What do Japanese married couples call each other? A deep dive into names, titles, and changing traditions - 33rd Square (2024)

Hey there! As a fellow tech geek and Japan enthusiast, I thought it would be cool to really dive into how Japanese married couples address each other. There‘s actually a lot more complexity and shifting cultural norms going on behind the scenes! Grab a drink and get comfy – this is gonna be a longer deep dive.

First, let‘s quickly recap the standard ways husbands and wives address each other in a more traditional Japanese marriage:

  • Wife calls husband "anata"
  • Husband calls wife "omae"

Pretty simple and impersonal, right? But this formal and distant way of addressing your life partner is considered normal in Japan. Now let‘s unpack why…

The Origins: Why "Anata" and "Omae" Became Traditional

These terms literally translate to the impersonal "you" in Japanese. So why would married couples use them instead of more intimate or romantic options?

Well, for centuries Japanese marriages were arranged for political or economic reasons. Love and romance didn‘t really factor in.

So distant and polite speech fit the bill. "Anata" and "omae" putting up subtle emotional barriers actually made sense for couples matched by contract, not choice.

But as you‘ll see, nowadays not all Japanese say "I do" to saying "anata" and "omae" forever…

Level Up Your Japanese Vocab: Other Ways to Say Husband & Wife

Beyond the old standbys, Japanese offers several other ways to refer to your lawful beloved:

Wife Vocab

  • Okusan (奥さん) – Most respectful term for "my wife."

  • Tsuma (妻) – Just means "wife" but not used as much today.

  • Kanai (家内) – Literally "inside the house." Another traditional way to say wife.

Husband Vocab

There are even more niche and archaic words, but these are the heavy hitters. Now let‘s level up and see how these actually get used…

Decoding the Nuance

The husband/wife vocab above may seem interchangeable, but their nuanced usages reveal a lot about Japanese attitudes:

  • Okusan is the most polite/formal way for a husband to refer to his wife in public.

  • Otto is used by wives talking with friends ("Otto made dinner tonight").

  • Tsuma when used by the husband implies distance ("Tsuma likes natto") .

  • Shujin has an intimate nuance when said by wives ("Let me ask shujin first").

So in summary:

  • Husbands use the most formal terms for wives in public

  • Wives use more casual terms talking amongst friends

This reflects lingering traditional roles where the husband represents household authority to society.

But Times Are Changing…

While old traditions still influence speech, younger and more progressive Japanese couples are increasingly breaking the mold.

For example, it‘s becoming more common for younger wives to refer to their husbands using first names with no title:

"This weekend Taro and I visited my parents."

This would be unheard of in the past! But it shows the shift toward more egalitarian marital relationships in modern Japan.

The flipside is also on the rise – husbands using their wife‘s first name casually:

"Let‘s ask if Hanako wants to see that movie."

Some other emerging signs of changing marital speech:

  • More couples attaching "-chan" to each other‘s names for closeness.

  • Limited use of Western pet names like "honey" or "darling" in very progressive couples.

  • Dropping of honorific prefixes like "o" and "go" attached to names.

So while traditional speech endures, change is afoot for some Japanese marriages!

What‘s in a Name?: Last Name Customs

Another place traditions run deep is with names – specifically whether a wife adopts her husband‘s last name.

Currently in Japan:

  • Over 96% of women take their husband‘s last name upon marriage

This overwhelming majority follows centuries-old legal and social customs in Japan around family names.

Some other key facts:

  • Only since the 1990s have Japanese women been legally allowed to keep using their maiden names.

  • In the mid 2000s courts ruled that different surnames can‘t be grounds for denying a marriage license.

  • Despite these legal changes, choosing to keep one‘s maiden name remains very rare.

But just like speech habits, naming trends may gradually shift with younger generations.

Japan‘s strict family registry system also poses barriers to name change. Some advocates are lobbying to make the process easier for those who do want to buck tradition.

Got Multiple Partners? Polygamy is a No-Go

Shifting gears – unlike historic figures, modern Japanese can‘t take multiple spouses.

  • Polygamy is illegal under Japan‘s civil code

This law has been on the books since the late 1800s as part of broader Westernization reforms.

Prior to this, it was common among upper class samurai and lords to have multiple wives and concubines. But those days are long over.

The only exceptions today are some religious groups or rural communities who still quietly practice traditional polygamy.

But for the vast majority of Japanese couples, it‘s one legal spouse at a time. No cheating allowed!

The Verdict: Change May Come Slowly

After digging into names, speech, and polygamy laws, what‘s the takeaway?

While marital attitudes are modernizing in Japan, traditions still exert a strong pull.

Compared to many Western cultures, change comes slowly on the homefront. Proper language and names for husbands and wives will remain markers of Japanese identity.

But generation by generation, cracks are appearing in old martial customs. And more alternatives exist today than ever before.

The future of Japanese marital relationships will likely blend tradition with bolder modern freedoms. Only time will tell how fast change takes hold!

So in summary, this was a deeper dive into Japanese married life. Let me know if you want me to nerd out on any other cross-cultural topics! I‘m always glad to provideexpert analysis as a tech-loving student of Japan.

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What do Japanese married couples call each other? A deep dive into names, titles, and changing traditions - 33rd Square (2024)
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