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What Does SAMA Mean in Japanese? How to Use SAMA correctly

what does sama mean? japanese honorificJapanese Language Learning

The word SAMA is a Japanese honorific for superior. We don’t use it in our daily conversations with friends but use it in formal scenes or business writings. But it’s easier said than done. When should you add SAMA to the person’s name? What’s the difference between SAMA and SAN or CHAN? With this post, I’ll clear up your questions!

How to Use SAMA in Japanese

There are mainly two scenes in which we use SAMA. It’s when you call your customers and when you write documents for others. Let me explain the details!

To Customers

Service staff at stores, restaurants, and hotels use SAMA to call their customers, like “Tanaka-sama” and “Suzuki-sama.” We usually SAN instead of SAMA in hospitals and public facilities like city halls and government offices.

It’s a bit confusing. How do you distinguish them?


It’s so natural for us that I haven’t thought about that… Come to think of it, we use SAMA in any stores that offer paid services and products while we use SAN in non-profit and public facilities.

How about when you’re in an office?

Usually, we use SAN instead of SAMA at an office. In this case, we call one’s family name with SAN, like “Tanaka-san” and “Suzuki-san.” For your information, Japanese people seldom call one’s first name on business scenes!

Some people may use SAMA for their clients. But it sounds a bit exaggerated and not so common. I’ve worked at several Japanese companies and for as long as I know, it was normal to use SAN both for colleagues and clients.

In Business and Formal Writing

When writing business and formal documents, we add SAMA to an addressee. For example business email, shipping labels, and letter addresses. It’s a kind of fixed manner for formal writing, and we don’t use SAN or CHAN.

How about emails and letters to friends?

If it’s a private email and message via SNS to your close friend, you don’t need to use SAMA! If it’s postal mail, it’s a manner to add an honorific even if it’s a private letter. But it’s applied only to the addressee, and you can use a more casual expression like SAN or CHAN in the body of the letter.


I think we use SAMA for the document that may be seen by others. We don’t use it when the documents are shared with limited people.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment, and I’ll update the post!

Related Posts about Japanese Honorifics

What Does KUN Mean in Japanese?

What Does CHAN Mean in Japanese?

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