Talking about Family & Relatives in Japanese :Talking about family in English is relatively simple. You have your mom, dad, maybe a brother or sister. Then there’s your aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc. However, since Japanese culture holds elders and those more experienced to such high regard, talking about family members is a bit more complicated. Today, we’re going to learn how to talk about family members the Japanese way!   

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Talking about Family & Relatives in Japanese

What’s a baby from an English-speaking country’s first word? Most of the time it’s “Mama” since they tend to have a more physical and nurturing relationship with the mother early on. The same goes for Japanese babies. Okā-san (Mom) doesn’t roll off the tongue so easily for infants, so Japanese mothers are happy to be called “Mama” for the early years of their child’s lives. The same goes for fathers. Otō-san is also a bit difficult for infants to say, so they call them “Papa.” However, once the baby gets older, it becomes time to learn the proper Japanese way of talking about their family members.    

Family & Relatives in Japanese – Mothers

As stated above, the word for “mother” in Japanese is okā-san. It takes the kanji for mother (母) and adds an “o” to the beginning to denote respect and tacks a “-san” onto the end like with names.

Okā-san! Watashi no ryukku-sakku wa doko ni oita no?
(Mom! Where did you put my backpack?)
Okā-san wa donna hito desu ka? 
(What’s your mom like?)  

There’s a catch, though. As with all members of the immediate family, if you are talking to someone else about your mother, you don’t say “okā-san.” In this case, you take the “o” off of the beginning and the “-san” off of the end, and you say “haha.” Yes, that’s right! Haha! That’s how you say “Mom” in Japanese when talking about her to other people!

Haha wa totemo yasahii. Dai-suki desu. 
(My mom is so nice. I love her.) 

So, remember, when talking to someone else about your mom, you refer to her as “haha.” In all other situations, you just say “okā-san.

BONUS: Some people still call their moms “Mama” well into their twenties, and possibly even beyond that! It all depends on what kind of relationship the child has with their parents.

Family & Relatives in Japanese – Fathers

The word for “father” is otō-san. Like okā-san, it takes the kanji for “father” (父) and attaches an “o” to the beginning and a “-san” to the end to denote respect.

Otō-san! Kyō gakkō ni tsurete ite! 
(Dad! Take me to school today!)
Otō-san wa nani sarete imasu ka? 
(What does your father do for work?)

However, the same rule applies when talking to other people about your father. You take off the “o” and the “-san” and say “chichi.

Chichi wa sofuto-uea gijutsusha desu. 
(My father is a software engineer.)

So, remember, just like with “Mom,” when talking to other people about your dad, you say “chichi.” In all other cases, you say, “otō-san.”

Family & Relatives in Japanese – Sisters

When it comes to siblings, it gets a bit more challenging. You can’t just say “My sister” in Japanese, you have to specify whether it is your older sister or younger sister.

“Older sister” in Japanese is onē-san (お姉さん). Because she is older than you, she still takes on a form of respect, which is why the “o” and the “-san” are added like with mother and father. It is not customary for people to call their older sister by their birth name. Instead they call them “big sister,” or “onē-san.”  

Onē-san! Wanpīsu wo karite mo ii? 
(Big sister! Can I borrow your dress?)
Onē-san wa doko de benkyō shite imasu ka?
(Where is your older sister studying?)

When talking to other people about your older sister—like with okā-san and otō-san—you remove the “o” and the “-san” and say, “ane.

Ane wa Tōkyō Daigaku de benkyō shite imasu. 
(My older sister is studying at Tokyo University.)

As for little sisters, they are called 妹 (imoto). There is no “o” or “-san” attached to their title because they are younger than you and don’t denote the same kind of respect. You also don’t need to call them “Little sister” when talking to them. You can just use their name. 

When talking to other people about your younger sister, she is referred to as imoto.

Imoto kawaii ne! Nan-sai? 
(Your little sister is so cute! How old is she?)
Imoto wa san-sai desu. 
(My little sister is three years old.)

Remember: as with “mother” and “father,” when talking to other people about your older sister, you say “ane.” In all other cases, she is called “onē-san.” And with younger sisters, they are called imoto. If you are talking to your younger sister, you can just call her by her name.

Family & Relatives in Japanese – Brothers

Brothers follow the same rules as sisters. The older brother is called お兄さん (onī-san), but when you are talking to other people about him, you refer to him as “ani.

Younger brother is 弟 (otōto), and you can call him by his name unless you are talking about him to other people.

Japan is unique in their family structure and respect for those more senior in age and experience. That’s what makes learning the family dynamics so interesting and insightful when it comes to understanding the culture. Below, we have compiled a list of family member titles to aid in your Japanese study. 

Don’t just memorize them, though! Get out there and practice them until you get the hang of it! Talk to Japanese speakers about your family members and ask about theirs! Always remember to practice, practice, practice!   

JapaneseRomajiWhen talking about them to other peopleRomajiEnglish
お姉さんonē-sananeOlder Sister
imotoimotoYounger Sister
お兄さんonī-sananiOlder Brother
otōtootōtoYounger Brother

Family in Japanese is “家族(かぞく)”. There is a similar word called “家庭(かてい)”, but this means household.

Japanese Words on Family & Relatives in Japanese

“I want to spend time with my family on Christmas.” → 「クリスマスは家族(かぞく)で過(す)ごしたい。」 
“Many households have a vacuum in their house.” → 「多(おお)くの家庭(かてい)は家(いえ)に掃除機(そうじき)がある。」

Here is a list of words for all the family members.

Little sister妹(いもうと)
Big sister姉(あね)、お姉(ねえ)ちゃん、お姉(ねえ)さん
Little brother弟(おとうと)
Big brother兄(あに)、お兄(にい)ちゃん、お兄(にい)さん

These are the words for each family members. Note that we have different words for little brother/sister and big brother/sister.

“おばさん”, “おじさん”, “おばあさん”, “おじいさん” are used to express how old someone is. “おばさん”, “おじさん” can mean someone in the middle age and “おばあさん”, “おじいさん” can mean someone in the old age.

“That old lady is sleeping in the train.” → 「あのおばあさん電車で寝てるよ。」
 “I feel like I’m becoming a middle aged man. My back really hurts these days. 「もうおじさんになったなー。腰が最近本当に痛い。」

We have a word to insult someone old in Japanese. It is “ばばあ” and “じじい”. “ばばあ” is for women and it comes from the word “おばさん” or “おばあちゃん”. “じじい” is for men and it comes from the word “おじさん” or “おじいちゃん”.

“That old lady tried to punch me!” → 「あのばばあが俺(おれ)のことを殴(なぐ)ろうとした!」 

For “子ども” we also use it to express how young or childish someone is. A more insulting way of saying expressing that someone is young or childish is “ガキ”

“His way of thinking is childish” → 「彼(かれ)の考(かんが)え方(かた)が子どもだ。」
“That kid stole things from my house.” → あのガキが俺(おれ)の家(いえ)のものを盗(ぬす)んで行(い)った。

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