Useful Notes: Japanese Sibling Terminology
Where English makes no distinction between elder and younger siblings, Japanese has words that classify both gender and age (relative to the speaker) for a sibling. There are four basic terms:
- otōto 弟
- younger brother
- imōto 妹
- younger sister
- ani 兄
- elder brother
- ane 姉
- elder sister
They are normally found in conjunction with an honorific — -kun
being among the most common for all four, although -san
and even -sama
are frequently used for respected older siblings, or when addressing other people's siblings. "Baby-talk" equivalents such as -tan, -tama
are not unknown, either, but are usually limited to younger children and kawaiiko
can take the honorific prefix o-
in place of the initial a
(and simultaneously double the i
sound), which indicates even further respect. This is not mandatory, though. When speaking to your older brother, you would call him Niisan
; older sister would be Neesan
; the younger ones you would normally address by name.
In addition to these four basic words, there are numerous variations due to regional differences in pronunciation and from slang usages. Just as an example, here are some of the alternative versions that one may encounter in fiction:
- ani 兄
- anigimi 兄君/anegimi 姉君(very formal)
- aniki 兄貴/aneki 姉貴 (informal, "bro"/"sis"; also slang indicating a fellow member of a street gang)
- anego 姉御 (informal, "sis"; may also used from a younger person towards an older female that they respect, in fiction usually the leader of a female delinquent group or yakuza member)
- aniue 兄上 ("brother" formal and archaic, only for older brothers)
- aneue 姉上 ("sister", like aniue above, only for older sisters)
- niiya にーや (regional variation)
- oni おに (A homophone for the Japanese word for "ogre", but not often employed for a punning double meaning.)
Note that the terms for older and younger siblings are used differently. Younger siblings usually address older ones by "title" (practically, the Japanese call their older sibling "big brother" or "big sister" the same way they call their parents "dad" or "mom"), but the reverse is far less common — older siblings tend to address younger ones by name.
It is also not uncommon for sibling terminology to be used for certain non-siblings. "Onii-san" and its variants are often used by children for older non-relatives (expect the kid Victim of the Week
to address the hero this way throughout the episode, for example.) This one's hard for translators — you want to stay true to the original, but can't exactly have the kid call the hero "Big brother" despite the fact that they've clearly never met before.
See also Onee-sama
. For similar usage in a nearby country, see Chinese Sibling Terminology
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Anime & Manga
- At the end of The Wolverine, Yukio refers to Mariko as "Onee-chan."
Live Action TV
- Lots of characters in the Yakuza series call Kazuma "aniki" (for example, Rikiya of the recent Yakuza 3). Of course, that shouldn't surprise anyone...
- Rose Bernstein in The King of Fighters calls her brother Adel onii-sama in his opening pose.
- The thing from Elevator: Source that runs at the elevator with an anime girl's face repeatedly says "Onii-chan" as the doors close in its face.
- Final Fantasy X has a character named "Aniki", who happens to be Rikku's brother. This was translated as "Brother", and throughout the game and its sequel everyone calls him "Brother" despite not being everyone's brother.
- In The Last Blade 2, Kojiroh invokes "aniue" in one of her violent deaths.
- Fire Emblem:
- In the manga for Fire Emblem 4, Azel and Ethlyn refer to Arvis and Sigurd (respectively) as "niisan" and "niisama". Which is odd considering Ethlin is comfortable teasing Sigurd while Azel fears Alvis, yet she's the one using "sama"...
- In FE1 and 3, Rikard calls Julian 'aniki'. In the localization, this became "chief".
- Say'ri in Fire Emblem Awakening used 'aniue' to refer to her brother, which emphasises both her Big Brother Worship and her archaic style of speech. Since there's no real equivalent in English, most of these instances were changed to Say My Name in the localisation, and her archaic speech was conveyed by having her use words like 'nay' and 'fie' in other contexts.
- In Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword, which uses Japanese voices alongside English text in the English version, Momiji refers to Kureha as "onee-sama" while visiting her grave in the ending.
- At the beginning of Kingdom Hearts II, Selphie, who is one year younger than Kairi, calls her "neechan". In the English dub, she just calls her by name.
- Satoko in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni calls her brother, and later, Keiichi, "nii-nii." Similarly, she refers to Shion as "nee-nee".
- Hisui of Tsukihime always refers to her older (twin) sister Kohaku as "nee-san." Always. If she ever uses another term (for example, "my sister," per the Mirror Moon translation), it's a giant clue that it's not actually Hisui...
- Akiha calls Shiki "Nii-san". Like the above example, if she uses another term, she's referring to SHIKI, her actual brother.
- Supplementary materials have Arcueid referring to Akiha as 'Imouto', due to her firm belief that once she and Shiki get hitched Akiha will be her sister-in-law anyway, so she might as well get started now.
- In Fate/stay night Shirou is quite surprised to hear that Issei views Kuzuki, who is apparently the only other teacher at their school, as an older brother and refers to him with "aniki". Rather informal for the rather stuffy Issei.
- Sakura uses "Nii-san" on her adoptive brother Shinji and, after a certain point in Heaven's Feel, "Nee-san" on her actual sister, Rin.
- Little Busters!: Rin shows her lack of respect for (and, in turn, her closeness to) her older brother by always referring to him simply with his first name, just as for all of the other childhood friends, though she does sometimes call him 'idiot aniki'. At one point Kyousuke tries to persuade her to call him by a title, and while she rejects his suggestions of 'onii-sama' or 'onii-chan', she's fine with 'anija' though it doesn't stick.
- Also, the term 'Anego' - a more informal version of 'oneesan' with Cool Big Sis overtones - is strongly associated with Kurugaya, who often refers to herself by the term and insists that Haruka calls her that way.