CultureJapanese SlangVocab

Stop using WATASHI (= I ) – The real way to refer to yourself –

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Stop using WATASHI (= I ) – The real way to refer to yourself

I’m going to tell you the secret that native speakers don’t tell you (for some reason)!

If you watch enough anime, you’ll notice that
there are so many variations of the pronoun “ I ” in Japanese.
You look at the translation “I” in English, but you clearly hear different words in Japanese.

Each word for ” I ” has different nuances, so Japanese people use them
depending on situations and one’s characteristic.

Funnily enough, though we have tons of different pronouns for everything,
we love to omit them.

Because if you use too much ” 私 / わたし (watashi = I)” in a sentence,
it sounds like “ME ME ME, I want all the attention ♡“.
So when it’s clear who the speaker is talking about,
and you don’t have to specify the subject, we always omit it.

The problem is that we still omit pronouns and sometimes it’s not clear.
Ningen desu kara, dare demo machigai wo shimasu
= Well, we are all humans. Everyone makes mistakes.

Then you can ask
「誰が?」 “dare GA”= Who (does / will / did)?
*が particle indicates WHAT / WHO takes the action*


So let’s learn the nuances for each word that mean “I” first.

The very basic one you learn from the textbook :

わたし (watashi)
You can write this in kanji like :
I personally use hiragana わたし
unless I write some official documents or essays at school
because わたし can give a softer impression than 私 in kanji.

This 私 (watashi) is used mainly in formal speech.
A lot of women use it also in informal speech and
most female characters in anime / manga use this.
(And I use it too.)

But it’s strange when men use this in informal speech.
Some male characters in anime use it.
Usually characters who are the boss in charge of something (or bossy)
or someone who has to be a bit formal.

L (from the Death Note)         Roy Mustang (Fullmetal Alchemist)

Kuchiki Byakuya (BLEACH)

This kanji 私 has another reading : わたし (wataKUshi)
You would only use it in very formal business situations.
You can still use わたし to talk to your boss,
but it depends on the company if you should use わたし or わたし.
Also sports commentators use わたし.

Normal people would never use this in real life in informal speech.
Some anime characters do. Usually girls from rich families do.

Shirai Kuroko
(Toaru Majutsu & Kagaku)                          Tachibana Marika (Nisekoi)  


Although a lot of women use わたし,
there are other variations that are used in informal speech.


あたし  (Atashi) This one is quite popular too.
Usually used by women between the age of 20 to 40.
I think my older sister uses (or used to use) this one.
When a teenager uses it, it has a bit of a “popular-girl” vibe.


Another quite popular one is
うち  (uchi)
This one can mean “home” in this kanji 家,
but as “I” it’s always written in Hiragana.
Around the Tokyo area, this うち is used mainly by teenagers.
I used to use it when I was younger. But I stopped.

But around Kansai area (e.g. Osaka), this one is very common
and used not only by teenagers.
If you watch anime set in Kansai area, girls use this うち.
However the intonation of Tokyo UCHI and Kansai UCHI differ.

Characters from Kansai area and use うち:

 Aoyama Nanami                                          A lot of characters
(sakura-sou no petto na kanojo)             from Lovely Complex           


Lum (Urusei Yatsura)


Some girls use their own names.
Usually those types of girls are considered to be
ぶりっ子 (burikko).
“burikko” is a slang term for a type of a girl who pretends to be/acts cute
in front of guys to get attention and be popular.
But that sort of a girl usually has a horrible personality and girls hate it.

Example of ぶりっこ in anime / manga :

Kurumi-chan (Kimi ni todoke)               Kawashima Ami (ToraDora!)

Usually there is one burikko in girly manga as a rival against the main girl.

But a lot of girls use their own names in front of their boyfriends.
Because it sounds cute.

Misa-Misa (from Death Note) uses her own name.


Now move on to the male version of “I”.

