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How should a guy say 'I' in Japanese? Japanese women give their opinions

31 Comments
By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

Japan often gets called a conformist society, and while that label is unfairly harsh, it is true that people in Japan are more likely, compared to many other nations, to choose fitting in over standing out. So it’s kind of ironic that when you want to say “I” in Japanese, it becomes a wide-open, highly personalized choice.

The Japanese language has more than a dozen words for “I,” and while some of them have fallen out of fashion over time, you’ve still got several to pick from in modern conversation, each with its own atmosphere and aura. Women’s interest internet portal Joshi Spa recently conducted a survey among its users, gathering 100 responses from women between the ages of 30-39, asking which word they like for men to use when speaking about themselves, and got the following answers.

6 (tie). wai (1 percent of responses)

6 (tie). oira (1 percent)

Bumping into each other at the bottom of the list are wai and oiraWai is associated with sleepy rural parts of central Japan, particularly in coastal parts of Hyogo Prefecture and the Seto Inland Sea, and while there’s some debate over whether east Japan’s oira makes you sound like a country bumpkin or a bratty Tokyo kid from two generations back, there’s a pretty general consensus tat it does make you sound old-fashioned an unsophisticated.

5. uchi (2 percent)

While uchi is technically a unisex first-person pronoun, it’s become particularly associated with outgoingly assertive women in the Kansai region (central Japan, especially the areas around Osaka), which might explain why the survey’s respondents don’t think of it as the most attractive choice for a guy.

4. jibun (3 percent)

Continuing the slow uptick in popularity brings us to jibun. A bit on the formal side, using jibun carries a tone something like saying “as for myself,” in English. It’s an OK choice for written correspondence, but overusing it in face-to-face intersexual conversation can make a guy sound a little stuffy or nerdy, which apparently isn’t what the women in the survey are looking for in a guy.

3. watashi (12 percent)

Sliding in to the top three is watashi, pretty much the first version of “I” that any Japanese textbook or phrasebook will teach you. You can get a lot of mileage out of watashi, but similar to jibun, it has sort of a cold-fish feeling to it when it’s a guy’s go-to pronoun for personal conversation with a girl.

2. boku (30 percent)

A big jump in votes takes us to boku, which is the second first-person pronoun taught in most Japanese language courses. Boku loosens the collar of watashi with a casual, informal feel. However, it’s worth noting that boku is far more popular in Tokyo and east Japan than it is in the western part of the country. Once you get to Osaka, boku is sometimes seen as the linguistic equivalent of a high school kid with a pencil-thin mustache and chin stubble, a mark of a guy who’s eager to show you he’s not a kid anymore, but in doing so also showing you he’s not quite a full-grown man just yet.

1. ore (50 percent)

Coming in first, and with a commanding margin, is ore. Unlike some of the other words in the list, ore is exclusively masculine in tone, and doesn’t have any of the adolescent-boy-who’s-trying-too-hard stigma that boku can convey.

However, ore’s strong showing doesn’t mean that you can simply forget all the other words on this list and expect to run into no communication hiccups. As mentioned earlier, the survey asked women what pronoun they liked when men were talking about themselves, and the implication is that they’re talking about social situations, not professional ones. While ore works fine on a date or when talking to a platonic female friend, it’d be a little coarse for talking with a just-met female coworker, and definitely not something you’d use in talking to a female boss unless you’re working in an office with a very casual atmosphere. And though you’re unlikely to ever find yourself in a situation where you have to use waioira, or uchi, if you’re planning for a full range of linguistic interactions in Japanese, you’ll want to get used to using jibun and watashi for more polite conversations.

Source: Niconico News via Hachima Kiko

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

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-- “Scholar” tops list of what Japanese boys want to be when they grow up, “restauranteur” for girls

© SoraNews24

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

31 Comments
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I kinda wonder at the respondents and what pool they were drawn from. ;)

My 2c:

Ore - pretty blokey, most commonly used amongst men trying to one-up each other. Male only esp while playing sport it’s very common.

Boku - polite, educated and a bit deferential. Should be your fallback (esp with older people) to Watashi.

Watashi / Watakushi / Watakushidomo - various levels of courtesy as “standard”. Boring but useful.

Oira - I actually find this one funny. Very rural.

Washi - old men

Atashi - women only, guys pls don’t use this

Jibun - meh as a couple of people have said, can be a bit pretentious but also correct in a lot of situations

Uchi - Polite and while not strictly female only I’ve really only heard it used by women and older men. Safe in business

Sessha - Amusing but you need to pick your audience. Don’t use with ppl u don’t know. Male only.

On a related note someone mentioned WareWare - really it is more like us/we. Not I. Most commonly used when trying to emphasis a stance (as a company etc). Very common in business.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As a 61 year old literal graybeard, I feel uncomfortable using “boku”, I’m afraid people would think I’m trying to “act immature” to get along with younger folk, and I feel like “ore” would be too impolite in most situations. I would use “washi” but I don’t know if I’m old enough for that to be acceptable, especially if gaijin shouldn’t use it. So, the few time I say anything I just use “watashi”, since I figure anyone hearing my Japanese will think I’m a “dancing bear”: “It’s not how well the bear dances, it’s that the bear dances at all.”

