How to Say Family in Japanese (and Family Members)

It’s no secret that Japan is a very family-oriented culture. Japanese strongly value bonding with their blood relatives, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Common Japanese practices like going out for drinks with your boss and co-workers after work or cleaning the school with your classmates foster a similar close-knit family environment between peers. 

Considering the concept of family in Japan is so extensive, it makes sense there would be a similarly vast amount of words to say family in the language. This article will cover the most common ways to say family and each family member in Japanese.  

1. 家族 (Kazoku) – Family; Family Members

The most common way to say family in Japanese is 家族 (kazoku). This word is made up of the 家 (ie) kanji and the 族 (zoku) kanji. In Japanese, 家 (i.e.) means home, and 族 (zoku) means tribe or clan. Chances are you’ll see one or the other in many Japanese words related to family – many of which we will go over in this article! 

When talking about your family, you can use 家族 (kazoku) in sentences with or without a possessive pronoun. To say the possessive pronoun “my” in Japanese, we use the pronoun for I: 私 (watashi) with the possessive particle の (no).

Examples:                                

1. 毎年、私の家族は日本に行く。
(Maitoshi, watashi no kazoku wa Nihon ni iku.) 
My family travels to Japan every year.

毎年、家族は日本に行く。                      
(Maitoshi, kazoku wa Nihon ni iku.)    
My family travels to Japan every year. (without the possessive particle の)      

 

2. 私の家族は5人です。
(Watashi no kazoku wa gonin desu.)
There are five members in my family.      


家族は5人です。  
(Kazoku wa go nin desu.)    
There are five members in my family. (no possessive particle)

Talking About Someone Else’s Family in Japanese

If you want to use 家族 (kazoku) to talk about someone else’s family, you can use a possessive pronoun or the person’s name. To say the possessive pronouns “his/her” in Japanese, we use the pronouns for he: 彼 (kare) and she: 彼女 (kanojo) with the possessive particle の (no).

Examples:

1. 毎年、彼の家族は日本に行く。     
(Maitoshi, kare no kazoku wa Nihon ni iku.)                   
His family travels to Japan every year.                       

2. リナさんの家族は5人です。
(Rina-san no kazoku wa go nin desu.)
There are five members in Rina’s family.

Talking Directly to Someone About Their Family in Japanese

If you want to use 家族 (kazoku) to talk to someone about their own family, you can use a possessive pronoun, their name, or an honorific, depending on the situation. 

For example, say you’re making small talk with your acquaintance Tanaka-san and want to ask him where his family lives. Your gut reaction may be to use the Japanese pronoun for you: あなた (anata). However, we want to actively avoid using あなた (anata) as much as possible when speaking in Japanese. It can come off a bit too blunt or even be seen as rude, especially when talking with someone you don’t know very well.

To get around this, we can replace あなた (anata) with the person’s name.

Example:

あなたの家族はどこの国にいますか?
(Anata no kazoku wa doko no kuni ni imasu ka?) 
What country does your family reside in?

田中さんの家族はどこの国にいますか?
(Tanaka-san no kazoku wa doko no kuni ni imasu ka?) 
What country does your family reside in, Tanaka?

Another option would be to use the honorific ご (go) in front of 家族 (kazoku). Like the honorific お (o), this is used to sound more polite when referring to another person we are not especially close with. It’s also a great way to avoid directly using あなた (anata) or the other person’s name!

Example:

ご家族はどこの国にいますか?
(Gokazoku wa doko no kuni ni imasu ka?) 
What country does your family reside in?

There are a few other ways we can refer to another person’s family in Japanese, which we will cover more of them in detail later in the article.

2. 家庭 (Katei) – Family; Household

Another common word for family in Japanese is 家庭 (katei). This word has the same 家 (ie) kanji from 家族 (kazoku) and the 庭 (niwa) kanji. 庭 (niwa) is used in many Japanese words relating to areas of land, such as parks and gardens. As you might be able to guess from the kanji combination alone, 家庭 (katei) generally refers to the overall family household whereas 家族 (kazoku) refers more specifically to the family members. 

Let’s take a look at some sentences that better exemplify the difference in connotation between 家庭 (katei) and 家族 (kazoku).

Examples:

1. 家庭で食べる方を好む。                             
(Katei de taberu hо̄ o konomu.)   
I prefer to eat at home.        

                      

2. 家族で食べる方を好む。
(Kazoku de taberu hо̄ o konomu.) 
I prefer to eat with my family.

3. 厳しい家庭で育った。              
(Kibishii katei de sodatta.)              
I was raised in a strict family household.                                         

4. 厳しい家族に育てられた。
(Kibishii kazoku ni sodaterareta.)
I was raised by a strict family.

3. うち (Uchi) – Family; One’s Home/Place

うち (uchi) is a more informal way to say family in Japanese. Although its meaning and usage are similar to 家族 (kazoku) and 家庭 (katei), you will generally want to reserve using this term in casual conversations with people you are close with like friends and relatives. 

Examples:

1. うちは猫を飼っているの。
(Uchi wa neko o katteiru no.)
My family has a pet cat.

