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Is it natural to say 「おいくつですか」 to children who are around 10, or younger? Then, just like in Western culture, above a certain age I'm sure it is impolite or creepy to even ask another person's age. Therefore, I would expect to never say 「何歳ですか。」

About 10 years old is the cut-off age for asking another person's age? And the clever / funny way to ask is 「おいくつですか。」

correct?

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  • 3
    I've seen this phrase used for very elderly people (90 or more) on Japanese TV. – Ben Mar 10 at 5:36
  • It is not rude in Japan to ask someone's age. Since it determines the level of politeness one should use when addressing your conversation partner, it is usually one of the first questions Japanese will ask when meeting a new person, right after asking their name and possibly where they're from. If they're the opposite gender, maybe they'll ask first if you have a boyfriend/girlfriend at roughly the same time as well. – Lars Holdaas Mar 11 at 5:47
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It appears to me that you have some misunderstandings about おいくつ...

Is it natural to say 「おいくつですか」 to children who are around 10, or younger?

No, it isn't. おいくつ is an honorific expression. It's a respectful and formal way of saying 何歳 or いくつ, and it's funny to say おいくつですか to a small child. Usually "いくつ?" or "何歳?" is enough to a small child. On the other hand, saying 何歳(ですか) to a mature adult can sound blunt and impolite, but it largely depends on the relationship between the listener and you.

About what age to stop using おいくつですか?

Provided you have a good reason to ask one's age, you do not have to stop using おいくつですか even if the listener is over 100. Instead, you should start using おいくつですか when the listener is old enough. (Of course there are even politer expressions like お歳を伺ってもよろしいでしょうか.)

About 10 years old is the cut-off age for asking another person's age?

Asking the age of an adult for no good reason can be rude by itself, but that's a sociological problem which is out of the scope of this site. (Well, talking about age is not recommended, but it's not a taboo, either. I know the rough age of all the friends and colleagues of mine.)

And the clever / funny way to ask is 「おいくつですか。」

おいくつですか is not funny at all if used in an appropriate situation. What made you think it's funny? "Clever" is not an appropriate adjective, either; it's just a basic honorific word every adult should be able to use fluently. A "clever" way of knowing one's age is like talking about their favorite game/manga/anime in childhood :)

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  • Definitely, the reason I thought it was "cute / funny" to ask "how old are you" that way is because I've never seen anyone who is not a child ever asked how old they are. And, it was always said "o-ikutsu-desuka", which struck me as odd. "nan-sai-desuka" was the obvious way. It all makes sense now. Thanks! – user312440 Mar 10 at 15:41
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Though Japanese stops using -つ for concrete numbers at ten, the question word いくつ does not have upper limit. You can even use it to ask how many stars are in the sky.

So, there is no retirement age of おいくつですか either. It remains the normal preferable choice to ask an unfamiliar person their age for all age groups, unless other consideration may be involved.

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