0 ( +0 / -0 )

われわれ

Haha, good addition, but only if you're an old male politician/business man speaking of your business or whatever.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

われわれ

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So I came back to boku and think I'll stick with it from now on, unless I'm in an izakaya with a bunch of guys and everyone is using ore.

You basically hit on the secret right there. Follow the lead of those who know what they’re doing.

Just stick to good ole "watashi"

It’s neutral, but sounds weird when used in a situation where something else more casual would be more natural.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I see so many skinny, lanky gaijin here using "ore" trying to sound cool. Meanwhile their size S polo shirt is slipping off their shoulders as their "hot" date is steadily losing interest. Just stick to good ole "watashi"

@Vince Black

omae??

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You left out "Washi" as in my most often used and most useful phrase, "Washi ni wa wakaron, yo".

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I've learned more on this subject from both the article and the comments than I have in three years of studying Japanese in Australia. Neither of my two instructors (both of them Japanese women) and none of my more experienced classmates have ever even mentioned ore as an alternative to watashi. But then I don't have to impress girls in Japan with my personal pronouns - I bring my girl with me.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Lol, it's been the question haunting me during all of my study abroad. During the first month or so, I mostly used boku. Then I eventually settled it that way:

Use watashi in class and with teachers of course.

Use boku with other students I met at school.

Use ore with the residents of my international dorm, who were kind of my "in-group". It was a way to show that I was relaxed there and didn't worry about being formal. Plus, as a 24-year old guy (kind of a senpai, older than the majority of my friends there who were about 20-21), I felt it was okay for me to be assertive and use ore.

However! I think the comment that "ore sounds weird in a gaijin's mouth" is true, at least to some Japanese people. I've had one girl straight up laugh at me when I used it, and tell me that boku is better. Another one, actually a good friend, after a few drinks, mustered up the courage to tell me that she thinks boku would be better to use.

So I came back to boku and think I'll stick with it from now on, unless I'm in an izakaya with a bunch of guys and everyone is using ore.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Ore, ore-sama.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

With regard to my above comment, my wife and daughter took me to task for my ignorance. And they then spent the next half hour arguing over personal pronoun usage.

However, I learned that wai is also common in Sakai, or it was last century when my wife last lived there.

Papa says enough already.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Did I mention that I’m tall and lanky?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I see so many skinny, lanky gaijin here using "ore" trying to sound cool. Meanwhile their size S polo shirt is slipping off their shoulders as their "hot" date is steadily losing interest.

A bit cruel. If I’d have come to Japan single, I think I’d have been pretty promiscuous with my approach. Trial and error and all that.

I suppose it boils down to types. I’m a miserable swine. Some like to show off their Japanese skills, comment on nuance and post kanji. Others don’t bother with Japanese and live in a bubble. None of them are bad people for it.

Let’s poke fun at each other.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

use things like ‘ore’, swear ( I’m not a potty mouth in English

i wouldn't consider 'ore' as being potty-mouthed or swearing in Japanese: maybe confident; cocky; or as you mention, 'trying to be cool' if the wrong persona is saying it.

I see so many skinny, lanky gaijin here using "ore" trying to sound cool. Meanwhile their size S polo shirt is slipping off their shoulders as their "hot" date is steadily losing interest. Just stick to good ole "watashi"

are they pronouncing it "oh-ray" or properly like a proper-n-cocky J-dude? if the former, i think their constant talk about figurines and naruto is probably what is boring the poor girl to tears. and a big facepalm if you're dishing out the 'watashi' on a date, unless you're trying to get with the keiri no obasan.

don't stick to one pattern; adapt to the environment: watashi with clients or in the office/school/in-laws; boku at the bar or the nerdy 'librarian' date; ore when drunk off yer tits or trying to get with the tatted-up hip-hop clubbing chick

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Maybe I’m just miserable.

Then you should use ore. :-) I always get the impression that men switch to ore from boku when they're drained of youthfulness, usually by Tuesday.

boku is far more popular in Tokyo and east Japan than it is in the western part of the country

Is that true? I'm just going by my under-70, male, Osaka in-laws who generally use boku, on weekends anyway. washi still seems in favour with the oldsters.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I see so many skinny, lanky gaijin here using "ore" trying to sound cool. Meanwhile their size S polo shirt is slipping off their shoulders as their "hot" date is steadily losing interest. Just stick to good ole "watashi"

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Non-Japanese men who are less than 100% fluent in Japanese sound silly using "ore".

Interesting.

One of my Japanese coworkers who is very fluent in English said he never uses the eff word because he feels that word ‘belongs’ to native speakers and ‘foreigners’ saying it sounds strange. I disagreed with him because I didn’t like his idea of ‘belongs’, but I think I know what he’s getting at.

My Japanese is above functional but I never use things like ‘ore’, swear ( I’m not a potty mouth in English but I do swear ) or try to get too ‘cool’. It does sound a bit, I dunno, cringeworthy from a gaijin.

