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"寿司屋" means just a "sushi restaurant". I've heard "お寿司屋さん" spoken a few times. As far as I know, only a person's name can be suffixed with "さん". So, is "お寿司屋さん" a personification?

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I guess it can be used to refer to both the restaurant and its owner. When referring to the restaurant (or other shops, companies, etc. as in 「本屋さん」「ローソンさん」「三菱商事さん」), I feel it's more of an honorific than a personification. BTW, when the business is big, I guess the expression can not be used to refer to its owner(s), e.g. you can not use 「三菱商事さん」to refer to its shareholders. – Noir May 20 '14 at 0:53
@Noir: Comments are not for answers. – istrasci May 20 '14 at 15:35
@Noir A native speaker told me (as best I could understand) that appending "さん" is an expression of intimacy and/or femininity. IT makes sense to me that to become intimate with an abstraction, you personify it. I don't think it's an honorific. However... why they add "お" to "寿司屋さん" is weird. – user312440 May 20 '14 at 17:47
@user312440 I feel you are right (according to this page) and it's better to explain "...屋さん" and "company name + さん" separately in spite of their shared origin. I think the 「お」 there is just a prefix adding politeness, i.e.丁寧語. – Noir May 21 '14 at 1:35
up vote 4 down vote accepted

「お寿司屋{すしや}さん」 is composed of 「お」,「寿司{すし}」,「屋{や}」 and 「さん」.

Here, 「屋{や}」 is affixed to the name of some merchandise (「寿司{すし}」「魚{さかな}」「石{いし}」 etc.) or service (「クリーニング」「修理{しゅうり}」 etc.) to mean:

  • A shop selling the merchandise or providing the service or all those shops as a whole

  • The owner of a shop selling the merchandise or providing the service

When 「…屋{や}」 refers to a shop, adding 「さん」 to it is in effect treating it as a person (although I feel that native speakers may not have a very personified image in their mind when using it). That shows slight intimacy (I guess intimacy can mean very close relationship in English but that's not the case here) with and a certain degree of respect (since 「さん」 is in itself a suffix for that) to the shop. It's generally colloquial and used a little bit more often by female speakers.

The 「お」 at the very beginning is a 丁寧語{ていねいご} adding politeness, towards the one that is talked to, to the whole expression.


「さん」 can be seen to be directly suffixed to company names as well. But according to this page, its level of acceptance varies a lot among native speakers.

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I've the feeling that -san here is related to intimacy and respect more than being used to refer to the people working at the shop or the owner. Can someone else comment on that? – Aki May 21 '14 at 8:33
@Aki I also feel that way. As stated in my answer, 「…屋」 (without 「さん」 suffixed to it) is enough to refer to the owner. – Noir May 21 '14 at 8:43
yes. I very much like this answer. But, I do not remember referring to the owner of "居酒屋" (or any other type of restaurant) as "居酒屋さん" (etc). Regardless of the type of restaurant, I think my friends called him "マスタ" ("master") which is obviously 和製英語。Have you by any chance heard that name used? – user312440 May 21 '14 at 20:39
@user312440 Yup. 「居酒屋(さん)」 is not used to refer to the owner. The reason may be that 「居酒」 originally referred to neither the merchandise nor the service, but what customers did there, i.e. "drink while staying there", cf. 「酒屋」="a sake dealer/shop/brewery". Keeping calling others with the name of their trade (even with 「さん」 suffixed) may sound impolite. That may be one reason why you rarely hear of this usage. Besides, this expression has its root in the era when private enterprises represented the great majority. It seems to be kind of losing its vitality in our time. – Noir May 22 '14 at 6:29
@user312440 And, yeah, I once heard others calling the owner of a bar, who was also the bartender there, with 「マスター」. – Noir May 22 '14 at 8:13

ーさん can be used as a courtesy title to address or refer to others with certain occupations. eg:


The addition of the お prefix to your example is an example of お being used for politeness, as opposed to respecting the position of the listener.

Reference: "Japanese for all occasions" by Taeko Kamiya, p13 & 17

In my experience, when used with a shop or restaurant it tends to be a small business. If we take 肉屋 as an example, in Japanese it translates as "the meat shop", which is slightly different from the English term "The butchers (shop)", which refers to tradesman rather than his wares. When I hear "肉屋さん" I associate with either the shop or the butcher(s) himself (themselves) depending on the context.

Also, although I have not seen this written down anywhere, to me this use of さん is somewhat similar to the way we might refer to a restaurant in the English statement "They have vegetarian dishes on the menu."

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But, 運転手 is a person, and 看護師 is a person. I am not talking about people. Your example of 肉屋 is exactly what I am talking about. A restaurant is an abstraction. It is all of the owner / location / aviance / menu items, etc. And, then adding "さん" seems to personify it which then allows me to be more intimate with it. It is correct to not add "さん", so it must mean something. btw: I "think" you can only add "お" to "寿司屋さん". – user312440 May 21 '14 at 20:28
It is somewhat similar to the way we refer to a restaurant in the statement "They have vegetarian dishes on the menu." – Tim May 21 '14 at 21:55

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