Senpai and Kouhai - What is the meaning and the relationship between them?

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Have you ever wondered what the word Senpai means? Have you also wondered what Kouhai means? What is the relationship between these two Japanese words? You have probably heard a character from an anime calling another by these names. To answer your question, let's investigate the meaning and relationship between these two words.

The words Senpai and Kouhai are honorific titles based on status and hierarchy. The difference is that these words are usually used with affection and appreciation and not as a position or the idea that someone is superior to another person. In theory, there is no literal translation, but it can be explained.

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The meaning of Senpai

Senpai [先輩] is the equivalent of the Western concept of veteran or tutor. This word is often used to refer to an older and more experienced person, a mentor or senior. It is respectful treatment for older or more experienced people, a parent, graduate, or someone years ahead in school education.

Senpai and kouhai - what is the meaning and relationship between them?

The word SENPAI [先輩] is a combination of the ideogram SEN [先], which conveys the idea of future, precedence, head, front, ancient, and first. The ideogram PAI [輩] conveys the idea of comrade, companion, and person. Literally, a companion who has more experience than you.

In Japanese, one should never call oneself “senpai”, nor even chase that title as some people chase the title of veteran or scout. Being a “senpai” means being recognized by others, it is an honorific that needs to be earned.

The veterans also do not put their title on business cards as Western doctors do, nor do they usually force others to call them senpai. This respect is earned and can only be recognized by others. The treatment senpai is similar to the treatment of sensei (master, teacher), but it is one level below and you don't need to be teaching anything.

Senpai and kouhai - what is the meaning and the relationship between them?

The meaning of Kouhai

Kouhai [後輩] is basically the opposite of senpai, a generic equivalent to freshman in the west. Other meanings and ideas that the word conveys are junior and younger people. The ideogram [後] conveys the idea of behind, after, remainder, successor, heir, former and similar. The word also includes the ideogram [輩], but is pronounced HAI.

Simply put, Senpai is used to refer to an older and experienced person, a mentor or senior. On the other hand, Kouhai is a younger, newcomer, or inexperienced person. No one feels offended when called Kouhai; on the contrary, there is a great relationship between the two.

Senpai and kouhai - what is the meaning and the relationship between them?

If you've talked to or befriended a senior, you've automatically become a Kouhai and should call him Senpai as a sign of respect. Not using this treatment is like you don't respect him. But not all veterans call their Kouhai by their treatment, but by their name or some nickname.

Senpai Slang - What does Paisen mean?

There is a slang term that closely emulates the position of the ideograms in Senpai. The slang term is Paisen [パイセン] and it means the same thing, senior, superior, older, graduated, or parent. It is worth mentioning that this slang term is more rude and Japanese people, being polite, do not usually use it.

Although Paisen is an informal word, it can be used when he is very close to Senpai, he will not face it in a respectful way, but often affectionate. It's simply a play on the word Senpai, usually used in a cute, fun and casual way, but it's still good to be careful when using it.

Paisen is also a nickname used for comic book masters Katsuya Yano and voice actress Sayuri Yahagi.

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Using the words Senpai and Kouhai

The words in this article are suffixes like [SAN, KUN and CHAN] used after the name and separated by a hyphen in English. The main difference is that the Japanese often use Senpai and Kouhai as a nickname, without the need to mention the name first.

Usually a Senpai addresses a Kouhai with his name or surname followed by the suffix -Kun regardless of gender. Similarly, a Kōhai addresses a Senpai by name with the suffix Senpai or San.

Senpai and kouhai - what is the meaning and the relationship between them?

Usually there is no separation according to age between these treatments. Those who arrived at school in the first year are considered Kōhai to those who are in the second and third years. There is a great friendship between Kouhai and Senpai, which can continue even after leaving school or organization.

Read also: Are schools in Japan the same as in anime? comparisons

In jobs, a person who has been there longer than you is considered Senpai, no matter if they arrived just one day earlier, you will still be the Kouhai. The concept is simple, it only becomes complicated when strange circumstances happen like failing or stopping working and coming back again.

Senpai and kouhai - what is the meaning and the relationship between them?

Relationship between Kouhai and Senpai

The Senpai should show compassion, listening and putting themselves in the place of the Kouhai, exploring their thoughts and feelings. Many have already felt the relief resulting from a conversation with someone willing to listen to them. Senpai must have the perception that Kouhai at certain times need help, and must create the conditions conducive to conversation. He needs to make himself available whenever necessary.

