Japan’s love of cuteness has become famous all around the world, to the point that the word 可愛い kawaii can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary. There’s almost no aspect of life in Japan that can’t be made cute, and even something as mundane as the instruction manual for a new DVD player will include little manga images of the product sweating with a sad face to indicate that you shouldn’t put it in direct sunlight, or crying while standing in a puddle of water, letting you know to avoid getting the unit wet. There seems to be something about making unpleasant concepts less threatening by making them adorable, like my family’s brand of kitty litter, which features a cat holding his nose because of the bad smell. A lot of times you can tell when a product is being marketed to women because the design of the package is unreasonably cute, like those Rilakkuma condoms we carry. Another area where cuteness can “soften” a touchy subject is constipation, something nearly every Japanese female seems to suffer from. The other day I saw a TV commercial for a laxative which featured a cute female deer who was upset because she hadn’t pooped in several days. She sees another deer walk by with poop dropping out from behind her at regular intervals, and decides to fix her constipation problem using the product being advertised.
Most people know about the unique name suffixes used in Japanese. The most common, of course, is -san, which is added to the family name (Yamada-san) for general politeness, or to the first name (Taro-san) to indicate a warmer, friendlier relationship while still preserving some formality. There are some interesting uses of the -san name ending: for example, when J-List deals with other companies, we’re collectively addressed as “J-List-san.” Calling a person by their given name only is called 呼び捨て yobi-sute, and it’s only used with very close friends, or couples who are dating or married. Characters who are too shy to call each other by their first names, such as Makoto and Kotonoha in School Days, are a common joke in anime. I once got into trouble by calling a female student named Yoko on the phone and asking her mother if “Yoko” was there, without using any name suffix. Her mother became suspicious of what relationship I had with her daughter, that I was on a first-name basis with her.
Here’s a quick run-down of these name suffixes, in case you were curious:
- -san: Shows formality, especially when used with the family name. Good for foreigners to use in any situation.
- -kun: Usually used for males you’re friendly with, or who are younger than you. Can be used for females in university or military settings.
- -chan: Used for females you’re friendly with, or girls who are younger than you, especially children. It can sometimes seem rude or sexist to add -chan to a girl’s name, so be sensitive to this.
- -sama: The most formal way to address someone, and the best example of why you shouldn’t learn Japanese from anime. It’s never used except at weddings and in anime series.
- -sensei: Honorific label for teachers and doctors, as well as a wide range of professions, including politicians, attorneys and certified public accountants. (No, really!)
- -senpai: Honorific label for anyone who’s your senior in a school or company.
- -tan: a cute version of -san, pronounced as if a child were speaking.
- There are other specific name suffixes, like アナウンサー(announcer) for newscasters or 容疑者 yogisha (suspect) for anyone officially arrested for suspicious in a crime.
J-List stocks fun visual novels and eroge, and recently we’ve been creating “combo bundle” game sets, which give you two English-translated games for one low price. The reason is that fans hate it when we take games out of print, making them available as Internet download editions only, and this 2-in-1 combo system enables fans to keep their collections growing. We posted several combo sets for preorder, including The Sagara Family + the hardboiled mystery drama Chain, and Yume Miru Kusuri + Little My Maid, both of which I can’t recommend highly enough. Also for this weekend only, get 33% off the Idols Galore + Slave Pagent bundle!