I wanted to mention to a female staff member in a shop that I visit every day that I had seen their photograph in the Shibuya shop. I was going to say:


..but あなた seemed too intimate. If I knew their name, I could have said, for example:


..also きみ seemed too casual.


What is the most natural way to refer to someone when you don't know their name and don't have a close relationship with them?

  • 2
    Maybe you could defer the "you" altogether?? 「渋谷店に貼った写真の人ですね?」 "You're the person who's on the picture hanging in the Shibuya shop, aren't you?"
    – istrasci
    Jun 22, 2011 at 23:23
  • 3
    This title is kind of long...someone whose name you don't know and with whom you do not share a close relationship is generally called a "stranger."
    – Amanda S
    Jun 23, 2011 at 5:07
  • 1
    In the first place, all of your sentences are ungrammatical. You need to use で instead of に.
    – user458
    Jun 27, 2012 at 8:10

7 Answers 7


By job name: 店員さん (clerk)、お巡りさん (bobby)、運転手さん (taxi driver), etc. Polite: そちら (which I prefer to あなた which may sound informal in some situations),

Girl: お姉さん【ねえさん】
Boy: お兄さん【にいさん】 Man: お父さん【とうさん】、叔父さん【おじさん】,
Woman: お姉さん【ねえさん】、お母さん【かあさん】、叔母さん【おばさん】 (this one is dangerous!),
Elder people: お爺さん【じいさん】、お婆さん【ばあさん】.

Best way: ask for the name.
Best way to ask for the forgotten name: ask for the kanjis of the name :)

But I agree, it takes a lot of practice to naturally think of a way to call out people…

  • 4
    Can you really use おとうさん and おかあさん with strangers...?
    – Amanda S
    Jun 23, 2011 at 5:44
  • 1
    Pure nitpickery, but I would say お兄さん works for much older than just 'boy' (unless you mean it in a very old-fashioned, "anybody still in their 20s who hasn't married or gone off to war" way ;-) I'd say it's even the default address for people close to your age (assuming your age is 20-35) in an informal context. (and btw, isn't 叔父さん a bit ambiguous here? kana would probably useful)
    – Dave
    Jun 23, 2011 at 5:56
  • 1
    I would only use 奥さん with wives of acquaintances--and even then ○○さん is a more natural choice. Certainly one can't use it to address random women who may or may not be married.
    – Amanda S
    Jun 23, 2011 at 6:03
  • 2
    Asking for the name kanji is a nice trick, I'll have to remember that one :)
    – bdonlan
    Aug 27, 2011 at 19:46
  • 2
    I would not teach J-learners to call strangers お父さん or お母さん. Quite a few Japanese do NOT like to be called that by total strangers.
    – user4032
    Jul 11, 2014 at 0:25

Regarding your particular situation, I think Axioplase, Mark and Istrasci have given you all the options you really need. By order of smoothness, I would go with:

  1. skip name

  2. あなた (as Mark says, there's a bit of cognitive dissonance between the two uses, but it still works)

  3. whatever else...

To answer the more general formulation of your question title, I would add one that I personally found a lifesaver in many similar situations. For people you want to be polite to, but don't want to use 'あなた' with, for some reason:


While it is not ultra-common use and practically keigo level of politeness, it is still somehow neutral enough that using it in semi-formal conversations (typically in my case: people slightly older/higher, whose name I forgot and whose meishi I misplaced, but for whom あなた sounds a little too precious) is perfectly alright.

Edit: A very typical way I would use そちら, is if, after making a sentence omitting the subject (my first choice), there is an ambiguity and/or misunderstanding. As a way of saying "you [not me]".


@Axioplase gave a good general answer, I even +1'd it. @istrasci was also correct in that you can avoid saying "you" and instead say "you're the person in the photo..."

However in this situation I think it would be natural (and smooth) to read her name off her name badge.

If you can read it: confirm the reading with 「XXさんですね...」

If you can't read or she doesn't have one: just casually ask 「すみません、お名前は?」

As a customer, you are in a superior social position (お客様は神様でしょう) so being polite yet a touch casual is appropriate. You don't want to be rolling out your best keigo here.

Once you know her name, you can mention you saw her picture elsewhere, using @YOU's example would suffice here: 「ちなみに、渋谷で XXさんの 写真を見たようですが...」

Good luck

NB: This question is borderline なんぱ, but how better to learn a language than by using it? *grin*


Personally I would use ちなみに...渋谷で...写真見たよ... but I must be too shy.


あなた has two usages. One is used by spouses when talking to their spouses and translates as "Darling"

However, it is also can be used when you don't know the person all. In this case I would think that Anata would be perfectly usable in this case. And in fact would be too cold if you've been seeing them all the time recently. Then again if you haven't actually asked her name, I would stick you in the outsider group and still use Anata.

  • In retrospect this is a good point. New learners are taught あなた but as time goes on they see how little it is used apart from the "darling" usage and tone down their use of it in daily life. However it is perfectly acceptable as polite textbook Japanese as you say. May 14, 2019 at 4:25

I think 渋谷店であなたの写真見 ましたよ works properly in that situation. Basically あなた goes with です/ます. The level of intimacy of expression can be controlled by the level of politeness. So, you can say much more politely and safely, 渋谷店であなたの写真を お見かけしました.

Dropping あなた will also work, such as 渋谷店に貼ってある写真を見ましたよ.

However, 君 is definitely too intimate (more intimate than あなた) and using her personal name might sound like a stalker if she has not told you it yet.


How about お宅【おたく】?

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