In Japanese sports clubs, such as baseball teams, Kouhai usually perform various household tasks for Senpai including washing clothes and cleaning. Kouhai cannot participate in all club activities until they gain a certain level of experience.

Senpai and kouhai - what is the meaning and the relationship between them?

In Japanese martial arts, the term Senpai generally refers to students at the highest level, who have a black belt. They are chosen to help the sensei with younger or less experienced students.

Read also: The 10 Japanese martial arts + list

If you are used to watching doramas and animes, you may have noticed the relationship between them or noticed many times students referring to older ones as Senpai. Some, when they become veterans, feel proud and satisfied, and do their best to help newcomers.

Unfortunately, there are many cases where seniors do not fulfill their roles, and act in an ignorant and despicable manner, offending the Kouhai and people of lower levels, where bullying (ijime) can also occur. Rarely will people like this be addressed by honorifics or receive special treatment.

Read also: Ijime - Bullyng in schools in Japan

Senpai and kouhai - what is the meaning and the relationship between them?

The Love Between Senpai and Kouhai

It is common for young high school students to fall in love with their Senpai, this defined a new concept for the word "Crush". This even gave rise to memes like "Notice Me Senpai" which means observe me, or notice me, an expression that also emerged from anime and manga. This expression indicates the need for approval that many people have of older or superior elements.

Unlike crush, which is used for platonic love. Senpai is a level above, because we have a little bit of intimacy and we know the person. They take care of the Kouhai in a way that they end up falling in love. The fact that the Kouhai are a level below makes them have no hope of a relationship, especially when the Kouhai, then the suffering is even greater.

Senpai and kouhai - what is the meaning and the relationship between them?

Senpai and Kouhai in the anime and manga

Most people who have fallen into this article probably heard the words Senpai and Kouhai through anime and manga. This happens because most anime take place in school, where these 2 treatments are commonly used. Not to mention anime that show masters, work or another specific area of life that uses these 2 treatments.

Below we will leave a list of anime and manga that depict the relationship between Senpai and Kouhai, although most school anime do this:

  • Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun - A great example of how not to be noticed;
  • Accel world – An action anime that portrays a bit of the subject;
  • Itazura na Kiss! - A beautiful romantic comedy;

If you want to play something related, we recommend Yandere Simulator! But be careful, it's quite macabre!

There are numerous cases and ways to describe the relationship between Senpai and Kōhai. I hope this brief summary has helped you understand the meaning of these 2 words.

At the end of this season, we will provide a list of Animes that show the relationship between Senpai and Kouhai. We will also recommend the best anime about Senpai and Kouhai.

Senpai and kouhai - what is the meaning and relationship between them?

Seonbae and Hubae - Senpai in Korean

Seonbae [선배] comes from the same etymology as Senpai, almost a synonym. Refers to a mentor or someone who attends the same school as you, but who ranks higher as a senior than a freshman.

When "Seonbae" is applied to taekwondo, the "Koryo" form has a tread pattern that traces the character "Hanja" to "Seonbae"; in this context, the term "Seonbae" refers to a class of civic officials in ancient Korea.

Hubae [후배] is the equivalent of Kouhai, used to refer to freshmen and juniors. Typically, people in senior and junior relationships call themselves Seonbaenim [선배님] and Hubaenim [후배님], where nim is equivalent to a Korean address suffix.

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Senpai vs Kouhai - Hierarchy

This hierarchy is common in countries where the majority are Confucian, such as Japan and Korea. “Veterans have enormous social power with respect to the“ newbies ”, who are the vast majority. Social norms are ideologically justified on this occasion.

The Senpai have powerful social power over the Kouhai in Japan and Korea. Senpai have the right to discriminate against the Kouhai as a privilege, with the right to use a negative TAM expression and the right to request the expression of obedience.

In some cases, the "senior" is implicitly recognized within the group as having the right to order something from the "junior". Some even go so far as to harness that power to get freshmen to buy things, without a shred of love and empathy.

Senpai power varies depending on each club and school, in schools like “Nistai Women's Volleyball Club”, there are 300 items that lower class students must do. The fact is that freshmen have a lot more tasks than seniors.

