Nihon Zatsuroku
An Online Japanese Miscellany

= Modes of Address =


Basic concepts

     One thing appearing in the novel Shôgun which is horribly inaccurate to Period usage yet quoted by most doing SCA Japanese is the –san/–sama fallacy. Using –san after names is de rigeur in modern Japan, with –sama being more polite. In point of fact, however, –san was a contraction of –sama, and is generally believed to have appeared in the Edo period. From the Heian period up to the Edo, –dono was the polite form of address for equals, and the required form of address for superiors unless using a loftier title.

     Oddly, at some point there was some fluctuation; –sama was sometimes considered loftier than –dono, sometimes less so. Exactly when and why this occurred is a mystery to me. This is one reason why, for some titles, the correct form is Naninani-dono and for others Naninani-sama. Following names with –dono today is like appending the title “esquire” on a mundane envelope, and in fact that is how it is now used (it is no longer used in general conversation except to be sarcastic).

     For example, let us take Mitsuhashi Masaie. He is my friend, so I would usually call him Masaie — when we are alone. When in public, I would likely call him Mitsuhashi-dono. In court, or in some other formal situation (clan council, tea ceremony, etc.) I would probably call him Mitsuhashi-dono.

     Address in Japan was almost invariably done by occupational or rank title rather than name. One of the most difficult things about reading The Tale of Genji or The Tale of Heike in the original (or even in a faithful translation) is the fact that personal names seldom pop up; the referrals and addresses are to titles, and when titles change (which they often do; and often without warning), the readers are just in for a bit of tough luck trying to figure out who is being discussed or who is talking to whom. Thus titles are the best way to refer to or address people in the Society, if one know the Japanese translation (it definitely takes the edge off of trying to translate the ranks!). Somehow, “Herald-sama” doesn’t sound as good as “obugyô-sama.“

     Additionally, titles were much more specific — generally speaking — than those we use in the Society. Take the marshallate, for example. The kingdom marshallate as an institution, including all the kingdom, principality, local, and at-large officers, war marshals, armour inspectors, weapons checkers, and whoever else has connections with the field (list mistresses, amanuenses, clerks, etc.) would be called the “samurai-dokoro.” This was a period institution under the bakufu (shôgunate) which oversaw all military functions in the nation. The head of this directorate was the samurai-dokoro-bettô — functionally the earl marshal. His direct deputies (no set number, so this makes life easier) were the samurai-dokoro-shoshi. These should be principality officers and special deputies such as designated successors, war marshals, etc. Samurai-dokoro-taii would be local officers. Quite a long title for a local. This is why locals — and any officer in general, in fact — would get addressed as “obugyô-sama,” essentially, “my lord official.“

     People addressed by name and not office would be addressed largely by surname; to use the given name of one not in the family or not a close friend could have been taken as an insult. My liege lord would address me by my given name, for example, but I would call him simply “tono” (sire), “oyakata-sama” (hard to translate, but it means “honorable lord [head-of-the-] house“), or even use his last name with a proper honorific (e.g.; –dono); with permission, one may use –dono with one’s lord’s given name. Surnames with –dono is how others not in the clan would address him, and how I would refer to him to others not in the clan, while among clan members he would be referred to as “the oyakata-sama” or “the tono-sama.” The lady of the house would be called “okugata-sama” both as a form of address and a term of referral.

     Note: while one can call one’s lord “tono” (the voiced version of “–dono“), one can never address anyone simply as “sama“; it is simply incorrect usage. Though –sama is an honorific, it is not a title in and of itself. Calling anyone “sama” as one might say “milord” in English is just plain wrong.


Addressing or referring to people

     A title useful for armigers is –gimi, which means, literally, Lord [Lady] —. Again, through an odd twist of linguistic fate, the same kanji is now read –kun, and is the condescending form used by superiors in offices to their inferiors, and by upperclassmen to their lessers in academe. One hundred years ago, it would have been Yorimasa-gimi, a term of respect, but now it is Yorimasa-kun, less respectful and a bit condescending.

     Women would be addressed formally by their last name (with –dono or –sama as appropriate); armigerous women would properly be addressed by their first name with an appended –hime. The word alone may be used to address titled women; e.g., “Hime, are you ready for court?” It was commonly used for any aristocratic lady. Alternately. women of rank could be addressed by their given names to which is appended the title gozen, another difficult to translate term but one which essentially means “honorable [person]-in-front-[of me].” ) Actually, gozen can be used for both men and women, but only in specific situations. For example, a priest may be called “gozen-sama.”

     One important note; even when talking about someone who is not present — especially in a formal or polite setting — one should always use the honorifics. Leaving them off is a slight, and shows lack of consideration and near complete disregard for the individual in question.


