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Guessing a Japanese person's age? 2009/8/21 16:18
What prompted me to ask this question is I just got to know a Japanese woman whom I thought is around 25 so I addressed her by her first name (as I am 24). Well.. I just found out that she's nearly 31! Good thing she was cool with me misguessing her age and calling her by her first name.

I am bad at guessing Japanese peoples ages. How do you tell if a Japanese person is closer to 25 or 30? A friend of mine suggested to pay attention to their eyes, which is a good suggestion but I still misguess their ages.
by Suzy (guest)  

you don't have to use the family name 2009/8/21 17:26
A 31 year old is not going to be in any way offended if a 24 year old non-Japanese calls them by their first (i.e. not family) name- you are worrying too much about this! I have friends who are ten years or more older than me and who I call by their first names.

Younger Japanese people (i.e. under 40 and as long as it's not at work) often call each other by their first names as well even if there is an age difference- whatever rule you might have heard, it is not always followed here.

If you use the family name plus -san then some people may feel you are keeping your distance and don't want to be friendly with them- it is too formal.

Ask the person what they would like to be called, and go with that.
by Sira (guest) rate this post as useful

English and Japanese 2009/8/21 22:03
A 31 year old is not going to be in any way offended if a 24 year old non-Japanese calls them by their first name _speaking in English_, but if the 24 year old is speaking in Japanese and calls her by her first name, that would sound quite weird and can be offending!

If you're speaking in Japanese, stick with "(family name)-san" no matter how young that person is, until that person gives you other options. If the person is clearly a teenage or younger male, you can call him "(family name) -kun" but there's no reason you can't call him "-san".

Age is often difficult to tell no matter what race you or the other persons are, especially if the age difference is less than 6 years or so.

That said, just call him/her whatever way everybody else calls him/her and put a -san at the end if you're speaking in Japanese. You can often go on for ages not knowing what age your friend is.
by Uco (guest) rate this post as useful

. 2009/8/22 00:10
I don't think many 30 year olds will get offended if a 25 year old person called them by their first name.

As mentioned age is difficult to tell no matter what person, race, sex etc you are. Some people just look younger and some people just look older then their actual age. People keep thinking I'm older then I actually am.
by ExpressTrain (guest) rate this post as useful

wrinkles 2009/8/22 00:14
I agree with what you have already mentioned, i.e. the eyes. I think you already know that when a 25 yr old smiles, there are usually no obvious wrinkles, whereas there would be a few obvious ones when a 30 yr old smiles. If you pay closer attention, most people in their early 30s are starting to have crow's feet (the wrinkles to the sides of the eyes), but not that obvious unless they are smiling. By 40, the crow's feet are usually obvious.

I often get fooled by Japanese women's ages too! They are usually in excellent shape that they look 5-10 years younger!
by . (guest) rate this post as useful

not in my experience 2009/8/22 08:38
Uco san, do you really think that the average 31-year-old Japanese person is going to be offended if a 24-year-old foreigner who is newly arrived in Japan calls them by their first name while trying to speak Japanese? That doesn't fit with my experience here at all.

I must have really open-minded Japanese friends and acquaintances then, because many of them even call each other by their first names, as do I when speaking Japanese to them, even with a large age gap involved.
by Sira (guest) rate this post as useful

Bit OT: how to call each other 2009/8/22 10:59
Sira-san, I would never openly point out any non-Japanese person's cultural mistakes at our first meeting, but I have to say that sometimes I am indeed "stunned".

Also you have a point about open-mindedness, because people who would speak to non-Japanese people try to keep themselves open-minded, while those who irresponsibly couch-potato in front of the TV are less so. For example, I know some people who are offended by the way some famous Americans come to Japan and sit in a way that is considered rude in Japan. They'd say in front of the TV, "They can do it in their own country, but not here." They probably wouldn't say it to them right in the face, though.

But what I meant was this: Say a person is fresh from his/her country and only knows basic Japanese such as greetings. I wouldn't expect that person to know how to call people in the Japanese way, so first names or no -san or whatever, that doesn't really bother me. But say, the person is fluent in Japanese. It doesn't matter if the person has just arrived to Japan or not, as long as (s)he is fluent in the language, I naturally expect her/him to know the culture as well, ie how to handle names. This has happened to me the other way around. I speak accent-less American English, but I hadn't really visited the U.S. for a long time and wasn't used to the tipping system that differs from say England. I ended up clearly offending a waiter.

And as I mentioned previously, if the whole group is speaking in first name basis, it's just natural to follow suit. First names itself is not a problem. But for example if someone says to you "Hajimemashite. Aya desu." or "Kono ko wa Emi tte iuno. Yoroshiku." a Japanese would typically call them by starting with "Aya-san/Emi-san" and then gradually move on to omitting the -san as they become closer. They wouldn't go ahead and say "Hajimemashite, Aya." from the very beginning unless you're some kid in a nightclub.

So again, I'm just saying that it's weird or you'd be a bit bothered to hear someone speaking satisfactory Japanese and then suddenly showing this odd spot that is very foreign. But usually you'd think, oh well (s)he is non-Japanese. For example, we had someone in the forum named Karen, but insisted in spelling her name "kyarin" because it bothered her to hear Japanese people pronouncing her name the wrong way. She knew they couldn't help it, but still you can't help her being bothered. Something like that.
by Uco (guest) rate this post as useful

names 2009/8/22 11:08
Fair enough, Uco san, thanks for the explanation! Even after years in Japan I get things wrong quite often- not long ago I called a student of mine who I see often "xxxx san" (while speaking Japanese), and she objected because she said it was too formal, and that I should call her by her first name alone or xxxx chan (she is four years or so younger than me).

