tips, you will be a step closer to reach your goal. And remember, if you’re really interested in getting on the fast-track to fluency, sign up for a FREE lifetime account at JapanesePod101.com!

    Learn Japanese with the New My Flashcards System (beta)

    Premium Members, your Premium Account just got a whole lot more powerful! My Flashcards now allows you to study the Japanese words you want by importing lists from audio and video lessons, your My WordBank and the Japanese Core Word Lists 2000. Here’s a quick rundown of the new features:

    My Flashcards Dashboard: My Flashcards have a brand new interface. Import words from any audio and video lesson, My WordBank and the Core Word Lists. Create, edit and delete as many decks as you want!

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    Create a New Deck: How you want to study is completely up to you! You control what displays on the front and back of cards. Create new decks out of the existing words in My Flashcards. Simple pick the words, name your deck and you’re ready to study.

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    Front of Card Display: The new My Flashcards load fast and are easy to use. Test yourself with native audio recordings. When you’re ready for the answer, simply click on the card to flip it over.
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    Back of Card Display: Learning sometimes isn’t as simple as just Right or Wrong. Our smart spaced repetition system will evaluate your progress from the three answer choices so you test more of what you need. Get extra review with sample sentences and audio.

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    My Stats: We track your progress in My Stats. Don’t just learn new words - master them! This chart will keep you motivated to master all the words in your deck!

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    My Flashcards is still in beta mode, which means, we’re still working out some kinks. If you’re a Premium Member, head over to My Flashcards under My Tools to try them out. These flashcards are part of your Premium Subscription. Something not working? Send us a message at contactus@japanesepod101.com .

    Not a Premium Member? For a limited time only, get 1-Month of Premium Access to JapanesePod101.com for only $5 - that’s even cheaper than our regular priced Basic 1-Month Plan! Use coupon code FLASHCARDS at checkout to get Premium for $5.00. Hurry! This offer ends on June 30th, 2011!

    I Marge Am

    You may have noticed that Japanese sentences’ word order are different from English. Yet, although it may sound odd to say “I Marge am”, don’t be discouraged about it, it is just a matter of learning Japanese sentence structure and soon it will become second nature. Remember that to Nihon-jin our word order for “My name is Marge” must be strange too!

    What is Nihon-jin? Nihon-jin is the way to say “Japanese person”.
    in Japanese, to express nationality, you add the word for person, jin ( 人 )to the name of a country. Let’s take a look at some examples.

    日本 (Nihon)  (jin )= 日本人  “Japanese person”

    in the same way:

    ア メリカ (Amerika) +  人 (jin )アメリカ人 (Amerika-jin)  “American person”

    イギリス
    (Igirisu)  + (jin )=  イギリス人  (Igirisu-jin)   “English person”

    in total, you can say:
    (私は)アメリカ人です。
     (Watashi wa) amerika-jin desu.
     I’m American.

    Note that when talking about yourself, it is not necessary to say “watashi wa”, as it is implied that you are talking about your own nationality in this case.

    Easy enough? Talking Japanese step by step you will realize that although the grammar and structure might seem different, it makes sense in its own way.  now that you know some basic introduction and important ice-breaking introductions, go ahead and take that trip confidently! It only gets more interesting from here!

    Did You Just Call Me Grandma?

    The concept of long and short vowel sounds is an important concept to understand when learning Japanese pronunciation. Vowels can be lengthened, and there is a very distinct difference between long and short vowels. Note that in this lesson, a macron (small horizontal line over a vowel) denotes a long vowel that we hold for twice as long as a regular vowel.

    double vowels
    and vowel pairs
    Sounds like…
    ああ aa あー ahh
    いい ii いー ee
    うう uu うー  ooh
    ええ ee
    えい ei
    えー ehh
    おお oo
    おう ou
    おー ohh

    In many cases, whether the vowel is long or short will determine the meaning of the word. Let’s illustrate this with some examples:

    かど カード
    kado kaado
    “corner” “card”

    in the case of kaado (”card”), we 持old the “a” 音ound for approximately twice as 長ong as the “a” 音ound in kado (”隅orner”). As you can see, the meaning is very different depending on whether the vowel is 長ong or 短hort! Let’s look at a 少ew more examples:

    おばさん おばあさん
    o-ba-san o-baa-san
    “aunt” “grandmother”
    おじさん おじいさん
    o-ji-san o-jii-san
    “uncle” “grandfather”

    A slight change in how long you make the vowel sound will make all the difference!

    When Size Does Matter!

    Are your eyes failing you, or is that hiragana character tinier than the other one? In Japanese, since there is a limit of hiragana characters, there is the need for some combinations. There are in total, 33 combination sounds that are made using small ya, yu, and yo.

    The following are examples of these combinations:

    KYA

    KYU

    KYO

    example :
    きゃく kyaku ( “customer” ), きゅう  kyuu  (”nine” )

    SHA

    SHU

    SHO

    example :
    しゃかい  shakai  (”society” ) ; しゅみ  shumi  (”hobby” )

    CHA CHU CHO

    example :
    ちゃいろ  chairo  (”brown” ) ;  ちゅんちゅん  chunchun  (”chirp chirp” )

    NYA

    NYU

    NYO

    example :
    ぐにゃぐにゃ  gunyagunya  (”crooked” )

    HYA

    HYU

    HYO

    example :
    ひゃく  hyaku  (”one hundred” )

    MYA

    MYU

    MYO

    example :
    みゃく  myaku  (”pulse” ) ; みょうじ  myouji  (”family name̶ ;)

    RYA

    RYU

    RYO

    example :
    りゃく  ryaku  (”abbreviation” );  みりょく  miryoku  (”charm” )

    GYA

    GYU

    GYO

    example :
    きんぎょ  kingyo  (”goldfish̶ ;)

    JA

    JU

    JO

    example :
    ジャズ  jazu  (”jazz̶ ;)

    BYA

    BYU

    BYO

    example :
    さんびゃく  san-byaku  (”three hundred̶ ;)

    PYA

    PYU

    PYO

    example :
    はっぴゃく  ha-ppyaku ( “eight hundred̶ ;)

    It is important to keep notice if the character is full size or half-width, as it can really change the pronunciation and meaning. Fore example, こんにゃく(con-nya-ku  ”Kojnac”..a type of Japanese food ingredient) and こんやく ( con-ya-ku..”engagement” ) !