How to Say ‘I’ in Japanese

Team Japanese uses affiliate links. That means that if you purchase something through a link on this site, we may earn a commission (at no extra cost to you).
LIMITED TIME OFFER!

Click here for FREE full access to the Japanese Absolute Beginner Course by JapanesePod101. Offer available until October 31st 2021!

Chances are you already know that watashi means “I” in Japanese.

We hate to break it you but…there are more than 10 other ways to say “I”. Yikes!

We’ve decided to help you out by writing an entire article on how to say “I” in Japanese.

Just like Japanese honorifics, deciding how to say “I” depends on things such as the situation, status, gender and age of the speaker. With so many different ways to say “I”, you can bring your personality into conversations because each word has its own unique feeling.

To help you master how to say “I” in Japanese, we have included guidelines for the formality, gender and frequency of each word.

Watashi

私 / わたし

  • Formality: Formal or casual
  • Gender: Neutral
  • Frequency: Common

Watashi is the standard word for “I” so it gets the biggest explanation. It can be used by men and women of any age and in any situation.

It’s one of the first words you learn for the Japanese self-introduction known as jikoshoukai (自己紹介 / じこしょうかい). Watashi can mean both “I” and “my”.

For example:

私 / わたし as “I”

Example 1:

Hajimemashite. Watashi wa Antonio desu.

初めまして。はアントニオです

はじめまして。わたしはアントニオです。

Nice to meet you. I am Antonio.

 Example 2:

Watashi wa Italia jin desu.

はイタリア人です。

わたしはイタリアじんです。 

I am Italian.

私 / わたし as “my”

When used with no (の), the Japanese particle that shows possession, watashi means ‘my’.

Watashi no namae wa Rachel desu.

私の名前はレイチェルです。

わたしのなまえはレイチェルです。

My name is Rachel.

In everyday conversation, it’s not necessary to use watashi every time you want to say “I”. Native Japanese speakers don’t use it a lot because it can sound repetitive and people easily understand from the context when you are talking about yourself!

For example:

Kyou, watashi wa roku ji ni okimashita.

今日、は6時に起きました。

きょう、わたしはろくじにおきました。

Today, I woke up at 6.

If we remove watashi from this sentence, it has the exact same meaning.

Kyou wa roku ji ni okimashita.

今日は6時に起きました。

きょうはろくじにおきました。

Today, (I) woke up at 6.

In formal situations, it’s better to use watashi but in casual situations it’s considered feminine. For this reason, men prefer other ways of saying “I” in Japanese.

Want to learn how to read Japanese? Download your free hiragana and katakana workbook here!

Atashi

あたし

  • Formality: Casual
  • Gender: Female
  • Frequency: Common

Atashi is an informal version of watashi used by females. Atashi is only written in hiragana. It has a gentle, softer sound which is considered feminine and is commonly used among young women and girls.

Two young Japanese women laughing and chatting on a sofa with a hot drink
Young Japanese women often refer to themselves as “atashi” in casual situations.

Uchi

内 / うち

  • Formality: Very casual
  • Gender: Female / Neutral
  • Frequency: Very common

Uchi originally comes from Kansai (Osaka’s region) and is an informal way to say “I” and “My”. It’s used by women in casual chit-chat and is popular among female school students.

Normally, uchi is written in hiragana (うち) but the kanji (内) means inside. When it’s written with the character 内, it can mean my home/our company/our organization.

うち as “I”

Uchi wa saafin ga suki desu.

うちはサーフィンが好きです。

うちはサーフィンがすきです。

I like surfing.

うち as “my”

Again, with the possessive particle no (の), you can use uchi to say ‘my’.

Uchi no neko ga kawaii desu.

うちの猫が可愛いです。 

うちのねこがかわいいです。

My cat is cute.

Men can use uchi too, especially in casual conversation but in general it’s considered feminine.