Read also: Bukatsu - School clubs in Japan - Extracurricular activities

While the purpose of this freshman and senior hierarchy is good, unfortunately it is not fulfilled with due respect by a good number of students. Usually in this case, fledglings tend to distance themselves from a certain Senpai.

Senpai Abuses Kouhai

Of course, there are cases where the fledgling may feel shadow-stricken, hold grudges, and in the future be forced to assume the position of “senpai” in social norms. Nobody is obliged to follow the hierarchy, but it is very likely that this will negatively affect the entire chain.

Those who criticize the system feel that it is arbitrary and unfair, that Senpai are often aggressive, and that the system results in students who are shy or afraid to stand out. For example, some Kōhai fear that if they surpass their Senpai in an activity, their Senpai will lose their readiness, some even force the Kouhai to apologize.

Some take advantage of the abuse of power (power hara) to make the fledglings a slave. Usually using offensive language, forcing the freshman or subordinate to carry their luggage, do their schoolwork and even use violence.

For this reason, Japan preaches the positive side of this Senpai-Kouhai hierarchy. People are encouraged to see freshmen as “new friends” who help each other in many ways, and not regard them as inferiors or tools to use.

As mentioned, being a Senpai is a delicate and more complicated task than being a freshman Kouhai. Surely those who do not take this relationship seriously end up suffering serious consequences in the future of their life.

Senpai and kouhai - what is the meaning and relationship between them?

History and Origin of Senpai and Kouhai

The Senpai-Kōhai system is deeply rooted in Japanese history. Three elements had a significant impact on its development: Confucianism, the traditional Japanese family system, and the Civil Code of 1898.

Confucianism arrived from China between the 6th and 9th centuries, but the derived line of thought that brought about profound social changes in Japan was neo-Confucianism, which became the official doctrine of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1867).

The precepts of loyalty and filial piety dominated the Japanese at the time, as the respect for elders and ancestor worship that Chinese Confucianism taught were well accepted by the Japanese, and these influences spread into daily life.

Senpai and kouhai - what is the meaning and relationship between them?

The Japanese family system (家 ie) was also regulated by Confucian codes of conduct and had an influence on the establishment of the senpai-kōhai relationship. In this family system, the father, as the male head, had absolute power over the family and the eldest son inherited the family property.

The father had power because he was the one who received the education and was seen as having superior ethical knowledge. Since reverence for superiors was considered a virtue in Japanese society, the wife and children had to obey it.

Besides the hereditary system, only the oldest son could receive the father's belongings, and neither the oldest daughter nor the younger sons received anything from him.

Senpai and kouhai - what is the meaning and relationship between them?

The last factor that influenced the Senpai-kōhai system was the Civil Code of 1898, which strengthened seniority privilege rules and reinforced the traditional family system, giving clear definitions of hierarchical values in the family.

This was called Koshusei [戸主制] which means head of household system, in which the head of the household had the right to rule over his family and the eldest son inherited this position. These statutes were abolished in 1947 after Japan's surrender at the end of World War II. However, these ideals remained during the following years as a psychological influence on Japanese society.

Senpai and Kouhai Anime

In addition to those mentioned above, we want to end the article with a list of anime that show the relationship between Senpai and Kouhai:

Seishun Buta Yarou wa Bunny Girl Senpai no Yume wo Minai

Abnormal things due to teenage problems happens frequently in Sakuta Azusagawa's life, these events are called Puberty Syndrome.

Her life changes when Mai Sakurajima, a famous actress, her Senpai in High School, starts dressing up as the "Play Boy Bunny" due to Puberty Syndrome.

Senpai - senpai and kouhai - what meaning and relationship between them?

Ijiranaide, Nagatoro-san

This anime tells the story of a girl named Nagatoro who is Kouhai of an extremely shy and antisocial student, but who bullies him, not a good example of Kouhai.

This anime is very painful, the girl is extremely sadistic and temperamental, but for some reason this anime is very successful and appears to be a lot of fun.

Nagatoro - Nagatoro-san
ijiranaide, nagatoro-san

List of Anime about Senpai and Kouhai

  • Clannad;
  • Yagate kimi ni naru;
  • Ijiranaide, nagatoro san
  • Uzaki-chan wo asobitai
  • Seitokaichou ni Chuukoku
  • Ganbare, Douki-chan
  • Magical Sempai

Videos related to Senpai and Kouhai

To finalize the article, let's include some videos related to the words investigated in this article:

YouTube video

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