A while ago, I made a silly video about different ways to say “I” in Japanese.
Some people have asked me in what context each expression is used, so I have decided to explain that in this article!
Hope this is helpful for you 🙂
Also… if you like this kind of video, please follow my YouTube channel, too. That will definitely make my day!!!
私（わたし Watashi): The most standard “I” in Japanese. The textbook definition!
私（わたくし Watakushi): This is a more polite version of “watashi”. As you may have noticed, the kanji for “watashi” and “watakushi” is the same “私”.
僕（ぼく Boku): This “I” is usually used by a male speaker regardless of his age. When used by an adult, it is usually with someone with an equal or a lower social standing. In recent years (especially in the manga context), some women use “boku” to address themselves as well.
俺（おれ Ore): Casual “I” used by men. It is only used with someone in the same or lower social standing or someone who is really close such as family members. This is my default “I” with my parents and older sister. I have met some non-native speakers of Japanese who think this is an impolite expression, but this is not the case as it completely depends on the context and its use is often a show of closeness to the person.
俺様（おれさま Oresama): This is the arrogant version of “ore”. I have never heard of this expression in real life except when someone is being silly on purpose. You might encounter this expression in books particularly in comic books 🙂
自分（じぶん Jibun): A formal “I”. According to this dictionary website, it was originally used as a second-person personal pronoun during the Edo period (1603-1868). In Osaka dialect, it is used to address a close friend i.e. it can also mean “you”! Confusing, isn’t it?
当方（とうほう Touhou): Wow, my sincere apology, this expression actually means “we”!!! I accidentally included it as it literally means “this side” or “the group I belong to”… but it should really be treated as “we” because the person is talking about the group s/he belongs to as a representative… Sorry!!! (You now know Japanese people don’t always know Japanese!)
身共（みども Midomo): This is a formal “I” used towards someone in the equal or lower social status.
手前（てまえ Temae): This is a humble way to refer yourself. But the confusing thing is that it could also be used to mean “you” towards someone in the same or lower social status. For this use, its variation てめえ (teme’e) is often used, but remember it is a very rude expression!
おら (Ora): This “I” is usually used in the Tohoku region. It is mainly used by men, but it is used by some old women as well.
俺っち (おれっち Orecchi): A casual and almost uncouth “I”. Not many people actually use this expression, but you do hear it spoken by some stereotypical characters in drama, manga, etc. Some people say it is the short version of “俺達” (おれたち Oretachi) or “we”.
あっし (Asshi): This is often used in “jidaigeki” or a period drama. It is often used by the craftsmen of Edo.
あたし (Atashi): Informal “I” used by women. It was used by men as well during the Edo period (1603-1868), and rakugo performers still use this expression even today. I use it myself with my rakugo friends.
あたい (Atai): This “I” feels a little archaic to me, but it is used by little children and sometimes by adult women. “Atai” is used by Yotaro, one of the star characters in rakugo!
拙者（せっしゃ): This is the “I” used by samurai warriors. You still hear it a lot in period dramas!
わし (Washi): This is a variation of “watashi” used with someone in the same or lower social status. It can sound a bit arrogant.
我 (われ Ware): This is a formal “I” that shows up often in Japanese literature, and I have never met anyone who uses this “I” in conversation.
余 (よ Yo): An archaic “I” used by the feudal lords and samurai warriors in high social status.
朕 (ちん chin): “I” only used by the emperor!