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Why are there so many terms for royalty? And I'm talking about generic words like "king", "queen", etc. I seem to remember from my studies that certain terminology was used specifically for Japanese royalty, and other terms were used for foreign royalty of the same status/rank. I also seem to remember hearing that certain terms were related to religion/Buddhism, while others weren't.

From what I understand about "kings" and "emperors", historically there used to be a great distinction: kings ruled kingdoms, which were smaller territories inside of an empire, all of which was (obviously) ruled by the emperor. However, in the present day, I don't think there is such a distinction to most people, as governments have changed greatly over the ages. So the nuances between the terms for "king" and "emperor" (likewise, with "queen" and "empress") seem to overlap a lot.

Here are many of the terms I've used/seen/found for common royalty

King - 王(様)、国王、君主、大王 [だいおう]、大君 [たいくん]
Emperor - 帝、皇帝、帝王、大帝 [たいてい]、天子 [てんし](様)、天皇、天王 [てんのう]

Queen - 女王、王妃?、女帝?
Empress - 皇后、皇太后、太皇太后、きさき(后・妃)、王妃、女帝

Prince - 王子、皇子、皇太子、親王 [しんのう]
Princess - 王女、皇女、妃 [ひ]、王妃、親王妃、内親王、王子妃、皇太子妃、妃殿下、大君女 (おおきみおんな)、(お)姫(様)、姫御子 [ひめみこ]

Then there are the suffixes 陛下 (Majesty) and 殿下 (Highness)...that you can add to certain ones, but not to all apparently.

Questions

  1. Why are there so many terms for these generic words?
  2. If my assumptions from above are correct, which ones are for Japanese royalty and which ones are for foreign royalty?
  3. " " " ", which ones are religious terms and which are "regular"?
  4. What are the rules for being able to apply 陛下 or 殿下?

Can someone clear up this mess?

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Empressのとこだけならちょっとわかるかも…皇后は今の天皇の妻、皇太后は前の天皇の妻、太皇太后はその前の天皇の妻、妃(ひ)は天皇以外の男性皇族の妻、女帝は女‌​性の天皇。たぶんよ、たぶん。「きさき」は絵本で王の妻の意味で「お[妃]{きさき}さま」をよく見ます(白雪姫とかで)が、日本の皇室では・・・よく分かりません –  Choko May 17 '13 at 23:01

1 Answer 1

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Why are there so many terms for these generic words?

Most of them have defferent meanings. Some are used for Western royalty, Some are used for Chinese royalty.

- (in general) King e.g. アーサー王 King Arthur

- (in historical China and historical Asia) One of the titles of the loads in the Imperial China, or the King of the Imperial Chinese tributary state

国王 - (as in the Head of State, especially in present‐day) King e.g. フアン・カルロス1世国王 King Juan Carlos I, タイの国王ラーマ9世 Rama IX the King of Thailand

王様 - (colloquial, reverential, from people's point of view) King e.g. 王様のお城 the King's castle

君主 - Monarch (This is not a honorific.) e.g. 絶対君主制 absolute monarchy

大王 - King xxx the Great e.g. アレクサンダー大王 Alexander the Great

大君 - (in historical Japan) Diplomatic Title of Shogun (将軍 is a General, but de facto King in Japan. However 王 meant a vassal of China in those days, so they coined this Title.)

帝[みかど] - (in historical Japan) Emperor of Japan

帝[てい] - Honorific of the emperor (except for Emperor of Japan)

皇帝 - (except for Emperor of Japan) Emperor e.g. 中国の皇帝 the Emperror of China, ローマ帝国初代皇帝 first Emperor of the Roman Empire

帝王 - Crowned heads, Shah of the Old Persia, (idiomatic) King e.g. ジャズの帝王 King of jazz

大帝 - Emperor xxx the Great e.g. オットー大帝 Otto the Great

天子 - (in historical China) Emperor of China, (in historical Japan, before 10th century?) Emperor of Japan

