titles and honorifics

If you watch Samurai 7 subtitled, you will get a little more insight into the relationships of each major character with everyone else, by paying attention to the titles they use. I suppose the distinctions are easy for Japanese people to get, but are harder for foreigners to understand, and are often lost in translation. (Clarifications are still accepted.)

This is your usual Japanese title, equivalent to the usual “Mr.” or “Ms.” This signifies that the user considers the addressed an equal, but is being respectful.
— Heihachi considers Goro-san and Shichi-san his friends and equals.
— Shichiroji considers Hei-san a friend and equal.

A title reserved for people worthy of high respect. Equivalent to “Your Highness”. Generally, an address of the highest degree of reverence, rather archaic. Also used to refer to one’s master or superior. Extremely formal. (Thanks, cal_reflector.)
— The veterans address Kanbei as “Kanbei-sama”, signifying their high respect of him as a person.
— When Kirara and Rikichi address all the samurai starting with -sama, essentially they are bestowing much honor on all of them.

Not only is the addressed considered with respect, but the speaker is lowering himself in favor of the addressed. More archaic than even -sama, equivalent to “my lord” or “my lady”.
— By calling all the samurai starting with -dono, Katsushiro considers himself lower than them all and gives them high honor.
— By addressing her as Kirara-dono, Katsushiro is essentially calling her “my lady Kirara”, with the implication that he considers himself a knight in her service.
— Gorobei addresses almost everyone with a -dono, his way of being gallant to everyone, true to his entertainer ways.
— Heihachi addresses Kikuchiyo with a -dono, his way of saying that he will always consider Kikuchiyo a samurai, and thus worthy of his respect.
— Heihachi and Shichiroji address Kyuzo with -dono, not -san. They respect him a lot, fear him somewhat, and do not consider him with the same familiarity they have among themselves.

-kun and -chan
-kun is a title reserved for boys. -chan is used for very young children and for girls. While generally gender specific, kun and chan can also be used to address either sexes. -kun denotes one of equal standing, -chan is always a form of intimate endearment. (Thanks, cal_reflector.)
— Most of the samurai fondly refer to Katsushiro as Katsushiro-kun, by which they consider him just a boy and a rookie. That’s why poor Katsushiro always resents it.
— Komachi is often fondly called Koma-chan.
— The way Ukyo refers to Kirara as Kirara-kun, is very unusual, but it is not exactly incorrect, either.

It means “the person named ….. ” Most likely this is a half-rude variation on “-san”, used by Masamune and Kikuchiyo (when they call for Katsu-noji or Kiku-noji, for example). (Thank you, koyar.) Komachi just takes her cue from Kiku and calls Katsu the same way.

No titles after names
This is a rude form of addressing someone. This could be either because the speaker is very close friends with the addressed, or the speaker looks down on the addressed with contempt. When used in situations where two people are obviously not that close, it carries insult. (Thanks, cal_reflector.)
— Kanbei addresses Shichiroji without any form of -san, signifying their close relationship as partners.
— Kanbei addresses Kikuchiyo and Katsushiro without titles, to emphasize that he thinks rather lower of them both than of the others.
— Kikuchiyo addresses all the samurai without titles, to show that he is equal with them, and to prove that he is not afraid of them.

This is a title given to young masters (lords who are still children, for example). Butlers and maids will use this term often to address 2nd generation boys of a mansion or estate. (Thanks, cal_reflector.) A variation for this is bot-chan. Komachi’s pet name for Kikuchiyo is a tease from the time he pointed from a genealogy scroll to a 13-year-old boy with the same name.

A title for sons of lords, but are a little older, like Ukyo is the young master compared to Ayamaro.

A general title for teachers, which is why Katsushiro uses it for Kanbei.

Finally, in making this, I noticed one thing: Kyuzo never called anyone by name, at least within our hearing. He just said what he needed to say without addressing the person.


Japanese as a language has three levels of politeness: plain, polite, and honorific. Remembering that I’m definitely no expert at this, here are how they are different:

– Polite form (using desu and -masu) is standard Japanese, used with people you want to show ordinary respect for, without changing your own status.
— Shichiroji generally uses polite forms. He switches to plain forms for certain people.
— Heihachi consistently uses this form, even when he was VERY mad.
— Kirara consistently uses this form. She switches to honorific forms when addressing any of the samurai.
— Komachi uses this in trying to be respectful of everybody (especially when she adds desu to every sentence she could).

– Plain forms (using da instead of desu, daro instead of desho, not using -masu, etc.) indicate that the speaker is either very close to the other person, or he is looking down on the other person as one of much lower rank as he.
— Kikuchiyo consistently uses plain forms, in his efforts to show his superiority to everyone else.
— Kanbei uses plain forms when talking to Kikuchiyo, to show that he does not think highly of him.
— In emergency situations Kanbei uses plain forms with everybody, to show that he is the leader and to quickly get his point across.
— Kyuzo consistently uses plain forms.
— Komachi uses plain forms when talking to her sister.
— Gorobei and Kanbei have a tendency to use this form in ordinary conversation within the group.

– Honorific forms (using o-…..-shimasu, o-…-narimasu or -remasu) indicates that the speaker is showing respect for the person spoken to, and that he is lowering himself in his favor.
— Katsushiro consistently uses honorific forms, lowering himself in his way of being chivalrous.
— When in entertainer mode, Gorobei uses this form when addressing his audience.
— The farmers use this form when talking to any of the samurai, showing their deep respect.
— Rikichi also uses this for Kirara.
— All the samurai use this form when talkking with Gisaku (the village elder).


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