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Author Topic: Japanese Etiquette and use of -San  (Read 718 times)

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Offline TaintedAndDelishTopic starter

Japanese Etiquette and use of -San
« on: August 02, 2015, 11:21:12 PM »
I was wondering if anyone knows what the rules are for using -San when addressed by a native Japanese speaker in a business setting (speaking in English)? Is it customary or expected that you reciprocate and address the speaker by their last name +san? Is it interpreted as being rude if you do not? Likewise, is there are a protocol for downgrading from the use of -san to not using -san at all. ie. In Spanish, you would ask the other speaker if you may address them in the familiar before doing so.

Lastly, I do realize that speakers from Japan will likely be aware that the use of -san is not customary in the US and US speakers will not be likely to respond politely by their standards - or in a way that is customary, but it would be nice to know how to respond and communicate in a more customary way.

Much thanks,
Taint


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Re: Japanese Etiquette and use of -San
« Reply #1 on: August 03, 2015, 01:00:08 AM »
Disclaimer:  I do not speak Japanese, although I know a few people who have learned it.  I found this in the archives of the sci.lang.japan Usenet group, though, so it's probably been reviewed by people seriously interested in the language.

http://www.sljfaq.org/afaq/titles.html

Please defer to any native speaker if they contradict this. 

Offline Vekseid

Re: Japanese Etiquette and use of -San
« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2015, 04:18:25 AM »
You might find better luck reaching a native speaker in the Help! forum.

The impression my Japanese teacher gave was that it just sortof got dropped over time, typically starting in 'formal informal' events like going out for sushi or sake with your coworkers and whatnot. It would still be expected inside the business proper. Especially -sama.

Superiors would generally address their subordinates as -san as well, unless they want to go out of their way to be derogatory. Which happens to women a lot.

This was all from material before the lost decades, though, so things may have changed.

Offline Lithos

Re: Japanese Etiquette and use of -San
« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2015, 06:22:32 AM »
These short rules were taught to us where I used to work, but as I am not native speaker I have no idea if they are correct: 

  • Always use last name, not first name or any other thing if somebody does not let you know you can
  • Last name + san is equally polite whether person is above you or below you in hierarchy, in more conservative companies locals does not use name at all but persons title, like bucho -san for dept. head etc.
  • More and more of Japanese deal with foreigners and have adopted habits from them as well so Japanese might call you your first name + san for example, that is to try and help you be more comfortable.

I do not recall anyone managing to get anybody riled so those short instructions at least worked somewhat.
« Last Edit: August 11, 2015, 06:23:45 AM by Lithos »

Offline kylie

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Re: Japanese Etiquette and use of -San
« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2015, 11:11:37 AM »
      San is generally pretty safe among adults, at least adults whose age and status are not very far apart.  People significantly superior, or very honored guests, often get addressed as -sama instead. 

      People of extremely high rank generally do get addressed as -sama, except possibly by some of their most favored and familiar colleagues and maybe certain peers of roughly similar age/status/experience. 
And the plot thickens.
     When it gets to that point though, it's also quite possible in Japanese to get a lot done without naming subjects of the action at all -- so one doesn't always have to choose what name suffix would be used.  A lot can also be indicated through the types of verb attachments chosen; even with no subjects if the verbs are all in passive ("sareru") or causative-approval respect language ("sasete-itadaku" or "sasete-morau" styles), then deference is still being waved around in bright flags.
 

     Kids and even colleagues of slightly younger age on down -- usually males that is -- get -kun instead.

     Seriously young kids, like elementary or high school ages (very often) and junior employees in an organization (to a lesser extent but not really uncommon either) may also end up getting treated with no suffix at all by superiors and older neighbors.   People outside these "serious" familiar circles  who are more distant, while perhaps less likely to exchange much talk on the street or get into names in the first place, can ratchet the politeness back up a notch or two even for these groups just to be kind or sort of playfully formal. 

     Familiar women of lower position, assorted cutesy female types who are not serious superiors, and girl kids generally often get -chan.  Grandmothers and aunts may also get -chan informally (or even the still fluffy -chama, which blends chan and sama). I seem to recall that some people also stick -chan on senior male relatives (the same grandparent or cozy uncle stuff), but I'm no longer entirely positive about that...  It might be more of a women's speech thing?

