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 oira. Wai 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 wai, oira, 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
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