Become a Master of Japanese Forms of Address


The Japanese are supposed to use different phrases in speech and writing according to whom they are addressing. Which phrase to use is decided by considering the age of the people you are talking to, as well as gender, business positions, relationship to one another, etc…Let’s take a brief glimpse at Japanese forms of address .

Addressing friends (of the same age or younger) or family: The most informal form is used. We can use almost any phrase we want. Normally lots of slang, dialects and abbreviations are used. When calling a friend by name, it isn’t a problem to use their nickname.  

Addressing older students, teachers and professors: The more polite form should be used because they are older, even after spending a lot of time together. It’s best to avoid using slang or abbreviations to teachers, but it’s acceptable to use it with older students. Always put “sensei” (meaning teacher) or “senpai” (meaning upper grade students) after their name, like “John sensei” or “John senpai”.

Addressing bosses or business partners: The most formal form should be used. Polite expressions should always be used when talking to these people. Slang and jokes should be avoided. The person’s business title is put after their name, like “John kachou” (kachou means the head of a section).

Where business letters are concerned, they should be very polite all the time. Phrases used in business letters are totally different from those used in personal letters. You can take a look at our phrasebook (business letters) and compare it to personal letters. Business letters look more formal, are longer and contain more kanji characters.

In Japan, it’s common knowledge to use polite expressions when talking or writing to older people. All of the expressions below mean “Kind regards”, but are written differently.

今後ともどうぞよろしくお願い致します(the most formal)

It’s confusing having to change phrases according to whom, you are talking /writing ….To make life easier, check out the phrasebook!

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