I’m in the Japan Times Bilingual page this week with a look at “words of personal reference”: “How to address the ‘sisters’ we’ve never met.”
This article starts with a story that happened to me shortly after I moved to Tokyo in 2008. I wish I’d written down the details at the time! Especially what the women said when they replied to my friend. Their tone (the laughter, the appreciation, how easily we all had such a nice time) is still so clear in my mind, but the words have gone.
It was such a great party with fun people and really interesting conversation. The Japanese guy who used お姉さん went on to try his hand at stand-up comedy. Not sure how that worked out.
The bar was Yokohama Cheers, if anyone wants to check it out.
I ran out of space in the article but wanted to look at where the division line is between お姉さん and おばさん and between お兄さん and おじさん.
I found this really interesting discussion site.
Here’s a key quote that backs up what I remember from the conversation:
The women we spoke with laughed when my friend used お姉さん, but it was a friendly laugh, one that recognized the difficulty of the situation.
Another commenter provides this loose breakdown in the terminology, although clearly the cutoff for お姉さん is a little young:
I also found a personal blog with an interesting discussion of what the writer’s niece and nephew’s children call her. Here’s an interesting line:
かといって 呼ばれ慣れない「おばさん」や まして「おばあちゃん」もなんか私じゃないみたい。