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A "mama-san", or "mamasan" is usually a woman in a position of authority, especially one in charge of a geisha house or bar in Japan and East Asia.
The term is also used to refer to a woman who works in a supervisory role in certain establishments in Southeast Asia, typically those related to drinking places. Papa-san may be used to refer to a man in a similar position.
The term originally comes from Japanese, where it is a term for a woman who works as a supervisor at a bar, nightclub, or similar business. The suffix -san is a polite honorific attached to a person's name or title. The familiarity with the term by U.S. soldiers in Japan after World War II probably has had some influence in its spread to other Southeast Asian countries.
The term mama-san in Japanese is emphatically not a polite reference to a mother, and should never be used as such. Most Japanese children today call their mother mama, but the term does not persist into adulthood. The proper term to refer to one's mother, in Japanese, would be okaa-san.
To at least some extent, these can be considered the local equivalents of a madam, although the conventions of bar fine prostitution in Asia are quite different from those of either street or brothel prostitution in the United States.
Mamasan (sometimes abbreviated MMS) is also used in United States to refer to the woman managing the staff of Asian massage parlors.
While the context may be referred to as a sex term in some parts of Asia, in others the term has a much different connotation. The term mama-san is commonly used to describe maids and housecleaners. The term papa-san is detailed for men who work on yards.