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In the song 宮さん宮さん (明治時代)

宮さん宮さん お馬の前に ひらひらするのは 何じゃいな

As far as I can see it is referring to the emperor using さん、has its formality changed since that era? Or is it being ironic

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    From Wikipedia: 歌詞の「宮さん」は、戊辰戦争時に新政府の総裁で東征大総督でもあった有栖川宮熾仁親王を指す. Don't think that guy was an emperor. – Ringil Jun 10 '19 at 16:40
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    For the last few days, however, the entire nation has instead been singing 「宮迫さん宮迫さん、お顔の前にひらひらするのは帯封付きの新札一束かいな・・」. – l'électeur Jun 10 '19 at 16:56
  • Strange, I always thought it was さま in the song but then I learnt it from Gilbert and Sullivan: youtube.com/watch?v=lqCdwooyfQE – user3856370 Jun 10 '19 at 19:40
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First, according to Wikipedia, this 宮さん is not Emperor but Prince Arisugawa. The most formal and polite way to address him is 有栖川親王殿下{ありすがわしんのうでんか} ("His Imperial Highness Prince Arisugawa"), or 殿下{でんか} ("His Highness") for short.

The formality of さん and 様 has not changed. Judging from the lyrics, the Prince was marching in some rural area, and the person who made this question was an ordinary person who simply did not know proper standard keigo. That's understandable in this age.

宮様(みやさま) is a relatively friendly way to address princes and princesses in Japanese Royal Family. For example, you can call a prince 宮様 when you talk with him in a party. 宮さん is unsophisticated and definitely inappropriate as standard keigo, but I can understand someone who said this is a friendly and harmless person.

Related:

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  • Thanks! One question, when you compare 神 vs 神様 why does 様 make it sound less dignified? – Alberto Andrade Jun 11 '19 at 5:59
  • @AlbertoAndrade Scientists say "Einstein developed the theory of relativity" rather than "Mr. Einstein developed the theory of relativity" because the latter looks less dignified and more casual because of this 'Mr'. Likewise, serious priests tend to refer to their god simply as 神 without any prefix or suffix. – naruto Jun 11 '19 at 6:16
  • I was under the impression that NOT using an honorific would be less dignified and casual – Alberto Andrade Jun 11 '19 at 11:34
  • Simplifying, that's the case, most of the time. But when you say "There you are, MISTER John" or "That's right, PROFESSOR" to a friend, that's more likely mocking them. Also, "I guess Mr God doesn't want us to arrive in time" puts god/God onto the same level as any Mr Miller. Same in Japanese where being overly polite may be (mis)construed as making fun of someone. – John Frazer Jun 12 '19 at 10:41

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