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I have always used the word otona to signify adult. Recently, I have seen the word shakaijin. Is there a significant difference between the two words? It seems like shakaijin is a member of society. Can I use both words interchangeably?

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    It would seem strange to routinely use "member of society" in place of "adult" in English. I would guess the same applies to Japanese. – jkerian Aug 5 at 19:32
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    @jkerian, there must be a meaning or situation that I am not familiar with. – JACK Aug 5 at 19:35
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    That sounds like you're wondering about a particular use. In that case it might be best to post that example. – jkerian Aug 6 at 0:33
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  • 大人 is "adult", someone who is mature enough. It typically refers to anyone over 18 or 20.
  • 社会人 is someone who has started to work regularly. It's mainly used in business contexts. A 22-year old university student is usually not called a 社会人 yet. So 社会人 is somewhat closer to a (responsible) businessperson, although 社会人 also includes farmers, novelists and such.

See also: What's the difference between 成人 and 大人?

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