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Useful Notes / Gender and Japanese Language

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As stated elsewhere, Japanese includes several words or word-variants on the same concept to address the culturally important concepts of politeness and formality. This reflects the hierarchical nature of Japanese society, where formal social distinctions are more important than in present-day America.

The same sort of social distinction also applies along gender lines. Because of this, there are distinct differences in the way men and women are expected to speak, with some words and constructions considered more masculine and others more feminine. The feminine words are called "onna kotoba" and the speech habits "joseigo". Some examples of this can be seen in the Japanese Pronouns entry. Other examples:


  • Sentence endings of "wa", "wa yo", "wa ne", "no ne", and "no yo" are usually feminine. "Kai", "zo", "ze", "sa", "da" and "yo" are more masculine.
  • Women often speak in a higher register above and beyond that attributable to physiology.
  • Women tend to use polite grammar more frequently, using polite forms of verbs and honorific prefixes such as o- and go-.
  • Women tend to omit the copula form "da" in favour of "desu". For men, it is the other way around. However, "desu" is considered to be polite Japanese for both genders; men using "da" in formal contexts would be rude.
  • The pronouns watashi and anata tend to be rendered as atashi and anta.

There are, of course, exceptions to these general rules, with actual usage varying somewhat between different dialects, situations, and speakers. However, in media, a character speaking in a manner that does not traditionally fit their sex adds a different dimension to him or her that non-Japanese speakers would miss.


One common trope in anime and manga is to have a strong female character, especially an Action Girl, use abrasive, masculine language.

In recent years, linguists and social commentators in Japan have noticed a shift in women's speaking habits. Younger Japanese women use less joseigo than previous generations, and the speech habits of anime and drama characters do not always represent modern-day Japanese women in real life (especially younger women). As with most changes in linguistic usage, opinion in Japan is divided on whether this is a good thing or not.