Maybe I’m just miserable.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

While I learning japanese in my first year, I had a feeling like "boku" is for high-school boys until I've had a dinner with a retired intelligent japanese senior executive that passed his decades in abroad, and managed thousands of people, he was using "boku" in his impressive speeches consistently that I adapted the usage to myself.

This is my fifth year as boku and I never felt any disadvantage.

My look is overly-masculin enough, if I call myself "Ore", I will only give bitter taste and thrill to these womans that got surveyed.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Non-Japanese men who are less than 100% fluent in Japanese sound silly using "ore".

A lot of Japanese men sound silly using 'ore' too. Just use 'boku' for chrissakes.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Non-Japanese men who are less than 100% fluent in Japanese sound silly using "ore".

I’ve always found that those who are most critical of other foreigner’s Japanese usage are generally not very good themselves. They put that same criticality on their own usage and it stunts their growth. It’s those who don’t care about how they look and just enjoy communicating that learn the fastest and end up being more fluent.

Is that not your experience?

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Non-Japanese men who are less than 100% fluent in Japanese sound silly using "ore".

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I just need an article on how to get my 5 year old daughter to stop referring to herself as 'ore'.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Don't use it if you're trying to impress Cleo.

A bit cringeworthy but at least you didn’t put a ‘the’ before ‘Cleo’ ;)

I tend not to get too hung up on what pronoun to use. tokyo-star set out pretty much all you need to know.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

heh looks like Cleo talks about herself in the third person...which in Japan seems ok and cute for girls, but juvenile/immature/otaku/gay for guys

for business scenarios, watashi is obviously the safe bet for meetings and around the office, and boku when drinking at an izakaya later with those same people (and perhaps ore when stumbling after way too many drinks or with whoever is still hanging around at the end of the night)

1 ( +4 / -3 )

If we're talking standard Japanese, then wai and oira are dismissed out of hand - I feel they belong in the realms of regional dialect.

I would expect uchi to be used by both men and women when speaking of themselves in a family/home context; as Strangerland mentions, uchi no haha etc.

I think jibun sounds a bit ..... old-fashioned? overly formal in an affected kind of way? Don't use it if you're trying to impress Cleo.

watashi is the good old standby, perfectly polite, can be used anytime to anyone - but not to Cleo if you're a member of uchi no kazoku. I would feel something was up if either my husband or son or son-in-law used it when speaking to me. I would start looking round to see what he had broken this time.

It's a bit of a toss-up between boku and ore. Personally I feel boku has a softer, more intimate feel to it, while ore can, depending on the circumstances, sound a bit too testosterone-laden, a bit too trying-hard-to-appear-masculine. But it depends. My husband can use it, but not the younger generation, they should stick with boku. I don't mind casual acquaintances using boku, so long as they don't get too familiar. You gotta know me really well, or be trying to start a fight with me, if you use ore.

Bottom line, if in doubt, fall back on watashi. If you get it wrong, at worst the ladies will think you're cute.

Invalid CSRF

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Wai is associated with sleepy rural parts of central Japan, particularly in coastal parts of Hyogo Prefecture and the Seto Inland Sea

Interesting, I hadn't heard this one before. I thought it was something otaku/anime when I read it, so I'm glad they included the explanation. That's an area of Japan I haven't spent much time in. I love that about Japan, the various dialects in different areas.

While uchi is technically a unisex first-person pronoun, it’s become particularly associated with outgoingly assertive women in the Kansai region

I only use it when speaking in polite conversation of my mother or father - uchi no haha/chichi (うちの母・父).

A bit on the formal side, using jibun carries a tone something like saying “as for myself,” in English.

This one I use for speaking of 'mine' or 'my own', in comparison to someone else's. あれは自分のだったっけ? (Oh, was that mine?)

Coming in first, and with a commanding margin, is ore. Unlike some of the other words in the list, ore is exclusively masculine in tone, and doesn’t have any of the adolescent-boy-who’s-trying-too-hard stigma that boku can convey.

The one to use if you want to sound like a man. Unless you're in a polite or business situation, in which case you should not use it. It's a very casual word, and should only be used in casual situations.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

These surveys always strike me as women's view of fantasy men, not real ones. The fantasy men who also earn 10 million yen and do the kabedon. Surveys on dating in Japan show that many people aren't in relationships, so they can't be speaking from lots of experience.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

You can also omit all these pronouns and speak ambiguously if you extend your index finger and point directly at the tip of your nose. Context is king in Japan.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

And in other surveys, 100% of English speakers said 'I', 100% of French speakers said 'je', 100% of Chinese speakers said '我'.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Ore-sama (1 percent)

Me ( 1 percent)

Washi (7 percent)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Thanks, JT/Sora, for the linguistics lesson. As an older guy who's still inexpertly studying the Japanese language, I always use "watashi" in Japan because it just feels safest.

My poor niece - who's in her early 30s, a smart and beautiful girl who had a boyfriend with connections in Japan - once went a whole trip to Japan referring to herself as "boku" presumably because the boyfriend used it for himself and no-one pointed out the mistake. Until I did. I felt terrible, but someone had to do it!

6 ( +6 / -0 )

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