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Mothers react to being called by their first names after years of just being 'Mama'

37 Comments
By Philip Kendall

It might sound strange, but in a lot of Japanese households, the use of first names tends to become increasingly rare after the arrival of children and grandchildren. Although plenty of parents in the Western world will also refer to each other as “Mom" or "Dad" in an effort to help their newborn or toddler pick up the words, or sometimes just to be cute, a man calling his wife “Mama” or “Okaasan” even after their kids have long flown the nest is perfectly common in Japan.

But what happens when a husband suddenly starts calling his wife by her first name, just like when they first started dating or had not long been married? Japanese cosmetics company Pola recently conducted an experiment to find out how simply being called by their first name can affect the health and physical appearance of young women who have over the years come to be known simply as “Mama”.

Promo or not, the effect was surprisingly powerful.

A great deal of attention is paid in Japan to a person’s role or position in a group or society. If Yoshio Suzuki (to choose one of the most common surnames in Japan at random) is one day selected to be the section chief at the engineering company he works for, then from that moment on he will cease to be known as Suzuki-san and referred to solely as "Kacho" (section chief) outside of more formal settings or when it is necessary for a person to specify which section chief they are talking about.

Similar rules are often applied at home, where women become “Okasan” or “Mama” and men “Otosan” or “Papa” the moment their firstborn enters the world. This might not seem especially unusual at first, and it should be noted that there are exceptions even in Japan, with plenty of couples still calling each other by their first names even after having kids, but when a dozen female heads turn in perfect unison as a 65-year-old man calls out “Okasan” (“Mother”) in order to get his wife’s attention in a busy supermarket, or when a store clerk addresses a female patron as “Okusan” (“wife”) after spying her wedding ring, it becomes clear that the Japanese really do put a lot of stock into a person’s role in society, whatever it may be.

In a recent promotional video (below), cosmetics maker Pola performed an experiment to see how mothers reacted to suddenly being called by their first name after years of simply being “Mama”. The company asked the husbands of women who reported that they were usually addressed in their home as “Mama” or similar to make a conscious effort to use their wife’s first name when talking to them in order to see how they would respond.

The idea that simply using a woman’s first name could be enough affect her mood might seem strange to those outside Japan, but watch the reactions of these young mothers as their husbands follow Pola’s simple instructions. Be sure to toggle the English subtitles when playing the video.

The video doesn’t go into much detail about how the group studied the changes that occurred following this sudden name-change, and we’re fairly sure that there is at least a little bit of creative licence being employed here since this is after all a commercial of sorts, but this video nevertheless provides us with a fascinating look at this aspect of Japanese culture, and it’s interesting to see how even some of the husbands found it strange to call their wives by anything other than Mama.

Besides, it’s hard not to feel even the tiniest flutter in the pit of your stomach when you see a young mother’s face light up like this simply because her husband called by her first name.

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© RocketNews24

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37 Comments
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I guess it really is the little things that make people happy. :)

7 ( +8 / -1 )

It's weird to call your spouse Mom or Dad. It's cute a couple of times in a situation but really that's it.

2 ( +7 / -5 )

Awwww. This nearly made me cry.

And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

Lots of first time foreighners think lots of Japanese men have the name "Anata"

10 ( +11 / -1 )

This reveals how easily individuals are erased by social conventions and norms. One word is all it takes. One word is all that is needed to make the difference between feeling acknowledged or ignored.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

I have never called my wife "mama" I call her by the name she was given at birth, otherwise, why use it in the first place? I do call her "sweetie" and she usually calls me "honey" but that's pretty much it.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I think referring to your spouse as "Mama" or "Papa" or similar title when speaking about them to your children is perfectly normal but I've always detested how married couples in Japan tend to also use these words when directly addressing each other. Although to me they were Mommy and Daddy, my Japanese mother and American father always called each other by their first names and the same goes in my household. I think it enables children understand that there was and continues to be something more to their parents' relationship than being parents and I think that's critical to how they in turn develop an understanding of marriage and parenthood as they grow up.

15 ( +19 / -4 )

So if calling a woman by her name instead of Mama raises her 'beauty hormone', does that mean those of us who are always called by our names have a permanently raised level of this hormone? Or does it find its natural level and our husbands have to bring out the bigger guns (breakfast in bed, chocolates, kidless dates?) to get the same reaction?

Personally I'm all in favour of the bigger guns.

10 ( +14 / -4 )

"Chérie" would have been nice - if he ever spoke to me...

1 ( +3 / -2 )

'But what happens when a husband suddenly starts calling his wife by her first name, just like when they first started dating or had not long been married?'

The woman suspects a guilty conscience?

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Big guns are always nice, Cleo; however, the little day-to-day things make life so much nicer than getting blasted only on birthdays and 'special' occasions. Calling it a 'beauty hormone' is mainly marketing, but concrete demonstrations of love and respect usually put a glow on anyone. No reason you (and anyone else in your household) shouldn't have both.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

People in some Western nations DO refer to their spouse as 'mama' or 'papa', but is usually a term of endearment used when they find out they are pregnant or when the child is just born, and is NOT a substitute for the person's first name, and is of course used intentionally. It's much like you might once in a while and especially when married refer to your wife as "Mrs. ---" or, "Ms. ---" plus the new name, if you're old school and changed names (and more modernly in Western culture the husband if he changed his), or say, "my wife" or "my husband" when talking to or holding them, or something. I've never seen it regularly take the place of someone's first name.

