Japanese symbol for Brother

Brotherhood is a very important part of Japanese culture and has been for centuries. There are many brotherhoods, including the fraternities that you see in Japanese organised crime groups of the yakuza, martial arts groups such as kendo and other samurai-like societies. In these organizations, members pledge to protect one another and uphold traditional values. These brotherhoods may even include ceremonies in which they swear allegiance to one another and make promises to support each other in times of need.

The Japanese for brother is compose of two characters, the 兄 which means elder brother or big brother, and 弟 which means younger brother or faithful service to elders. Putting the two characters together gives you the generic term for brother.

How is the word “Brother” in Japanese pronounced?

The Japanese symbol or kanji for the word brother are pronounced as Kyoudai(兄弟).

The word “Kyoudai” in Japanese works differently to the English word brother. Kyoudai can mean “siblings” or “brother & sister”, depending on which Chinese characters are used to write the word. 

兄弟 Kyoudai = Brothers

兄妹 Kyoudai = Brother & sister

姉妹 Kyoudai = Sisters

To make this even more confusing, the words for brothers and sisters also have alternate readings. So the word for sisters 姉妹 can also be read as shimai and the word for brothers 兄妹 can also be read as keitei.

To simplify things the work kyoudai is often written without kanji Chinese characters, using the Japanese script of hiragana like this きょうだい.

In spoken language, it is often used to say two people of any gender are “siblings”.

The different ways “Brother”” can be expressed in Japanese characters and symbols

The other thing that should be mentioned at the outset is that in everyday language Japanese people usually refer to their siblings not as just “brother” or “sister”, but with separate specific words for “older/younger brother/sister” like this:

兄 ani

弟 otouto

姉 ane


This is further complicated by the fact that Japanese people refer to their own family members slightly differently to how they refer to other people’s family members eg. they use “humble” forms of the words to refer to their own family and “honorific” forms to refer to other people’s family:

Humble forms (for referring to your own family)

兄 ani

弟 otouto

姉 ane


Honorific forms (for referring to someone else’s family)

お兄さん oniisan

弟さん otoutosan

お姉さん oneesann

妹さん imoutosan

Examples of most commonly used words for brother in Japanese

  1. 兄(Ani)

Elder brother. With chinese reading(On-yomi) of Kei(ケイ) and Kyou(キョウ), Ani means elder brother and can be used alone in a sentence. Terms like aniki(兄貴), oniisan(お兄さん) or oniichan(お兄ちゃん) are famous days because of their use in japanese animated series and other media. Here are some of examples of how elder brother in sentences:

Example sentences:


Watashi no ani wa kaigaide shigoto wo shiteimasu.

My elder brother is working abroad.


Watashi no ani no namae wa Jon desu.

My elder brother‘s name is John.


Aniki no okagede watashi wa daigaku made sotsugyou dekimashita.

I was able to graduate from college because of my elder brother.

  1. 弟(otouto)

Means younger brother in Japanese. Just like ani(兄), this character can also be used alone with its meaning as it is. Chinese readings are tei(テイ) dai(ダ)イand de(デ).

Example sentences:


Watashi no otouto wa sannin ga imasu.

I have three younger brothers.


Otouto wa ima, Firipin ni imasu.

My younger brother is now in the Philippines.

  1. 兄弟(Kyoudai)

Means brother. As has is been mentioned, the word brother in japanese character is composed of two kanji which means elder(兄) and younger brother(弟). The kanji for brother has also an alternative reading for it which is keitei(けいてい), but in the present day, kyoudai(きょうだい) is usually how japanese read this kanji which stands for brother. 

Example sentences:


Kyoudai Tachi no tame ni watashi wa ganbaranakereba narimasen.

I need to do my best for the sake of my brothers.


Kinou, kyoudai to issho ni kouen e ikimashita.

Yesterday, I went to the park with my brother.