天皇 - Emperor of Japan

天王 - (in historical Japan) alternative spelling for 天皇

女王 - Queen (female King) e.g. エリザベス2世女王 Queen Elizabeth II

王妃 - Queen (King's wife) e.g. スウェーデンのシルビア王妃 Queen Silvia of Sweden

皇后 - Empress consort (Emperor's wife)

皇太后 - Empress (former Emperor's wife, Emperor's mother)

太皇太后 - Empress (former Emperor's wife, Emperor's grandmother)

妃/后[きさき] - (informal, outdated, except for Japanese) Imperial wife

お妃様/お后様 - (colloquial, reverential, from people's point of view) Imperial wife

女帝 - Empress regnant (female Emperor)

王子 - (in general) Prince (Children of royalty) e.g. ウィリアム王子 Prince William

皇子 - Prince (Emperor's son)

皇太子 - Crown prince e.g. 日本の皇太子 Japanese Crown prince, チャールズ皇太子 Prince Charles

親王[しんのう] - Honorific of the Japanese Emperor's son, Honorific of the Japanese Emperor's brother

王女 - Princess (King's daughter) e.g. アン王女 Anne, Princess Royal

皇女 - Princess (Emperor's daughter)

妃 [ひ] - Honorific of the Imperial wife e.g. ダイアナ妃 Princess Diana, キャサリン妃 Princess Catherine

親王妃 - Princess (親王's wife)

内親王 - Honorific of the Japanese Emperor's daughter, Honorific of the Japanese Emperor's sister

王子妃 - Princess (王子's wife)

皇太子妃 - Princess (皇太子's wife) e.g. 皇太子妃ダイアナ Princess (wife of the crown prince) Diana

妃殿下 - 妃 + 殿下 (Her Royal Highness)

大君女 - (in historical Japan) Princess (daughter of the Japanese Emperor)

- (informal) Princess, Noble's daughter, shogun's daughter, daimyo's daughter

お姫様 - (colloquial, reverential, from people's point of view) 姫

姫御子 [ひめみこ] - (in historical Japan, before 10th century?) Princess (daughter of the Japanese Emperor)

If my assumptions from above are correct, which ones are for Japanese royalty and which ones are for foreign royalty?

天皇 is exclusively used for Japanese Emperor. 皇后, 皇太子, 皇太子妃, 皇太后, 太皇太后, 皇子, 皇女, 親王, 内親王 are used for Japanese royalty (not exclusively, though). 国王, 女王, 王妃, 皇太子, 皇太子妃, 王子, 王女, are used for foreign Kingdoms.

which ones are religious terms and which are "regular"?

There are no religious terms. (However,The Emperor of Japan is closely related to the Shinto religion). 大君, 帝, 天子, 天王, 大君女, 姫御子 are obsolete.

What are the rules for being able to apply 陛下 or 殿下?

You can use 陛下 with King, Queen, Emperor and Empress (国王陛下、女王陛下、王妃陛下、天皇陛下、皇帝陛下、皇后陛下). Other royalty are 殿下.

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詳しい! I have some questions though. For 女王 you say "Queen (female King)" and 王妃 you say "Queen (King's wife)". 1) Does 王妃 imply that the king is still alive? 2) Can we infer anything about a king from 女王? Does 女王 imply that her husband the king died? Or maybe that there never was a husband/king at all? Or is it ambiguous? –  istrasci May 20 '13 at 15:06
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@istrasci Sorry for late reply. 1) Yes. 2)女王 means a woman on the throne. It doesn't imply the existence of her husband. In fact, エリザベス2世女王 has a husband. * If the king dies and his wife(王妃) ascends the throne, she will be 女王. * If the king dies and his wife(王妃) doesn't ascend the throne, she will be 元王妃 or 王太后 (former king's wife). * If the king dies and his daughter(王女) ascends the throne, she will be 女王. –  marasai Jun 7 '13 at 21:04

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