And kanji with manga
Monday, April 23, 2018

おばさん, Obasan - Meaning in Japanese - 伯母さん, 叔母さん, 小母さん

The word obasan means "aunt" or in Japanese (but sometimes refers to an older woman). Not to be confused with obaasan or obāsan with a macron, which mean "grandmother" 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 obachan vs. obasan vs. obasama)


The word obasan written with kanji is obasan 伯母さん, or obasan 叔母さん, or obasan 小母さん. 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.


When written as obasan 伯母さん, it refers to the "aunt" who's your parent's older sister, or, in other words, the oneesan of your otousan or okaasan.


When written as obasan 叔父さん, it refers to the "aunt" who's your parent's younger sister, or, in other words, the imouto of your otousan or okaasan.


When written as obasan 小母さん, it refers to an "aunt" who's not even related to your parents, or, in other words, an adult woman of certain age.


It's interesting to note that not everybody knows for sure the difference between these three 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, as obasan おばさん, instead.


The word obachan means the same thing as obasan, "uncle."

The difference between obasan and obachan おばちゃん is that obachan is a cozier word. It can imply a more friendly, relaxed, or intimate relationship between the speaker and the obachan.


The word ojisama means the same thing as ojisan, "uncle."

The difference between obasan and obasama おばさま is that obasama 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, uncles, grandparents, etc. with respect.

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

Obasan vs. Oba

The difference between oba and obasan, obachan, obasama is that oba 伯母 (叔母) does not have an honorific. In Japanese, you normally don't use honorifics toward yourself. By extension, oba would be your aunt, while obasan, etc. other people's aunts. An exception is when you're talking about your aunt to someone in your family, then using obasan 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 Older Women

Sometimes the word obasan 小母さん refers not the character's "aunt" but to a woman who's older than them instead. When this happens, the woman is usually at least in her mid-thirties, but note that there's no hard rule for this.

In particular, teenager girls and young women in anime can get called obasan by children and get real mad because of it. Often correcting the child saying they're an oneesan, "older sister," instead, because oneesan is used similarly but toward young women and girls. On the other side, obaasan, "grandmother," is used toward elder women.

In anime, the term obasan is probably used more in this way than to refer to actual aunts, since characters rarely have parents, much less parents' siblings.

When the word is used like this, it sometimes comes after the demonstrative pronouns kono, sono, ano.
  • ano obasan あのおばさん
    That (older) woman.

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