What is Oniichan, Otouto and Kyoudai? [Definition, Meaning]

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It is time for another lesson of otaku culture, everyone! Sit down, take out your notebooks and pens, and pay attention! Ok, just kidding :p Here in Honey’s Anime, we try to solve all your little existential doubts about the world of anime. It happens often that you hear some words in Japanese that don’t make sense. The more you hear them, the more you want to know what they mean. Such is the case of that “Onii-chaaaaan!” that we listen from the lips of female characters usually.

But first things first! Let us remember that Japanese society is hierarchical. It also keeps a close watch on traditions, because that is the way Japan has been able to survive and be remembered as one of the most popular nations in the world. So, both hierarchy and tradition are kept in the sacred space of the family home. For the Japanese, it is important to have a male successor who will have several main duties: contribute to the perpetration of the family, become the head of the household, and take care of his parents after their retirement. That is why the nourishment and education of the male offspring is still an important thing to do. But even in the case where there is more than one boy in the family, there is a hierarchy between them. And that is when we hear those strange and funny names for each one of those brothers. The hierarchy also means that expectations of the role of each member of the family are different. So, want to know a little bit more about three of the terms used for brothers and which are their family roles? Let’s go!

What is Onii-chan?

Actually, Onii-chan is a variant of the word “Onii-san”. The first part (pronounced “O nii” or sometimes “Ani”) is written like this in Japanese [兄]. The meaning of the kanji is “older brother” or “head of a clan/region”... which is a good way to remind us that the older brother is expected to become the head of the family. This also means that the big brother will be responsible for being “the face” of the clan. He will have to be full of virtues and be an example for the other brothers and sisters. So, in ideal conditions, he will also be protective of the little ones. Nevertheless, the kanji can mean “young man” or “skilled craftsman”as well. Sometimes all these requirements are too much for the big brother, so he chooses to have a certain distance from the smaller siblings… which does not mean that he does not care for them. The big brother simply needs his own space.

But we are talking about the familiar context here, so… what happens when we add -san or -chan? Well, if you remember the content of one of our previous articles, -san is used in more respectful situations. The case of -chan is different, though, because it expresses endearment and closeness with a person. Thus, Onii-chan is used as a way to refer to your older brother when you love him very much, or simply are close to him.

Oniichan dakedo Ai Sae Areba Kankeinai yo ne! (As Long as There is Love, It Doesn't Matter If He Is My Brother, Right?)

  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: Oct 5, 2012 - Dec 21, 2012

What happens when you have had a wonderful relationship with your brother since your childhood days but, unfortunately, difficult circumstances of life split you two up? This is the case between siblings Akito and Akiko Himenokouji, a brother and a sister who lost their parents when they were young. Since they lost their parents, Akito and Akiko were sent to live with different foster families. But now, after 6 very long years, they finally will be able to move in together and attend the same school. Akiko is absolutely happy to be the center of her beloved brother’s attention again, but a lot of girls (who find Akito attractive) will try to get in Akiko’s way. What will Akiko do to keep Akito to herself? Will she succeed? You will just have to watch this anime to see if Akiko manages 🙂

We can notice that Akiko is a bit of a fan of her brother, cheering and even blushing every time she is with him. She is also jealous when another beautiful girl plans to “steal” him away. It looks like the time they spent apart was irrelevant, at least for Akiko. So naturally, she calls Akito “Onii-chan”. This shows her respect towards him, her support, but also her deep affection.

What is Otouto?

In the case of the term “otouto”, we only have one pronunciation for this kanji, which is written [弟]. Its meaning in the family context is “younger brother”. Sometimes the ideogram can mean “pupil” or “apprentice” too. That is why you will also find this kanji in the context of school.

Otouto in anime usually are the cutest characters ever! While the Onii-chan can be a teaser or a little mean (taking advantage of his size and/or age), otouto usually are sweet and innocent. Let us remember some legendary small brothers like Alphonse Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist or Takeru Takaishi from Digimon Adventure. Don’t tell me they are not cool! On the other hand, in the world of anime we can also have a small brother that is too dependent on older people, bratty and insecure. The small brother can also become violent! So guess who has to deal with him most of the time? The poor old brother or sister (je, je), as we will review in the following example.

Lily to Kaeru to (Otouto) (Lily, Frogs, and Little Brother)

  • Episodes: 1
  • Aired: Aug 20, 2006

This is the story of Lily, a normal girl who is tired of watching her parents fight. One day, during a visit to an amusement park, Lily is called to a magical realm where the Frog King will grant her a wish. But a strange man in a suit falls from the sky, claiming he is Lily’s otouto! Together, they will have to find a way out of that strange world before the Frog King’s offspring finish their metamorphosis.

This is an enchanting short animation which reminds us a little of Studio Ghibli’s storylines. Thus, the relationship between Lily and her unborn otouto could not be more natural. Although he is portrayed as a full adult, he respects her and worries about her. Lily at first is reluctant to believe he will be her brother, but as they face several obstacles together, she eventually bonds with him and even calls him otouto. Nothing better than anime to portray stories about brother and sister for the entire family 🙂

What is Kyodai?

This Japanese word is written [兄弟]. Surely you can guess its meaning? Yes, it is the term for brothers. Although sometimes, Kyodai can be used with the political family. Well, only in the case that you get well with your sister’s husband, that is.

The word “Kyodai” also means “mate” or “friend”. Simply speaking, Japanese also use the “bro” expression occasionally. Just remember that Kyodai is used in the case of male offspring. There are other words for the case of girls, but that is a topic for another article 🙂

Uchuu kyodai (Space brothers)

  • Episodes: 99
  • Aired: Apr 1, 2012 to Mar 22, 2014

This is a heart warming story about two brothers. After watching what they think is a UFO crossing the night sky, they promise to become astronauts. Ah, but childhood dreams rarely turn out as expected! Fast forward to adulthood, and we find Nanba (the onii-san) in a boring company job. Meanwhile, Hibito (the otouto), is expected to become the first Japanese astronaut to set a foot in the moon. Nevertheless, Nanba receives a chance to join the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency. Will he be able to catch up with his Otouto? You will have to watch this gorgeous space opera to find out!

Here we can see the interesting interaction between the male brothers. There is a certain tension, as it is expected that Nanba does better in life than his otouto (remember the family traditions we have talked about!). Nevertheless, there is also a strong bond between him and Hibito. They are pursuing their childhood dreams afterall! So, if you want to grasp how is to have a brother in Japan, look no further than Uchuu no kyoudai.

Closing statement

And there you go! Three more Japanese words for your vocabulary. Remember that we are talking about an ancient language and an ancient writing system, inherited from China. A lot of Japanese terms have stories behind them. It is interesting to discover a few, right? In that way, we can understand anime a little bit better.

So, it is time for questions. Which other animes about brothers do you like? Don’t forget we are open to all your comments and suggestions. See you soon!

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Author: Sakura_Moonprincess

Writing about anime by Moonlight. Swift as a coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon, with all the strength of a raging fire, mysterious as the dark side of the Moon.

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