I seem to have inadvertently offended someone

So not long ago I decided to start chatting with native Japanese speakers. I found a language exchange partner online and we’ve been chatting for a few weeks now, mostly though text. Well, when they first introduced themselves, they wrote their name in hiragana, which I’ve been using ever since. But I recently decided to ask what kanji they use and they refused to tell me, wondering what possible reason I might have for wanting to know that. I tried to explain, explaining that I’m fascinated by kanji, especially how they’re used in names; how I’m a student who is trying to learn Japanese and part of that is being able to read names, many of which use unconventional kanji; and I also likened it to an English speaker wanting to know how to properly spell an acquaintance’s name after an introduction.

Well, I’m not sure why, but this person seems to find this extremely “creepy” (their words). And that so-called “western kanji nerds” only view their language exchange partners as tools for learning Japanese, and not as actual people.

Needless to say, I’m bamboozled. Did I break some sort of super sensitive point of Japanese etiquette?


Very weird and uncalled for reaction based off of what you’re telling us. For some reason I’m getting vibes that they may not be Japanese


That really sucks. Just speculating here, but it’s possible they think the kanji spelling of their name would identify them too specifically. Maybe it’s unique enough that it could be used to find/stalk them, or at least they might worry about the possibility. Just a thought.


I can’t speak for the name kanji thing specifically, but a lot of Japanese people are very private. Maybe they were worried about their privacy?

I once asked a Japanese coworker for their work email (we all had them within the company that could only send and receive emails within that specific email network/allowed accounts) to send them some documents they requested and they thought that was creepy and completely refused. I couldn’t use my own USB to transfer them either, so we had to change our project plans completely :sweat_smile: All that work wasted…

I don’t know how common that is or if that was just a one off thing though!


I am fairly confident they’re Japanese. They have sent me videos of them walking through places and ordering food that are very obviously in Japan. Also, we’ve chatted a bit through voice and the accent is most definitely Japanese.


They did say that the kanji that they use are very odd. But a simple “I’m not comfortable sharing that” would have been understandable, in contrast to this (imo) overdramatic response.


I understand the privacy thing, but this person has shared certain things about their private life that kinda made my eyes pop.


From how you’ve described it, it sounds like a really odd reaction. If it was a sensitive issue, they simply could have just said they’re not comfortable telling you, it seems kind of strange to call you a creep. I’ve only asked someone about the kanji in their name once and they had a positive reaction despite it being unusual kanji for that name, so at least in my experience it shouldn’t be a big problem.


Perhaps the kanji used in their name has a negative or dark connotation (or one they consider to be so) and the fact that you indicated that you are interested in diving into the use of that kanji to understand the use in the name, they are sensitive about it affecting your perception of them (unfounded, but people worry about all sorts of things). I have seen a few cases where (for given names) someone only uses hiragana for their name because they do not like the particular kanji(s) chosen for them by their parents and do not want to be associated with those kanji and their meanings. In my hometown/country one of my classmates hated his given name, only ever went by/responded to his nickname and as soon as he was old enough had his name legally changed. And that was a perfectly normal/average/common name for the time. Not like they had named him Stardust or PickleJuice or something way out there.


They did say that their name uses weird kanji and that they only use them when signing their name. But a simple, “I’d rather not say” would have worked just fine.


I’ve had pretty good experiences asking Japanese people to tell me about their names as in the kanji meaning/choices. The only less than positive experience I’ve had is asking someone who happened to be adopted. He took it in stride, but the response of “idk, I don’t have a way of asking the people who named me” seemed a bit loaded.

I’ve only asked in person, so idk what impact that has.


Maybe they have a unique family name that ties them to something bad? So they use a different reading/only use kana to avoid being associated with it? Like being related to a publically shamed political figure/criminal/religious extremist etc…?
Their reaction is still over the top but maybe they panicked if they thought you would uncover that?

(Although if it’s so bad you can’t tell anyone it, I guess you’d probably change your name instead?)


I have no idea what their family name is. They introduced themselves by their first name (all of the Japanese people on this website seem to have their first name, or at least A first name, on their profiles. So I’ve always referred to this person by “first name (in kana)-san.” I dunno, I might just have to see what they say when/if they message me next.

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A good possibility is also that the name which they use on the site/you know them by is not actually their real name. They chose to not use their real name (as many people online do) because they do not want to reveal their real identity. Your questioning along those lines could have been perceived by them as trying to dig into that.

I am going to go out on a limb here (and no offense intended if I am wrong) but I expect that “Mr.Flibble” is not your real name. It is pretty cool though.


This is such a strange complaint… And the irony here is that I’ve heard that a lot of Japanese people who study English have the opposite complaint – that some Westerners treat language exchange sites like Tinder and start annoying their Japanese counterparts, who come there only for language…


It’s from Red Dwarf. Highly recommended if you enjoy British comedy.

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Maybe they don’t want to share the kanji of their name so your eyes don’t pop even further.

