Japanese Lesson: How to say "Me/I" in Japanese

Updated on March 29, 2018
Akbok profile image

I was born in Nagano, Japan. I moved to America when I was 2, where I received a BA from Connecticut College before returning to Japan.

Me!

Boku da yo!  (It's me!)
Boku da yo! (It's me!)

I wanted to share with you some standard ways to say "Me" or "I" in the Japanese language. Like 95% of everything in Japanese, your relative social status and your gender make for different ways to say "Me/I" depending on who you're talking to. It's a tiny bit complicated, but you have a knowledgeable guide!

A Quick List of 5 Ways to Address Yourself in Japanese

  1. Watashi
  2. Watakushi
  3. Boku
  4. Ore
  5. Atashi

#1 Watashi 私 わたし (English, Kanji, Hiragana)

If you've ever taken a Japanese class in college or elsewhere, this is probably the phrase you were taught to refer to yourself. "Watashi" is the second most polite way to refer to yourself, but it's #1 in the list because in semi-professional circles, this is used the most by both men and women. Here's the breakdown:

Watashi 私 わたし(English, Kanji, Hiragana) Table Breakdown

 
 
When to Use
In every situation where you're moderatly acquainted with the people involved.
By What Gender
Both genders in professional settings. Only women in casual settings.
Level of Politeness out of 5
4
Point of Caution
If you're a man, don't get caught using "Watashi" in a guy only grouping of friends. If you're a woman, feel free to use this even when with friends. Also, don't use it on a date with a girl.

#2 Watakushi 私 わたくし(English, Kanji, Hiragana)

Like "Watashi" above, the Kanji for "Watakushi" is the same, but it's actually read differently (don't even get me started on the wiles of Kanji). "Watakushi" is a mouthful to say when you only want to say "Me/I", and that's why it's reserved for the most polite situations (the more a pain in the butt it is, the more polite it is right?). "Watakushi" breakdown below:

Watakushi 私 わたくし (English, Kanji, Hiragana) Table Breakdown

 
 
When to Use
In corporate settings when meeting a member of another company, when still not acquainted with your own company, and during interviews.
By What Gender
Used by both genders whenever it can be used.
Level of Politeness out of 5
5
Point of Caution
Unless you want to get made fun of, I wouldn't recommend using this outside of work.

#3 Boku 僕 ぼく (English, Kanji, Hiragana)

Here's one that's a little less stuffy. "Boku" is a way to say "Me/I" used by both boys and men (unless you're my 6 year old girl cousin, who weirdly uses this). It's pretty casual and can be used in basically any situation where you're pretty well acquainted with whoever you're talking to. However, it does have a kind of "boyish" tinge to it, in that it's softer and less abrasive than its alternative (the more manly way to say "Me/I" will be explained next). Nonetheless, it's perfectly acceptable for a grown man to use this, but only with friends, family, or fairly close acquaintances. "Boku" break down:

Boku 僕 ぼく (English, Kanji, Hiragana) Table Breakdown

 
 
When to Use
When with friends, family, and fairly close acquaintances. At restaurants is ok too.
By What Gender
Men and boys only.
Level of Politeness out of 5
2.5
Points of Caution
"Boku" is good to use when you don't want to go all out polite with "Watashi", but if you want to sound gruff with your man friends, use the next "Me", "Ore".

#4 Ore 俺 おれ (English, Kanji, Hiragana)

"Ore" (pronounced Oh-ray but with the "R" in ray rolled) is the extremely casual way to say "Me/I" in Japanese and is used only by men in bars or fights. Young boys use it too when they're trying to sound more grown up and tougher than they actually are. To bring up anomalies in my family again, my 80 year old grandmother for some unknown reason uses "Ore" to refer to herself. No one in my family knows why. Ore break down below:

Ore 俺 おれ (English, Kanji, Hiragana) Table Breakdown

 
 
When to Use
Restricted solely to close friends and family. Not polite to use in restaurants or at stores.
By What Gender
Only by guys
Level of Politeness out of 5
0~1
Points of Caution
"Ore" is a very crass sounding word, and its use should really be limited to drunken male get togethers and family conversations.

