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Society Report 7/8/95

During my first couple of weeks in the kaisha, I hadn't payed particular attention to the manner in which everyone addressed each other. I had always thought that in order to refer to someone politely, all I had to do was add " -san" (Mr., Ms.) to his or her last name.

However, when I eventually realized that, at least where I work, "-san" is never used to reference superiors, and that inferiors sometimes get no show of respect at all, I decided that customs for addressing one another in the company deserved some looking into. I interviewed an employee and learned the following.

It seems more proper to address a superior by just his yakushoku (title), without using his name at all, or more formally by adding his yakushoku to his name. Hence, when working in a Japanese company, it is wise to know the words for these titles. The following is a list of the important titles, as they were taught to me by an employee, in order from greatest to least. (Unfortunately, the English translations for these titles do not very accurately reflect the order of these positions.)

shachou = president
joumu (torishimariyaku) = managing director
buchou = department director, manager
jichou = vice-chief
kachou = section chief
kakarichou = chief clerk
shunin = chief, head
shain = regular employee

Not all companies fill all of these positions. For example, in the line of authority directly above me at Seino, there are Suzuki-shachou, Sonku-joumu, Torii-jichou, and Takai-kachou, but there is no buchou, kakarichou, or shunin.

I have also noticed that some people refer to others without adding any term of respect at all. This privilege appears to be reserved for people of high authority addressing people of low authority, and sometimes for more experienced shains who are addressing new shains on the same level.

I have one other note to make about "-san." When mentioning a name and adding "-san" to it, there is the implication that you or someone in your audience has or has had some sort of association with that person. Thus, when refering to a celebrity, adding "-san" might imply to your listener that you know ... him or her personally. Because the same implication works when referring to an infamous person as well, I must have made a horrible mistake whenever I referred to "Asahara Shoko-san."