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just some thoughts, but overall, no I don’t think you did anything wrong or crossed any etiquette lines I have learned. I thought your analogy to explain your intentions was really nice.

It sounds to me like you inadvertently touched a nerve on an insecurity of this person. In other words, it’s not like you did something wrong and you could have predicted that. From what you’ve described in the main post and other messages, the person knew you were a Japanese learner, but still enjoyed engaging with you and trusting you with personal information. Maybe wanting to engage with you as a friend, but then having a difficutly or lack of confidence / life experience determining if your intentions are a transactional relationship or a developing friendship. If they are too insecure, they’ll be wondering and looking for reasons that this isn’t a friendship. It sounds weird, but one protection strategy is to reject you as a friend before you can reject them. Anyway, I’ve injected a lot of fantasy there, I just wanted to tell you that’s a pretty common human weakness or for some a result of former abuse/trauma that I’m pretty sure transcends cultures. Someone wants to open up and develop a friendship, but depending on confidence vs insecurity and past triggers, they will close down the friendship angle quickly if they (even prematurely) think it might end in rejection or other hurt.

I’m a pretty confident person, but once I was ghosted by a really good friend, and it did shake my confidence in my ability to “read” relationships. I can see how worse experiences and potentially less capacity to deal with the fallout for whatever reason could lead to behavior that would look erratic to others. I guess I’m saying, I have more empathy now for the person that you described than I would have before that experience. There’s nothing you can do but be sincere and kind as you have, and just let it be.

Regarding what I’ve experienced re kanji in names:

I’ve only interacted with a few Japanese female speakers. All of them used pseudonyms and used hiragana for their names. Although after the first voice chat, they said their real first name. At the time I didn’t really think about asking for kanji because my knowledge was so basic it would have been embarrassing to later not recognise it. But, if we fast forward several years by the time I became able to read kanji and discuss them with my speaking partner who became my dearest friend now, her name kanji are unique and would be identifiable. And when we talk about learning kanji, she does seem baffled by the hyper interest many foreigners have in learning kanji. I’ve gathered that there is a stereotype of the foreigner learning Japanese who is obsessed with kanji to the extent it’s creepy. I guess because for them it was a painful rote process they did in school, almost certainly disliked, and are happy to have behind them. So at least for those I’ve spoken with, they are like… why?


I was kinda wondering if you used that particular image of Arnold Rimmer when interacting with this person, and then went and asked their name. Think I’d find that off-putting. :stuck_out_tongue:

Mr Flibble says: no oxygen for two hours.


You’re definitely not at fault here, unless by some off chance your phrasing was very strange. However, maybe your language exchange partner is worried about privacy or stalking, especially if you’re talking to a Japanese woman. I definitely know people who only go by pseudonyms, at any rate (or who try to until they slip up…).

I guess it’s also possible that there’s a stereotype regarding foreigners obsessed with kanji, or that you came off too strongly as someone who’s ‘into’ kanji. However, fundamentally, that’s an issue with your exchange partner’s mindset, not yours, in my opinion.

Personally, I have no idea how important Japanese people think their names’ kanji are, nor how comfortable they are with sharing them. I’ve opened an email before apologising for not knowing the kanji for someone’s name, and I didn’t receive any comments on that fact whatsoever – the recipient just passed my email on to the relevant office for processing, and I got a reply to my enquiry within a week. Conversely, I’ve asked a Japanese friend for his kanji face to face, and he had no issues with that, but granted, that was after I shared mine, which brings me to one caveat…

I’m a Chinese speaker, and I was given my name in Chinese characters at birth (along with my official English name). Sometimes I hate how there are just so many characters and how I still come across ones I can’t read, but overall, I like them. One of my Japanese teachers has said I probably know more about kanji than she does, and I am pretty proud of my name (but see, in Chinese, writing the phonetic transcription feels strange/improper/ignorant because everything is written in characters by default). I don’t know if that would qualify me as ‘creepy’ by Japanese standards or if I would magically pass muster because I visually look ‘more Japanese’, but frankly, who cares? Some Japanese people probably think it’s cool, while others would rather forget kanji exist altogether.

If this relationship is at all worth salvaging in your opinion, then I’d suggest you respond saying something like you just wanted to be able to write your exchange partner’s name properly out of respect, and that you have no issues if sharing it is uncomfortable and therefore not possible. Some people might want to keep their online personae completely separate from who they are IRL, especially given this:

On the other hand, I will say this:

These people definitely exist, but I find it hard to call them anything but unreasonable. Yes, by all means, protect your privacy, but if you request documents, you jolly well figure out how I should give them to you, because even using some anonymous file transfer option would require sharing a link. Think, genius, think…

Oh, also, according to one of my Japanese friends, it’s pretty normal in Japan to reveal certain personal details, like one’s full name and address, in formal/official exchanges (e.g. when contacting a trusted business) in order to identify oneself, build trust and establish the serious nature of those communications, whereas I know some other countries where sharing those things would be avoided unless absolutely necessary, so privacy isn’t always king in Japan.