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.
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.
- My older brother went to school ahead of me. – 私の兄はお先に学校へ行きました。 (Watashi no ani wa o saki ni gakkou e ikimashita.)
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 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.
- Where is your brother? – お兄さんはどこですか？ (Onii-san wa doko desu ka?)
- Bro! Dinner’s ready! – 兄さん！ご飯、できたよ！ (Nii-san! Gohan, dekita yo!)
- Why, thank you for carrying my luggage, young man . – あら、お兄さん。荷物を持ってくれてありがとうね。 (Ara, onii-san. Nimotsu o motte kurete arigatou ne.)
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.
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.
- My brother passed his exams with flying colors! – Mom and Dad are thrilled. 兄貴が試験を全部合格した。母ちゃんたちはめっちゃ嬉しかった。 (Aniki ga shiken o zenbu goukaku shita. Kaa-chan tachi wa meccha ureshikatta.)
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.
- I have a little brother. His name is James. – 弟がいます。ジェームスと言います。 (Otouto ga imasu. Jeemusu to iimasu.)
- Mr. Smith, your younger brother lives in Tokyo, right? – スミスさんの弟さんは東京に住んでるんですよね？(Sumisu san no otouto-san wa toukyou ni sunderun desu yo ne?)
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, both titles sound out of place. You might find them in period literature or other media.
- Honored brother! I have brought your sword! – 兄上、刀を持ってきました。 (Ani-ue, katana o motte kimashita.)
6. 兄弟 (Kyoudai) – Brothers
Many Japanese people mistakenly use the word 兄弟 (kyoudai) to mean “siblings” in Japanese. The true 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 does mean brothers, it’s used when you want to ask someone if they have any siblings or inquire how many siblings they have (example #3 and 4 below).
- I am one of three brothers. – 三人兄弟です。 (San nin kyoudai desu.)
- My brothers are both in the military. My younger brother is still training, though. – うちの兄弟は二人とも軍隊関係です。弟はまだ訓練中なんですけどね。 (Uchi no kyoudai wa futari tomo guntai kankei desu. Otouto wa mada kunrenchuu nan desu kedo ne.)
- Do you have any siblings? – 兄弟はいますか？ (Kyoudai wa imasu ka?)
- How many siblings do you have? – 何人兄弟ですか？ (Nan nin kyoudai desu ka?)
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.
- I had dinner with my older brother-in-law last night. – 昨晩、義理の兄と食事をしました。 (Sakuban, 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!
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.