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).
(Maitoshi, watashi no kazoku wa Nihon ni iku.)
My family travels to Japan every year.
(Maitoshi, kazoku wa Nihon ni iku.)
My family travels to Japan every year. (without the possessive particle の)
(Watashi no kazoku wa gonin desu.)
There are five members in my family.
(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).
(Maitoshi, kare no kazoku wa Nihon ni iku.)
His family travels to Japan every year.
(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.
Anata no kazoku wa doko no kuni ni imasu ka?)
What country does your family reside in?
(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!
(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).
(Katei de taberu hо̄ o konomu.)
I prefer to eat at home.
(Kazoku de taberu hо̄ o konomu.)
I prefer to eat with my family.
(Kibishii katei de sodatta.)
I was raised in a strict family household.
(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.
(Uchi wa neko o katteiru no.)
My family has a pet cat.
(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
|Name||+ 家 (Ke)||Translation|
| スミス (Sumisu)|
|+ 家 (ke)|| スミス家 (Sumisu-ke) |
The Smith Family / The Smiths
| 田中 (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.
(Smith-ke ga watashi o shokuji ni shо̄tai shite kureta.)
The Smith Family invited me over for dinner.
(Smith-ke wa koko ni sundeimasu ka?)
Does the Smith Family live here?
(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
|Name||+ 族 (Zoku)||Translation|
| チェロキー (cherokī) |
|+ 族 (zoku)|| チェロキー族 (cherokī-zoku) |
The Cherokee Tribe
| 大和 (yamato) |
|+ 族 (zoku)||大和族 (Yamato-zoku)|
The Yamato Race
Family Members in Japanese
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 With||People with a Higher Social Status Than You|
|Mother||お母さん (okāsan)||母 (haha)|
|Father||お父さん (otōsan)||父 (chichi)|
|Older Sister||お姉さん (onēsan)||姉 (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)|
|曾おばあさん (hī obāsan)||曽祖母 (sōsobo)|
|Grandfather||お祖父さん (ojīsan)||祖父 (sofu)|
|曾おじいさん (hī ojīsan)||曽祖父 (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
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
To refer to our great-grandparents in Japanese, we simply add the kanji for Great: 曽 (sou) as a prefix to these words.
Talking About Our Great-Grandparents To Other People
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.
(Sо̄bo wa kotoshi 85-sai ni natta.)
My grandmother turned 85 this year.
(Kare no Obāsan wa kotoshi 85-sai ni natta.)
His grandmother turned 85 this year.
(Sōsofu wa Nihon ni ijū shita.)
My great-grandfather immigrated to Japan.
(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
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.
|姉妹 (shimai) |
|兄弟 (kyōdai) |
In-Laws in Japanese
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.
|母 (haha) |
|義母 (gibo)** |
|父 (chichi) |
|姉 (ane) / 妹 (imōto) |
Older / Younger Sister
|義姉 (gishi)** / 義妹 (gimai)** |
Older / Younger Sister-in-Law
|兄 (ani) / 弟 (otōto) |
Older / Younger Brother
|義兄 (gikei)** / 義弟 (gitei)** |
Older / Younger Brother-in-Law
**Note: The words using 義 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:
(Okāsan, konshūmatsu issho ni chūshoku o taberu no wa dō desu ka?)
Would you like to have lunch with me this weekend?
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!