Meaning of Onii-chan, Onee-chan – Siblings in Japanese

[ADS] Advertisement

Have you ever wondered what onii-chan, onee-chan, onii-san, onee-san and other variations mean in Japanese? Do you know the meaning of Imouto, Otouto, Kyoudai and Shimai? Ever heard the term Aniki? Do you know how to say brother and sister in Japanese?

We have previously written an article talking about the family members in Japanese. In this article, we will do a thorough research to understand the meaning and difference of these words.

The relationship between younger and older siblings is highly valued in Japan. The Japanese have a knack for placing younger sisters who call their brother onii-chan in anime.

Have you ever noticed how anime exaggerate this little sister scheme? Most of the time they are lolis, but do you know what loli means? Click here and read our article on loli, lolicon and lolita.

Big Brother – What does Onii-chan mean

Onii-chan is nothing more than an informal way of saying big brother in Japanese. The character Onii [お兄] literally means older brother. already the chan it is an honorific of childish, informal and intimate treatment, as if it were a diminutive (little brother).

The most formal and common is to use the suffix san, so we also hear the words onii-san for older brother. You can use these expressions after the person's name as an honorific (Kevin-oniichan).

This address is used for any older sibling you have, sometimes it is even used with people you consider a sibling, even if they are not related.

We also recommend reading:

Oniichan or Onii-chan, which one is right?

There is no correct way, this dash is just a romanization option that we use to separate the words brother from the suffix chan or another suffix like san. Be careful not to write just onichan because then you will be referring to the demon, ogre or monster Oni [鬼].

The meaning of onii-chan, onee-chan and the like

Big Sister – What does Onee-chan mean

Onee-san is the informal way of saying big sister in Japanese. The character “Onee” [お姉] literally means big sister. As already mentioned, the suffix “chan” is an informal diminutive (little sister).

Onee-san is the more formal way of saying big sister. Because women are highly respected, men generally tend to use onee-san more than onee-chan depending on the family situation.

What does Anne mean?

“Ane” [姉] is another way of referring to the older sister, especially when talking about your own sister to others. Another even more formal and archaic way is “aneue” [姉上].

Meaning of onii-chan, onee-chan, onii-san and onee-san
Two sisters hugging a Pokemon

Different ways to say older brother in Japanese

In Japanese there is a hierarchy of treatment, a formal, common and informal language. This is one of the main reasons there are so many variations and ways of saying big brother in Japanese. To make it easier we will put a list of words below exemplifying the idea a little:

Remember that all the words in the list below refer to older sisters or brothers: 

Responsive Table: Scroll the table to the side with your finger >>
DescriptionOlder brotherbig sister
Keigo – Too Formal – Sovereignonii-sama [お兄さま]onee-sama [お姉さま]
Sonkeigo (brothers from above)aniue [兄上]aneue [姉上]
Formal – Everyday – Commononii-san [お兄さん]onee-san [お姉さん]
a little more informalnii-san [兄さん]nee-san [姉さん]
Without any respectful suffixes, informalnii [兄]nee [姉]
Informal suffix and diminutiveonii-chan [お兄ちゃん]onee-chan [お姉ちゃん]
Totally informal with diminutive suffixnii-chan [兄ちゃん]nee-chan [姉ちゃん]
Alternative to nii and neeani [兄]ane [姉]
Precious, esteemed, honorableAniki [兄貴]aneki [姉貴]
Meaning of onii-chan, onee-chan, onii-san and onee-san

aniki It is often used by the yakuza, it is like a comrade brother, where the character [貴] refers to something precious, esteemed and valuable.

Imouto and Otouto – Sister and younger brother

To refer to the younger brothers, we use the word otouto [弟]. The younger sisters are called imouto [妹].

These words don't usually use suffix, except when referring to members of another family, like your friend's younger sister, you should use imouto-san.

Unlike the terms onii-san and onee-san, “imouto” and “otouto” are not often used to talk to their younger siblings. Japanese people usually call younger people by name.

If you search for “younger sister” in the Japanese dictionary, you will see that there are endless ways to convey the idea of a younger but unusual sister.

Kirino
Kirino

Do you happen to like younger sisters? I hope you're no lolicon if I don't kill you! The little sisters are all mine!

The meaning of onii-chan, onee-chan and the like
Anime photo – Ore no Imouto ga Konnani kawaii wake ga nai

Different ways to say brothers in Japanese

We have already learned the main ways of referring to younger and older siblings. Now let's see other Japanese words used to refer to brothers in Japanese:

Responsive Table: Scroll the table to the side with your finger >>
JapaneseKanaRomajiPortuguese
兄弟きょうだいkyoudaiBrothers Sisters
姉妹しまいshimaisisters
あにaniOlder brother
あねaneEldest sister
おとうとotoutoYounger brother
いもうとimoutoYounger sister
双子ふたごfutagotwins, twins
義弟ぎていI shookyounger half brother
義妹ぎまいgimaiyounger half sister

Futago – When are they twins?

If both are twins, what do they call each other? Who will decide to be the younger brother or older brother? The Japanese word for twins is futago [双子] which literally means children in pair or set.

In reality, everyone is already aware that even twins, even when born at the same time, are taken in an order, so those who first came out of the mother’s belly are considered older. So, it can be said:

  • futago in the ani [双子の兄] twin brother;
  • futago in the ring [双子の姉] twin sister;
  • futago on onisan [双子のお兄さん] older twin brother;
  • futago on oneesan [双子のお姉さん] older twin sister;
  • futago no otouto [双子の弟] younger twin brother;
  • futago no imouto [双子の妹] younger twin sister;
  • tsuin [ツイン] from English twins;
Gotoubun no hanayome – 5 quintuple sisters
Gotoubun no hanayome – 5 quintuple sisters

Remember if! Never learn Japanese by studying single words. If you are confused on the correct order or way to study the Japanese language. We recommend reading our: Study Guide for Learning Japanese.

Kyoudai and Shimai – Other Ways to Talk About Siblings

If we want to speak in the plural brothers and sisters, we can use the junction of the ideograms of older brother with younger brother. Brothers in Japanese are spelled “kyoudai” [兄弟] and sisters in Japanese are spelled “shimai” [姉妹].

Kyoudai can encompass all siblings, even females, although you can rarely find Kyoudai written in other ways using 2 of the 4 characters used for siblings [兄-弟-姉-妹].

Meaning of onii-chan, onee-chan, onii-san and onee-san
Photo of the anime Uchuu Kyoudai - Brothers in Space

I hope this article has clarified all your doubts about the words onii-chan, onee-chan, onii-san and onee-san, others related to brothers in Japanese like imouto, otouto, kyoudai and shimai! Thanks for the comments and shares!

If you want to know the name of the family members, we recommend the video below:

Meaning of onii-chan, onee-chan - brothers in japanese

Share This Article: