Japanese Honorifics

One of my American friends asked me two questions about Japan. This was one of them.

The Contract318 : My first question is: What is the meaning of calling someone _____chan vs _____san. In my Japanese class we are called by our last names with san at the end, which I think means Mr./Mrs. However, many times in manga people say "-chan" at the end. Is this something said just between friends?

Answer : Yes.

The Japanese language has five common honorifics to add at the end of names of people.
“San”, “chan”, “kun” “sama” and “dono”.
“Dono” is used scarcely. You write it when you direct letters to lower ranking people. That means that writing the honorific makes you appear bossy.
When my younger brother has wrote to me using it, I got angry and complained. He said that he writes many letters to his patients with the honorific every day, and he had used it out of pure habit. He is a doctor. I believe he is arrogant.
I think only Tennoh (the Japanese Emperor) can use that when he writes to Japanese people.
When you write letters, you must write “sama”.
“Sama” is also used to call customers. Shop assistants and clerks usually address their customers with “sama”.
By the way, we call god/gods “kamisama”. This “sama” is the honorific.

When you call your boss and fellow workmates, you should add “san” to their family names.
If you are very elderly, you can address young subordinates with “kun”. However, I don’t recommend it.
If you are a male student, you would address your male friends with “kun” or just their names without an honorific, and would address your female friends with “san”. If the person is your girlfriend, you can address her without an honorific as well.
If you are a female student, you would address your female friends with “san”. When the friends are very close, you can address them with “chan”.
When you are an adult, you must be very friendly to address friends with “chan” or to be addressed with “chan”.

Is it complicated?
Don’t worry. You can always say “san”.
Good luck!
Thank you!!

Koir, ColinHowel and Columbine, thanks for helping!


What “Freeter” Is

If you write the Japanese word フリーター in English, it would be “freeter” (both singular and plural), and that means a person or people who work(s) part-time.
Once one of my English teachers asked me what “freeter” was.
I wasn’t able to explain that then because it’s really complicated.
Let me try it here.
Freeter is a shortened version of “freearbeiter”.
“Free” is from the English word “freelancing”, and “arbeit” is from the German word “arbeiten”(work).
Then, the last part “er” is the English way to make nouns from verbs. For example, play and player.
Arbeiten is pronounced arubaito in Japan, which means part time job(s). The origin is that medical students used to say they “arbeiten” when they cut corpses to study human bodies. They meant it was hard work. My father (who is a surgeon) used to say that cutting corpse heads in two is tiring activity. Japanese medical students studied German because early Japanese medical information was from Germany. This word has spread and been changed to mean 'part time work'.
Anyway, “arbeiter” means “part time worker” now.
In this word “freeter”, “free” means “without permanent position” or “freelancing”, and many young people can’t get permanent positions recently. Most of them become freeter. You might think “freelancing” implies independence and flexibility, but these people only have instability. They can earn little.
This is a big problem in Japan. I guess your country might be so, too.

Thank you.

Koir, Columbine, dogsbody70, ColinHowell and JamboP26, thanks a lot!


A Dream

This was my dream this morning.
I was desperate for the bathroom in the dream. I seemed to be on a big ship or a huge vehicle, and was about to attend a meeting. I decided to visit the bathroom before the meeting starts when the floor shook violently. I stumbled back several steps, then saw many people coming down the hall. I pushed my way through the crowd with great effort. The ground kept shaking and I went backward again. I felt as though I were a tiny boat in a hurricane.
Next I saw a stairway in front of me. My destination seemed to be on the upper floor.
I crawled up the stairs because the floor kept shaking widely. The ship must have been in a huge typhoon. After tumbling down twice, I managed to reach the top step and reached out my hand. Except now it wasn't a step but a big vaulting box I had to clear.
Since the floor was shaking so much, I had to climb over the box. Behind it was the door and I rushed at it.
Finally I opened the door and woke up.
I felt really tired.

Thank you.

Koir, JamboP26 and dogsbody70, thank you very much for your help.


Kakusan’s comment Ⅱ

(This is Kakusan’s response to my post titled “Why Japan prefers a monocultural society : Part 2)

Indeed, in order to maintain the very diversity that I espouse, it is sometimes necessary to follow a policy of isolationism or protectionism. When a unique variation is in danger of being crushed by overwhelming external force, for instance, something must be done to preserve it. If that is the course that the Japanese people, or any people, decide through a democratic process to follow, then that is entirely their prerogative.

We too face problems with foreign wildlife out-competing our native species, such as the red squirrel.

Yurisan, I do not mean to imply that you need to be large! That was in reference to animals and plants in general. In humans in particular high heterozygosity serves as a guard against the genetic defects that can arise through inbreeding. It results in offspring that are more resistant to all sorts of diseases. Let me be clear, I am not advocating some kind of eugenic cross-breeding programme! I was merely pointing out that diversity has it's advantages in various arenas, and so it should not surprise us to find that multiculturalism, in an analogy with genetic diversity, can also be advantageous.

I agree that studying abroad is a good thing. However, I think there are some things that you learn from living next door to someone who came from another country, or growing up in the same class at school as someone from another culture, that you cannot learn from reading or from spending a short time with people in another country.

I genuinely believe that a spirit of common understanding is fostered over the long-term by multicultural societies. I acknowledge that clashes happen, and that they can have terrible consequences, but in the long run when we are confronted every day by the reality that we are all human beings, it is very difficult to foster baseless prejudice.

As for the UK and the US, I contend that the crime rates are hardly attributable to multiculturalism. The fact is that we used to have police on the streets walking the beat, and if anyone were to shout for help a policeman would be there. Nowadays the police spend most of their time doing paperwork, eating curry and getting into car chases. Now that's a slightly simplistic take on the problem, but suffice it to say that it represents the main cause for the current climate and attitude towards crime.
...I did not mean to accuse the Japanese of bigotry! I apologise if I was unclear — I meant that human beings in general tend to find reasons to discriminate against, segregate and persecute others. These are usually false reasons, and such people would hate others even if they couldn't find a reason. The supposed reasons are just a way of rationalising baseless hatred.

I understand about Christianity in Japan in the 17th century. It was the same all over the world. The views of the Church at that time were very bigoted, albeit well-intentioned for the most part. The majority of missionaries thought they were doing God's work and making the world a better place, and in some cases they did a lot of good. However, many of the Church's doctrines were harmful and certainly overbearing. So the reaction of the Japanese, who already had their own very effective ethical code, was entirely understandable and quite natural in my opinion. I don't think there is ever a good reason for killing, but certainly some reaction to suppress the cultural invasion was inevitable.

I understand what you are saying about starting in a new workplace. In fact I usually tend to be like that myself, but I know what you mean about Western people in general. Rest assured that we're not all like that! I appreciate that some precious aspects of diversity can be lost by assimilation, and this is a great shame. As with the out-competition of native species, this is something to be avoided and I feel that protective measures are most certainly warranted in such situations. You are most certainly entitled to be yourselves, I do not deny that. All I am saying is that we can learn a lot about who we are as human beings by living alongside people who do things differently and come from a different background.

On the other hand I accept that there is a danger, in an environment of total multiculturalism, of losing one's roots and of losing the uniqueness of our own cultures. In order to prevent this some protectionism is warranted, as long as we remember that we are still a part of a greater whole.