  1. 兄貴 (Aniki)

We mentioned this one above under the broader term “Ani”, but it is worth highlighting this word 

Words that include the kanji for “Brother”

  1. 実兄(jikkei)

Japanese term for one’s own biological elder brother. The term jikkei should be used only in a sentence if the person is saying and describing his or her own elder brother. This symbol is not commonly used in everyday language. Most of the time Japanese would say something like watashi no ani (私の兄) to say “my brother” instead of using jikkei.

Example sentence:


Uchi no jikkei wa sarariiman ni narimashita.

My elder brother became a salaryman.

  1. 兄貴(aniki)

The word Aniki can be used in a similar way to the English word brother, which can be used to describe someone who is not biologically related, but is a very close friend. 

Japan has special ways of calling or addressing people above one’s self in the society. Aniki is one such word, referred to as sonkeigo(尊敬語) or honorific language. 

In the present day, aniki is usually used in tough-guy groups, such as high school gangs or yakuza. The kouhai or “younger party” often use this word to their senpai or “superior” to show honor or respect.

Example sentence:


Aniki! Doko ni ikun desu ka? Issho ni ikimashou.

Elder brother! Where are you going? Let’s go together.

  1. 愚弟(gutei)

Means younger brother but it a rather disrespectful on expressing younger brother for it also means stupid younger brother. We suggest that people deciding to get this symbol as a tattoo to be careful because of its meaning.

Example sentence:


Ore no otouto wa nanimo dekinakute totemo gutei yatsu daze.

My brother cant do anything, such a stupid younger brother.

How is brother expressed in Chinese?

Xiōngdì(兄弟)is how the Chinese expresses brother in their language. The Japanese symbol for brother is the same as Chinese, but different pronunciation or way of reading it.

Stroke order for writing the characters in Japanese “Brother” and associated symbols.

Japanese characters are written from left to right with no spaces between words. In a stroke order diagram, the first character in a line is written first and the last character in a line is written last. This stroke order is also used for other East Asian languages such as Chinese and Korean. Japanese beginners sometimes struggle with this order because it is different from the way they write their own language.

  1. 兄(ani)
  1. 弟(otouto)
  1. 実兄(jikkei)
  1. 兄貴(aniki)
  1. 愚弟(gutei)

Historical forms of the chinese character for “Brother” 

The character for “brother” in Chinese has a number of different historical forms. In ancient China, families used a system of character which represented relationships. These characters were used to write names, titles, and other forms of address. A character could be combined with another to create a new one that described a relationship. 

The following chart shoes the evolution of the character for brother 兄


Compound of (oto, “younger”, cognate with 弟 (otōto, “younger brother”), itself from oto + 人 (hito, “person”)) +‎ 子 (ko, “child”).


So should you get “Brother” done as a tattoo in Japanese lettering?

You should be aware that the word 兄弟 kyoudai doesn’t really have quite the same sense of “brotherhood” that the English word “brother” tends to have. 

Perhaps the Japanese word that comes closest to expressing this “mateship bond” is 兄貴 aniki. This word is often used by less senior people to expressing a loving respect for a more senior friend. But it does suggest something of an unequal relationship.

Really, the idea of hierarchy is built into the Japanese language so much so that it becomes unavoidable. As mentioned above, Japanese people really only ever refer to their brothers or sisters as either “younger brothers” or “older brothers”. The idea of order is built into the language.

This makes getting a perfect equivalent of the word “brother” in English made in Japanese quite fraught. 

One option may be to go for the fairly neutral kyoudai written not in Chinese kanji characters, but as simpler hiragana as きょうだい. The hiragana is simpler both purely as a script, and has less ingrained meaning. So you might choose to play of the “minimal” vibe of that to achieve an appropriate “Japanese symbol for brother”.

Other related kanji include the “Japanese symbol for family”, “Japanese symbol for love”, “Japanese symbol for faith“.


Article by Dhanie James Perez

Japanoscope uses affiliate links, which means that commissions may be received when you click on links to products from partner retailers.