You probably recognize the kanji for woman/female, 女, but how do you say ‘girl’ in Japanese?
There are several words for ‘girl’ in Japanese and many of you know that this is because Japanese has formal and informal ways of describing people.
For example, even though the kanji just mentioned for ‘woman’ is onna / 女, it’s quite rude to use this term in conversation. A more appropriate word would be josei / 女性 or onna no hito / 女の人.
Many words for ‘girl’ in Japanese are compound words which feature the same kanji for woman/female, 女, but there are a few which use completely different characters.
Here we will go over the most common ways to say girl in Japanese and in which context they are used.
If you need to use the word ‘girl’ in everyday conversation, joshi would be the best way. Joshi / 女子 features two kanji:
- 女: meaning woman, women, female
- 子: meaning child (you may recognize it from the word kodomo / 子供: children)
As the kanji suggests, joshi literally translates to ‘female child’ and is the noun for ‘girl’ in Japanese. Nouns in Japanese do not distinguish singular and plural, so you can use joshi to refer to a ‘girl’ or ‘girls’, depending on the context.
Kono kurasu ni joshi wa juugo nin iru.
この くらす に じょし は じゅうご にん いる。
There are 15 girls in this class.
When used as a plural to refer to more than one girl, joshi can also be used for women in general (and not just young women) for example:
Kono kaisha wa joshi no juugyouin ga ooi.
There are a lot of female employees in this company.
When referring to an individual female, however, joshi means a girl.
Unlike the next word on the list, joshi cannot be used for babies.
Onna no ko
Girl (Baby to teens)
Onna no ko / 女の子 features the exact same kanji as joshi / 女子 with the addition of the no / の particle in between.
This gives onna no ko a slightly more casual nuance but they are almost identical and can be used interchangeably.
Another difference between joshi and onna no ko is that onna no ko is used specifically to refer to baby girls too.
Onna no ko ga umareta.
A baby girl was born.
You wouldn’t say joshi ga umareta.
Young woman / girl (Roughly 7 – 18 years old)
Shoujo / 少女 features two kanji:
- 少: small, little, tiny
- 女: female/woman/women
Shoujo literally translates to ‘small woman’ but means ‘young woman’, and is a polite and formal way to refer to girls. When people use the word shoujo they are usually referring to the age of adolescence (teenagers) but can be used for females between the ages of 7 and 18.
Shoujo is more of a literary word and is not used often in daily conversation like onna no ko and joshi. In formal written language like in news articles, you may see the word shoujo / 少女 being used instead:
Jyuusan sai shoujo shissou.
The disappearance of a 13 year old girl.
You may have seen shoujo / 少女 used to refer to manga targeted at a teen female audience known as shoujo manga / 少女漫画. Even though the term is used for a specific age group, shoujo manga can be read by women (and men) of any age!
Gaaru (ガール) is the foreign loan word in Japanese borrowed directly from the English ‘girl’ but with Japanese pronunciation using katakana.
Gaaru is a casual word. It’s most often used to facilitate communication, for example when a Japanese native speaker wants to say the word ‘girl’ to an English speaker or non-Japanese person.
Gaaru is not to be confused with the similar sounding word gyaru (ギャル) which is a slang word meaning ‘gal’ or ‘gurl’ and refers to a Japanese fashion subculture which started in the 1970s.
Ojousama / ojousan
お嬢様 / お嬢さん
The word ojou actually means ‘someone else’s daughter’ in Japanese but the words ojousama and ojousan are respectful ways to refer to a girl, similar to saying ‘a young lady’ in English.
They are honorific terms but also sound more distant, and are used in situations where the speaker wants to show respect, whether it’s because of their age or social distance.
Ojousama and ojousan are part of formal Japanese language known as keigo because of the honorific prefix O / お and suffixes sama / 様 and san / さん as in o-jou-sama and o-jou-san.
What’s the difference between them? They are both polite, but Ojousama is the honorific form. Using these words would mean you consider the girl you are talking to of a high-status (perhaps higher than yourself) which is why they sometimes give the impression of a wealthy or esteemed girl.
For example, from an older woman towards someone else’s daughter:
Ojou sama no doresu ga hanayaka desu ne.
The young lady’s dress is gorgeous.
In anime, ojousama and ojousan are typically used to address wealthy, high-class female characters.
Ojouchan / Jouchan
お嬢ちゃん / 嬢ちゃん
An affectionate yet respectful way to address a girl is ojouchan. As you can see, it shares the the same kanji for jou in ojousama/ojousan （嬢）but the use of the honorific suffix chan / ちゃん instead of sama or san immediately softens the nuance.
Though ojouchan sounds a little old-fashioned and is not common, it is used by an older person to address a young girl in a distant yet respectful way.
Situations where ojouchan might be used is between strangers to show a friendly distance. For example, if an elderly man saw a little girl and her mother walking together on the street and the little girl dropped something, he might pick it up and say:
Ojouchan ga kore wo otoshita.
The little lady dropped this.
Girl in Japanese
As you can see, there are many different words for girl in Japanese! Although it might seem overwhelming at first, you will see that many of these words have the same roots. Learning kanji will help with this.
If you want to learn more useful, everyday Japanese, we recommend the free lessons over at JapanesePod101. Join for free here!
Francesca is a freelance copywriter and teacher, who moved to Tokyo from New Zealand at age 24. A linguistics and ESL major, she spent 3 years teaching at an all-boys high school. Now based in France, she remains a self-confessed Japanophile who loves kanji, cooking, cats and the outdoors.