On a related point, it may be interesting to note that unlike, say, most Romance languages such as French and Spanish, Japanese is not inflected by gender. As another curiosity, for a long time, the language did not have gendered third-person pronouns; the present-day 彼女 (kanojo, meaning "she/her", also "girlfriend", literally "that female") was originally coined to translate European texts.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Tokiko Tsumura from Buso Renkin uses men's speech (zo, na, kimi ("you"), da ("to be"), etc.), except the pronoun watashi ("I/me").
  • Urusei Yatsura: Ryuunosuke Fujinami has been raised to be a man amongst men — handsome, tough, and aggressive. Too bad she's against the idea. However, her father's training has been so thorough that she can't help but slide into the masculine role... a conflict personified when she angrily protests "Ore wa ONNA da!!!" — i.e. "I'm a WOMAN", using the most masculine construction possible.
    • In an anime episode where Lum finds herself traveling between several alternate dimensions, she finds one where everybody is a polar opposite of their original forms. Thus, Ryuunosuke is now a boy, wearing a girl's uniform, and tearfully proclaims "Atashi wa Otoko yo!" A very feminine way of saying "I am a man!"
  • In K-On!, with the exception of using the gender-neutral pronoun "watashi" to refer to herself, Ritsu Tainaka utilizes quite masculine Japanese in her speech patterns (e.g., using the "yagaru" suffix when she's annoyed, ending sentences with the informal suffixes "-e", "-n" "-da" and "-daro"; and never using feminine suffixes such as "ne" and "wa"). She does use feminine pronouns from time to time, but it's usually when she's being sarcastic and/or tries to play innocent after having been accused of something ("Who, me?")
    • When she has to play the part of Juliet in the school play, she's forced to use feminine speech patterns. But then she continues to speak that way even backstage, gets very flustered when she realizes it, and claims that she was still in character.
  • Ranma in Ranma ½ is neither feminine nor particularly polite, and tends towards rough, masculine speech under most circumstances — even in female form.
  • In Superlink, the Japanese version of Transformers Energon, Alpha-Q's pale, smiling face speaks in a high (but male) voice and uses female speech patterns. Another face also refers to this face as an "oyama", the Japanese word for a male actor who plays female parts in kabuki. The Alpha Q entity, however, is considered male. (However, as the combined will of everyone on his planet who died when Unicron consumed it, Alpha Q is probably not strictly male or female. note )
  • One episode of The Wallflower features a photographer that for some reason begins to use feminine dialect when he gets agitated. The comments of his assistants indicate that it is a habit of his.
  • Yubel, the androgynous/hermaphrodite Duel Monster in the third season of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, is constantly referred to (even by itself) with masculine constructions... which wouldn't be half as bad, except that most of the time, it uses a woman's voice and mannerisms to convey itself.
  • At the end of .hack//SIGN, Tsukasa's player, revealed to be a girl, shifts from 'boku' to 'atashi'. The English subtitles make no note of this in any way.
  • Naruto:
    • The (male) character Orochimaru tends to speak in the feminine style. Unlike .hack//sign, the American dub addresses this by making him have a feminine voice.
    • The titular character finishes his sentences with dattabayo, while his mother finishes her sentences with dattebane. This fits with the feminine and masculine; otherwise they basically talk the exact same way.
  • In Bleach, Yoruichi Shihouin speaks in a very masculine form when first appearing, making it all the more shocking to others when it is later revealed she is a (very attractive) woman. Her companion Kisuke Urahara is the inverse, a man who uses feminine personal pronouns.
  • One Piece has Perona, a pink-haired Elegant Gothic Lolita who loves cute, girly things, yet uses the same rough, masculine speech patterns as most men in the series. Charlotte Pudding also occasionally uses masculine language when she cuts the act.
  • Given how fluid gender is in Simoun what pronouns are used by what characters varies quite a bit. For the character of Yun in particular, when she switches from 'ore' to 'atashi'
  • This is a plot point in the first Star Ocean. Phia Mell is a tomboy (and captain of the Astral Guards) who always speaks using masculine speech. Her childhood friend Cyuss is nonplussed when he sees her speaking to him using feminine speech, which clues him in that the Phia he's talking is a fake. Unfortunately, in the translated remake this was glossed over and substituted with a different clue entirely.
  • In the Kino's Journey prequel OVA Kino speaks in feminine patterns, using "atashi" for "I" during most of her stay in her Master's place, as well as wearing dress and keeping her hair long. After she returns from her first brief journey, her hair has been cut short by the circumstances, and she's shifted to masculine "boku" form, as well as finally being comfortable with her assumed name.
  • Hinagiku aka Angel Daisy from Wedding Peach uses "ore" and masculine, rough Japanese in general, even in her frilly, feminine Love Angel form.
  • Ryougi Shiki from The Garden of Sinners uses the masculine ore to refer to herself and speaks in a very rude and masculine pattern. This is so she won't forget her alternate personality, which was male; he took her place when she died in a car accident two years ago.
  • Leona Miyamura from Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches uses masculine language (including the more masculine second-person pronoun omae), while still using the (casually feminine) first-person pronoun watashi.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Heroes Kaitou Nakamura uses 'watashi' in a posthumous video (his own son Hiro has gotten into the habit of 'ore'). "Watashi" and "watakushi" are more formal ways of saying "I." In something like a will, it would seem fitting. Hiro, in season 1, used "boku" which sounds more "boyish." Since his father's death Hiro would had to have felt a need to "man up."

    Video Games 
  • Cute Witch Marisa Kirisame from the Touhou games uses masculine verb forms and typically ends her sentences with "da ze", but, in something of a twist, exclusively uses the gender neutral pronoun watashi. (This fact has tripped up enough doujin artists just looking to cash in on the series' runaway popularity that "Marisa-who-says-ore" has become something of an in-joke with the Japanese fanbase.)
  • On reaching the Hermit Social Link's fourth rank in Persona 3, Maya tells you about a creepy man in Paulownia Mall (the Devil Social Link, President Tanaka). "You'll know him cuz he talks like a woman" is how she sums him up. The idea doesn't quite make the jump into languages without such enforced masculine/feminine speech patterns.
  • In Remember11, where Kokoro (a woman) and Satoru (a man) have their minds swapped randomly throughout the story, their companions eventually learn to tell which personality is currently in control by listening to their manner of speaking.
  • Geragemona, the Japanese Cackletta from Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga uses "atashi" as her personal pronoun of choice with masculine sentence endings.
  • Several of Kantai Collection's ships follow the "masculine sentence-ending particles with neutral/feminine pronouns patterns set by Marisa above, e.g. Nagato, Musashi, Nachi, Gangut, and Maya, an "atashi" user like Cackletta.
  • The same is true of Azur Lane. Tennessee and Cleveland are two examples. Ark Royal and Enterprise do so as well, though unlike previous examples, neither ship is particularly masculine or even tomboyish in behavior. Pennsylvania tends to switch between masculine and feminine speech, not following any particular pattern.


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