addressing the father in the parable of the prodigal son in Japanese

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One important aspect of addressing someone else in one’s or someone else’s family is by selecting the correct word when referring to them.

One way to do this is through the usage of an appropriate title within a conversation. In the widely used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017, in the parable of the prodigal son, both of the sons refer to their father with o-tō-san (お父さん), a form that expresses the intimate father-son relationship, whereas the servant (in Luke 15:27) refers to the father as o-tō-sama (お父様) with a formal title -sama to express a higher level of reference.

Incidentally, the term o-tō-sama (お父様) is used only one other time in the Shinkaiyaku Bible (in Judges 11:36).

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

See also addressing the father intimately in Japanese and Japanese honorifics