Japanese

What Does “Kun” Mean In Japanese?

The Japanese word “kun” can be used with boys, girls, and kanji in Japanese. Why does this word have such a broad range of applications? What does kun mean in Japanese?

That’s the topic for today and we will dive right in with explanations, examples, and some discussion.

The first thing to do is spell it in hiragana as くん (kun). Having said that, we’re actually going to be using the kanji spelling of it for the most of this lesson, so look forward to learning a couple new ones. 

Let’s begin!

Using Kun With Boys

In order to talk about the Japanese word くん, I’ll have to talk about another word first and then come back to it. 

You may have read that it’s common to attached the honorific word さん (san) to the ends of people’s names in Japanese as a sign of respect and politeness.

It’s kind of like saying “Mr.” or “Mrs.” before someone’s name in English.

  • こんばんは、鈴木さん。
  • konban-wa, suzuki san.
  • Good evening, Mr. Suzuki.

That’s where the word くん comes back into play. 

This word is also attached to the end’s of people’s names (just like さん) to show respect, but it doesn’t get translated into English as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” like さん does because くん is not as strong or as formal as さん.

The Japanese word くん is often attached to the end of a boy’s name when the speaker is familiar with them and is either speaking directly to them, or about them.

This could be guys who are equal age and status to one another, it could be used by a girl who is talking about a boy that she’s on friendly terms with, or it could be from a teacher talking to his male students.

This last example brings up a second point about the word くん. In addition to showing respect, it also helps to identify the type of relationship that the speaker has (or feel that they have) with the listener. 

This word is often used from people in a superior position when they are talking to, or about, someone in an inferior position.

A great example would be the boss at work and his relationship with the men who report to him. Not only is the boss in a higher position as far as work is related, but the boss is (usually) older which is also seen as a higher social position.

So that’s the first way to understand くん: it’s attached to boy’s names to show some respect and is often used from people in a higher social position towards someone in a lower social position.

By the way, it’s actually more common to see it written in kanji as 君 (kun) rather than in hiragana like I’ve been doing so far.

On a side note, the kanji 君 can also be read as “kimi” when it’s used as a pronoun.

  • どうしたの、花井君?
  • doushita no, hanai kun?
  • What’s wrong, Hanai?

Using Kun With Girls

Despite 君 primarily being used with boys, there are also situations where it gets added on to the end of a girl’s name.

Usually it is from an older male talking to or about a younger female.

One situation is just like we’ve been talking about earlier, where the boss of a company, or a department within a company, is talking about one of the younger women who works under him.

This is probably the most common, but there is another that I’ve seen every now and then.

The second situation is also from an older male to a younger female, but the relationship is when the guy has friendly feelings, and perhaps romantic ones as well, towards a girl who is still seen as a young adult in that late teens to early twenties range.

It’s definitely more common to see さん used for woman rather than 君, but you’ll still run into it every now and then.

Using Kun With Kanji

As many of you probably know, kanji can have a lot of different readings and meanings. 

I know… learning them all is rough!

But when it comes specifically to the multiple readings of kanji, there are two categories that they get divided into:

  1. Japanese reading
  2. Chinese reading

The name for the Japanese reading is 訓読み (kun yomi) and herein lies the next usage for today’s word.

FYI, the name for the Chinese reading is 音読み (on yomi) and they are usually represented in katakana, while the 訓読み are written in hiragana.

So anytime you are looking up the meaning of kanji, which you can on jisho.org, you will see the different ways to pronounce said kanji and the “kun” ones represent how you would say those words in the original Japanese language.

Other Words For Kun

There are a couple of other Japanese words that are read as くん and I wanted to go over them while we were on this topic.

The first one is 勲 (kun) which means “merit” and is generally used when talking about an “order of merit” which a person might use in the title of their name. 

For example, I’m currently reading the second Harry Potter book in Japanese and one of the characters, Gilderoy Lockhart, is has the rank of Third Class within the Order of Merlin. 

The “Third Class” part is written in Japanese as 勲三等 (kun san tou).

So as you can see from this, the word 勲 doesn’t actually translate into any English words, but rather is just used to denote the merit.

The other word is 薫 (kun) which means “pleasant smell” and is generally used in combination with another kanji to form words such as the following:

  • 薫香 (kunkou) incense
  • 薫製 (kunsei) smoked food
  • 薫風 (kunpuu) balmy breeze

Where Have You Seen くん Before?

That’s all I’ve got for today’s lesson on “kun” in Japanese.

If you’ve got any questions, please let me know down below.

If you’ve seen くん used somewhere before that I didn’t cover, please feel free to leave a comment and let me know. 

Thanks! 

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