As reported, I had a great time yesterday with my quilting friends, Mrs. Furui, Mrs. Harada, Mrs. Ochiai, Mrs. Suga, Mrs. Yamaguchi. Don't you think it strange that I refer to them by the title Mrs. and their last name? Sometimes I do.
I've known most of these ladies for 15 years or more. (Met all of them when our kids were in kindergarten.) I consider them some of my best friends. Yet, with the exception of Mrs. Suga, I rarely call any of them by their first names and have to think even now to recall them. With other friends too, I use last names though I have one English class where both first and last names are used. I don't know why we differenciate. All of my friends, neighbors, aquaintances call me Tanya. The only reason why I can think that we call Mrs. Suga by her first name sometimes is because she has relatives she visits in the States. Seems an odd reason...
The title Mr. or Mrs. or Miss or Ms. seems so formal to me. If I were in the States, I'd be using those titles with my mother's friends! But in Japan using last names and the proper title is the norm. The term most commonly used is san. Watanabe-san. This title is used for men and women regardless of their marital status. In very formal Japanese and on printed matter the title is sama. Watanabe-sama. For children, girls have the title chan added to their first name or a nickname and boys have the title kun. I have heard the term kun used for adults too when a person is obviously of lower rank, for example a company manager might add the title kun to an office worker, male or female. Is this getting confusing?
Another interesting thing about names in Japan is that even within a family, names are not always used. The youngest child will be called by name, but all the other children will be referred to as big-brother or big sister. I had a missionary friend for whom this custom really infuriated! "The poor kids don't even have names!" But I think this custom unconsciously instills responsibility or obligation in the older children for the younger children.
I don't often hear husbands and wives referring to each other by name either. The wife will sometimes talk about her husband using only their last name without a respectful title. And maybe the most common is just to call the husband "Papa" like all the kids do. It's a big joke that husbands just call their wives "Hey!"
In my own family Tetsu and I call each other by our first names. (I'm such a bad Japanese wife I don't even put on the respectful title like I'm supposed to.) He is just Tetsu. Tetsu usually calls me by my nickname and puts a chan at the end. (Like a child?) We never adopted the custom of calling the kids by rank and they were just Takumi and Leiya. (Takumi was cheated out of the respectful title too!)
As an aside, Takumi stopped calling Tetsu, Dad, sometime at the end of elementary school. He became Tetsu-san. And a year or so later I became Tanya-san. In due course Leiya too began referring to us as Tetsu-san and Tanya-san. This causes a lot of raised eyebrows both in Japan and with my American family. "You shouldn't let your kids call you by your first name!" But Tetsu and I don't mind and I tell people at least my kids put the respectful title on at the end!