#5 Atashi あたし (English, Hiragana)

"Atashi" is just a variant of "Watashi" but is much more casual and is only used by women. In groups of friends though, it's completely acceptable for girls and women to use either "watashi" or "atashi", but when in professional settings, a woman would never use "Atashi". Break down time:

Atashi あたし(English, Hiragana) Table Breakdown

 
 
When to Use
In any casual setting, restaurants, bars, and shops included. Not to be used in professional settings.
By What Gender
Girls and Women
Level of Politeness out of 5
2.5
Point of Caution
This is a female only word, and should be reserved for acquaintances and close friends only. However, there is nothing really intrinsically rude about "Atashi".

#6 Bonus Me's

To break away from the standard for my last entry, I'd like to introduce you with the 3rd person "Me" and the "Me" used in the Tsugaru area in Japan.

The 3rd Person "Me"

If you know any Japanese people with young kids, you'll probably hear them referring to themselves by their first name instead of with one of the entries above. It's usually something like this, and usually in reference to food stolen by a sibling:

"Sore wa Aya no~" (That's Aya's! *Pouty Face*)

However, this isn't limited to only young children, and every once in a while you'll hear young girls (think teens and young 20's) use this. In my opinion, it's to convey cuteness, and I personally think it to be corny but nonetheless, it's a way to say "Me". As a last note, there's nothing really wrong with using this, and if you're a girl and want to give off a "I'm cute!" aura to a guy you're flirting with, go with this.

The Tsugaru Dialect "Me", Wa (わ)

Tsugaru is a word used to refer to most of Aomori Prefecture, which is located at the northern tip of Japan's main Island and is my current temporary residence. There is a local dialect here called Tsugaru-Ben (津軽弁 つがるべん) , which just means, "Tsugaru dialect". When Tsugaru-Ben is spoken by the older folks here, even a native speaker of Japanese who isn't used to the dialect can have no idea of what is being said. The way they say "Me", however, is not that hard to pick up on. Up here, when speaking to a fellow Tsugaru-Ben speaker, you can say "Wa" (わ)to mean "Me". One simple syllable is all you need.

Sum Up

I've explained the most standard ways to say "Me" in Japanese, in addition to two bonus ones that are less standard. Depending on your region in Japan, however, the way you'll hear people (especially older folks) saying "Me" might change. If you manage to memorize the 5 ways to say "Me" in Japanese though, you'll have no problem referring to yourself no matter what prefecture you're in. Hope you liked this brief lesson about a simple but rule laden phrase in Japanese. If you're looking for the counterpart to "Me" and wish to learn how to say "You" in Japanese, check it out here.

Questions & Answers

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      • Sam Tumblin profile image

        Sam Tumblin 

        2 years ago from Eunice, La.

        Thanks for the detailed breakdown.

      • profile image

        jjajja 

        2 years ago

        your explanation is easy to understand and digest.. hehe...

        gonna try to use watakushi for this coming interview..

        thank you..

      • Hezekiah profile image

        Hezekiah 

        4 years ago from Japan

        Also, useful to note that Women often use "Ore" when referring to you as a male, replacing Anata (you). Also there are some areas in Japan were elderly women are know to use "ore" for me.

      • Akbok profile imageAUTHOR

        Akbok 

        5 years ago from Aomori prefecture, Japan

        Marie & Tina: Sorry about the overly long hiatus and lack of response to your comments. Here are the answers though!

        Marie: You would call yourself Baachan and your grandchild would also call you baachan. It's pretty common in Japanese for people to use their titles or names when referring to themselves, even at older ages. For your sentence you could say "Baachan to isshoni suwatte".

        Tina: Even girls who wouldn't be considered polite or girly by normal standards would still use "Atashi" in most cases. The girls I've talked to who weren't overly concerned with being girly have all used 'atashi' or 'watashi' so feel free to use either and still be less 'girly' :). Really it would be what comes after 'atashi' that defines how girly you are.

      • profile image

        Tina 

        5 years ago

        So... what if i were a girl who doesn't speak very politely and girlish and i wanted to refer to myself in a very informal setting? "That's/It's me!" = ?

      • profile image

        marie 

        5 years ago

        I'm half Japanese but have been out of touch w/the Japanese language. I'm looking for the proper word to use in reference to myself. I've just become a grandmother and I would like to be called grandmother in Japanese but can't remember how it was said. How would I refer to myself as grandmother to my grandchild? ex. Come sit here with 'grandmother.' Also would this word be different than the word used in refernce to the child calling me grandmother in Japanese. Hope you can get to me. thank you.