Getting specific

     It should come as no surprise that the SCA, as an organization structurally based on feudal Western Europe, should have few things in common with the mediæval Far East. Titles simply do not make the transition very well.

     The Laurel Sovereign of Arms has allowed a series of Japanese translated titles for SCA usage, but there is a problem inherent for anyone wishing to do Japanese the right way: simply put, they are post-Period titles. More specifically, they date to the Meiji Reformation of 1868, when the old nobility was destroyed and the Constitution that Emperor Meiji proclaimed instituted a European-style nobility. The titles therefore directly correspond with those with which we are familiar, but they just aren’t correct for a Period Japanese in any way, shape, or form.

     The Period Japanese court had a clearly defined hierarchy with an extremely complex system of court ranking, all based on those used in the Chinese Imperial Court. Most simply, there were eight levels (with an “introductory” ninth), and each level had two steps, a Junior and Senior rank, as it were — and some were further subdivided into Upper and Lower. Thus we have people with titles like “Upper Junior Third Rank” or “Lower Senior Fifth Rank.” While at first not as impressive as duke or earl, this is what they used, and each step up was vigorously sought and protected.

     The system I use, then, for titles is virtually identical to that used from 702 to 1869, with the titles literally translating into English, so either Japanese or English may be used. I have stripped out the internal “Upper/Lower” aspect with each one as perhaps too Byzantine even for Societal usage. If anyone has seen my earlier version of this in the original Compleat Anachronist #65, this may look familiar. I have, however, revised it based on more research and more consideration of what we are doing. I would propose a new system for ranking based on those used in the Japanese court:

Japanese court titles for ranks in the SCA
Kugyô (senior courtiers)
Shô ichi-i
Senior first court rank
(SCA = “Mega” Duke)
Jû ichi-i
Junior first court rank
(SCA = Duke)
Shô ni-i
Senior second court rank
(SCA = Count + Viscount)
Jû ni-i
Junior second court rank
(SCA = Count)
Shô san-i
Senior third court rank
(SCA = Multiple Viscount)
Jû san-i
Junior third court rank
(SCA = Viscount)
Denjôbito (courtiers with palace access)
Shô shi-i
Senior fourth court rank
(SCA = Multiple Peer)
Jû shi-i
Junior fourth court rank
(SCA = Peer)
Shô go-i
Senior fifth court rank
(SCA = Landed Baron)
Jû go-i
Junior fifth court rank
(SCA = Court Baron)
Jige (common courtiers)
Shô roku-i
Senior sixth court rank
(SCA = Ordered GoA)
Jû roku-i
Junior sixth court rank
(SCA = GoA)
Shô shichi-i
Senior seventh court rank
(SCA = AoA + other orders)
Jû shichi-i
Junior seventh court rank
(SCA = Ordered AoA)
Shô hachi-i
Senior eighth court rank
(SCA = AoA)
Jû hachi-i
Junior eighth court rank
(SCA = Orders, no AoA)
Initial court rank
(SCA = non-armigerous, no awards)

     Over the years, different methods were devised to distinguish some ranks from others. So-called cap colors — in Heian Japan actually relating to the color of the robes rather than the court caps which were invariably black— were the predominant way of distinguishing rank in formal dress. In addition, some doors and gateways of the palace were set aside for the use of certain esteemed ranks, and the type of conveyance one was allowed and the type of gate at one’s home telegraphed the rank of the owner.

     There may be some who question the use of court titles for those who portray samurai. It must be remembered, though, that samurai received court titles and appointments. If they did not, they would not have been able to hold office or govern provinces. While a daimyô was lord of his fief, he was also the court-appointed governor of the province, for example (even if that court approval was merely a “rubber stamp” imposed by the hegemon du jour). This is why I don’t approve of co-opting such titles as “busho” (= general) and using it for knights. This is a job description, not a title of nobility. Regardless of what office or rank one held in Japan, the font of aristocratic honor was the throne, not the camp of the shôgun. One other advantage is that the court rank system remained in effect and virtually unchanged throughout our Period, while military hegemonies came and went applying titles and offices willy-nilly as they saw fit. It is worth noting that when the shôgun held formal courts, he did so in the court robes commiserate with his court rank held from the emperor.

     Yes, even the shôgun held court rank; else he would not have been able to have dealings with the imperial court or emperor. In point of fact, you see references to people with titles like “Taira no Asson Kiyomori” or “Satomi Yoshizane no Ason.” In these examples, both Asson and Ason are honorary titles borne by those of a specific court rank. In fact, they are the same title; the placement in the name gives the indication here which rank is which. Ason was used after the name (either surname if alone or given name if both were supplied) for those of fourth rank, and between sur- and given names for those of fifth rank. My own name could appear on official documents as “Hiraizumi Tôrokurô Tadanobu no Ason.” (As a double peer, using the titles I propose below, I might be called “Hiraizumi Chûnagon Tadanobu no Ason.”)