Even my husband says he is often uncertain what to call someone he hasn't known for long or whose age he is unsure of, so Japanese people obviously run into this kind of problem as well!
by Sira (guest) rate this post as useful

... 2009/8/22 14:30
Assuming that the conversation is held in the Japanese language, I think that guessing someone's age and using that as the sole "criteria" for whether to call a Japanese person by the first name only or with "-san" might not be the best approach. That can lead to "stunned" situation as described by Uco-san.

Thinking about all the people I talk to in Japanese, the *only* people who, when talking in Japanese, refer to me simply by my first name, or simple nickname only, are friends (regardless of age) that are really close to me and have known me for years - OK, I admit they happen to be close to myself in age, but age is not the reason/criteria that they would call me by my first name.

So whether to put "-san" or not depends on the distance, not only on seniority in terms of age. Inevitably there is (at least) a bit of distance when you get to see someone for the first time, so it is polite (and nicer) to start off with "-san," then you can see if the other person wants to be called only by first name, or by her/his nickname, or by something else :)
by AK rate this post as useful

age 2009/8/22 14:59
I speak to her in both English and Japanese. She asked me to call her by first name... so I guess I am ok on that one.

Age is important yet a little touchy subject. I don't mind getting asked my age now, but would mind once I am over 25. Not knowing someone's approximate age always gives me second thoughts on how to address that particular person and whether certain topics should be brought up. For instance if I know a person is under 25, I usually don't hesitate to ask "Are you married?" or "When do you plan to get married (or not)?" but wouldn't ask those questions if I know a woman is already 30 as these questions are often touchy when she is not yet married.

For friends a 6-7yr age difference doesn't matter. But when it comes to dating, 24 and 30-31 is a big difference (at least IMO). I personally wouldn't date someone who is 30... so this is another reason I'm interested in telling 25 from 30 apart.
by Suzy (guest) rate this post as useful

"Are you married?" 2009/8/22 15:55
I'm glad you understand, Sira, and I don't think it's that you're getting things "wrong" either.

Back to the topic, I think that the "Are you married" question is a bit touchy, too, no matter what age you are. Or should I say a bit "unneccesary".

Of course it depends on the culture, but at least when speaking in Japanese, things like age or marriage status or having children or even occupation is a "so-what" kind of topic to me. So what if you're 30, so what if you're married, so what if you're a banker or unemployed, that shouldn't change our relationships - that is the theory for me.

For example if I'm talking to a person and it so happens the topic goes into housework, I might ask "Are you married?" in hope to find something in common, and it doesn't matter if the person is 24 or 44. But otherwise, I try not to ask about age, marriage or children or occupation unless the question sounds natural within the context. Plus, if you yourself talk about your own age, marriage, children and occupation, the other party will usually reveal her/his status without me having to be the one to ask.

But again, this totally depends on the culture, because I understand that say in Korea, about the first thing you ask to a person you meet is their age, as the honorifics in their language strictly differs depending on whether you're talking to someone older or someone younger.
by Uco (guest) rate this post as useful

Hands 2009/8/23 20:16
Hands (back of) are a sure giveaway of age. Japanese ladies age exceedingly well, but check out those hands and all will be revealed...:-)
by Mo (guest) rate this post as useful

. 2009/8/23 21:07
whereas there would be a few obvious ones when a 30 yr old smiles. I

Eh the 30 year olds you know must be very different from the 30 year olds I know.
by ExpressTrain (guest) rate this post as useful

5 years not a huge age difference. 2009/8/24 08:47
Suzy, my husband is 5 years older than me and I met and started dating him when I was 27 and he was 32- not a huge difference there.

I don't think there is really a difference at all when it comes to our level of maturity. He also looks young for his age, so what's the difference between him and someone 3 years younger for example? Nothing. You might miss out on the person who is perfect for you personality-wise because he was a year or two older than the "limit" you have set- that would be a pity.

I'm getting the impression age is a big deal for you in all kinds of situations- maybe you shouldn't worry about it so much ;-) I think when you hit 30 yourself you might start to see things differently anyway- you'll realise it wasn't so old after all.
by Sira (guest) rate this post as useful

age difference 2009/8/24 10:43
so what's the difference between him and someone 3 years younger for example?

At 27, I am ok with dating someone 32 (my max is 5 years older in my 20s). But not dating someone 30 at 24. I get intimidated by someone that much my senior. I also feel more insecure about the skeletons in their wardrobe (which they have more of and are more skilled than their younger peers in regards to hiding them). I don't know, I have only dated guys within 2 yrs of my age either way so dating someone 30 is hard to imagine.

I will be more flexible the older I get though. At 60, I wouldn't mind dating someone 70.

by Suzy (guest) rate this post as useful

guessing age 2009/8/24 11:14
Not that it's really useful but when my Japanese friends and I were goofing off the way we found out each other's ages was through comparing what zodiac year we were born - you know, year of the horse, monkey, etc...they KNEW what each year equated to and once we were comparing, 'oh, year of the monkey', 'year of the boar', we knew where each other stood.
by Spendthrift (guest) rate this post as useful

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