2. 今夜、うちに来ない?
(Konya, uchi ni konai?)
Want to come over to my place tonight?

4. Using the 家 (-Ke) Suffix

When the 家 kanji is by itself, it’s read as “ie” the Japanese word for home. When 家 is combined with other kanji, its reading changes to “ka” to form words like 家族 (kazoku) and 家庭 (katei) as we covered earlier. 家 also appears in many other Japanese words relating to home or family, such as the word for housework: 家事 (kaji), and the word for family lineage: 家系 (kakei)

When the 家 kanji is used as a suffix, its reading changes to “ke.” We can use the 家 (-ke) suffix to refer to other families by their surname.

 [Family Name] + 家 Suffix = The ______ Family

Examples:

Name+ 家 (Ke) Translation
スミス (Sumisu)
Smith
+ 家 (ke) スミス家 (Sumisu-ke)
The Smith Family / The Smiths
田中 (Tanaka)
Tanaka
+ 家 (ke) 田中家 (Tanaka-ke)
 The Tanaka Family / The Tanakas

Let’s look at some example sentences that also use the 家 (-ke) suffix.

Examples:

 1. スミス家が私を食事に招待してくれた。
(Smith-ke ga watashi o shokuji ni shо̄tai shite kureta.)
The Smith Family invited me over for dinner.

 2. スミス家はここに住んでいますか?
(Smith-ke wa koko ni sundeimasu ka?)
Does the Smith Family live here?

3. スミス家と田中家はとても仲が良い。
(Smith-ke to Tanaka-ke wa totemo naka ga ii.)
The Smith Family and Tanaka Family are on very good terms.

5. Using the 族 (-Zoku) Suffix

In Japanese, 族 (zoku) means family, tribe, or clan. We can use the 族 (-zoku) kanji to refer to tribes and races of historical significance or prominent standing.

  [Tribe Name] + 族 Suffix = The ______ Tribe

Examples:

Name + 族 (Zoku)  Translation
チェロキー (cherokī)
Cherokee
+ 族 (zoku) チェロキー族 (cherokī-zoku)
The Cherokee Tribe
大和 (yamato)
Yamato
+ 族 (zoku)大和族 (Yamato-zoku)
The Yamato Race

Family Members in Japanese

An Asian family sitting side-by-side in a row on the grass.  There is a grandma, mom, a young girl and boy, a dad, and a grandpa in this picture.

Below is a list of basic terms we use to refer to family members in Japanese. Words in the formal columns can refer to members of our family (when talking to them directly) or another person’s family. In contrast, terms in the casual columns are generally reserved for only referring to our family members (when speaking to someone outside of our family).

Speaking to Others About Your Family in Japanese:

Family Memeber People You Have a Close Relationship WithPeople with a Higher Social Status Than You
Mother お母さん (okāsan)(haha)
Father お父さん (otōsan)(chichi)
Older Sister お姉さん (onēsan)(ane)
Younger Sister 妹さん (imōto-san) 妹 (imōto)
Older Brother お兄さん (onīsan) 兄 (ani)
Younger Brother 弟さん (otōto-san) 弟 (otōto)
Grandmother お祖母さん (obāsan) 祖母 (sobo)
Great-
Grandmother
曾おばあさん (hī obāsan) 祖母 (sōsobo)
Grandfather お祖父さん (ojīsan) 祖父 (sofu)
Great-
Grandfather
曾おじいさん (hī ojīsan) 祖父 (sōsofu)
Aunt おばさん (oba-san) おば (oba)
Uncle おじさん (oji-san) おじ (oji)

You may be wondering why respectful words like お母さん (okāsan) or お父さん (otōsan) are used with people you are close with (or when speaking directly to that relative). Shouldn’t respectful and polite words be used with people who are you not close with? Yes! But we also want to speak humbly.

This means that when we speak directly to someone, we want to “honor” them with polite and respectful language. That’s why we use respectful words like お母さん (okāsan) or お父さん (otōsan) when we speak directly to our mother or father. However, when we speak about our family to someone we should respect (your boss, strangers, people older than you, etc.) we need to refer to our family members humbly.

Using words like お母さん (okāsan) or お父さん (otōsan) to talk about your mother and father with your boss would sound childish and even rude. This is like you are saying “my honorable mother and father” and putting them on a pedestal. That’s why when we talk to people we want to show respect to, we use the words 母 (haha) and 父 (chichi) instead.

If you would like to know more about speaking polite and respectful Japanese, check out our guide on keigo: honorific Japanese.

For a closer look at how we refer to our immediate family in Japanese, check out these articles!

Grandparents and Great-Grandparents

An elderly Asian woman and man with two young Asian children sitting in between them. The are sitting on the bummer of the back of a car with the trunk open.

Referring to our grandparents in Japanese is quite simple. We add the kanji for Ancestor: 祖 (so) as a prefix to the common words for parents.

