Thank you for getting lost and somehow ending up on Lost in Honyaku!
Here we teach you little Japanese bits and bobs so you can get the most out of the anime you are watching! We aren’t teaching you how to use Japanese, so no grammar here! However, there is so much Japanese that gets lost in translation, and we don’t want you to miss out!
How do you say ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ in Japanese? The truth is that there is no single answer. It depends on your relationship with your parents, on your personality or even on whether you are addressing them directly rather than talking about them.
There are many ways to refer to family members in English. For example, you may refer to your father as ‘dad’, ‘father’, ‘papa’, ‘daddy’ or maybe even ‘old man’. Japanese is pretty much the same. They have plenty of words to refer to siblings too. Another interesting aspect of Japanese is that these words may even be used to refer to people you aren’t related to or maybe to people you don’t even know!
You may notice that many of the titles below follow the pattern of o~~san. ‘o’ is just a nice prefix to sound more refined and make the words sound more beautiful. As you will know if you have read the first article, the ‘~san’ is a polite honorific ending. This can of course be replaced with ~chan to be more endearing or ~sama to show a lot of respect. They can be mixed-and-matched in many ways. Let’s look at some ways to refer to an elder brother
Although they all have the same meaning, there are subtle differences between them. For example, onii-chan seems like something that would be uttered by a younger sister who idolises her strong and kind elder brother. Onii-sama, on the other hand may be used by somebody from a very well-to-do family with a good upbringing.
In English you are likely to address your own father as ‘Dad’ but refer to him as ‘my dad’ when speaking about him to other people. The word doesn’t change much, does it? This isn’t the case in Japanese, of course! There is usually a separate word without respectful suffixes such as ~san to use when talking to people outside the family.
For example, a character may call their mother okaa-san but then talk about her to their friends using haha (no, not the laughing sound!). They would also refer to and maybe even address other people’s mothers as okaa-san.
So let’s look at the words, member by member. Bear in mind that this is not a definitive list! Plus, we don’t even begin to cover regional dialects!
So let’s start with the member of the family you usually don’t want to mess with: the mother!
The standard way to address one’s mother is with ‘okaa-san’ (お母さん) or some variation thereof. To refer to one’s own mother, one is likely to use haha (母) to people outside the family. A member of a noble household (especially in a samurai anime!) may address their mother with ‘haha-ue’ (母上) and a child may use mama (ママ). You might have a more wild-type guy who refers to his mother with ‘ofukuro’ (おふくろ) This literally means ‘bag’ but it’s not QUITE as rude as the expression ‘old bag’ in English…
Okaa-san or the more polite okaa-sama (お母様) can be used to refer to other people’s mothers!
The father of the family is usually addressed with otou-san, (お父さん), and with chichi (父) when referring to one’s own father to somebody outside the family. A papa (パパ) might have a young child, and an oyaji (親父・おやじ) may have a slightly rough, badly mannered son.
One may refer to other people’s fathers with an otou-san or even otou-sama (お父様) if they are feeling super well-mannered.
Confusingly, couples with children may refer to each other as mama and papa or okaa-san and otou-san, etc. so don’t be alarmed if you hear a couple calling each other ‘mom’ or ‘dad’.
In English it is the norm to refer to a sibling by their name, but in Japanese you have to show respect to your elders and that includes your older siblings! The standard way to address an older sister is with onee-san (お姉さん) and its variations. Ane (姉) is used to refer to your sister to outsiders and ane-ue (姉上) is super refined and a common trope in period dramas. You may hear onee-san being used to refer to young women you don’t know. Such as to a female bartender: ‘Hey, onee-san! Could I get a beer?’
If a character is close to their older brother they may go for onii-chan (お兄ちゃん), or if they are from an upper-class family and they are living in the Edo-period, an ani-ue (兄上) may be more suitable. Aniki (兄貴・アニキ) is not only used by wild guys, but you are also sure to hear this in any yakuza anime to refer to the big bro of the mafia-style family.
Onii-san is also heard to refer to young men who you don’t know. As in, ‘Hey, onii-san! You can’t go in there!’
Oba-san (おばさん) is the typical word for aunt. Be careful not to get this confused with obaa-san (おばあさん), the word for ‘grandma’! Unlike most of the other phrases we’ve learned today, the ‘o’ is not a beautifying prefix and it can’t be taken out. As well as being used to refer to your own aunt, it can be used to address strangers of a certain age. This can be a cause for hilarity in anime, as the character will insist that they are a young onee-san rather than an oba-san approaching middle age.
Fun fact: There are different kanji that can be used to write oba based on whether the aunt is younger (叔母) than your parent or older (伯母). However, you generally find it written in hiragana (おばさん).
You can refer to your uncle as oji-san (おじさん) and like above, being called this for the first time may be the moment where a male character realises that he’s getting on a bit.
Fun fact: There are different kanji that can be used to write oji based on whether the uncle is younger than your parent (叔父) or older (伯父). There is also a special kanji (小父) used to refer to men you are unrelated to! However, you generally find it written in hiragana (おじさん).
You would address your grandma using obaa-san (おばあさん) or some variant. It seems very close to oba-san (おばさん) so be sure to listen out for that long ‘aa’!
You may refer to your grandma as sobo (祖母) to outsiders, but call out to an old woman using obaa-chan (おばあちゃん). Or, if manners mean nothing to you,then you might prefer babaa (Something akin to ’Old hag’).
As a child you may have lovingly sat in the lap of your ojiichan (おじいちゃん) but you then grew up into a total bro who just doesn’t GAF and you call your grandpa and other old men jijii (Kind of the equivalent to ‘Old Fart’).
A few more family words
The next couple words are not usually used to refer to members of one’s own family, but I feel that they wouldn’t be out of place in this article.
Ojou-sama (お嬢様) or ojou-san (お嬢さん) is often translated as ‘little miss’ or ‘young lady’. It is mostly used as a respectful way to refer to another person’s daughter. However, it can sometimes refer to a young lady from a very distinguished family. In a later article, let’s look at ojou-sama Japanese (お嬢様言葉)!
Botchan (坊ちゃん) and variants like botchama (坊っちゃま) are used to address another person’s son (along with the slightly less formal musuko-san (息子さん)). Like ojou-sama (お嬢様), though, it can be used more specifically to address young boys from distinguished families. The word has been immortalised in English thanks to the famous novel ‘Botchan’ by the legendary author Soseki Natsume.
Now you probably have a slightly better idea as to how different family members are addressed! You may have already noticed the characters in anime using these words to refer to people outside their family! Of course, there are more ways to address family members, and even more ways to make up nicknames.
If you have heard any interesting or creative ways that characters have referred to their family members then let us know in the comments below!