俺 おれ オレ ORE

Depending on the manga, you’ll see different styles of writing “ORE”.
I think as Ichigo (Bleach)’s speech, the kanji is used in manga.
*This one probably looks the most bad-ass*

And Naruto uses katakana オレ.
*Looks modern (?) and sort of young.*

Lufy (One Piece) uses hiragana おれ.
*Looks softer*

A lot of teachers and Japanese people might tell you
that this おれ is rude and you shouldn’t use it.
But that’s a load of rubbish.
That’s almost like being racist…!!
Well, they are not, but they just don’t think much before answering.
Or some people are just very conservative.

If you go to Japan and talk to guys actually, they use おれ when talking casually.
Don’t worry and use it.
My stepfather uses it. My grandpa uses it. All my guy friends use it.
And they are all nice. Not rude at all.

Just need to be careful and use わたし in formal speech.

There are lots of characters that use おれ.
And they are usually normal / cool type of guys.

Killua (Hunter x Hunter)
(I think Gon uses it too, but cannot remember >.<)

Kirito (Sword Art Online)                     Orihara & Shizuo (Durararara)

Takizawa Akira (Eden of the East)       Levi (Attac on Titan)


Another one is
僕 ぼく BOKU
For some reason some Japanese people tell you to use this one.
I’m quite upset that they tell you to use it although they use おれ themselves…
This one usually has a childish vibe like a mummy’s boy if you use it in informal speech.

The anime character who uses ぼく to give the soft and “good boy” feeling :

Al (Fullmetal Alchemist)
* Ed uses おれ.*

Allen (D.gray-man)                          Light(Death Note)

Sai (Naruto)                             Uryuu (Bleach)


The characters that use ぼく to sound “uncool” (ちょっとかっこわるい)

Shinpachi(Gitama)                  Nobita-kun (Doraemon)

Keima (kami nomi zo shiru sekai)

Wow, they look similar, don’t they…


By the way, in the Japanese translation of the comedy show “Friends”,
Ross uses ぼく while Joey and Chandler use おれ.
You can get the image of what kind of guys use ぼく even when talking to friends.
It’s up to you if you want to sound like Ross or Joey and other guys. ;)

0:04 Ross says
ぼくはゲラー教授だ。」 (BOKU wa geraa kyouju da)
= I’m professor Geller.
0:34 Joey says
(kanojo ni wa suteeki to robusutaa. ORE mo onaji no de ii)
= Get her steak and lobster. I’ll get the same, too.

Rachel’s voice is a bit weird…but who cares xD


However this ぼく is often used as “I” in blogs
when the author doesn’t want to be mistaken as a woman,
but still doesn’t want to sound too casual like おれ.

Also when guys use different ones depending on the situation,
a lot of men use おれ when speaking to their friends,

ぼく when talking to 先輩 (senpai =socially more experienced / older people)
that they feel close (but not exactly a “friend”.)
Or to anyone who you don’t have to be too formal,
but still have to talk a bit formally (like to strangers on the street).

And わたし (or わたくし) when talking to their boss or clients.
While girls can just stick to わたし and it’s fine in all the cases,
it’s a lot of hassle for men…good luck… xD


You’ll hear girls using ぼく in anime.
Those girls are called 「ボクっ娘」 (bokukko).
It’s a combination of ボク (boku) + 娘 (ko /musume = maden / daughter).
They are usually not girly and want to be a man or something is wrong with them…
There are few girls who use it in real life,
but it’s イタイ (itai).
痛い (ita-i) literally means “painful”,
but in a slang termit means “shameful / embarrassing yourself”
to describe someone who seems to be out of place.

The English translation would be ‘cringe’ and you can use it the same way
And describe something/someone as ‘cringe’.

So girls who use ぼく are considered to be weird.

Characters who use ぼく but a girl :

Ririchiyo (Inu x Boku ss)                 Yuuki (not Asuna) SAO Ⅱ

And finally some people use
自分 じぶん jibun
which literally means “oneself”.
They use it because they don’t know what to use in formal speech.
わたし sounds too formal but ぼく sounds childish…
And this is the solution they came up with.
But use わたし anyway if you want to be polite.

There are actually a lot more that you will hear in Anime,but they are not used in real life.
So I may add them on the listlater, but for now, remember these ones I listed above.

