Finally after three years of writing stories set in Japan, I feel like I’m getting the hang of honorifics, the suffixes used after names. Admittedly, in past books, I’ve made some errors. I’ve used -san where I should have used -kun or nothing, and other such mistakes that make me cringe.
You maybe wondering the relevance of the photo of the little boy. Other than the fact that he’s so cute, the title of the picture is Tomohito-kun, -kun being a suffix used by older people when addressing a younger male.
Perhaps the most important thing about the suffixes is their subtlety. Although there are basic guidelines for the use of each suffix, these honorifics are also incredibly subtle. I’ve found that when I’m not sure which one to use, I just need to take a moment and feel my way into the characters, feel in my heart their relationship to each other and then the appropriate honorific comes to mind. Now, working on Beautiful Samurai, Old Ghosts, when I re-read what I’m currently writing, I feel there is a much more natural flow to the language and that the way they address each other is basically appropriate.
One thing I’ve also read about the use of honorifics and which takes away the sense of rigidity I had when using them in previous novels is the fact that they’re often fluid. A person addressing another may use one honorific that is appropriate to their relationship in one context and then use a different one in another context. Bearing that in mind, I have a much easier time understanding how to use these suffixes and I’ve found that they are a beautiful and very refined way of addressing another human being.