Otaku Encyclopedia Wiki

Honorifics are an important part of Japanese culture that depend on the relationship between the speaker and the person one's referring to. They are tied to the person's last name, because using the first name is very informal and using only the last name without honorifics is rude.


Honorifics derive from the Japanese tradition of putting an emphasis on one's background and position in hierarchy, based on criteria like age or social status, education, heritage or the position in one's job. The right honorifics are used depending on one's status compared to the other person's status.

There are exceptions when honorifics shouldn't be used. For example, when one talks about their inner circle (the close family) or talks to someone within a circle about someone from outside the circle (talking to one's boss about one's friend from outside the job).

Original Meaning[]

The following meanings are used in real-life Japanese in everyday life.

  • -san – an universal, most commonly used honorific that can be used for someone one doesn't know; it can be used for both genders between equals of any age
  • -sama – a respectful version of -san for people of a higher rank than oneself or divine
  • -chan – an informal honorific for females, babies, young children, close friends, grandparents, girls and young women, sometimes used when the speaker thinks someone is kawaii
  • -kun –an informal honorific for males, male children, male teenagers, male friends or used when a girl refers to a boy she is attracted to
  • -senpai – a honorific for one's older or more senior friends or colleagues
  • -kohai – a honorific for one's younger or more junior friends or colleagues
  • -sensei – a honorific for authority figures, teachers, politicians, doctors, lawyers, or people one looks up to
  • -hakase – a version of -sensei to adress people with very high academic expertise, such as those with a PhD title or professors

Contemporary Usage[]

Meanings of honorifics in the otaku culture can be different from the original meanings.

"Senpai" is sometimes used as a separate term not tied to the last name, used to refer to someone a person or a character is attracted to and wishes to be noticed by them. "Notice me senpai!" is a common phrase used to express one's wish to be noticed by someone they love.

An example of an Earth-chan artwork

The -chan honorific is frequently used to describe mascots or personifications of objects. Many otaku like to draw artworks of random things like planets or items of everyday use as cute girls. These are called by their original name with the -chan honorific, for example cute personified Earth is Earth-chan.

Otaku often implement all the honorifics while referring to their favourite characters or eachother. If a character is an endearing waifu, they are likely to use the -chan honorific; it's the same with a husbando and -kun. But if they view the character as superior to them and royal, they use -san or -sama.

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