Normally people don’t use the word あなた, or ‘you’, in Japanese, with names being the preferred way of referring to someone. So, for example, even if I’ve been talking to my Japanese friend, let’s say ひろ, for the last half-hour, and he asks me if I want to drink coffee, I can say to him, ‘うん、ひろ は?’, using his name in the sentence.

あなた is used a lot by wives for their husbands and there are other words that can be used for ‘you’. For example あんた can be used for your children. Other examles are おまえ, often used at school between pupils and てめ, a bad-ass word for ‘you’.

At the bike shop just the other day the man working there referred to me as あんた which shocked me, as I’ve never been called that before. My Japanese friend said that it was because he’s quite old. I’d guessed that perhaps he was from some different part of Japan!

There are many occasions when I don’t know what to call someone. If possible, I try to avoid あなた for the reason mentioned above, but I have heard it in normal conversation between people other than husband and wife. When is it OK to use it? If you are at school or the doctor’s you can use せんせい, but how about at the hair salon, びよういん? びようし is the title of a hair-stylist, but I don’t know if you would use that in the same way as you would せんせい.

This is quite a tricky part of the Japanese language. Linked to this are personal pronouns. I think I’ve mentioned them in a previous post, but if not then I will post again soon…


  1. After posting this I actually used the word あなた to someone I met for the first time today. It felt strange. Hmm.