     It should be pointed out that in SCA officialdom, rank has no bearing on offices held. One needn’t be an earl or knight to be earl or knight marshal. In Japan, however, the office is directly tied to a rank, and people of rank one iota lower than specified cannot hold the office. This makes it particularly difficult to translate official titles directly to the SCA usage if we are to keep the equivalent ranks required. If, on the other hand, we translate the titles to our own system (which, although a monarchy, is also loosely a meritocracy) using occupation without regard to rank of the office-holder, we will have people of all ranks qualifying for all sorts of official titles and the titles will lose clarity of rank identification.


And then there’s royalty...

     The most touchy issue is that of royalty. It’s long been Society policy that the Crown of a kingdom may not take on shogunal trappings, as the shôgun was not royalty. This is of course very true. However, the SCA’s usage title for king — Ô — was not the “king” either. In fact, this was the title in Period for a princeling of the Imperial family, and a not particularly exalted one at that. So what is the king, and what is the queen? And what about princes territorial and royal?

     I suggest the obvious answer: tennô, the title born by the sovereign of Japan today and since time immemorial. Yes, it is translated as “emperor” in English. But is it, in fact, imperial? Clearly not. Emperors rule multiple states, and except for a time when Japan had Korea under her thumb (in the last century) and was engaging in empire building, the royal house in Japan has never ruled anything more than Japan. There are those who point to divine considerations of the Japanese emperor, not realizing that they are quoting post-Meiji Restoration propaganda designed to hold the emperor up to a lofty, unreachable position. The emperor has always been considered a descendent of the sun goddess, but has not actually been functionally divine. He is, in short, a man, albeit a very exalted one.

     Why was he called “emperor“? That is largely a product, also, of the Meiji Reformation. When Japan was opening up to the world, Victoria was empress of India, Napoleon III was emperor of France, Maximillian was emperor of Mexico, Paul was emperor of all the Russias,… In short, all the great states were ruled by emperors. How could Japan be ruled by any less? So it was a conscious decision to translate and use the term “emperor” in place of “tennô,” and it has never been changed. Today, of all those great houses, only the “empire of Japan” remains — an empire of one, small island nation.

     It is for this reason that I have no problem identifying the king of any given SCA kingdom as the tennô of that kingdom, and the queen as the chûgu (or, if she rules in her own right, kôgo). That some kings may want a more martial flavor is their own choice, but it doesn’t alter the fact that they are the royalty ruling the state, and in Japanese terms that royalty is the tennô and chûgu. Kings and queens (tennô and chûgu) are both addressed as “heika” (= majesty).

     Crown princes in Japan are called “kôtaishi.” This is the word for “crown prince,” however, not the term of address. Princes actually have two different titles and names, one often referred to as a “throne name” and the other as “family name.” The current crown prince — “Prince Naruhito” in English — is known as “Naruhito Shinnô” or as “Hiro-no-miya.” This is how he is referred to, and either title is acceptable. He is addressed as “denka” (= highness). Princesses (such as the present crown prince’s younger sister, Nori-no-miya) are addressed identically, though the alternate title for a princess is “nai-shinnô” rather than “shinnô.“

     Territorial princes should be referred to as “Ô,” being as they are royalty one step removed from the main line of a kingdom’s royal family. The term of address is identical to that of royal princes.


Just what do you call someone, then?

     We could go back to that old useful -sama or -dono to use with people’s names or occupational titles, but both lack the specific reference of granted rank. Just being polite to anyone — regardless of rank — requires the use of one or the other.

     Armigers of any stripe — bearers of naked Awards of Arms up to peers — could simply be addressed as “kimi” (if male) or “hime” (if female). If not being addressed by their names, peers should probably be called meijin, which means master (and mistress) in the sense of a master of a specific skill. A shôgi no meijin is a master shôgi player, for example. Remember; the Japanese make much more use of titles than is done in the West; company presidents are called shachô (= president), not Mr. Honda. SCA usage should reflect this. The suffix –kô (= lord/prince) is used in many historical documents to refer to important or powerful personages, and may perhaps be suitable for peers, but I can’t recall having seen it used as a form of address, but only as a form of reference. The title gozen is one applied to high-ranking women; by the Edo period, it had become a title suitable primarily to refer to the wives of samurai, but beginning in Heian and through most of Muromachi, it was only borne by important women and consorts of high-ranking men.

    Using the system I’ve detailed above, the Japanese term of rank could be applied to the name of the bearer of that rank. Note that in such a case, the Senior/Junior aspect of rank wouldn’t be used. In my own case, as a peer (I am a member of both the Order of the Pelican and the Order of the Laurel), I hold the fourth court rank, senior grade (shô shi-i), and could be addressed as “Hiraizumi Shi-i.” A bearer of a a local award bearing no Award of Arms who is named Tanaka would hold lower eighth court rank (jû hachi-i) and could be addressed as “Tanaka Hachi-i.” While this clearly points out the rank of the person being addressed or spoken of, it is only truly clear to those capable of counting from one to nine in Japanese. This might be a problem to some.

