I have always been told that centuries of Japanese literature had been successfully translated without keeping "san" or "chan" suffixes. Is it an unbreakable rule or are there famous examples of such things in respectable translations?

I remember seeing "chan" in an old French translation of a Tanizaki novel and I was wondering if this practice was outdated.

If this rule is unbreakable, how to translate things like, for example, 「田中さんをまだ田中様と呼んでいた時代」?

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    A book I'm reading had a paragraph where character A wondered at some length about the possible implications of character B using 呼び捨て to refer to character C. He thought of three different reasons why it might have been used. Translating that into English is possible, of course, but if you're not using honorifics in your translation it wouldn't make much sense, so you'd end up rewriting it with something else, probably…
    – user1478
    Feb 26, 2018 at 5:09
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    I don't think the rule is unbreakable, nor do I see why you would think that. Certainly most people shy away from it, but that's mostly because it would just confuse most people who aren't familiar with the subject. Any translator is free to make whatever decisions they want.
    – Kurausukun
    Feb 26, 2018 at 9:48

2 Answers 2


If you prefer natural translation and such name suffixes are not particularly important in the context, I think you may just rephrase them so that there is a natural contrast in English (e.g., "Mr. Tanaka", "Master" or "President" instead of "Tanaka-sama", "Taro" instead of "Tanaka-san"). You may even rephrase the entire sentence, like "days when I was talking to you more politely".

If you believe your audience understand those Japanese suffixes (for example if you're doing an anime fansub), you may choose to directly use them. In rare cases where the topic is the Japanese-specific name suffixes themselves, you may have to familiarize readers with those suffixes anyway in some way or another.

I doubt there is such a thing as "an unbreakable rule" in translation. It's up to your decision.


Since it is difficult to distinguish subtle differences between 様 and さん by translation, I think that it is one translation method to translate the given sentence in a commentary way as follows: era when they had to strictly distinguish honorific expressions that should be attached to surnames

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