Soccer star wants more fans to mind their manners and remember to use it.

Even people with only the bare minimum of interest in Japan (or 1984 karate cinema) know that in Japanese society it’s customary to add -san after a person’s name to show respect. Language learners and Japanophiles quickly pick up three additional commonly used suffixes: -sama (even more polite than -san), -chan (to show affection), and -kun (a bit less formal than -san, and often used when talking to young males). Not using any suffix at all is referred to as yobisute, and implies either such intimate friendship or complete disdain that no social niceties are required.

There’s also a special suffix used specifically for talking to or about athletes: -senshu. For example, if you were talking about baseball star Ichiro in Japanese, he’d be Ichiro-senshu.

Senshu can also be used by itself to mean “athelete/sports player,” and the kanji for the word, 選手, literally translate to “selected hand,” with “person” being an associated meaning for the second character. As such, it carries a bit of an aura of being a “chosen one,” whose skill at sports has set him apart from the pack of rivals who also were trying out for a position on the team or a spot in the sport. The use of -senshu is a definite sign of respect, and one that professional soccer player and Japanese national team member Tomoaki Makino wants people to remember to use when speaking to him and his colleagues.

In a recent tweet, Makino said:

“When you see an athlete out in town or on the practice field, and you want to call out to him, don’t do yobisute. Instead, you should put -senshu after his name.

If you do that, the athlete can wave and respond cordially.

Watch yourselves, everybody!”

As mentioned above, yobisute in Japan gets used only in certain relationships, such as between very close friends. Even among officemates or neighbors who’ve worked or lived next to each other for years, the honorifics stay in place, and speaking to someone with the familiarity of yobisute if you don’t have any sort of personal connection can be startling and, in many people’s opinion, rude.

▼ Tomoaki Makino

But there’s a bit of a gray area when it comes to people like professional athletes and entertainers who live their entire lives in the public eye. After spending countless hours watching their heroes on the field through their TVs, passionate sports fans might feel something akin to kinship to them, as they cheer their victories and agonize over their defeats. So when they finally see them in person, it’s not entirely unthinkable that some may excitedly call out to them and forget to stick an honorific suffix on the end of their name.

Still, traditional Japanese etiquette holds that doing yobisute for someone you’ve never even been formally introduced to is por form, and Makino’s tweet produced a wide variety of reactions. In the first group are those who share his frustration:

“What he’s saying should just be plain common sense.”
“Using -senshu is just basic manners, really.”
“You should refer to athletes with -senshu, or at least -san.”
“For almost all fans, it would be their first time actually talking to the athlete face-to-face, so they should use -senshu.”

On the other end of the spectrum, though, were those who think the 31-year-old center-back is being unreasonable, or even hypocritical, in his insistence in standing on ceremony.

“Is people not using -senshu really something to get worked up about?”
“He’s being pretty petty.”
“Weird sense of pride he’s got there.”
“I don’t think all athlete share his opinion.”
“It’s fine, and even necessary, for fans to respect athletes, but athletes should respect fans too! ‘Watch yourselves?’ That should be ‘Please be careful.’”

And finally, some couldn’t resist the urge to let some snark fly with a flurry of yobisute comments.

“I hear ya, MAKINO!”
“Well, MAKINO, your name is MAKINO, after all.”
“I’ll make sure to use -senshu when talking to other athletes, MAKINO.”

Sarcasm aside, if you’re looking to make a good impression on people in Japan, it’s probably best to avoid yobisute in, at the bare minimum, your first conversation. That said, if you go online to complain about people not using your preferred form of honorific address when talking to you, you’re probably not going to change many minds.

Source: Twitter/@tonji5
Top image: Pakutaso
[ Read in Japanese ]

Follow Casey on Twitter, where his Japanese nieces have been yobisute-ing him since they first met.

[ Read in Japanese ]