Boku

僕 / ぼく

  • Formality: Informal and casual
  • Gender: Male (occasionally female)
  • Frequency: Very common

Boku is the go-to “I” and “my” word for boys and men of all ages. It’s more casual than watashi and has a mild but masculine feeling.

You could call boku “the nice guy’s word”. Even though boku is informal, men sometimes use it in the workplace. However, watashi is always the most appropriate in a formal situation.

Boku wa gakusei desu.

は学生です。

ぼくはがくせいです。

I’m a student.

Ramen wa boku no ichiban sukina tabemono desu.

ラーメンは僕の一番好きな食べ物だ。

ラーメンはぼくのいちばんすきなたべものだ。

Ramen is my favourite (number one) food.

For men in casual conversation, the choice between using boku, watashi and ore (see below) is based on one’s own personal preference.

Sometimes, girls use boku in anime and song lyrics but it’s considered an artistic use of the word.

Ore

俺 / おれ

  • Formality: Very casual
  • Gender: Male
  • Frequency: Common

Ore is the stronger and rougher brother of boku. It’s an informal way of saying “I” used by men and sometimes sounds a little heavy.

Actually, ore gets its bad reputation from the way it’s used by characters in anime where it can command authority and masculinity.

For example:

Ore wa ningen wo yameru zo!

は人間をやめるぞ!

おれはにんげんをやめるぞ!

I am done with mankind!

On the other hand, with close friends and family its very common for men to choose ore:

Ore wa butaniku ha amari suki janai.

は豚肉があまり好きじゃない。

おれはぶたにくがあまりすきじゃない。

I don’t really like pork.

Ore is not appropriate for business situations and we don’t recommend using it with strangers or people of a higher status.

young asian man in suit looking arrogant and pointing at himself
“ore” has a tougher and more masculine feel

Jibun

自分 / じぶん

  • Politeness: Formal and casual
  • Gender: Neutral
  • Frequency: Common

Jibun translates to “oneself” and has many uses. We’ll just go over how it can be used as “I” and “myself” but it’s important to note that in the Kansai region, jibun means you.

In history, jibun was the way of referring to yourself in the military and within sports teams which gives it the feeling of being less personal and part of something bigger.

Jibun is a popular choice when you want to remain neutral in how you express yourself, neither too feminine nor too masculine.

自分/じぶん as “I”

Jibun wa shai desu ne.

自分はシャイですね。

じぶんはシャイですね。

I’m shy / I’m quite shy.

 

Jibun wa kaigai he itta koto nai.

自分は海外へ行ったことない。

じぶんはかいがいへいったことない。

I have never been abroad.

You can also use jibun + de (自分で)to say “myself” or “by myself”

Jibun de tsukurimashita.

自分で作りました。

じぶんでつくりました。

I made it myself.

Watakushi

私 / わたくし

  • Formality: Very formal
  • Gender: Neutral
  • Frequency: Uncommon

Watakushi is the most polite way of saying “I” and is written with the same kanji character (私) as watashi.

Watakushi is rarely used except for speeches, official announcements, and ceremonies. People use it to humble their speech and its often used by those working in customer-service.

For example:

You are at a restaurant in Tokyo and you ask the man serving you where he is from in Japan.  

He may respond like this:

Watakushi wa Hokkaido shusshin desu.

は北海道出身です。

わたくしはほっかいどうしゅっしんです。

I’m originally from Hokkaido.

By using watakushi, the waiter shows respect to you as a customer when speaking about himself.

Ready to take the next step in your Japanese language journey? Our recommended online course is JapanesePod101.

JapanesePod101 offers a complete system for learning Japanese at any level, from total beginners to advanced. The self-paced courses include audio lessons, printable worksheets, learning tools (such as quizzes and flashcards), and lots more.

Sign up for a free lifetime account here.

JapanesePod101 are currently offering FULL access to the Absolute Beginner Course (90+ audio lessons!), absolutely free.


Francesca Rex-Horoi

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.

1 thought on “How to Say ‘I’ in Japanese”

Leave a Comment

I accept the Privacy Policy

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.