Japanese

How Do You Say OLD MAN in Japanese? Learn it Now!

Hey, what’s up everyone? One of the things that I aim to do here at Japanese Tactics is to help get people answers to their exact questions. I like to take this particular approach to writing, instead of just blogging about whatever’s on my mind at the time (although I will do that on occasion!).

How do I know what people want? I ask questions, I read people’s comments, and I have a few ways to see what questions people are looking for in Google Searches.

Interestingly enough, there are actually quite a few people out there who want to know: How Do You Say OLD MAN in Japanese?

Here’s the short answer: 老人 (roujin).

But it’s pretty rare when a language has only one way to say something. For example, how many different ways can you say OLD MAN in English?

  1. Old Man
  2. Old Guy
  3. Ancient Dude
  4. Gramps
  5. Old Geezer

See what I mean? Yeah there is that one basic way, but it’s totally plain vanilla. What if you wanted to wanted to add some flavor to it? They say “variety is the spice of life” after all.

So I wanted to give you some different words for OLD and some different words for MAN in Japanese so that you could expand your vocabulary and have a little fun at the same time.

After I go through each of these words individually, I’ll combine them together and provide some example sentences with audio. The best way to understand it is to see it in action, and then do it yourself. Let’s begin!

What is the Japanese Word for OLD?

The Japanese word for old is 古い (furui). This is an ‘i-adjective’ so it follows all those lovely rules when it comes to its different conjugations:

Is old = 古いです (furui desu)
Was old = 古かったです (furukatta desu)
Is not old = 古くないです (furukunai desu)
Was not old = 古くなかったです (furukunakatta desu)

And when you want to change from formal/polite speech to informal/casual speech all you have to do is drop the copula です.

formal/polite = 古いです
informal/casual = 古い

Whew, enough with the grammar!

The interesting thing about this kanji is that it is a combination of the kanji for the number ten  , and also the kanji for mouth  . I believe in this situation, the mouth represents “generations of people.”

So ten generations is a very long time. And therefore, it’s old!

But here’s the only problem: 古い can’t be used with people. You’ll have to use a different approach when talking about old guys.

You could  use 年を取っている (toshi o totte iru) to say “I am old” in Japanese.

This one is pretty interesting since a literal translation would be “I am (in the continuous action of) taking the age.”

That way of speaking sounds kind of weird in English. But if it helps you to remember the meaning, then it’s good to use it!

And to say ANCIENT in Japanese you would use the word 古代 (kodai). As you can see, this is a compound word that uses the kanji for old .

What is the Japanese Word for MAN?

The most common Japanese word that you will see used for MAN is 男 (otoko).

This kanji has some history baked into it. It is a combination of the kanji for rice field and power . If you think about it, it was common back in the day for the men of the village to use their physical power to work all day long in the rice fields.

Gotta’ bring home the rice, right? No bacon here! 🙁

And this is the kanji that you’re gonna see used for “men” when you need to use the public restrooms. FYI the one you will see for “women” is .

This kanji  brings the connotation of “the male gender” when it’s used as a ‘no-adjective’ in the words 男の子 (otoko no ko) meaning “male child” or “boy”, and 男の人 (otoko no hito) meaning “male person” or more simply “man”.

And there is another common word 男性 (dansei) that also means “man.”

This word is created by combining for “male” and for “sex/gender.”

I was talking with a native about these words the other day and I was told that 男の人 is kind of polite and would really only be used to describe other men.

If you were going to talk about yourself, as in “I am a man” then you would be more likely to use  or 男性.

Which Word to Use?

Unfortunately knowing how to say “old” and “man” in Japanese doesn’t really work as there are several special ways to say “old man.” Think of it as one single word, rather than two (like it is in English)

Use 老人 (roujin) when talking about someone else who is old.

Use 年を取っている (toshi o totte iru) when you want to say that you are old.

Use おじん (ojin) when you want to call someone something like “gramps.”

Use  (ō) when you want to refer to him as a “venerable gentleman​.”

Use  (jiji) when you want to call him an “old geezer!”

Maybe once you’re in the hot springs, you might decide to strike up a conversation with one of the nice older gentlemen. He could be a simple man and describe himself like this:

  • 俺は男性で、年を取ってるけど、まだ楽しみたい!
    ore wa dansei de, toshi o totteru kedo, mada tanoshi mitai!
    I’m a man and I am old, but I still want to have fun!

 

Here’s another example sentence that talks about old guys:

  • 爺ちゃんはやっとのことで脱出した。
    jiji-chan wa yatto nokoto de dasshutsu shita.
    The old Geezer escaped, but with difficulty.

Now what do you do if you want  to get the attention of an older guy, but you don’t know his name? Is there a word that translates to something like “mister” in Japanese?

As a matter of fact, there is!

For an older man, they use the word おじいさん (ojiisan). This is actually the word for “grandpa.” Or to be more specific: “someone else’s grandpa.”

If you read my earlier post on sisters then you’ll remember that people will often times call a young women お姉さん (oneesan) which means “older sister,” when they don’t know her name.

So you can deduce from these two examples that it is common in Japanese to use these kinds of words with people who’s names you don’t know.

