Okay, so put simply I have a PhD in history and work in academia, and will be interacting with some other academics in Japan. BUT Japan is not my area of expertise, my Japanese is a bit limited, and last time I was in Japan I was a grad student so this was not an issue.

I know I can just refer to other academics politely as sensei generally, but I was wondering how I should refer to myself accurately while still being appropriately humble? I've always avoided using that and hakase to refer to myself on the advise of my teachers. This is a part of Japanese I have always struggled with and would appreciate any help you can give.

How should I refer to myself/my job in?:

  1. In an academic situation with people who are aware of my specific credentials but are not yet peers (e.g. graduate students)

  2. How should I refer to myself while talking with academic peers? (e.g. other PhDs)

  3. When people who are outside academia but are my peers in age ask what I do for a living (I tend to just use kyoushi in this situation, but is there a more specific term I should use?)

Thank you all in advance.

  • I'm not sure what else you would need other than わたし or ぼく to refer to yourself (even in English, when do you include your title in referring to yourself?). Please elaborate on exactly what kind of conversations(?) you have in mind and also provide your attempts. Otherwise I guess it's off topic here.
    – sundowner
    Oct 16, 2023 at 9:19
  • If you are thinking of situations where you would introduce yourself as "Dr. XXX" in English, just remove "Dr." and tell your name. And when someone addresses you with さん, you don't need to correct them like you might when addressed as "Mr. XXX" or "Ms. XXX" in English. You would need to use the word 博士, however it might be read, only when you need or want to specifically explain to someone you have a doctor's degree.
    – aguijonazo
    Oct 16, 2023 at 23:01
  • And if you are a professor at a college, 教授 (kyōju) is a better word than 教師 (kyōshi).
    – aguijonazo
    Oct 16, 2023 at 23:16

1 Answer 1


Jargon aside, people in academia do not use any special language. It's sufficient to use what is taught as standard business Japanese.

If you're talking about your first-person pronoun, you can stick to わたし regardless of your gender. It's the safest option in any polite business conversation, and you can practically forget other options.

If you're talking about how to explain your academic degree to other people, there is no special convention. Just as a fisherman says 漁師です or a nurse says 看護師です, you can say 歴史学の博士【はくし】です. When explaining your job, you can say 大学の先生です, 博物館の学芸員です, and so on.

Note that はくし is the correct reading of 博士 as an academic degree. はかせ is another reading of 博士, but it does sound odd or childish in academic fields. See: When is 博士 (hakase) used as honorific?

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