Your 168-Word Mini Japanese Culture Lesson


“The Karate Kid” helped make it cool in America to use the Japanese honorific “san,” but Mr. Miyagi was only telling part of the story. The Japanese will often use honorifics at the end of someone’s name to designate their relation to themselves; “san” is just one such term. “San” is used for someone you don’t know well, peers and always for people above your station. Call a young, beloved girl, “chan,” and call a young, beloved boy, “kun.”

Uncool:

  • Calling your 50 year-old male boss, “Miyagi-kun”
  • Referring to yourself as “Me-san/kun/chan.” Honorifics are only to be used in the 2nd or 3rd person. Young children will often make this mistake.
  • Calling a little girl, “kun.”

Cool:

  • Calling a little boy, “chan.” It’s a little irregular but still considered okay. Famous example: Crayon Shin-chan.
  • Calling a female co-worker who is older than you, for example, “Eba-chan.” Apparently, it’s okay if said Eba-chan is, I quote, “very cute.” At least they’re not calling her “Eba-kun” … or late for dinner.

I’m here all week, folks.

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Kimberly says:

    I’m convinced that you are really teaching me swear words in Japanese.

  2. ieatmypigeon says:

    If I could I might, Kim, but I only know the mild dirty words that kids use over … and over … and over … I’ve learned that some good ways to be rude in Japanese are by using informal language with someone above your station or super formal language with a peer (sarcasm). Maybe some day when I master formal language I can try that out myself.

  3. Ruben says:

    as a pet owner you can use neko-chan and inu-chan (or wan-chan) 🙂

  4. ieatmypigeon says:

    I’ve heard kids use “san” for wild animals! “O saru-san” … “O zou-san.” It’s pretty hysterical.

  5. ReallyJapan says:

    Oh I didn’t know that.. probably a wild saru is somehow scary, so they use -san.. while a cute pink saru with big eyes and little stars is just -chan… yeah, if it’s cute, it’s -chan or -kun..

  6. ieatmypigeon says:

    Like that ridiculous Chinsa-kun! The cute little Elvis-caped monkey from the real estate agency ….

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