How to Say Wife in Japanese

The “standard” word for wife in Japanese is 奥さん (okusan). However, there are actually many different ways to say wife in Japanese. Which one you use will depend on who you are talking to. In this article, we’ll look at the many ways to say wife in Japanese and how to use each one correctly. 

1. 妻(Tsuma)- My Wife

The word 妻(tsuma) is one of the most common terms for wife in Japanese. However, be careful about how you use it: you only use tsuma to refer to your own wife. 

For this reason, Japanese people often leave out possessive pronouns such as 私の (watashi no) or 僕の (boku no) when referring to their wives. “My” is already implied in the word 妻. This doesn’t mean it’s improper grammar to include a possessive pronoun; it simply isn’t necessary to do so.

Examples:

  1. I gave my wife chocolate for White Day. 妻のホワイトデープレゼントはチョコレートにしました。 (Tsuma no howaito dee purezento wa chokoreeto ni shimashita.
  2. My wife just left to go shopping. 僕の妻はさっき、買い物に行きました。 (Boku no tsuma wa sakki, kaimono ni ikimashita.

2. 奥さん(Okusan)- Wife, Ma’am

As mentioned previously, 奥さん (okusan) is the most common term for wife in Japanese. The word has a patriarchal history to it, as the kanji indicates the inner part of one’s house where a wife was expected to stay.

In modern times, there is no such nuance. Okusan simply means wife or married woman. It can be used to refer to one’s own wife—using a possessive pronoun such as watashi no or boku no would be recommended to avoid confusion. It is most commonly used to refer to someone else’s wife.  

Okusan can also be used to address a married woman in polite conversation. The honorary suffix -様 (-sama) might be added depending on the formality of the situation. Despite its archaic roots, okusan has become the most common and pliable word for wife in Japanese.

Examples:

  1. How is your wife these days? あなたの奥さんは元気にしてますか? (Anata no okusan wa genki ni shitemasu ka?
  2. Please sign this line, Ma’am. 奥様、こちらの欄にご署名をお願いいたします。 (Okusama, kochira no ran ni go shomei o onegai itashimasu.

3. 嫁(Yome)- Daughter-in-Law

嫁 (yome) is a word that even Japanese people don’t use correctly all the time. The word is often confused with 花嫁 (hana yome), or bride. Even native speakers will use yome as a shortened version of hana yome, but in reality, yome is a word of its own: it means daughter-in-law

Members of the husband’s family may call a wife yome in Japanese, but it’s technically incorrect for the husband to refer to her that way.

It would also be technically incorrect for an in-law to say my daughter-in-law. Personal pronouns like 私の (watashi no) or 僕の (boku no) are instead replaced with うちの (uchi no).  Uchi refers to inside or family; the daughter-in-law is referred to as an official family member.

Examples:

  1. My son’s wife is a doctor. うちの嫁は医者です。 (Uchi no yome wa isha desu.

4. お母さん(Okaasan)- Mother

The word お母さん (okaasan) doesn’t actually mean “wife.”  It’s more of a pet name that some husbands call their wife. 

お母さん is the Japanese word for mother.  If a stranger or service industry worker knows that the woman they are speaking to is married and has children, calling her okaasan or okaasama is a polite and honorific thing to do. Some common examples would be when teachers talk to their student’s parents or when a doctor is speaking to the mother of their patient.

Within the home, husbands often begin calling their wives okaasan once they have children together. However, this is not honorific Japanese, and the husband might even make it more like a pet name by replacing “san” with “chan.” (okaachan).

Examples:

  1. Ma’am, has your son Haru gotten his flu vaccine? お母さん、春くんはンフルエンザの予防接種を受けましたか? (Okaasan, Haru-kun wa infuruenza no yobou sesshu o ukemashita ka?
  2. Hey honey, what’s for dinner? なあ、お母さん。今夜のご飯は何? (Naa, okaasan. Konya no gohan wa nani?

