The word for brother in Japanese depends on whether they are older or younger than you. Your older brother is 兄 (ani) in Japanese, while younger brother is 弟 (otouto). There is no way to say brother in Japanese without implying the sibling’s age.
7 Ways to Say Brother in Japanese
Let’s look at 7 ways Japanese people say brother, and examples of each. If you want to know how to learn more Japanese quickly, be sure to check out our learning Japanese roadmap!
1. 兄 (Ani) – One’s Older Brother
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, 兄 (ani) is the general term for your older brother in Japanese. Ani is the word you would use to talk about your older brother to other people. It is a fairly polite word but doesn’t come across as overly formal. Ani is appropriate for any company or conversation.
(Watashi no ani wa saki ni gakkou e ikimashita.)
My older brother went to school ahead of me.
2. お兄さん (Onii-San) – Big Brother
While お兄さん (onii-san) has the same kanji as ani, its reading is different. Onii-san means big brother in Japanese. It’s more often used to speak to one’s big brother, although it’s acceptable to say onii-san when referring to someone else’s brother in casual or formal conversation.
Onii-san can also be used as a title for young men, although this rule is typically confined to children and the elderly. “Tough guys” may also call a young man onii-san; the nuance to this title is often friendly and casual.
Variants of the word onii-san are 兄さん (nii-san) and お兄ちゃん・兄ちゃん (onii-chan・nii-chan). These titles are more affectionate, holding the same nuance as the English nickname bro or big bro. It also common to say the person’s name or nickname before onii-san. For example, まさお兄さん (Masao nii-san), たくや兄ちゃん (Takuya nii-chan), or even just using nii, like さとし兄 (Satoshi nii).
(Onii-san wa doko desu ka?)
Where is your brother?
(Nii-san! Gohan, dekita yo!)
Bro! Dinner’s ready!
(Ara, onii-san, nimotsu o motte kurete arigatou ne.)
Why, thank you for carrying my luggage, young man.
3. 兄貴 (Aniki) – One’s Older Brother, One’s Senior
Like onii-san, 兄貴 (aniki) is a way to say older brother in casual Japanese. Aniki may have been initially limited to formal Japanese, but it is currently considered impolite to use the word in formal conversations. Aniki is sometimes used to speak to one’s older brother, although this is often done as a joke.
兄君 (ani-gimi), which was the Samurai’s respectful word for 兄 (ani), was used in the times of warlords in Japan. 兄貴(aniki) is an abbreviation for 兄君 (ani-gimi). However, the kanji “貴 (ki)” does not have much of meaning in this case. It is believed that using 貴 (ki) is a change that happened recently.
Aniki can also be used to refer to one’s senior within a work-related or social group. When used for an older brother, aniki should be limited to casual conversation with people in your circle or age group.
(Aniki ga shiken ni mono no migoto nigoukaku shita! Kaa-chan to tou-chan wa meccha yorokondeiru.)
My brother passed his exams with flying colors! Mom and Dad are thrilled.
4. 弟 (Otouto) – (One’s) Younger Brother
弟 (otouto) means little brother in Japanese. It is always used when talking about your little brother (to someone else). Japanese people may call their older brothers onii-san, but they will always refer to their younger brothers by name and never by otouto-san. This may have to do with the role that age plays in Japan’s social hierarchy.
However, when you add “san” to otouto (otouto-san) it becomes a polite way to refer to someone ele’s younger brother. See example #2 below.
(Otouto ga imasu. Jeemusu to iimasu.)
I have a little brother. His name is James.
(Sumisu san no otouto-san wa toukyou ni sunderun desu yo ne?)
Mr. Smith, your younger brother lives in Tokyo, right?
5. 兄上 (Ani-Ue) – Honored Older Brother
兄上 (ani-ue) is an archaic way to say older brother in Japanese. The title was mainly used within samurai households of pre-Meiji Japan.
People of the day might refer to their older brothers as ani-ue (literally honored brother) or the more respectful お兄様 (onii-sama). However, in modern Japanese, 兄上 (ani-ue) sounds out of place. You might find it in period literature or other media.
