Japanese Vocabulary: 18 Words to Describe Your Family
Learning how to describe your family in Japanese is an essential part of expanding your vocabulary and improving your conversational skills.
When it comes to family, the Japanese language is more precise than English because it accounts for relative age. There are also alternate terms to address a member of another person’s family, versus your own.
Are you ready to continue learning how to speak Japanese with these necessary vocabulary words for family? If so, you’ve come to the right place.
How to Say “Family” in Japanese & More!
Here are some of the most important Japanese vocabulary words to describe your family members. Take note of how the Japanese language really reflects the importance of family, hierarchy, and respect in the infographic below.
Japanese Vocabulary Terms for Family & Relatives
Kazoku – “Family” in Japanese
- Kanji: 家族 // Hiragana: かぞく
You can use this term to talk about your family or someone else’s family in Japanese.
Haha – “Mother”; Okaasan – Someone Else’s Mother
- Kanji: 母 // Hiragana: はは
- Kanji: お母さん // Hiragana: おかあさん
Pay attention to which Japanese vocabulary word you use in which circumstance. When you’re talking about another person’s mother, it’s disrespectful (and rude) to call them haha (はは).
Chichi – “Father”; Otosan – Someone Else’s Father
- Kanji: 父 // Hiragana: ちち
- Kanji: お父さん // Hiragana: おとおさん
Just like okaasan and haha, be sure to use the correct term in the correct situation to avoid sounding rude when talking about family in Japanese.
Sobo – “Grandmother”; Obaasan – Someone Else’s Grandmother
- Kanji: 祖母 // Hiragana: そぼ
- Kanji: お婆さん // Hiragana: おばあさん
In addition to describing another person’s grandmother, obaasan is also a term of respect for older women. It doesn’t matter whether or not the woman has children or grandchildren; the term can still be used.
Sofu – “Grandfather”; Ojiisan – Someone Else’s Grandfather
- Kanji: 祖父 // Hiragana: そふ
- Kanji: お爺さん // Hiragana: おじいさん)
Similarly to obaasan (おばあさん), ojiisan (おじいさん) can be used to talk about someone else’s grandfather, or to address an elderly (respected) man, regardless of whether or not he has any children. (We told you talking about family in Japanese was more complex than in English!)
Related: 8 Essential Japanese Greetings and Japanese Honorifics
Ani – “Big Brother”; Oniisan – Someone Else’s Older Brother
- Kanji: 兄 // Hiragana: あに
- Kanji: お兄さん // Hiragana: おにいさん
The main difference in the respectful form (for someone else’s older brother) and the familiar form (for your own older brother) is the beginning vowels. The vowel at the end of the respectful form is longer, and the addition of the respectful form of address -san (-さん).
Remember that for Japanese vowels, a long vowel doesn’t mean that the pronunciation changes. It simply means that the vowel sound takes longer to say.
Ane – “Big Sister”; Oneesan – Someone Else’s Older Sister
- Hiragana: あね
- Kanji: お姉さん // Hiragana: おねえさん
The difference between the respectful and familiar forms of older sister are similar to the differences between the respectful and familiar forms of older brother. The respectful form has a longer vowel at the end and calls for the respectful address (san さん).
If you have older siblings, you may want to show respect when you address them. If you want to talk about how old family members are, you will need to learn how to count in Japanese. This infographic can help you learn the Japanese numbers 1 – 10.
Otouto – “Little Brother”
- Kanji: 弟 // Hiragana: おとおと
The word is the same in this case, just add -san (-さん) to show respect when you’re talking about someone else’s younger brother. Fortunately, not all the words for family in Japanese are complex.
Imouto – “Little Sister”
- Kanji: 妹 // Hiragana: いもおと
As in the case of otouto, just be sure to add -san (-さん) if you’re talking about someone else’s younger sister.
Oba – “Aunt”
- Kanji: 伯母 (If she is older than parents)
- Kanji: 叔母 // Hiragana: おば (Younger than parents)
The pronunciation for aunt is very close to the word for grandmother. The primary difference is that the ending “a” vowel is long for obaasan (おばあさん) or “grandmother” and standard length for obasan (おばさん) or “aunt.” Add -san (-さん) to show respect when you are talking about someone else’s aunt.
Oji – “Uncle”
- Kanji: 伯父 (Older than parents)
- Kanji: 叔父 // Hiragana: おじ (Younger than parents)
The pronunciation for uncle is very close to the pronunciation for grandfather. The primary distinction lies in the short vowel for ojisan (おじ さん) or “uncle” and the long vowel for ojiisan ( おじいさん) or “grandfather.” Add -san (-さん) for respect when you are talking about someone else’s uncle.
Giri No – “In-law”
- Kanji: 義理の // Hiragana: ぎりの
If you want to talk about a younger sister in law, you would say “giri-no imouto.” If you want to talk about your friend’s father in law, you would say “____-san no giri no otosan,” (____さんのぎりのおとおさん). Just fill in the blank with your friend’s name.
Now that you know how to talk about your family in Japanese, you’re off to a great start! Want to improve your Japanese-speaking skills even more? Find a Japanese tutor near you today, or try Japanese group classes with TakeLessons Live.