Japan is a society that is almost obsessed with formality. Nearly everything they do is tinged with the fear of social rejection. Everything is done by a complex set of rules in this polite society. Okay maybe I was exagerating things a bit but on a whole the Japanese do tend to be very formal. One of the hallmarks of this is the various suffixes that are added to peopleís names. Each one has itís own meaning based on what the relationship the speaker has to the subject. This can be very confusing for people that have just started watching anime. To make matters worse it is perhaps the biggest stumbling block that American distribution companies have when translating anime, regardless of whether it is subbed or dubbed. However there is nothing to fear for with a little knowledge the various suffixes should make sense.
-San This the most common title in the Japanese language. It is also the most neutral and the safest to use in social situations. It is equivalent to calling someone Mr. Mrs. or Ms. Itís use is simple politeness. Very polite characters will sometimes add the suffix -san to things other than people.
-Sama A title connoting great respect and deference. Traditionally it is used for speaking to someone of a higher social class. After watching a lot of anime I have it has a secondary meaning. It will also be used (most often by female characters) to denote that they are romantically obsessed with the person they are speaking about. The best example that I can give of this phenomenon is Sylphiel in Slayers. Although Gourry is a simple wandering swordsman the fact that she still refers to him as Gourry-sama (Gourry dear in the dubbed version)is a testament to how much she loves Gourry (even if he is too thick to realize it).
-Chan This title is used when refering to people and sometimes things that are younger than you. This is a term of endearment and is typically used to refer to young women or cute things.
-Kun Similar the -Chan but is a title better used when referring to young men. Both -Kun and -Chan are informal titles and should not be used for people that you are not that familiar with even if they are in a lower position than you. A good example of this would be Irresponsible Captain Tyler. Tyler Refers to Yamamoto as Yamamoto-kun. Even though Tyler is the captain of the ship and Yamamoto is subject to his authority this still drives Yamamoto up the wall.
-Dono This similar to -San but it is not used often anymore. Itís use generally denotes the speaker to be a very formal and generally conservative person.
-Sempai This translates roughly to senior. It is used to refer to people in the same field as you who are a bit older than you but not so far above you to be your boss. It can also be used as a word by itself. You will hear this one said a lot in high school settings.
back to articles