Talking About Our Grandparents to Other People

祖 (so)
Ancestor

+
 (haha)
Mother

=
祖母 (sobo)
Grandmother
祖 (so)
Ancestor

+
 (chichi)
Father

=
祖父 (sofu)
Grandfather
祖 (so)
Ancestor

+
 (fubo)
Parents

=
祖父(sofubo)
Grandparents

To refer to our great-grandparents in Japanese, we simply add the kanji for Great: (sou) as a prefix to these words.

Talking About Our Great-Grandparents To Other People

 (sō)
Great

+
祖母 (sobo)
Grandmother

=
曽祖母 (sōsobo)
Great-Grandmother
 (sō)
Great

+
祖父 (sofu)
Grandfather

=
曽祖父 (sōsofu)
Great-Grandfather
 (sō)
Great

+
祖父母 (sofubo)
Grandparents

=
曽祖父母 (sōsofubo)
Great-Grandparents

As mentioned earlier in the article, we use formal honorifics such as お (o) and さん (-san) when speaking about someone else’s family members.

Examples:

1. 祖母は今年85歳になった。               
(Sо̄bo wa kotoshi 85-sai ni natta.)    
My grandmother turned 85 this year.      

     

2. 彼のお祖母さんは今年85歳になった。
(Kare no Obāsan wa kotoshi 85-sai ni natta.)  
His grandmother turned 85 this year.

3. 曽祖父は日本に移住した。               
(Sōsofu wa Nihon ni ijū shita.)             
My great-grandfather immigrated to Japan.        

          

4. エイミーの曾おじいさんは日本に移
(Amy no hī Ojīsan wa Nihon ni ijū shita.)
Amy’s great-grandfather immigrated to Japan.

*Note: The more honorifics you use, the more polite you’ll sound in Japanese! While it’s common to talk about our family members in third-person without any formalities, you should use formalities like the さん (-san) honorific when speaking with them directly. This is especially true for older family members like our parents and grandparents, as it’s an important part of Japanese culture to speak with respect when addressing one’s elders. 

Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins in Japanese

Three young children lying down upside down on a couch, so their heads are normally where your feet would be. The child in the middle is holding a smart device tablet.

In Japanese, おばさん (oba-san) means aunt and おじさん (oji-san) means uncle. You can also refer to them in a more informal manner by simply lopping off the さん (-san) honorific, although it isn’t as common. Kanji are occasionally used to differentiate whether the aunt/uncle is older: 伯母 (oba) / 伯父 (oji) or younger 叔母 (oba) / 叔父 (oji) than one’s parent, but most of the time you will want to use these words in regular hiragana

The word for cousin in Japanese is いとこ (itoko). Although you will generally see this word in regular hiragana, kanji are occasionally used to differentiate whether the cousin is a female or a male. This is done by adding the kanji for Secondary: 従 (Jū) as a prefix to the common words for sisters and brothers.

従 (jū)
Secondary

+
姉妹 (shimai)
Sisters

=
従姉妹 (itoko)
Female Cousin
従 (jū)
Secondary

+
兄弟 (kyōdai)
Brothers

=
従兄弟 (itoko)
Male Cousin

In-Laws in Japanese

An Asian family sitting down on a couch with Christmas Santa hats on their heads while holding presents. This family consists of a young man and woman, one child, and an elderly woman and man. A Christmas tree can be seen in the background.

To refer to our in-laws in Japanese, we add the kanji for Honor: 義 (gi) as a prefix to the common words for parents and siblings.

義 (gi)
Honor

+
 (haha)
Mother

=
義母 (gibo)**
Mother-in-Law
義 (gi)
Honor

+
 (chichi)
Father

=
義父 (gifu)**
Father-in-Law
義 (gi)
Honor

+
(ane) / (imōto)
Older / Younger Sister

=
義姉 (gishi)** / 義妹 (gimai)**
Older / Younger Sister-in-Law
義 (gi)
Honor

+
(ani) / (otōto)
Older / Younger Brother

=
義兄 (gikei)** / 義弟 (gitei)**
Older / Younger Brother-in-Law

**Note: The words using in the chart above (義母 (gibo), 義父 (gifu), 義姉 (gishi), 義兄 (gikei), etc.) are not used for speaking.  They are more formal and are used mainly for writing.  

We can use the above terms to refer to our in-laws in the third person. However, it’s important we use formalities like the お (o) and さん (-san) honorific when speaking with them directly. In Japanese, we commonly call our mother-in-law お義母さん (okā-san) and our father-in-law お義父さん (otō-san) as we do with our own parents.

Speaking to Your Mother-in-Law Directly Example:

お義母さん、今週末一緒に昼食を食べるのはどうですか?
(Okāsan, konshūmatsu issho ni chūshoku o taberu no wa dō desu ka?)
Would you like to have lunch with me this weekend?

Let’s Recap!

If you’re a little overwhelmed by the various ways you can say family in Japanese, that’s okay! Going with the commonly-used 家族 (kazoku) will do the trick in most situations.

Remember to use honorifics when referring to another person’s family or when speaking directly to your own older family members.

How do you say family in your native language? Let us know in the comments below!

Interested in learning more? Take a look at some of our other Japanese language guides here

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