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I, My, Me

The Japanese language has a variety of first person pronouns that correspond to "I" -- watashi, ore, boku, atashi, washi, to name a few. Those words are to be used properly depending on the situations and your gender. In my case, I usually have to choose between watashi, ore, and boku. "Watashi" will be a decent choice for my age. It sounds a little polite and formal, and not necessarily gender-specific. On the other hand, "ore" and "boku" are almost exclusively used by males - (there are always exceptions in this kind of things though). When I was a kid, I used to think watashi was used by girls and women only. Actually, boys would never refer to themselves as watashi, while it sounds quite natural for girls of any ages to call themselves watashi in any situations. So I felt funny at first when the English teacher translated "I am Jack." as "Watashi wa Jack desu (desu is am)." in the 7th grade English class. "I" is traditionally translated as "watashi" in school English here, for better or worse, regardless of the context or who the "I" actually is. Because it's kind of innocuous, and much more so if context is not given.

When talking with my wife or friends, however, I never use watashi. It sounds out of place. "Ore" is the choice. It sounds casual, colloquial and rough. So if used in a formal situation, it can sound rude and offensive. Boku is milder than ore. I would often use it at adult classes. Although it can sound somewhat sophisticated, depending on how you say it and possibly how you look, it could give a childish impression. If you refer to yourself as "boku-chan", it's a disaster...

As a native Japanese speaker, I usually use those words without effort. However, there are times when I'm embarrassed about how to refer to myself. That's especially when I'm talking to my students in Japanese. I feel watashi sounds a little pretentious, and ore sounds rough and rude. Boku is out of the question. Fortunately, the Japanese language can frequently leave out the subjects of sentences, so mostly there's no problem with me in talking with them. But there sure are cases where I'd better use or feel like using a first person pronoun. "Sensei (teacher)" could be a possible choice. But personally I don't like to use it as the first person pronoun (oops, it's actually a noun) for myself. Hmmm...Do you have any good idea? Haha!

Comments

Me, either. I even don't like to be called "sensei," and tell my students to call me "Ms Osada," though some people say that "Ms" is not so frequently used or is only used for widows(A Canadian friend told me so).

So I usually use "I, my or me" even in front of my students.

Kiyo-san, this is fascintating even though it makes Japanese sound even more daunting. I love discussions of words and usage. I feel so lucky to have found your site (thanks, Kurt!)

Serena...I have never heard that Ms. was used for widows. Widows of my Mom's generation always use Mrs. to show that they were married once and not old maids.

In America, Ms. is used in professional situations when you do not want to call attention to a woman's marital status. Unfortunately, it carries politcal connotations. Some stay-at-home wives and mothers get all huffy if you call them "Ms." and will correct you. (It's Mrs.). I think most people have given up trying to guess and just call you by your first name. We even called the president of the company I worked for by her first name, although when I started working there (in 1993) I thought this was very informal and I felt awkward doing it.

Personally, I prefer Ms., although I can't remember anyone ever calling me "Ms. Stevens". I can't be "Mrs. Stevens" because "Stevens" is my first husband's name and it would indicate we were still married. I kept "Stevens" when I remarried so I would have the same last name as my son (and because I didn't want to go through the trouble of changing all my records--driver's license, bank accounts, utility bills, etc.).

Serena, I know what you mean. I used to hate being called "sensei" too. But eventually I resigned myself to thinking that it's a kind of my nickname, not a title, in class because there's no other good substitute. Some students call me "Mr. Hatano" even when speaking Japanese. ;)

Thanks, M, for really encouraging words! I feel lucky to have found your site too. And I think that was also via Kurt's site.

Well, nice to know I've been bringing people together! I'm flattered.

I must admit that I'm still at the "Watashi" stage of Japanese learning, although I occassionally use "boku" at home. But I really don't have a good sense of the different nuances of meaning (only a vague understanding that "boku" is less polite). I think part of this is that most of my Japanese language exposure comes from women (I hear "atashi" a lot from my mother in law). In fact, come to think of it, I don't think in nearly 7 months of living with him, I've ever heard my father in law say either "watashi" or "boku". Maybe he says "ore", but somewhat sheepishly I will admit that until reading your post Kiyo, I'd never even heard of this word! (Ahh, everyday I find out another seemingly basic Japanese word or expression that I've never encountered before--makes learning both exhilirating and not a bit depressing.) How about we engineer a comeback for "wagahai"? I love that word, sounds both polite and rough at the same time!

Wagahai -- good word with the connotation of dignity. Yeah, I like it. But it also has some arrogance in it, so you have to adjust the way of speaking accordingly. Sadly, it sounds too archaic now to use naturally.

I wonder if this part of journal is still being read, but I'll give a try anyways. =)
So, I'm a male at age of twenty, trying desperately to learn Japanese for own joy. However, I've stumbled into this little problem of refering to myself in different situations. So far I've seen five different ways to refer to "I", and here they are: Watakushi, Watashi, Boku, Ore and Jibun
So far I've seen so many different versions of using these words, so I'm kinda lost.

By some people the word "Watashi" is commonly used by females, but can be used by males in some situations. "Boku" is somewhat immature referation, atleast so I've been told and "Ore" is nearly too formal. I don't know in which situations "Watakushi" or "Jibun" can be used as I've never seen them.

At the moment I'm interested in which word to use in these occasions:
1) Refering to myself while speaking to my friend/friends.
2) Refering to myself while speaking to my parents.
3) Refering to myself while speaking to other people. (other than friends, "normal" people)
4) Refering to myself while speaking to older people.

My other problems are these:
5) Say I want to introduce my friend to another Japanese person. How do I refer to him before his name is mentioned?
I'm thinking 'kore' but that sounds impolite... referring him as an object.
"Kore ha watashi no tomodachi, Sumisu san desu."

6) Say I'm at a Japanese restaurant, and I want to order for my friend. How do I refer to him? In english, it'd be fine to refer to him as 'he' to the waitress, but is it still okay to use 'kare' to refer to him?

"Watashi ha osushi ni shimasu. Kare ha udon ni shimasu."

Does that sound right? I don't want to go through the motion of introducing him there, because we're just there to eat. What's the correct/polite way to refer to my friend without me looking rude?

Thanks in advance

You mean i can't say "boku-domo" because it isn't right?

And "watashi" is feminine???

I think then the only appropriate time to use "ore" is after marriage, when really really drunk from drinking too much shoju. :D

watashi to boku to ore ga zen-zen aruga-sen