And kanji with manga
Friday, April 20, 2018

oniisan お兄さん

The word oniisan means "older brother" in Japanese (but sometimes refers to a young man). 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 oniichan vs. oniisan vs. oniisama)


The word oniisan written with kanji is oniisan お兄さん. It has the same kanji as another word for "older brother," ani, but uses a different reading (and has different usage). This is the same for the other words with different suffix:
  • oniichan お兄ちゃん
  • oniisama お兄さま

The sama 様 suffix and the o 御 prefix are only sometimes written with kanji. So, for example, oniisama can also be written お兄様 or 御兄様.


The word oniisan is used to refer or address to one's older brother. This is relative. You can have two or more older brothers, two or more oniisan's.

To be clear: your oniisan is obviously always older than you, but you call someone else's older brother oniisan and they may be younger than you. It's about the siblings' ages, not the speaker's age.

To refer to a "younger brother," the word otouto is used instead. This word is used less because normally you refer to your own younger brother by name when talking to him.

To say "oldest brother" the word is choukei 長兄, written with the kanji for "long," nagai 長い, because they've lived the longest, probably. Often a phrase like ichiban ue no ani 一番上の兄, literally "the older brother most above (in the age ranking)," may be used instead.

Referring to People

The way oniisan is used in Japanese to refer to people is very different from how a phrase such as "older brother" is used in English.

This is because in Japanese it's considered rude refer to people by saying "you" with words like anata, kimi, omae, etc. Instead, you refer to people by their names, with an honorific. And then there are cases where people are referred to by what they are instead. Or you can just not say anything and whom you're referring to is implicit.

For example, to say "you are cool" in Japanese, you would say merely kakkoii カッコいい, which means "cool," and the "you are" is implicit.

If you were to be explicit:
  • anata wa kakkoii あなたはカッコいい
    You [are] cool.

But I just said you should avoid using words like anata. So use the name instead, like:
  • Yuutarou-san wa kakkoii 勇太郎さんはカッコいい
    Yuutarou [is] cool.

Then if Yuutarou is your older brother, you address to him by title:
  • oniisan wa kakkoii お兄さんはカッコいい
    [My] older brother [is] cool.


Even though oniisan is literally "older brother," in English it's kinda weird to say that, so "big brother, "big bro," are often used instead. (Obviously there are cases where your older brother is smaller than you, like in Fullmetal Alchemist, so that doesn't always make sense.) It can also be translated as "elder brother."

Sometimes the the brother's name is used instead of "older brother." For example, instead of "my older brother is cool," the translation ends up being "Yuutarou is cool." Of course, this is weird in another way when subtitles read Yuutarou even though nobody says Yuutarou in the audio.

And what if you're talking to Yuutarou himself? Questions like oniisan wa nani ga suki? meaning "what does older brother like?" can end up being translated as "what do you like?" instead to avoid weirdness.


The meaning of oniichan is the same as oniisan, "older brother."

The difference between oniichan and oniisan is that oniichan is a cozier word, and that may imply the character is from a cozier family with a cozier upbringing. It's generally used by siblings in friendlier relationships. It's also common for younger children use oniichan instead instead of oniisan. And some people consider it to be cuter.

It's somewhat like the words "bro" and "brother" in English.


The meaning of oniisama is the same as oniisan, "older brother," too.

The difference between oniisama and oniisana is that oniisama has more reverence, and that may imply the character is from a stricter ore more traditional family, often rich $$$, with stern upbringing.

In some cases a younger sibling will say oniisama instead of oniisan out of admiration. In some cases the older brother may demand to be called oniisama instead, or it can be implicit that's demanded by the family.

Niisan, Niisama, Niichan

Sometimes the words oniisan, oniichan and oniisama are said without the o prefix: niisan 兄さん, niisama 兄さまand niichan 兄ちゃん. This is just a less formal way of saying the same thing.

Toward Young Men

Sometimes the word oniisan is used to address a young man, just like the word "mister" is used in English.

This usage generally applies to teenagers and above. Toward elders, words like ojisan, "uncle," and ojiisan, "grandpa," are similarly used instead. Toward little boys, obocchan, "son," is sometimes used.

In anime, there are two types of characters that often say oniisan this way:

First, little children. It's usual for main characters to be in high school, teenagers. So when they meet such children the guys end up being called oniisan.
  • ano oniisan ga tasukete kureta あのお兄さんが助けてくれた
    That oniisan helped [me].

In the manga Cells at Work!, Hataraku Saibou はたらく細胞, there's a platelet child-character  that routinely calls other cells oneechan and oniichan. Transcript: a' sekkekyuu no oneechan! あっ 赤血球のおねーちゃん! Ah, the oneechan red blood cell! a' hakkekkyuu no oniisan ita yo~ あっ 白血球のお兄さんいたよー Ah, the oniisan white blood cell [is there].

Second, old men talking in a patronizing way.
  • oniisan, kokora hen no hito janai ne? お兄さん、ここら辺の人じゃないね?
    Oniisan, you aren't from around these parts, are you?

In both cases oniichan may also be used, but oniisama isn't used like this.

(by the way, this is how the word is used in that anime where Buddha and Jesus Christ are buddies: Saint ☆ Oniisan 聖☆おにいさん)

Oniisan vs. Ani

The difference between oniisan and ani is that oniisan has honorifics. Generally speaking, you don't use honorifics toward yourself. So you say ani when you refer to your own older brother, and oniisan when you refer to someone else's older brother. (see お兄さん vs. 兄)

One exception is when you're talking about your older brother to someone inside your own family, then you use oniisan.

In manga and anime, characters will often break the rules above. This is because they're children, in school, talking to friends, in fiction, and such rules are a lot more relaxed.

Some example phrases:
  • watashi no ani¹ to anata no oniisan² 私の兄とあなたのお兄さん
    My older brother¹ and your older brother².
  • anata no oniisan wa genki desuka? あなたのお兄さんは元気ですか?
    Is your older brother well?
  • oneesan, oniisan wa? お姉さん、お兄さんは?
    Older sister, [what about] older brother?
    Older sister, [where is] older brother?
    (here the speaker is speaking to their "older sister," asking about their "older brother.")


Sometimes oniisan is written without kanji with a prolonged sound mark ー. This often happens with child characters to denote the way they speak.
  • oniichan おにーちゃん
  • oniisan おにーさん
  • oniisama おにーさま

Oniisan vs. Onīsan

The difference between oniisan and onīsan, with a macron, is merely that they're different romaji for the same Japanese word. The same applies for onīchan and onīsama.

This happens because long vowels, found in syllables like nii にい and nii にー, may be romanized with a macron instead of two vowel letters.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave your komento コメント in this posuto ポスト of this burogu ブログ with your questions about Japanese, doubts or whatever!

All comments are moderated and won't show up until approved. Spam, links to illegal websites, and inappropriate content won't be published.