The meaning of okaasan (お母さん) and other words to know

This article will give you all of the knowledge you need on the Japanese word okaasan, including its Japanese definition and translation, example sentences, related expressions and more!

What does okaasan mean?

Okaasan (お母さん、おかあさん; not to be confused with obasan) means mother in Japanese. You may have guessed that the san part of the word makes this honorific (i.e., respectful). In fact, children use this when addressing their mothers.

Okaasan, tadaima!
Mom, I’m home!

Depending on the context, you can use Okaasan to refer to your mother or someone else's.

Back in the day, children used polite language toward their parents so you can think of okaasan as a vestige of Japan’s hierarchical history. These days though, you’re more likely to hear kids shrieking okaasan when demanding something at the supermarket or just being bratty!

Okaasan, aisu ga tabetai!
Mom, I want to eat ice cream!

You also use okaasan when referring to someone else’s mother. Alternatively, okaasama (お母様、おかあさま) is an even politer choice, but best reserved for formal occasions.

Okaasan wa sugoku kirei desu ne!
Your mom is really beautiful!

Okaasama wa oikutsu desu ka?
How old is your mother?

What is the difference between okaasan and haha?

You can use haha (母、はは) to say my mother when talking to people outside of your family. The “my” part is understood, and therefore optional.

A lot of younger Japanese do actually use okaasan in these situations too, but haha is the more correct (and polite) usage in this context.

Watashi to haha wa, totemo naka ga ii desu.
I get along really well with my mother.

Tsurai toki ni haha wa itsumo watashi no koto wo sasaete kureta.
My mother was always there for me in hard times.

What about hahaoya? Isn’t that more common?

Hahaoya (母親、ははおや) means essentially the same thing as haha. You use it to talk about your mother to non-family members.

Watashi no hahaoya wa izen, kangoshi deshita.
My mother used to be a nurse.

Hahaoya wa sukoshi kawatteiru hito desu.
My mother is a a little bit weird (lit: a weird person)

This is just my personal feeling, but I would say that hahaoya is more commonly used in conversation these days than haha. Hahaoya is a little less formal. When writing, it is better to stick to using haha.

Other words for mom

There are many ways to say mother in Japanese, so I won’t try cover them all but here are a couple more examples:

Mama (ママ)
As in English, this is a babyish way to say mom, but some grown-up women do still use it!

A casual way to refer to your mom. Mostly used by men.

More of the good stuff

Want more? I wrote a similar article on the meaning of otousan (father).