お兄様 (onii-sama) on the other hand is still used in formal situations (to address someone else’s or even your own older brother) and when writing letters.
(Ani-ue, katana o motte kimashita.)
Honored brother! I have brought your sword!
6. 兄弟 (Kyoudai) – Brothers
Many Japanese people mistakenly use the word 兄弟 (kyoudai) to mean “siblings” in Japanese. The original meaning of kyoudai is male siblings or brothers*. The meaning is in the kanji: 兄 (older brother) and 弟 (younger brother).
That said, kyoudai is implicitly a plural word. You can’t say 私の兄弟 (watashi no kyoudai) to mean my brother. It will always mean my brothers. Kyoudai is a useful word for describing your family members or home life to someone else.
*Important Note: While kyoudai is made up of the kanji for older and younger brother, it can be used with girls too. It’s also used when you want to ask someone if they have any siblings or inquire how many siblings they have (example #3 and 4 below).
For example, you could use it for:
- 男(の)兄弟 (otoko (no) kyoudai): male sibling(s)
- 女(の)兄弟 (onna (no) kyoudai): female sibling(s)
(San nin kyoudai desu.)
I am one of three brothers.
(Uchi no kyoudai wa futari tomo gunjin desu. Otouto wa mada kunrenchuu nan desu kedo ne.)
My brothers are both in the military. My younger brother is still training, though.
(Kyoudai wa imasu ka?)
Do you have any siblings?
(Nan nin kyoudai desu ka?)
How many siblings do you have?
Other Words for Siblings
There are actually several words to describe siblings, but most of them are not common (except for shimai). You can use these to impress your Japanese friends instead!
|兄姉||keishi||older brother and older sister|
|兄妹||keimai||older brother and younger sister|
|姉弟||shitei||older sister and younger brother|
|姉妹*||shimai*||sisters; older sister and younger sister|
|弟妹||teimai||younger brother and younger sister|
*Note: 姉妹(shimai) is the only commonly used word these days.
7. 義理の兄・義理の弟 (Giri no Ani/ Giri no Otouto) – Brother-in-Law
If you wish to refer to your brother-in-law in Japanese, you can use either 義理の兄 (giri no ani) or 義理の弟 (giri no otouto). Of course, this depends on your brother-in-law’s age; remember that ani is an older brother, and otouto is a younger brother.
However, you don’t use 義理の兄 or 義理の弟 when you are speaking to your older or younger brother-in-law directly. These are only used when you are talking about your brother-in-law to people other than your family. When you want to talk to your younger brother-in-law, you would call them by their name. You don’t call your younger brother-in-law (or real younger brother) 弟 (otouto).
Here’s the interesting part. When you talk to your older brother-in-law directly, you can either call them by their name or onii-san. This is exactly the same as what you would call your real older brother, but there’s a special kanji for your brother-in-law.
- The kanji for an older brother-in-law (when speaking to him directly or speaking about him to your family) is: お義兄さん (onii-san)
- The kanji for older brother (related by blood) is: お兄さん (onii-san)
Even though there is one extra character in the kanji for an older brother-in-law, (お義兄さん vs. お兄さん) the reading is the same as お兄さん (onii-san).
There is also another way to say older and young brother-in-law in Japanese.
- 義兄 (gikei): Older brother-in-law
- 義弟 (gitei) : Younger brother-in-law
These two terms have the same meaning as 義理の兄 (giri no ani) or 義理の弟 (giri no otouto), but are more formal and mostly used in writing.
- I had dinner with my older brother-in-law last night.
(Yuube, giri no ani to shokuji o shimashita.)
There aren’t as many words for brother in Japanese as there are for mother or father, but the rules are a bit more specific. Remember the difference between older brother (兄, ani) and younger brother (弟, otouto), and you’re ready to go! If you want to learn how to speak Japanese naturally, check out more of our free guides. If you’re looking for the best program or lessons to improve your Japanese, we highly recommend Japanesepod101.
How do you say brother in your language? Let us know in the comments! Thank you for reading our article on how to say brother in Japanese.