5. 夫人(Fujin)- Lady, A Rich Person’s Wife

The word 夫人 (fujin) is an older term for wife in Japanese. It was once used to refer to powerful noblemen’s wives or even the emperor’s consorts. These days, fujin maintains a nuance of blue-blooded nobility. People only use it to refer to wives of CEOs, politicians, or other famous people. It is a formal term that is rarely used in casual conversation.

When fujin is used, it replaces the suffix -san as a titular word.

Example:

  1. Mrs. Michelle Obama always wears beautiful clothes. ミシェル・オバマ夫人はいつも素敵な服を着ていますね。 (Misheru・Obama-fujin wa itsumo suteki na fuku o kiteimasu ne.

6. 家内(Kanai)- My Wife (Humble Japanese)

家内 (kanai)  is another Japanese word for wife that has roots in patriarchy. Kanai literally means “inside the house.” In old times, this made sense as men worked in the fields while their wives worked in the homes.

In modern Japanese, kanai is a very humble way of referring to one’s wife. Like 妻(tsuma), it can only be used to refer to your spouse. Possessive pronouns like watashi no or boku no (meaning “my”) are already implied within the word itself (kanai = my wife).

Because it is 謙譲語(kenjougo), or humble Japanese, kanai should only be used in formal situations. Using such a polite term in front of friends or family members might come across as strange or even rude.

Example:

  1. My wife made me this bento. この弁当は、家内が作ってくれたものです。 (Kono bentou wa, kanai ga tsukutte kureta mono desu.

 7. 女房(Nyoubou)- (My) Wife

The word 女房(nyoubou)is still a common Japanese word for wife. However, it is quickly becoming a dated term. Most people who use nyoubou to refer to their wives are middle-aged or older.

Nyoubou isn’t a formal word for wife in Japanese. If you want to use it, it’s best to make sure you’re among friends or family. Like tsuma and kanai, the word nyoubou is more often used for one’s wife than for another person’s wife. It has the same sort of nuance to it that “my old lady” would in English.

Example:

  1. If I go to the after party, my old lady will get mad at me. すまんね。二次会に行ったら、女房に怒られちゃう。 (Suman ne. Nijikai ni ittara, nyoubou ni okorarechau.

8. かみさん(Kamisan)- My Wife, Landlady

かみさん(kamisan)is a Japanese word for wife with an interesting nuance to it. Men who refer to their wives as kamisan are implying that she’s the one who “wears the pants” in their marriage. The title infers that this wife is knowledgeable, skilled, or has a strong personality.

Kamisan is a word you’d only use among friends or family. It’s a fairly informal word for referring to your wife; you must never use it to refer to someone else’s wife, as doing so can be degrading.  

A twist on kami-san is one that’s often found in literature or period manga: おかみさん  (okamisan). This was the official title for speaking about or addressing the wife of a local innkeeper or restaurant owner. Even today, okamisan is sometimes used for landladies or other types of women in the lodging industry.

Examples:

  1. My wife beats me in shogi all the time. うちのかみさんは必ず将棋に勝つね。 (Uchi no kamisan wa kanarazu shougi ni katsu ne.
  2. I gave cookies to my apartment landlady yesterday. 昨日、アパートのおかみさんにクッキーをあげた。 (Kinou, apaato no okamisan ni kukkii o ageta.

9. 配偶者(Haiguusha)- Spouse

A gender-neutral way to refer to one’s wife would be with the word 配偶者(haiguusha).  This is often used in legal situations or paperwork. Haiguusha can technically refer to either the husband or the wife. If you’re a foreigner with a Japanese spouse, you’ll likely have a haiguusha visa.

While common in paperwork and legal situations, haiguusha is not a great term to use in spoken Japanese. It is one that you’ll often see if you live in Japan as a married person, however.

Example:

  1. Today I applied for a spousal visa. 今日、配偶者ビザの申請をしました。 (Kyou, haiguusha biza no shinsei o shimashita.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many ways to say wife in Japanese. If you’re unsure about which word to use, try to “read the air” or use the “general” term 奥さん (okusan).  Are there any special words for wife in your language? Let us know in the comments! Thanks for reading this article on how to say wife in Japanese.  

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