Are honorifics falling out of use in Japanese?


English - English
Japanese is perceived as being a very formal language in the sense that a persons speech and use of words will vary depending on the speakers social status compared to the other speaker.

However, Japan today is now a democracy and a fairly egalitarian society, so I was wondering whether the Japanese language has followed the increasing level of equality in Japanese society?

Do Japanese people still use honorifics in their speech commonly, or are Japanese people beginning to move towards a more nuetral, egalitarian manner of speaking?
  • Wishfull

    Senior Member

    Good point, COF,
    but I'm thinking different things from yours.

    Suppose you are a student who's speaking to your professor,
    would you speak exactly the same way as to your friends or mom?

    Suppose you're an employee who's speaking to your employer or boss,
    would you speak exactly the same way as to your friend or mom?

    Suppose you're a citizen who's speaking to your Mayer,
    would you speak exactly the same way as to your friend or your family?

    Suppose you're a owner of a shop who's speaking to your customer,
    would you speak exactly the same way as to your friend or mom?

    Suppose you're a student and speaking your graduation thesis presentation, would you choose the same colloquial wording as to chatting with your friends?

    I don't think so.
    I strongly believe that you change the wording, dependent to whom you're talking to. Especially to your professor.
    You're doing the same thing in English just as in Japanese, though English doesn't have "Keigo" system.
    You may choose different wordings according to the situation.
    You may think that Japanese Keigo system is doing the same thing.

    For example,
    (To your child), Open the window.
    (To your college), Could you open the window for me?
    (To your professor), Is it possible to open the window?
    (Sorry, if my English is weird.)

    And furthermore, the social ranking isn't the absolute one, in most of the cases.
    Even when the absolute social ranking is equal, one may be regards as higher-ranking to another, and vice versa.
    For example,
    if you're a customer of someone, he speaks to you in a very polite manner.
    But when he's a customer of yours, you speak to him in a very polite manner.
    It's independent of you-being-an-egalitarian or not.

    In conclusion, I think Japanese Keigo system will remain active in the future too.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    Democracy has absolutely nothing to do with honorifics in language.
    Take an example of France, definitely one country where its people are fully enjoying the fruit of equality and democracy, etc. They still use 'vous' honorifics but also they kicked fat aristocrat asses during the Revolution.


    coclea mod
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    But an honorific system in a democratic society is different from that in a hierarchical society. The honorific system in Japanese today is in some aspects less complicated than the older system, but there are developments that, strangely, was non-existent in the older system.

    I shall give an example. Suffixes -san and -sama usually modify a person but a secondary innovation is going on so that an organisation such as a company, a shop, or a political party can also get those suffixes. Referring to a shop with -san is a pretty old custom perhaps since the days when the shop's owner is known by his shop's name (e.g., Ōmiya is run by Ōmiya Tokubē). Nowadays, -san and -sama are used for really big companies where noone, including the owners, are called that name. Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic, Fujitsu and so on.

    Grocery Abe may have a sign with a map to give the direction. The grocery is marked as a red square and next to it reads: マクドナルドさんの隣

    Speakers for a political party often refer to other parties as X-san, where X is the shortened name of the party such as Minshutō, Jimintō, Shamintō. I don't know when it started but this got really conspicuous in the last five or so years. Here is the counts of 自民党さん used in Parliamentary sessions. The first one was held in 1947. This is an exhaustive search for all sessions and sessions are stratified in groups of 50.

    1 - 50373
    51 - 100619
    101 - 150732
    151 - 177565

    The trend is perennial increase but there does not seem to be a surge that I expected.
    Source: 国会会議録検索システム

    I found a more dramatic record for 御党 or "your party." This time I grossed the count by decade. [I used the same database as the first one as well as 帝国議会会議録検索システム but the latter yielded no hit. So 1940s only covers from 1947 to 1949.]


    As 0 for 1960s shows, this expression was virtually not around until the 1980s. Ten years after the sizeable appearnce, however, the count exploded to seven times as many. It then almost tripled in the 2000s. The 2010s is not over yet but, if the trend goes on, the count will be around 1000.

    I've been noticing those examples I mentioned above for the last five or four years. Now, it seems that everyone has to be polite to everyone else. Otherwise, you are a ignoramus. Is this a side-effect of an egalitarian society?
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