Japanese protocol and BDSM – felis intorqueo’s blog.



Posted as a permanent record of a lost friend’s (broken_kitten, or felis intorqueo) thoughts, from IC:


I love protocol. Or rather, I love the idea of protocol. The problem I always find when trying to use it is that words have too much power and are too easily misconstrued. There aren’t any concrete guidelines for what is and isn’t acceptable. Found a potentially adaptable solution, though…


“The Japanese language has an honorific system made of suffixes. I think it’s great because it allows people to identify themselves by their relationships with others. One does not confer honorifics on oneself but become part of a web where your position is defined by those you know.


Here is a list of honorifics, closest English equivalents and their main usages:


  • San – People think this is the equivalent of Mr. or Mrs., but that’s not quite the case. San can also be used to refer to animals, especially by children. It’s genderless and used when speaking to, or about, someone your own age and status.
  • Sama – Used when talking to, or about, someone of higher status than you, either professionally or in terms of age. Like an older sister or a company boss.
  • Dono/Kyou – Lord/Lady. Not used much anymore, except in very formal business meetings.
  • Chan – Suffix used for females younger than you, or friends your own age.
  • Kun – Male suffix, same uses as ‘chan’.
  • Senpai – Used to refer to a senior co-worker.
  • Sensei/Kyoshi – Anyone who has more knowledge and experience than you, especially a teacher. Kyoshi is a less formal version of sensei.
  • Ka – Used for someone who is an expert in their field, like a manga artist (mangaka)
  • Iemoto – Even more formal version of ‘ka’, only really used in the formal arts like calligraphy.
  • Baka/Yarou – When used as a suffix, it means ‘moron’. Yarou is a ruder version.


Landscape in Moonlight by Kano Tan'yû
Landscape in Moonlight by Kano Tan’yû (Photo credit: peterjr1961)


So, I’d want to refer to another, more experienced sub as ‘senpai’, an equal to me as ‘san’, a superior as ‘sama’, a junior or a close friend as ‘chan’ or ‘kun’.


 Someone who was teaching me in a general sense might be ‘sensei’ or ‘kyoshi’, or ‘ka’ if they were an expert, like maybe at a rope demo. Someone I was being instructed by in ritual D/s, I’d want to call iemoto or ‘ue’.


 Someone I was with in a submissive role might be ‘sama’ or ‘dono’ depending on the depth and intensity of the submission. Casual play would probably be ‘sama’ (not that I ever do that!).


Were I to have a sub, I’d refer to them as ‘kun’, unless I wanted to humiliate them, in which case it would be ‘yarou’, which is probably closest to ‘asshole’. I’d want them to refer to me as kitten-kyou at all times.


The most important thing to remember is that you never bestow an honorific upon yourself. This is very rude. If someone uses an honorific you perceive as rude, you may question it but you must not ever refer to yourself with any kind of suffix.


If we had a similar system in a D/s setting where there were lots of people, maybe like a themed chatroom, it would mean that everyone would be able to express their place very accurately by reference to the way they refer to others. In addition, No-one would ever be able to award themselves a top (or bottom) position. A person’s position would be defined by the respect, affection, care and responsibility conferred on them by others.


I think that would be quite fun. Protocol is one of those things that varies so much between places and individuals that it is difficult to know how to talk to anyone in a D/s group setting – the Japanese system of honorifics seems ready-made for people like us.”