In any case, if it makes them happy, then by all means use the change (back) once in a while. But be sure if you start speaking English you don't talk about you going on a trip with your 'father' unless it's actually your dad.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Now let's see what happens when the husband suddenly says "I love you", and not something like "I love your bento".... or wait...when he suddenly gives her a kiss in front of the children!!!! A lot of japanese couples have relations build on understanding not passion....after years of marriage they don't understand passion anymore..hence the horrible sex stats, low birthrate and happy widows.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

I call my wife Mama as a reference to the movie.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'd love to ask everybody What do your children call you? English or Japanese, or other?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What do your children call you? English or Japanese, or other?

When they were little, Mummy. And Mr Cleo was Daddy, though they spoke Japanese to him. Now he's Oyaji (Granpa to the grandkids) and I'm Mi-chan (....it's a long story), Nana to the tinies.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Like any English kid back home, my two called me "Dada" when they were very small. Problem was, they had no English-speaking peers to encourage them to move on to "Daddy" and then "Dad". So my twenty-year-old son and seventeen-year-old daughter still call me "Dada".

It seems normal to us in Japan, but I suppose it might raise a few eyebrows back home....

2 ( +3 / -1 )

my kids call us mummy or daddy, when there older itll change to mum or dad. why would i want to call my wife mum or okasan or mama. im not speaking to her on behalf of my children!?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I refer to Mr.Kittychosen (J-hubby) as 'Papa' when talking to the J-cat...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

USNinJapan2

I think it enables children understand that there was and continues to be something more to their parents' relationship than being parents and I think that's critical to how they in turn develop an understanding of marriage and parenthood as they grow up.

I think this is a great point.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I've personally called my parents by their first names since I learned to speak. I don't remember ever calling my mom "mommy".

My mother blames my father because when he spoke to us as kids, he would never say "go see your mother/mommy" he would say "go see [her first name]". I like it personally, it puts the focus on the person, not their role, on who they are, not what they are.

Anyway, knowing how calling someone by their first name in Japan is rare and a sign of close friendship, I understand why it may have such power.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I've been pondering how to explain this to non-Japanese. My father always referred to my mom as okasan and my mother referred to him by his first name, but always added -san at the end. I've never heard my dad call my mom by her first name, or ever heard him tell her that he loves her. The Japanese culture is a culture where outward displays of emotion, especially outward displays of affection and caring is limited to the extreme, with the preferred method of communicating affection being inferred through some kind of non-direct action. Subtlety is highly prized above direct verbal or physical affection, which is considered over the top. Direct physical or verbal affection is often completely non-existent once children come around, it's like you're expected to get rid of all the lovey dovey stuff like hugging, holding hands, going on a date, once you have kids. Romance is thought of as exclusively for people who are dating or newly weds without kids. In that context, showing love and affection again and acknowledging that you are romantic partners once again ends up becoming a bashful and embarrassing proposition to Japanese parents who have completely forgotten that they are still supposed to be romantic partners, which is why it's so embarrassing for even the men in this video. The concept that there is romance between someone who is so close to you that they are a part of your family is almost foreign to Japanese, even though it is completely natural everywhere else. Now, onto the name. Almost no one in Japan refers to another person by their given name only unless they're family, without adding some kind of -san or -kun or -chan at the end of a name or making it into some kind of nickname. It's just considered too intimate, too brash, for anything outside of a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. So in a country where romance is considered over once the first child is born, calling a spouse by their first name is akin to suddenly turning the clock back to when they were first dating and before all the unromantic mundanity of being parents had ever started. It's like saying all those things that Japanese men never say: "you're beautiful" "I love you" "you're special to me" all in one word with the subtlety that Japanese crave.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

My kids call me by my short name and they call their mother by her first name, we called each other by our first names but we also would say mom or mommy or dad or papa when referring to other for the children, kind of half half. My sons wife also calls me by my first name (short version) although she is Japanese. of course my grand son calls me gran'pa. Point here is that as a father and mother we expect and receive due and honest respect in deed rather than in way we are addressed. It is the tone of the call that is more important. And most important, becoming a father and mother to our children should not dimming our affection for each other, not using our first names does have some negative impact on that.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

My sons call me "daddy" and my wife "woman". I think I might have done something wrong.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

t's weird to call your spouse Mom or Dad.

Not if you are Japanese.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

My Japanese father calls my Japanese mother by her name to this day and they are in their seventies and sixties. I guess it is different for everyone....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Call me old fashioned but I've never understood how children, particularly young children, calling their parents by their first names is deemed appropriate by some.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I usually hear 'Oi' from the fathers of the house. Especially, the older guys.

@Eddie,

Everything comes down to choices so this whole thing about Japanese do certain things differently is more of a choice than anything. Do what you want in your family?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My wife usually calls me a nickname derived from my family name ( she didn't take my name after marriage ) or a nickname for people from my hometown. She uses my first name when she's feeling romantic. Sometimes using something sparingly can be very nice.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In his classic book on communication skills, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," Dale Carnegie urged readers to "Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language. "

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@Eddie Yamashita

Almost no one in Japan refers to another person by their given name only unless they're family, without adding some kind of -san or -kun or -chan at the end of a name or making it into some kind of nickname. It's just considered too intimate, too brash, for anything outside of a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship.

When we children, brought up in "gaikoku", first names were for our parents to call us, not for us to call them, although when we became adult, mother thought calling her by her first name would make her feel younger. My elder brother did it but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. To me, it seemed like a lack of respect..

In a lot of European countries, the rule is exactly the same as for Japan as Mr Yamashita puts it : Almost no one (in Japan) refers to another person by their given name only unless they're family (I would add) and/or "close friends". I find it not only annoying but even extremely embarrassing when (for instance) the nurse at a clinic in Tokyo I went to for the first time yelled out my "first name" to follow her into the consultation room. Being a very difficult name for Japanese people to pronounce, it made me shudder... I have a Japanese family name - please use it ! It's much easier for you to pronounce anyway !

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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