What Does “Sama” Mean in Japanese?

Have you ever watched a Japanese show or an anime and heard the word “sama” used before? It was probably attached to the end of a person’s name, but the subtitles didn’t help explain it at all. What does sama mean in Japanese?

That’s what I’ll be covering in today’s lesson.

The first section will cover the most common meaning of sama in Japanese, but then I’d like to continue on and talk about some other meanings that are possible with sama.

Let’s begin!

When It’s Attached To Names

The Japanese word “sama” is usually spelled in kanji as 様 and is typically seen at the end of a person’s name when they are being address in an extremely polite way.

For example, if your company’s most important customer arrived for a meeting, you would probably hear the receptionist use this word when informing you of their arrival.

  • 田中様いらっしゃいました。
  • tanaka sama irasshaimashita.
  • Mr. Takana has arrived.

In situations like this, the 様 functions similarly to the English “Mr.” or “Mrs.” and so on. It’s added to the person’s name for politeness and respect.

This is similar to how the word さん (san) works in Japanese, but the difference is that 様 is much more formal and is generally only used when address people who are way higher than you in status.

So the business to customer relationship is a great example because in Japan “the customer is god.”

This is why the Japanese word for customer 客 (kyaku) is nearly always spelled as お客様 (o kyaku sama) with both the polite お (o) added before the word and 様 at the end.

If you walk into a Japanese store, the clerk or salesman will most likely address you as お客様 when they ask you if there’s anything you need help with.

Another example is when Japanese people talk to, or about a god. They will use the word 神様 (kami sama) which takes the word 神 (kami) for “god” and then they add on 様 to it for respect.

You’ll also see it added to the titles of high ranking people, such as a king 王様 (ou sama).

As a final note for this section, the word 様 is used in letters when addressing the recipient.

When It’s Attached To Phrases

There are lots of phrases in Japanese that people use at set times to express different things. Quite a few of these phrases involve the word 様 so let’s cover them now.

The first one is ご苦労様でした (go kurou sama deshita) and it is used to thank people for their hard work. This phrase is usually said after people are done working for the day and are about to head home.

Usually it’s a phrase that people say at work, but you might also hear it at school when a group of students complete a project such as setting up the gym for a dance or something.

The word 苦労 (kurou) has several meanings, but one of them is labor. So this phrase is acknowledging the hard work of others and thanking them for it.

As you will see in most of these phrases, a polite ご (go) or お is always added to the front. Also, the phrase usually ends in でした (deshita) which is the past-tense form of the word “to be” in Japanese.

That being said, it’s not uncommon to omit the でした part when speaking casually with your equals (co-workers, classmates, etc.).

The next phrase is very similar to the first. It is お疲れ様でした (o tsukare sama deshita) and is also used to thank people for their hard work.

This time the phrase centers around the word 疲れ (tsukare) which means “tiredness” in Japanese. So in this case it’s used to thank people for working so hard that they became tired.

These last two phrases are related to one another and are both used at meal time.

Once you are finished eating your meal, you say ご馳走様でした (go chisou sama deshita) which literally means “it was a feast” but basically just means “thank you for the meal” and is directed towards the person who made the food.

Then what they generally say is お粗末様でした (o somatsu sama deshita) which is just a set phrase that expresses humility from the person who provided the meal.

You might think of it as a way to say “it’s no bid deal” or “you’re welcome” after someone thanks the cook.

That’s all for this section on phrases. In these situations, the word 様 doesn’t actually mean anything specific, it’s just added for politeness.

When It’s Alone

When the word 様 isn’t attached to a name or a part of a set phrase, it can actually mean “state; situation; appearance”.

This usage is most commonly seen in Japanese dictionary entries when describing certain words.

For example, in the definition for the word 可愛い (kawaii) which means “cute” in English, we can see 様 at the very end.

  • 小さいもの、弱いものなどに心引かれる気持ちをいだくさま。

What you’ll notice is that “sama” is spelled in hiragana as さま which is pretty common for dictionary entries which typically use the word to say “the state of…” for whatever they’re describing.

When It’s Repeated

A common word that you may have seen before is 様々 (sama zama) which is the 様 word repeated once.

The 々 kanji means “a repeat of the kanji that came before it.” So instead of writing 様様, it’s just written as 様々 but the meaning is exactly the same.

This word means “various” and is generally used as a na-adjective to say that there are a lot of different things such as the following examples.

  • 様々な人 (sama zama na hito) = various people
  • 様々な原因 (sama zama na genin) = multiple causes
  • 様々な理由 (sama zama na riyuu) = varied reasons

お疲れ様! Thanks For Reading!

Now you know what the word sama means in Japanese. You know how it’s spelled, and many of its most common uses.

If there’s anything that didn’t make sense, or if you would just like to ask a question, then please feel free to do so in the box below.

Thanks!

4 thoughts on “What Does “Sama” Mean in Japanese?”

  1. Konnichawa Nick san,
    Very interesting and thanks for the info. Should I have used sama there instead of san since I have never met you? A friend of mine lives in Yokohama and he always addresses me as Craig san. It always makes me feel good, I just love this language. I’m assuming you also live in Japan? It’s on my bucket list and not too far from me in Malaysia.
    Best, Craig.

    Reply
    • Haha, konnichiwa Craig san! No need to use sama with me unless we were meeting in some sort of super formal setting. As an American, I also think it’s pretty cool to use the honorific name suffixes with people like san, sama, chan, kun, and so on. To me, it sounds way cooler than our typical Mr. in English!

      Reply
  2. wow this so amazing for i have never differentiate the tone and the language to use when having communication with my boss or my colleague in general of that have me ruined my reputation toward my boss in some cases
    and with this information provided i have found it more useful and real helping

    thanks for the information provide
    cheers
    Jose

    Reply

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