Remember, these are terms used around Tokyo.
I’m not an expert of other dialects.
If you go elsewhere in Japan, you might hear differently.
Let me know if you do!


Translator / Linguist / Japanese Teacher / Happy World Traveler/ manga, anime, comedy lover. Speaks Japanese, English, Russian and German.


  1. Can you tell the difference whether not the person is using hiragana or katakana when they speak? Doesn’t it all sound like ore?

  2. Will it sound bad if I always just use わたし? If I was Shikamaru I’d be repeating めんどくさい now XD

    1. The article is correct. Using “watshi” at all times sounds self centered when translated into Japanese. Also when boys and men use it it gives them a softer edge so you might end up sounding girly to others not a problem if you don’t mind it. If you want to change it up you can use “boku, ore, or uchi.” Though you will find that native Japanese speakers often omit pronouns if it is already known from the context so as you learn more you will use “I” less and less.

      1. That’s not what I meant. The article seemed to say that I have to choose between watashi, ore and boku depending on the conversation. I just wondered if it’s a big deal if I chose to always use watashi, no matter the situation. If I just sound girly then I don’t mind.

    2. Yeah it’s really めんどくさい for men xD It’s okay to use わたし in formal speech but in informal speech when talking to friends, you should use either おれ or ぼく (I prefer おれ personally ;p ). It’s not that わたし sounds girly in informal speech, it’s more like “Why are you talking to me so formally, dude?!” xD It’d be weird if your mate calls you “sir”, right? :)

  3. So,when in some animes the women use “ore” is not normal? is it weird for a woman to use “ore”?

    1. Ore is typically used by younger males. It is a very informal pronoun. It’s sort of an almost slangy “I’m tough” kind of pronoun. It can be rude to use it when talking to strangers or in formal settings. It is VERY uncommon for women to use the word.

    2. Women usually don’t use “ore”. Some teenagers do. (I knew a lesbian girl who used ore.) But guys use it all the time when talking to friends / families.

  4. Can うち ever be written as 内 for the purpose of it being in the title of something, like a magazine? I have been trying to find the female complement to 俺 in that it should be casual/informal, but not sounding too feminine. If so, is it common to read 内の as “My” in the same way you would use 俺の, (as in, not relating to “one’s domain” but rather simply and directly “my”)? Or would this cause confusion in the mind of the reader? Thank you!

    1. Hi, sorry for the late reply! When using “うち” as “I”, we would never write it in kanji. So we’d write like “うちの”.

  5. Hi. I am a girl, but am not very feminine at all. I’ve been learning Japanese for a long time, but I’ve always wondered if I could use うち to refer to myself? I am told this is mainly Kansai dialect, and if I go to eastern Japan, people would think I am weird for using うち. I’d like to use おれ but as you said, that is a very masculine word so I don’t know if I can use it. When I have spoken to Japanese people before, I used うち and きみ. They never corrected me, so I assume this is fine? I prefer these two words because they are 二文字 so they are easier to pronounce. わたし and あなた are longer to say.

    1. Hi, “うち” is used both in Kansai and Kanto (Around Tokyo). But they have a slight different intonation. At least in Kanto, “uchi” is mainly used by teenage girls. As long as you are young (maybe by 20), people won’t think it’s weird. Using “おれ” could put someone off as you are a girl, but again if you are quite young, people might accept it. One of my friends used to use “おれ” at school but she was a lesbian. Really, using うち is fine but using きみ is not great. “きみ” can sound all romantic in SONGS / POEMS but not in real life. Just like “あなた” it sounds like you are looking down on the person. Japanese people generally don’t correct you as we feel like it’s rude to correct someone.

      1. Hi, sorry for going out of topic:”just like “あなた” it sounds like you are looking down on the person” … so what is the best replacement for あなた when you don’t know the other person’s name and it seems necessary to use a pronoun to avoid confusion? (in a typical polite situation) Can it be said that そちら is more polite/appropriate in such case than あなた? Or another word? Thank you!

  6. On the internet, people always say 俺 comes off as rude, but I see people use it casually on Japanese TV. This caused me great confusion. Thanks for clarifying Misa-sensei

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