And kanji with manga
Monday, April 23, 2018

お祖母さん, お婆さん, Obaasan - Meaning in Japanese

The word obaasan means "grandmother" in Japanese. (but sometimes refers to an elder woman). It's also romanized obāsan, with a macron. Not to be confused with obasan without a macron, which means "aunt" instead.

It's one of the many family words with the o__san お〇〇さん pattern, and as such the honorific suffix can be changed between san, chan and sama. (see obaachan vs. obaasan vs. obaasama)


The word obaasan written with kanji is obaasan お祖母さん or obaasan お婆さん. It's a word that can be written with multiple, different kanji, and the meaning of the word differs according to the kanji it's written with.

The sama 様 suffix and the o 御 prefix are only sometimes written with kanji. In which case you can have a word written written like this: obaasama 御祖母様.


When written as obaasan お祖母さん the word refers to your "grandmother," the mother of one of your parents.


When written as obaasan お婆さん the word doesn't refer to someone related to you but to a random elder woman instead.


It's interesting to note that not everybody knows for sure the difference between these spellings, just like some people aren't very sure about "it's" vs. "its". So, in order to avoid making an unnecessary mistake, people tend to play safe and write the word without kanji instead, as obaasan おばあさん.


When obaasan おばあさん is written without kanji it's sometimes spelled with a prolonged sound mark ー instead: obaasan おばーさん. This is usually done when child characters talk, to denote they speak in a particular way.


The word obaachan means the same thing as obaasan, "grandmother."

The difference between obaasan and obaachan おばあちゃん is that obaachan is a cozier word. It can imply a more friendly, relaxed, or intimate relationship between the speaker and the obaachan.


The word obaasama means the same thing as obaasan, "grandmother."

The difference between obaasan and obaasama おばあさま is that obaasama has more reverence. In anime, this often implies that the character is from a traditional family (often rich $$$) which believes children must address their parents, grandparents, etc. with respect.

In some cases, it can imply the speaker has admiration or esteem toward their grandmother.

Baasan, Baachan, Baasama

Sometimes the word is pronounced without the o prefix. This is just a more informal way of saying it.
  • baasan 祖母さん
  • baachan 祖母ちゃん
  • baasama 祖母さま

Obaasan vs. Sobo

The difference between obaasan and sobo 祖母, which also means "grandmother," and has the same kanji but they're read differently, is that obaasan has honorifics and sobo does not.

In Japanese, you normally don't use honorifics toward yourself. By extension, sobo would be your grandmother, while obaasan, etc. other people's grandmothers. An exception is when you're talking about your grandmother to someone in your family, then using obaasan is alright.

Also note that in anime, with children, teenagers, talking to their friends in school, the conversation is more relaxed so the norms above don't really apply.

Toward Elder Women

Sometimes the word obaasan お婆さん refers not to your "grandmother" but to an elder woman instead. This works just like how in English we can use the words "grandma" or "granny" to refer to elder women.

The word obasan, "aunt," is used similarly toward adult women, and oneesan, "older sister," may be used toward young women and teenagers.

When the word is used like this, it sometimes comes after the demonstrative pronouns kono, sono, ano.
  • ano obaasan あのおばあさん
    That grandma.
    That granny.

Obaasan vs. Obasan

The difference between obaasan and obasan is that one word means "grandmother" while the other means "aunt." Note that obāsan with a macron over the a means something else.

It may seem like nothing, but the baa of obaasan is twice as long as the ba of obasan. It's almost nothing, but it's there.

Obaasan vs. Obāsan

The difference between obaasan and obāsan, with a macron, is merely that they're different romaji for the same word.

This happens because long vowels, found in syllables like aa ああ and aa あー, may be romanized with a macron instead of two vowel letters.

So obaasan and obāsan are the same thing, but obaasan and obasan are not, and obasan and obāsan are not either.

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  1. Do you use obaasan or sobo to address your grandmother. Like “hi grandma how are you.”