      • Akbok profile imageAUTHOR

        Akbok 

        6 years ago from Aomori prefecture, Japan

        Fawntia: I better be extra careful with these Japanese Hubs now that I know a veteran of the language is reading them :). I myself took a few classes in uni and know what you're talking about with the whole "watashi" thing. The professor wouldn't let anyone use any other form of "I" so I always thought that weird since outside of business nobody really only uses "watashi". Thanks for reading and thanks for the congrats!

        Serenityh: Yeah, I hope it's actually good advice. Good luck with everything and thanks again!

      • serenityh profile image

        serenityh 

        6 years ago from Morgantown, WV

        Thanks a lot for the advice. One of the books that I obtained has cds, so I will be listening to cds in my car. Anyway, I appreciate your advice again.

      • Fawntia profile image

        Fawntia Fowler 

        6 years ago from Portland

        I took almost 8 years of Japanese classes in the U.S., but the many ways to say "I" were never explained to me as clearly as this Hub explains it. I always just stuck with "Watashi" since I am female. Great Hub, thanks! And congratulations on the newsletter interview.

      • Akbok profile imageAUTHOR

        Akbok 

        6 years ago from Aomori prefecture, Japan

        Serenityh: Japanese is a hard language, and that assessment is without the kanji variable. Your best bet is to use it as much as possible (which unfortunately can cost you money sometimes) and of course to not be afraid to make mistakes. Watching a lot of Japanese learners over here in Japan, I`ve discovered that those who are really outgoing and speak to as many people as possible really do leave the country with a much higher level of fluency.

      • serenityh profile image

        serenityh 

        6 years ago from Morgantown, WV

        I'm learning Japanese by books and so far its been difficult. There is a lot to remember. This hub is very informative. Thank you.

      • Akbok profile imageAUTHOR

        Akbok 

        7 years ago from Aomori prefecture, Japan

        Chianti57: 27 years and most of them in Nagano means you probably know more about the area then I do then! I'm glad you feel that way about Japanese, it really is a neat language. I never get tired of learning new turns of phrases or the history behind certain kanji. Regarding sharing my Hubs...ABSOLUTELY, you couldn't do me a bigger honor. Thank you so much for reading!

      • chianti57 profile image

        chianti57 

        7 years ago from Yokohama Japan

        I've lived in Japan for 27 years...most of them in Nagano. I truly enjoyed your hubs on the Japanese language. Learning the Japanese language was definitely worth the effort. I hope you don't mind if I pass on your hub to some newbies in Japan. This tutorial will really help them out. Thanks for the great hub.

      • Akbok profile imageAUTHOR

        Akbok 

        7 years ago from Aomori prefecture, Japan

        SeriousNuts: Yeah tell me about it. I grew up speaking Japanese for half of my life, and I still have no idea what's going on most of the time. I mean, 5+ different ways to say "Me"? Give me a break Japanese :)

        Beth100: Agreed, it's nuts how much the language changes depending on your setting in Japan. Glad you liked the Hub!

        Paul Kuehn: Thanks a bunch!

        Paradise7: Yeah, Japanese is quite difficult, and there's a chance to offend someone around every corner. No one will really come down on you too hard though if you mess up something little in respect to word choice. I hear all the time that it's the subtlety and difficulty of Japanese that makes it a wonderful language, but I don't know haha. Seems like just a pain in the neck to me.

        Ruth Curley: Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed them both as they do have a practical affinity between them.

      • Ruthcurley profile image

        Ruthcurley 

        7 years ago from Bozrah, CT

        Good explanation of the subtleties of japanese language. Also, a perfect counterpart to the "How to say 'you'" article. Thanks again. You made a language lesson fun.

      • Paradise7 profile image

        Paradise7 

        7 years ago from Upstate New York

        I'm glad English doesn't quite have those complications! What a subtle language Japanese is!

      • Paul Kuehn profile image

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

        Very well written.

      • Beth100 profile image

        Beth100 

        7 years ago from Canada

        Your explanations are excellent! Language is as much a part of a society's culture as is body language, food and everything cultural. Thank you for the lessons!

      • seriousnuts profile image

        seriousnuts 

        7 years ago from Philippines

        Wow, Nihongo is a very complicated languange! But interesting. Thanks for the lesson. Now I know how to say the Japanese I/Me in many different ways!

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