      Subordinates and really close familiar workaday people (but not generally superiors) do sometimes get addressed using no suffix at all...  But from the point of view of an outsider or subordinate newer to the group, many will keep using -san or -sama for quite some time to be extra polite.  It may also help to take into account that for the first one to few years of employment in many Japanese organizations, junior employees are really expected to observe and perform only rather simple assistant roles, and that stretches probably longer than in many Western outfits -- for all that time and for some people longer (as I think, the slow induction/recognition system sort of drills it in or makes it comfortable?), it's common for such subordinates to be called -kun or -chan, and probably even more common for them to stick to using -san or -sama with their seniors. 

       Don't confuse the suffixes with levels of honorific language more generally such as you find with verbs (particularly, super flowery things like go-itasu and nasaru formulations people throw up when initially meeting someone).  Those will often get tossed up formally for a few minutes or an hour, and be torn down very quickly again as people get tired of the exercise and try to invite each other closer.  In contrast, suffixes like -san and -sama can stick around most of the time, particularly among adults who are not working shoulder to shoulder constantly and have a couple years or more between them and less common experience.  Within a closer small work group, a few -sans may get shaken out sooner or later -- but many people with any distance or a strong sense of politeness, do go on using them widely without much thought.
 
« Last Edit: August 11, 2015, 11:33:48 AM by kylie »

Offline Kuroneko

Re: Japanese Etiquette and use of -San
« Reply #5 on: August 12, 2015, 12:46:46 AM »
I was wondering if anyone knows what the rules are for using -San when addressed by a native Japanese speaker in a business setting (speaking in English)? Is it customary or expected that you reciprocate and address the speaker by their last name +san? Is it interpreted as being rude if you do not? Likewise, is there are a protocol for downgrading from the use of -san to not using -san at all. ie. In Spanish, you would ask the other speaker if you may address them in the familiar before doing so.

Lastly, I do realize that speakers from Japan will likely be aware that the use of -san is not customary in the US and US speakers will not be likely to respond politely by their standards - or in a way that is customary, but it would be nice to know how to respond and communicate in a more customary way.

Much thanks,
Taint

I speak Japanese, and Kylie explained it all wonderfully. Although, I've seen -chan used as a familiar suffix with men in private as well as women. Or I should say, I've heard women use it for a man they have strong feelings for.

Since I'm not Japanese, whenever I'm in Japan I always err on the side of speaking as politely as possible. It's a culture where politeness is very important, especially in public. Familiarity and not using honorifics is for private conversation or for people below your status, as in a business situation (boss/employee).
« Last Edit: August 12, 2015, 12:49:13 AM by Kuroneko »

Online Leki

Re: Japanese Etiquette and use of -San
« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2015, 12:37:57 PM »
A few comments I'd like to make:

The suffix -san should perhaps be viewed more as a standard than a method of respect.
Don't get me wrong, it's not disrespectful in any way, but unless you've been told otherwise it'd probably be best to go with -san even if the person is younger or 'inferior' to the speaker in social rank. It's practically compulsory when referring to people you don't know too well. Though admittedly that rule would be only compulsory for adults, children and adolescents have... a separate, more confusing system xD

I just wanted to say though that I've never heard anyone use the -sama suffix outside business. And when I say business I'm referring to customer-staff relations. For example if you referred to your boss at work as 'Smith'-Sama it'd probably come off more mocking than respectful. Frankly I'd suggest never using -sama unless specifically instructed to. Though if you're a foreigner you'll probably just get laughed at and though of as cute.
That said you definitely wouldn't use -San either for people of high rank.
The correct way to address them would be (Name)-(Rank).

For example the president of a company is Shachou(社長) and hence if Smith was the president of the company they'd be referred to as Smith-Shachou, or if there's only one just Shachou.
This might be a bit confusing, but contrast it with the familiar Sensei(先生). Eg; Smith-Sensei.

As for people of close, equal of lesser standing it's best to stick to -San.
If significantly lower I suppose you could use -kun.
Don't really see -chan used in business as it's usually seen as too cutesy, as far as I've seen in business even women are called -kun by their seniors.


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Re: Japanese Etiquette and use of -San
« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2015, 12:49:52 PM »
That sounds very similar to other languages with a 'formal' construction, such as the German 'Sie' (for singular 'you') and the French 'vous'.  In both languages, the default is to refer to someone in the formal until they tell you that you can use the familiar form.  (Although I will confess to using the formal 'Sie' because it makes things easy to conjugate.)