The Meaning of Onii Chan: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know what onii chan means? This guide will provide you with all of the info you need on the Japanese word onii chan, including its translation and definition, usage, examples, and more!

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What does the Japanese word onii chan mean?

According to Drexel University, the Japanese language word onii-chan, or “oniichan” means big brother, or older brother in English. This is considered a term of endearment, and would be used by someone who is very close with their older brother. One could imagine a younger sister or younger brother pulling their older brother into a hug and saying, “I missed you so much, onii-chan.” 

There are also a number of variations on the way younger siblings can refer to their older siblings. These are distinguished between the general, close, and formal conjugations. Different suffixes are affixed to the ends of many of these words to change their connotations. Some of these can be considered synonyms for each other, but many have subtle distinctions in meaning, like differentiations between “bro,” “big brother,” and “older brother” in English. These are all listed below, alongside their meanings, from Drexel and TV Tropes.

  • Oniisan, or onii-san: This is the general term for older brother.
  • Oniichan, or onii-chan: This is the term for older brother that signifies closeness. This is used as a term of endearment.
  • Oniisama, or onii-sama: This is the term for older brother that is the most formal. This is considered an honorific and is very respectful.
  • Aniki: This is an informal slang term similar to the English “bro.” It can also be used to refer to high-ranking gang members.
  • Aniue: This is a very formal, but archaic and rarely used way to say older brother.
  • Oneesan, or onee-san: This is the general term for older sister.
  • Oneechan, or onee-chan: This is the term for older sister that signifies closeness. This is used as a term of endearment.
  • Oneesama, or onee-sama: This is the term for older sister that is the most formal. This is considered an honorific and is very respectful.
  • Aneki: This is an informal slang term similar to the English “sis.” It can also be used to refer to high-ranking gang members.
  • Aneue: This is a very formal, but archaic and rarely used way to say older sister.
  • Oni: This is a homophone for the Japanese word that means “ogre,” but can be employed as a pun for a joking way to refer to a brother or sister.

There are also a plethora of different ways for one to refer to younger siblings, twins, and old children according to Living Language.

  • Otouto – This is the term one would use when referring to their own younger brother. It is fairly casual.
  • Otoutosan – This is the term one would use when referring to someone else’s younger brother. The “san” added as a suffix makes the term much more respectful.
  • Imouto – This is the term one would use when referring to their own younger sister. It is fairly casual.
  • Imoutosan – This is the term one would use when referring to someone else’s younger sister. The “san” added as a suffix makes the term much more respectful.
  • Kyoudai – This is the general term for siblings. It can either be used between brothers, or between mixed-gender brothers and sisters.
  • Shimai – This is the term for siblings that refers exclusively to sisters. One would use kyoudai to refer to a group of ten sisters and one brother, but shimai could be used when all of the siblings are female.
  • Futago – This is the term for twin. This can be used for either fraternal or identical twins. According to SK Desu, one would use futago no ani to refer to their twin brother, and futago no ane to refer to their twin sister. An alternate term for twins is tsuin, which stems from the English word “twin.”
  • Hitorikko – This is the term for an only child. Someone is an only child when that person does not have any siblings.
  • Shisuta – This is a general term meaning sister.
  • Shouto – This is a general term meaning brother.
  • Ani – This is a general term meaning brother.

While the word onii chan is used in the Japanese language to refer by a little sister or little brother to their actual older brother, according to Know Your Meme and Urban Dictionary, this honorific has gained traction among non-Japanese anime and manga fans as a term of endearment for attractive male characters in the shows and comic books, sometimes extremely inappropriately. It is somewhat close to the equivalent of an English-speaker calling an attractive male character a “daddy.”

How is the Japanese language term onii chan commonly used?

Japanese speakers who live in English-speaking countries may still refer to their older brother by the term onii chan. For example, an older brother might come home from being away at college, and his younger sister could say, “Welcome home, onii-chan.” 

Overall, the Japanese word onii chan means older brother. This is the term one would use for their older brother if they were very close with him. If one wished to refer to an older brother in a more general sense, they would use onii-san. If one wished to refer to their older brother formally, they would use onii-sama. This term has also been co-opted by non-Japanese anime and manga fans to refer to a good-looking male character in an anime or manga, similarly to how English-speakers might use the word “daddy” to refer to an attractive male character in films or on television. 

Sources:

  1. http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~xh23/japanese.html#:~:text=oniichan%3A%20meaning%20%22older%20brother%22,meaning%20%22older%20sister%22%20more%20respect
  2. https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/onii-chan
  3. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Onii-Chan&page=2
  4. https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/UsefulNotes/JapaneseSiblingTerminology
  5. https://www.livinglanguage.com/blog/2013/04/10/talking-about-siblings-in-japanese-and-chinese/
  6. https://skdesu.com/en/meaning-of-onii-chan-onee-chan-onii-san-and-onee-san/