The Japanese word for girl is 女子 (joshi). As with the Japanese word for boy, there are several other words for girl in Japanese that changes depending on the girl’s age and life stage.
Let’s look at the other ways to say girl in Japanese and how and when to use them.
1. 女の子 (Onna No Ko) – A Little Girl, Young Lady
In Japanese, the phrase 女の子 (onna no ko) refers to a young girl. Just as in English, the exact age of a “girl” is ambiguous. However, most people would agree that using 女の子 to refer to someone over 18 can be a little strange. The only time onna no ko might be used when referring to an adult woman might be if an older person who knew the woman from the time she was a little girl is speaking about her. Otherwise, onna no ko should only be used for young girls and babies.
1. That little girl on the swing over there is my daughter.
(Asoko de buranko ni notte iru onna no ko wa watashi no musume desu.)
2. A girl, about 5 years old, got lost and is looking for her mother.
(Gosai kurai no onna no ko ga maigo ni natte okāsan o sagashite imasu.)
3. There are five girls in our class.
(Uchi no kurasu ni wa, onna no ko ga go nin imasu.)
4. When Karen was a junior high school student, she was a very quiet girl, wasn’t she?
(Chūgakusei no toki, Karen wa totemo shizuka na onna no ko datta yo ne.)
2. 少女 (Shōjo) – A Young or Juvenile Girl
Shōjo is the Japanese word for a girl in her preteens or teens (around 7 to 17 years old). However, the word shōjo is a bit formal and not used as often in conversations as other words for girl in Japanese. Shōjo also refers to any young adult media aimed at preteen or teenage girls, such as 少女マンガ (shōjo manga).
1. Miki became a fine young girl.
(Miki wa rippa na shōjo ni narimashita.)
2. This drama is clearly aimed at young girls.
(Kono dorama wa akiraka ni shōjo muke desu.)
3. 女子 (Joshi) – A Girl, An Adolescent Girl
Joshi is the most generally used term for girl in Japanese. It’s the term you will hear most often in the news, and all girls’ schools are referred to as 女子校 (joshi kō). More specifically, however, joshi refers to adolescent girls around the age of 8 to18.
1. Sweets that have matcha in it are popular among young girls.
(Maccha o tsukatta suītsu ga joshi no aida de ninki desu.)
2. There are 8 girls and 10 boys in the class I teach.
(Watashi ga oshiete iru kurasu niwa, joshi ga hachi-nin, danshi ga jū-nin imasu.)
4. お姉さん (Onēsan) – A Girl (Casual)
While お姉さん (onēsan) means older sister in Japanese, it’s also used as a casual word for girls and young women. Japanese people* use onēsan when referring to a waitress, a girl they might be familiar with, or even young female strangers (since they don’t know their name yet). The word is mainly used in casual situations and usually only by people who are older than the girl in question.
*Note: While many people use onēsan to refer to a young woman, it is usually used by older men (middle aged to seniors) and elderly women.
A very kind girl found my wallet.
(Totemo shinsetsu na onēsan ga watashi no saifu o mitsukete kuremashita.)
5. 美人 (Bijin) – A Beautiful Girl/Woman
This term doesn’t technically mean “girl.” Rather it is a word to refer to a girl who is beautiful. In Japanese, 美人 (bijin) is used to describe a gorgeous girl. It can be used for women of all ages, but usually for adult women. The polite suffix さん (san) can be added to this word as well: 美人さん (bijin san)
This can be used either as a direct compliment or when speaking about the girl in question. It’s more commonly used as a friendly complement and not as a flirtatious line—although there are always exceptions to this rule.
1. That’s my neighbor’s daughter. She’s goregous!
(Ano hito wa tonari no ie no musume san desu. Totemo bijin (san) desu ne!)
2. The director’s wife is very beautiful.
(Buchō no okusan wa totemo bijin (san) desu ne.)
6. 美女 (Bijo) – A Beautiful Girl/Woman
This 美女 (bijo) means the same thing as 美人 (bijin) above: a beautiful girl or woman. You may notice that 美女 (bijo) is used more in media. The famous story “Beauty and the Beast” is translated to 美女と野獣 (Bijo to Yajū) in Japanese. As you may have guessed, 美女 is a beautiful woman, and 野獣 is a wild beast.
7. 美少女 (Bishōjo) – A Beautiful/Pretty Girl
If you notice, 美少女 (bishōjo) contains the characters 美 and 女, which, when put together, form 美女 (bijo): a beautiful girl or woman (as explained above). The only difference is the 少 (shō) character in the middle, which means small or a few. Literally translated, 美少女 would be “beautiful small woman.” In other words, a “beautiful girl.” This word is also often used in media, especially in things like manga, anime, or even games.
There are plenty of ways to say girl in Japanese, but a few of them may depend on how old the girl in question is. If you don’t know which of these words fits best, the safest choice is 女子 (joshi), or perhaps 少女 (shōjo) in formal situations. How do you say girl in your language? Let us know in the comments!