Royal Titles in Anime and Manga

This is a fascinating subject, I think.

The royal title system in Japan is based on the Chinese, and is thus totally different from the Western way of doing things.  This is no surprise, and in fact the Thai and Lao systems are totally different in their own way, and according to some even more complicated than the Western and Chinese systems.

Marie Antoinette: kojo → otaishihi → ohi

Since anime and manga deal with princes and princesses of foreign (sometimes imaginary) lands so often, how to render them in Japanese is a constant issue.  Rose of Versailles is a good example because it’s all about royalty and more than one country is involved.

One of the heroines in the manga is Marie Antoinette.  Her birth title is Kojo (literally Imperial + Woman, 皇女).  This is because her mother is Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa.  Maria Theresa’s title here is Jotei (lit. Woman + Emperor, 女帝).  Marie Antoinette was actually an Archduchess, but Ikeda’s “Kojo” means “Imperial Princess” which is a good equivalent, although you lose the unique Hapsburg flavor of the title.  By the way 皇 and 帝 are the two traditional Chinese characters for “sovereign”; the so-called First Emperor combined them into the well-known Imperial title of 皇帝 (Huangdi, pronounced Kotei in Japanese).

Marie Antoinette travels to France and becomes a member of the royal family there.  The King of France, Louis XV, is titled Kokuo (lit. Country + King, 国王) and his grandson, the Crown Prince or Dauphin is Otaishi (lit. King + Great + Child, 王太子).  These are  standard translations.  The Crown Prince of Japan today, for example, is Kotaishi (lit. Imperial + Great + Child, 皇太子).  Upon her marriage Marie Antoinette becomes Otaishihi (lit. King + Great + Child + Consort, 王太子妃).  When her husband becomes King she will be the new queen consort or Ohi (lit. King + Consort, 王妃).  By the way, a queen regnant would be a Joo (lit. Woman + King, 女王).

The translation situation gets a bit complicated when we come to Louis XV’s three daughters.  In the Japanese books I’ve read, foreign princes other than the Crown Prince are referred to as Oji (lit. King + Child, 王子).  You can see how the term for Crown Prince is basically the same two characters with a third meaning “great” squeezed in the middle.  Princesses are usually Ojo (lit. King + Woman, 王女), the same characters as in the title of a Joo (queen regnant) but reversed.

However, Louis XV’s daughters are not called Ojo in the manga.  Instead, they are called Naishinno (lit. Inside + Intimate + King 内親王).  This is the female form of the male title of Shinno (Intimate + King, 親王).  These titles have a long history, but in postwar Japan they denote the children and grandchildren of an emperor.

Adélaïde, Victoire and Sophie Naishinno

I googled Japanese news articles on Princess Margaret (the late sister of Queen Elizabeth II and daughter of a king) and most of them had her as an Ojo although a few did call her Naishinno.  According to Wikipedia these titles are interchangeable when used about foreign princesses (the same goes with Oji vs. Shinno for Prince).  My best guess is that to Japanese ears Naishinno sounds grander than Ojo, and so Ikeda chose it to convey the age and refinement of the three ladies [they are terrible gossips, though].

Now, if you look at the intro to Revolutionary Girl Utena, you’ll see the subtitles talking about her as a “princess” and how she meets a “prince on a white horse”.  So what Japanese word is used to describe Utena?  Actually, it’s neither Ojo nor Naishinno.  The word is Ohimesama (lit. <Honorific> + Princess + <Honorific>, お姫様) which is a very respectful way of saying Hime (lit. Princess, 姫).  Hime is likely the very first word the Japanese used historically to refer to women of noble (or royal/imperial) blood, before Chinese Imperial terms were introduced.  According to some “Hime” breaks down into  “Hi + Me” (lit. <Honorific> + Woman).

Oji and Hime

But Hime is not normally used these days as an official title.  It tends to show up in fairy tales, similes and jokes (“She’s such a princess” and the such).  Even in Rose of Versailles, one of the characters (Rosalie) describes her sister, who has begun to lead a life of luxury under the protection of a marquise, with the words “she looked like a Ohimesama”.  The corresponding male title is Hiko (lit. Prince, 彦).  For some reason Hiko has pretty much completely dropped out of usage, and so Utena’s “prince on a white horse” is called an Oji, which is what all fairy tales princes in Japan are called.


Shinno and Naishinno are rather interesting terms.  You might be wondering why the term “King” is in these titles instead of “Emperor”, considering we are dealing with Japan here.  Actually, precisely because the Japanese monarch is an Emperor, princes and princesses have often used the title O (lit. King, 王) and Joo (lit. Woman + King, 女王).  Notice that the word Joo here (sometimes pronounced Nyoo) is exactly the one used for foreign queens regnant like Elizabeth II!!  This manner of calling Imperial Princes and Princesses comes from China, if I’m not mistaken.  Currently in Japan there are five great-granddaughters of Emperor Taisho, all titled Joo (their fathers being of Shinno rank).

Madame du Barry, comtesse (let's not get started on nobility titles!)

Shinno then doesn’t mean “close to the king” but “a king who is particularly close (bloodwise) to the Emperor”, the word for “king” here essentially meaning an Imperial Prince.  And the reason that the female form is marked with the term “Inside” might relate to the fact that Japanese associate women with the inside of houses.  For example, one word for wife in Japanese is Kanai (lit. House + Inside, 家内).  This is just my interpretation BTW.

Finally, all of these titles show a number of quirky Japanese morphological changes.  Shinno itself is a compound of two terms “Shin + O” and as you can see an extra “n” magically appears in the compound (Shin + no).  The “shi” in Kotaishi and the “ji” in Oji are exactly the same character.  The “shi” pronunciation is original, but “sh” sometimes mutates to “j” when in a compound (only sometimes, not always).  A great example of non-mutation is Naishinno, which doesn’t become Naijinno as could be expected.

~ by Haloed Bane on March 22, 2011.

6 Responses to “Royal Titles in Anime and Manga”

  1. Oh wow. That’s some really interesting stuff. I’ve mostly encountered the word “hime” in anime as opposed to any other variation, so I’ve essentially associated those two words together, but it seems that it’s far more nuanced than I could have possibly imagined. Thanks for the information!

    • You’re welcome! Yeah, “hime” is all over the place, but if a writer goes for a serious tone and not a fantasy tone then s/he will probably use “ojo”, “naishinno” or something like that.

  2. That was a lot to take on, and very interesting to boot. One kind of forgets about the imperial character of Japan having focused on the feudal and militarized aspects of it.

    Obviously a country like the Philippines has no such words, having known only chieftains then foreign rulers. Even so, any such words denoting titles and/or rank are foreign in origin: Hari = King, Reyna = Queen, Prinsipe/Prinsesa, Datu, Maharlika, etc.

    • I guess in a Filipino context it could make sense to look at Malaysian titles maybe? I think I recognize “Datu” from Malaysian malay titles…
      Actually, to what extent do Filipino and Malaysians consider themselves close to each other culturally??

      • Not very, in that we never really talked about Malaysia in school. This is strange due to the linguistic similarity and the ethnic stock.

        I’d never really think about Malaysia until I traveled there with my wife 4 years ago, then acquainting myself with these Malaysian anime bloggers.

        • That’s interesting. Malaysians and Indonesians are constantly concerned with each other, I think, but maybe Filipinos tend to go their own way.

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