     Peers are a problem (no, not that kind of problem). The Laurel Sovereign of Arms has recommended “sensei” (= master/teacher) be used to address peers, but this is too restrictive a usage. In Japanese practice, anyone teaching you anything (stained glass technique, how to make armour, shield work, even how to boil rice) can and should be called sensei.

     As Japan was a very stratified society, we could also have danna (literally “master” in the older context; in practice, it was used like we use “sir” or “mister” today, without using names). Young women of the upper classes would be ojô-sama (essentially “miss“) and older, married women as oku-sama (“madam“). These are especially useful for non-armigers to address the armigerous, for while it may be polite for a higher ranking person to address a young woman as “ojô,” it is never correct for the higher-ranked person to address a lower-ranked man as “danna.”

     Note that none of these titles is used with the name in forms of address or alone as forms of address in the way we say “Duke John,” or “your grace.” As used, in English it would be, “Hiraizumi Tadanobu, of the Senior Fourth Court Rank,” or “Hiraizumi Tadanobu Shi-i dono.” This is one of the areas where Japanese usage and European usage simply collide and fall to the ground in flames. If you want to do Japanese, there may be some areas where you simply must compromise. “Baron Hiraizumi” is infinitely preferable to the post-Period SCA-approved “Hiraizumi Danshaku.” Royal peers, barons, and people holding kingdom-level offices would be addressed or referred to as “kakka” (= [your] excellency); princes as “denka” (= [your] highness); princesses as “hidenka” (= [your] highness); and kings and queens as “heika” (= [your] majesty).

Japanese titles and terms of address in the SCA milieu
(e.g., “King”)
(e.g. “His Majesty”)
(e.g., “Your Majesty”)
Tennô Heika,
Mikado Heika
Chûgu Heika
Crown Prince
Kôtaishi Denka,
[g.] Shinnô,
[g.] no Miya
Crown Princess
[g.] no Miya,
[g.] Naishinnô
Hidenka [-sama],
Territorial Prince
[g.] no Miya,
[g.] Ô
Denka [-sama],
Territorial Princess
[g.] no Miya,
[g.] Jôô
Hidenka [-sama],
Ducal rank
Kugyô (1)
[g.]-no-ue (2),
[g.]-gimi / -no-kimi
Kakka [-sama],
Hime-gimi (2)
Comital rank
Kugyô (1)
[g.]-no-ue (2),
[n.]-gimi / -no-kimi
Kakka [-sama],
Hime-gimi (2)
Viscomital rank
Kugyô (1)
[g.]-no-ue (2),
[n.]-gimi / -no-kimi
Kakka [-sama],
Hime-gimi (2)
Nagon (3)
[surn.] Nagon (3),
[g.n.]-Gozen (2),
Hime / [n.]-hime (2),
[n.]-gimi / -no-kimi
Maijin [-sama],
Nagon-dono (3),
[g.] Gozen (2)
Hime / [n.]-hime (2)
Landed baronage
(Barony name)-no-kami
[barony n.]-no-kami
[g.n.] Gozen (2),
[n.]-gimi / -no-kimi
Kakka [-sama],
[g.] Gozen (2)
Court baronage
[g.n.] Gozen (2),
[n.]-gimi / -no-kimi
Kakka [-sama],
[g.] Gozen (2)

Roku/shichi/hachi-i- dono,
Danna (5)
Hime / [n.]-hime (2),
Ojôsama/Okusama (2, 5)
Shômin (6)
[name alone]
Danna (5)
[name alone],
Ojôsama/Okusama (2, 5)

(1) Kugyô are senior courtiers, members of the highest non-royal ranks at court, and occupy the top three court ranks.
(2) Marks terms only used for women.
(3)Nagon,” meaning “counselor,” is the umbrella title for three ranks of counselor to the court. Given that the functions of peers can correlate to this, I recommend using shônagon (“lesser counselor“) for single peers, chûnagon (“middle counselor“) for double peers, and dainagon (“great counselor”) for triple peers.
(4) There is no specific “title” suitable for these ranks.
(5) Danna, Ojôsama, and Okusama are actually suitable for addressing anyone of any rank but only if the speaker is a commoner. Note that it is wholly inappropriate for one to call a man “danna” if that man is below one’s rank.To address women below one’s rank, the “–sama” is left off.
(6)Shômin” means “commoner.”

[n.] = surname or given name; [s.] = surname; [g.] = given name.



This page last modified on 3/27/04

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