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Basic Japanese : Japanese honorific titles in text

Date Published: Last Update:2015/03/09 Others , , ,

Many of Japanese honorific titles in text are the same as ones in speech.
However, “sama” or “dono” is much more often used in text, especially for address.
Maybe it’s because a writer is in the distance.
In a letter, use the same title as one in speech.
When I write a letter to my friend whom I always call with “san”, I use “sama” for address and “san” in the letter.

If you are writing a formal letter to a person with a social status like a medical doctor, then you’d better use the business title.
More details will be in the next post.

Japanese honorific titles in text



  • “Sama” is the most common and probably the safest to use for address when you know the person’s name.



  • Sometimes seen, but not so general as “sama”.
  • Some say that:
    “Dono” is used to lower ranking people and less respectful than “sama”.
    Also, this comes with titles at office like “buchou dono” (“buchou” means the head of the department).

Kun or Chan


- Kun -



- Chan -


  • To a little child.
    “Kun” for a boy, “chan” for a girl, usually.
  • I suppose it’s common to use the same title in text as one in speech to a child.
    If you call the child only by name, then you should choose “kun”, “chan” or “san” for address.
    Use “sama” when you are not sure what to choose.

Shi or Fujin

Shi and fujin

  • More often seen in texts like interviews or (Japanese-translated) novels.
    For example, “Mrs Hudson” in Sherlock Holmes is usually translated as “Hadoson fujin” in Japanese.Holmes DVD

“Yobi-sute” (calling only by name)

  • Chiefly used to the common people in texts like newspaper articles.
    This can be used to a person with a social title, in a column for instance, with the phrase “Honorific titles are omitted” in the end of the text.



  • “On-chuu” is literally “the inside (with respect)”.
    “On” is for respect (the same kanji character for “o” or “go”) and “chuu” means “inside”.
    So, this means “to the person in charge inside (with respect)”.
  • Only used for address when you don’t know the name whom you are writing to, like when you are writing to a customer service in a company.
  • Its pronunciation is similar to “on chew”, although its intonation is a little different.

For a reply envelope / postcard

You may receive a self-addressed (stamped) envelope / postcard or “oufuku hagaki” (return postcard) in Japan.
“Oufuku hagaki” is a double-sized postcard folded in the middle: One-half is a usual card and the other-half is a reply card.

In any cases, you may find a character “yuki”, which means “to”, after the person’s name in a reply address.
The sender generally use “yuki” for a self-addressed card, because using “sama” or “on-chuu” with the sender’s own name does not fit to the Japanese culture of modesty.
And it is not polite for a receiver to send a reply with “yuki” instead of a title.
So, it’s a custom that the receiver strikes it out and add a proper title: Usually “sama” for a person and “on-chuu” for a company or something.

Yuki to Sama

- Reply to a person -
When the address is written vertically.
The red character is "yuki".

Yuki to Onchuu

- Reply to a company -
When the address is written horizontally.
The red character is "yuki".

If you see only the person’s (or company’s) name without any characters for a title in address, just add “sama” (or “on-chuu”) after the name.

Next : Japanese business titles


Related posts:
#“I” in Japanese (1) (2) (3)

#Japanese honorific titles (1:Formal) (2:Casual) (4:Business titles)

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A Japanese living in Okayama. A proud "Otaku"! Loves animals, snacks, manga, games (PC, iPad, Nintendo DS, PSP), foreign TV dramas, traveling and football (soccer).

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