In media like TV and newspapers, it appears certain classes of people can be referred to with the honorific "様":

The Imperial family:

皇太子殿下と美智子さま The Crown Prince and Michiko-sama

Celebrities with avid followers:

ヨン様、敗訴 Yong-sama (Bae Yong-joon) loses suit

ガガ様は「一発屋」 Gaga-sama (Lady Gaga) is "a one-hit wonder"

My questions are:

  • Do these categories cover all usage of 様 in the mass media?
  • How should I interpret the reporter's intention in using the title? How is the nuance different from the usage of 様 when addressing the recipient of an email?

Related: 芸能人・スポーツ選手・公人に「さん」などの敬称を付けなくてもよい理由は?

  • see my answer (which might have been better as a comment but too long for it unfortunately)... You can safely update your question to remove that 'others' case... ;-)
    – Dave
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 3:25
  • @Dave thx, 削除しました!
    – ento
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 13:23

4 Answers 4


Most mass media refer to the members of the imperial family with one of the honorifics さま, 陛下 (へいか) and 殿下 (でんか). Article 23 of the Imperial House Act regulates that the honorific for the emperor, the empress, the empress dowager and the grand empress dowager is 陛下 and that the honorific for the other members of the imperial family is 殿下, so I guess that when mass media use 陛下 and 殿下, they follow this distinction. I do not know how the mass media decide when to use さま and when to use 陛下/殿下.

In the case of celebrities, mass media sometimes refer to them in the way fans call them. This is why mass media sometimes refer to Bae Yong-joon as ヨン様, Arnold Schwarzenegger as シュワちゃん, Aya Matsuura as あやや, and so on. I do not know why the fans of Bae Yong-joon call him ヨン様 in the first place.


Well, if the person is (positively) important and deserves respect (or is related to the company for which you work), then you can put "様" instead of the status (president, CEO, whatever). You don't have to, but it shows that the media you represent bows before the person in question. I guess it's the same (though with less rigorous rules) than the one you use in personal communications.

As for the "others", a quick google check tells me it's not what I'd call used by "mass media" (unless they quote-and-translate a someone praising him).


Regarding my original statement: actually, I was working entirely from memory (from quite a while back) in my comment... and might very possibly be misremembering. ;-)

First off, upon further reflection, I don't think it was ever ビンラデン様, but rather: ビンラデン氏【ビンラデンし】, which is still surprising for an avowed mass-murderer. Why was he being referred to with an honorific (し) or even nothing at all, when even the most casual petty-fraudster politician gets 容疑者【ようぎしゃ】 (e.g. 中村容疑者).

After checking and googling around, I could not find back that article/comment I remember reading about this, but the gist of it was: Japanese media are stickler for rules and, having not been formally convicted or even indicted for any crime, even a guy like Bin Laden was not eligible for a pejorative suffix.

Unfortunately I do not have any official source to link to. Perhaps somebody better versed in official media guidelines could enlighten us.


I think you'll find that use of honorifics by the media will closely follow how normal people refer to the people in question. If in normal conversation, a stranger would call them なんとか様 then the media will follow suit.

As Tsuyoshi Ito said, if fans call a celebrity 様 then the news is going to follow suit when reporting on them. It's almost a part of their personality at that point.

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