Cultural differences - greetings and introductions in Japanese
Tuesday, 12th February 2013
It is always polite to remember names and address people correctly. After all, individual names are almost always our first point of reference when we meet someone for the first time.
However, when mixing with people from other cultures, this first point of contact can sometimes be a great cause of confusion!
In some cultures, the first name is not always the given name and could in fact be the family name. In Japan, for example, all names consist of a family name (surname), followed by a given name.
And while Westerners say their given name first and their family name last, Japanese say the family name first and then the rest of their name. The majority of surnames comprise one, two or three kanji characters. Japanese names are usually written in kanji (Chinese characters), although some names use hiragana or even katakana, or a mixture of kanji and kana.
Male names often end in -rō (郎 “son”, but also 朗 “clear, bright”; e.g. “Ichirō") or -ta (太 “great, thick”; e.g. “Kenta"), or contain ichi (一 “first [son]”; e.g. “Ken’ichi"), kazu (also written with 一 “first [son]”, along with several other possible characters; e.g. “Kazuhiro"), ji (二 “second [son]” or 次 “next”; e.g. “Jirō"), or dai (大 “great, large”; e.g. “Dai’ichi") while female names often end in -ko (子 “child”; e.g. “Keiko") or -mi (美 “beauty”; e.g. “Yumi"). Other popular endings for female names include -ka (香 “scent, perfume” or 花 “flower”; e.g. “Reika") and -na (奈, or 菜, meaning greens; e.g. “Haruna").
In addition, there are strict norms governing names in Japanese society and generally when referring to someone by name, an honorific suffix is used. Which we could compare to English as follow :
• san (さん), sama (様) => Mr, Mrs, Miss
• dono (殿) => Sir, Madam
In everyday life, “san” is the most common suffix. “-chan” is a more affectionate term, used mainly with friends, family members and children."-kun" is usually reserved for boys or young men, but can sometimes be used for girls or young women too.
Dropping the honorific is reserved for one’s lover, younger family members, and very close friends.
Understanding Japanese names and how to address someone in Japan will go a long way towards making a good first impression during your first trip to Japan or when you meet a Japanese person for the first time.
Posted by Joshua Gabriel 2013-02 under