Old Guys in Anime, Manga, and JRPGs

Montreal Comiccon 2016 - Master Roshi (28181366121)
Master Roshi @ Montreal Comic-Con 2016
Have you ever noticed that there’s a lot of old guys in things like anime, manga, and JRPGs?

I’m talking about the Turtle Hermit, Master Roshi in Dragon Ball Z. Yes, the one who’s always reading pervy magazines!

I’m thinking of The Old Man in the original Legend of Zelda that tells you “it’s dangerous to go alone. Take this!” as he gives you your first sword for your grand adventure.

I’m talking about Obi-Wan Kinobi in the original Star Wars, who teaches Luke Skywalker about the powers of The Force!

Okay, that last one’s not from Japan!

What’s with this common thread you may ask? Well I’ve got an answer for ya: it’s The Hero’s journey.

You see, The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of narrative that gets used in an incredible amount of stories. Take a look at it here if you want to read more about it, but the basic gist is that a normal guy who becomes a hero will run into a mentor early on and will learn something valuable from this old guy that will help him out on his journey.

I highly recommend that you check out the whole process because once you understand it, you will start seeing the pattern used all the time!

Either way, you now know all about old guys in Japanese!

I want to hear from YOU now!

Do you know any other words for “old” or “man”? What do you think about The Hero’s Journey? Is it in one of your favorite movies or games? Let me know in the comments below!

10 Comments

  • Radu

    Maybe someone could explain sth. Words hurt more nowadays than in the past. The word „old man”, in English, is equal to „batran” (bătrân) in Romanian language. „Bătrân” comes from the Latin „betranus” = Roman veteran who served in the Roman army. But today, to be an old man, to call someone who is old „bătrân” (in Romanian society) can be hurtful. To call someone „bătrân” today almost means fo some of us to disconsider that man, to portrait that man as feeble, ill, mean, even. So, „bătrân” lost its ancient powers – wisdom and experience (we, in the past, had a syntagm like the old man council). Words reflect our thinking, it is said. What about Japanese (where the respect for old generation is sacred), or other cultures?

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah I mean, I guess it kind of depends on how you approach it. In Japanese there are ways of calling someone “old” that could be considered disrespectful, just like calling someone a “geezer” in English isn’t very nice.

      But if you’re just describing someone as old, then it’s not really a bad thing.

      Japan in particular is a country where respect for others who are your senior (in age, experience, class, etc.) is a very big deal. So being an older person isn’t a bad thing.

      In America there is a bigger stigma against older generations, so I guess it’s primarily a culture thing.

  • anon

    although 古い does mean old, isn’t it meant to describe inanimate objects and not people?
    therefore saying 古い男 is somewhat rude?

    • Nick Hoyt

      You know what, you are absolutely correct! That was a mistake on my part. Thanks for the correction.

      Probably should stick to 老人 when talking about others and 年を取っている when talking talking about yourself.

  • Helen

    Hey Nick, great post! Super informative. I never thought about how many ways we can describe the same thing in English. Crazy! It makes my hardships with learning new language feel a little more reasonable. Learning a new language is hard!!! Thanks for making your post informative AND fun. That’s a rare commodity in the language learning atmosphere. I know from learning American Sign Language that without repetition and exposure to the language and the desire or need to use it, conquering a new language is near impossible. Making it fun is the best way to immerse yourself. Thanks again.

    xx

    Helen

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Helen, you’re very welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Learning a language can definitely be hard for the reasons you mentioned. It’s one of those skills like learning how to play an instrument where you have to have a good method of approaching it, and then you gotta work on it each day. 

      At some point it feels like someone flipped a switch in your brain and everything just seems to work smoothly and make sense. But unfortunately a lot of people get discouraged and give up before they manage to get to that point. Motivation and discipline are key! 

  • Craig

    Watashi no nihongo ga tottemo heta! My Japanese is terrible! I haven’t studied in years, but recently I decided to get back into it and ran across your site. I love all of your posts and you’ve got a great method for providing a breakdown of how Japanese works. I had never really heard of the Hero’s Journey before, but I have read plenty of Manga and watched a lot of Anime, and you’re absolutely right, this is a theme that occurs over and over again. I hadn’t really noticed it before, but now that you call it out it is in over half of the stories I have read I think! How funny. Thanks for pulling all this information together, and please keep up the good work!

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Craig! That’s awesome that you’re getting back into learning Japanese! Hopefully you can find some useful things on the site. And yeah, it’s pretty crazy just how often The Hero’s Journey pops up!

  • Manika- Nia Dixon

    Brilliant post here, so helpful! I just recently left Tokyo and the whole time that I was there I was wishing that I could say more things! Your site is so helpful and I’ll be brushing up each day before I return next some time this year. How long did it take for you to be fluent or have you spoke Japanese since you could speak?

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Manika! That’s pretty dang cool that you were just visiting Tokyo recently! It took me a couple of years to learn it myself. Mostly because I bounced around from book to book and course to course when I began. I didn’t have a lot of direction since I was going it alone. But things changed rapidly once I got serious about it and laid out a plan that I actually stuck to!

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