If one were talking to or about an expert craftsperson, e.g. a highly skilled arborist (as opposed to a garden designer) or to a stone mason or papermaker, would it be appropriate to refer to that person as 先生? If not, what honorific name suffix would be preferable?

1 Answer 1


Referring to someone as 先生 is fine if:

  1. You yourself are a student/disciple/apprentice of that person
  2. That person is working as a teacher, and you are introducing him/her in the context of teaching their skills
  3. That person is in a profession where they are traditionally referred to as 先生 (politician, lawyer, physician, professional shogi player, etc).

If none of the above applies, do not use 先生. For example, if you are simply presenting a talented arborist as a talented arborist in contexts unrelated to education/apprenticeship, you cannot use 先生.

  • Thank you for the answer. I see that my question was incomplete as written: if none of the three criteria above apply to the person, but I was telling a colleague that I had the opportunity to visit the workshop of Name X, or if I was referring to the craftsperson in a lecture, what would be the appropriate honorific?
    – NattoYum
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 13:22
  • 1
    @NattoYum If you're a mere visitor, there is no reason to use 先生. Why not just use Xさん? But if that X is over 50, have many disciples, or is mainly working as a mentor/teacher, you might call him/her 先生, too. Note that 先生 primarily means "teacher". 書道の先生 is "teacher of calligraphy", not "master of calligraphy".
    – naruto
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 9:53
  • I am thinking about people recognized as having great expertise in a field where one cannot learn sufficiently by sitting in classrooms. Because Japanese culture has long appreciated these people's skills—some are even designated as Living National Treasures—it seems odd that they would be –さん while anyone with a Ph.D. would automatically be –先生. Your comment makes me think that a name suffix for "master" may be appropriate. Perhaps 名人 or 達人? Thank you for considering this question.
    – NattoYum
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 16:55
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    @NattoYum Please don't use 名人 as a name suffix unless he/she is clearly officially 名人. 達人 is not even a name suffix. There is nothing rude or odd with addressing a 人間国宝 with さん (google 人間国宝 インタビュー).
    – naruto
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 17:14

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