Japanese slang: Otsubone

During you learning, knowing some Japanese slangs is a nice and fun way to deepen your vocabulary.

Not only will you speak more fluently but you will sound more like a native speaker. Moreover, slang gives you an interesting point of view on society. Let’s learn more about Japanese slang with the word “otsubone”. 

The working place is not always kind to female workers. Particularly in Japan, it is proven to be difficult for a woman to have a career.

Indeed, traditionnally, a woman is expected to get married and have a family and this point of view is still strong. For many Japanese, after her marriage, an office lady will – should – quit her job to become a housewife.

But in those last decades, Japanese women are more and more willing to keep working, despite the few chances to get a promotion, and do not get married. In Japanese slang, they are called “otsubone“.

Otsubone is an archaism. Historically, the word was a title of honour given to a woman of high ranking, serving the Imperial Houshold or the Imperial Court. To tell the truth, an otsubone was a respected capable woman.

The word was diverted from its original meaning in the 90s, and became a Japanese slang word. Nowadays, an “otsubone” is an office lady over a certain age and level of seniority in a Japanese company who is often single.

Although she has worked in the office for a long time in the same division, she commands others. She is not interested in promotion or pay-raise, but she became influential from behind in the office. 

She is perceived as intimidating and her coworkers feel she is frequently complaining. Even though she is a regular employee, coworkers will treat her with respect, just like they would with the head of the division. Not sure to get the idea yet?

Let’s see a conversation example:

A: 昨日、おつぼねに結婚の報告をしたら、予想通り嫌味を言われたの。
B: やっぱりねー。本当、あの人苦手。。。。

A: Kinō, otsu bone ni kekkon no hōkoku o shitara, yosō-dōri iyami o iwa reta no.
B: Yappari nee. Hontō, ano hito nigate…

A: Yesterday, when I informed that Ms. Bossy Pants about my marriage she said something rude, just as I expected she would.
B: That’s not surprising. I really can’t stand that woman …

Another example…


A: Yukiguni sodachi otsu bone no eikyō ni yori, mada danbō o tsukeru koto ga dekimasen.
Zen’in wa furuenagara shigoto o shite imasu…
B: Uwaa, taihen desu ne!

A: Because Ms bossy pants got raised in a cold place, we cannot start the heater yet.
Everyone has to work while shivering…
B: Uhr, must be hard!

Translation of otsubone is not quite easy, but it would be close to “straw boss” or “Ms. Bossy Pants” in English.

The word ostubone has a negative image and is often used when gossiping behind someone’s back. It connotes spitefulness and a tendency to nag. You shall not used it for your senior coworkers that you look up to with respect.

 Click this link to read about Japanese Slang : Deki-Kon でき婚

Credit CC BY 2.0: Nestor Lacle
Title: West Shinjuku Silhouettes
source: Flickr

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