Gender- and Age-related Constraints in Japanese Politeness Marking: A Statistical Analysis of the Tokyo Story Characters’ Usage of Keigo

  • Albéric Derible Associate Professor at the University of Tokyo, Japan
Keywords: Japanese honorifics, Politeness markers, Statistics, Sociological factors


This quantitative study explores the relationship between three sociological factors (age, gender and possible in-law relationship) and the use of Japanese honorifics (keigo). Statistical analyses are conducted on the occurrence of Japanese politeness markers found in the script of the movie Tokyo Story directed by Yasujiro Ozu in 1953. Results notably confirm the highly significant correlation between age, gender and the use of keigo, women and younger speakers using consistently more politeness markers than men and older speakers, even though Japanese polite speech does not seem to reflect the order of magnitude derived from the age difference numeric value but only the acknowledgement of one interactant’s seniority.

The study also delves into the distinction between the mere presence of keigo in discourse and its intensity of use in actual speech (i.e. number of politeness markers), revealing complex relationships. For example, same-sex dyads exhibit different patterns of politeness, with men-to-men politeness associated more with the former and women-to-women politeness more with the latter. The interplay between age and gender in keigo use seems to defy systematic rules, highlighting the importance of considering unique gender- and age-based pairings, in other words: distinct categories of address styles that are both interrelated and individual.


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