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One day, you decided to change the channel, watch something new, and found yourself immersed in the world of anime. Now you simply can't stop watching. Welcome to the otaku world! We know it’s confusing, but we are mostly friendly. And we have cookies!
So like any subculture out there, anime has slang; special words used in certain ways within Japanese society and that have been changing through time. We otaku also contributed to the changes of words usage, as anime has crossed the borders of its original country and now is enjoyed all around the world. So this time, we are going to explain several suffixes that you surely have heard in your favorite anime series. Remember, an informed otaku is a good otaku.
The origins of -san, -sama, -chan and -kun
One characteristic of Japanese is that it's an agglutinative language. This means we have some letters forming a root word and then we can add some stems that act as branches to form a sentence. Adding other stems (like leaves) right after the original word modifies the meaning, making it more specific. The “branches” and “leaves” makes it easier to identify the meaning and intention of the words.
This is basically what happens when we hear “name-chan” instead of a plain name. In Japan, name suffixes help us knowing how we stand towards a person within their hierarchical society. It would be rude to address a superior (a boss) in a familiar or even in a plain manner, for example. Suffixes might sound as medieval or even dictatorial, but they also can help us to show affection towards other people, as we will see soon.
What is -san?
Probably the most heard name suffix by new otaku is -san. After all, it has been used in famous American movies like Karate Kid. -san is derived from -sama, which we will explain a little bit later. Anyway, using -san after a name shows respect towards an equal of age, school grade or status. It's used to address people, but on these days, it can also be used for pets or objects.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan 2013 - March 2013
Also known as The Troubled Life of Miss Kotoura, this story was originally a manga by Enokizu. Haruka Kotoura is a sweet girl who can read people’s minds. This is a hazle for her, as she is rejected even by her own family. One day, she meets the pervert but kind Yoshihisa Manabe, who offers to become his friend. From that point on, Haruka makes the voyage back towards being accepted by society.
As we can notice in the anime title, -san is translated as “Miss”, showing the respect Haruka wishes so much to earn.
The Troubled Life of Miss Kotoura - Official Trailer
What is -sama?
-sama is used for people who have a higher rank than the speaker, so we can find it in postal information, business mails, customer support, and similar situations. On daily conversation though, is a little bit more rare to hear. Kami-sama (meaning God) is also written with this suffix, but if you happen to find someone who call themselves “name-sama”, this shows arrogance. You have been warned.
Aa, Megami Sama!
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Jan 2005 - Jul 2005
Also found under the English title of “Oh, My Goddess!”, this very long manga by Kousuke Fujishima tells us the story of Keiichi Morisato. A looser by nature, he mistakes the telephone number of his senpai (superior grade school fellow) and enters the world of Belldandy and her sisters, members of the Goddess Help Line.
In this anime, we find a mortal falling in love with someone superior to him, so it is more than logical to address the sweet Belldandy with the suffix -sama.
What is -chan?
We know that Japanese have a special spot on their lives for everything cute. Under this logic, -chan is the cute version for -san which shows that besides respecting someone, we are fond of that someone. The suffix -chan tends to be used for young family members, from babies to teenagers, but it can also be used for grandparents. Still, these days -chan can be used for everything we find cute. Remember Kitty-chan? Yes, Hello Kitty is called Kitty-chan in Japan.
We also have to be careful, as using -chan to call someone from a higher rank is considered rude. So please, make sure the person you want to address using -chan thinks of you as a close or dear friend. A person calling themselves “name-chan” is considered childish also, so if the motivation behind it is to have a cute effect, there is no further problem. Just notice that in work or formal environments it will sound out of place.
- Episodes: 888
- Aired: April 1992 - Ongoing
Who in the anime world has not heard about Shin-chan? But well, just in case you are a brand-new newbie: Yoshito Usui created a manga about a small and mischievous boy called Shinnosuke Nohara and his daily life adventures with his family. Some consider this anime as the Japanese Simpson family.
As you can notice here, another characteristic of the suffix -chan is that the first name can be shortened, in this case from Shinnosuke to Shin. So, Shin-chan is the perfect way to call a little, although restless boy!
Shin Chan Season 3 Part 1 - Available Now - HD Trailer
What is -kun?
This suffix is commonly used for men and children, but it also can be applied by persons in a high status when they refer to any person in a lower status, especially in formal environments like school or work. It is not uncommon to hear Professors calling their female students with the suffix -kun. It is also interesting that male freshmen in companies call their superior female colleagues with this suffix also. But maybe the most important usage for -kun in the world of anime is that it's a favorite suffix for girls to show affection towards a certain guy.
Tonari no Seki-kun
- Episodes: 21
- Aired: Jan 2014 - May 2014
This anime started as a one shot manga by Takuma Morishige. The idea behind it is simple but funny; Toshinari Seki is a boy who makes all kind of experiments and games instead of paying attention in class. His classmate Rumi Yokoi is both distracted and annoyed by this, but always ends up joining his endeavors. As she is the main narrator, we hear her constantly referring to him as Seki-kun.
【PV】アニメ化決定！ となりの関くん 30秒Ver.
So, here we have the explanation for the most common suffixes in the anime world. The Japanese language can sound a little funny or even complicated at times, but it has also shown us that it has a cute side, right?
Also there are other unusual suffixes in the Japanese language, but that's material for future articles. We hope you enjoyed this brief explanation full of Japanese culture. Now you can go and call your friends in a proper otaku and fun way (just ask them first if it’s ok!). We are also open to all your suggestions and comments. See you soon!