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 probably have heard an anime character calling another by those names. Thinking to answer your question, let's investigate the meaning and the relationship between these two words.

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

Let's study each of these words in depth. To facilitate your navigation, we will leave a article index below:


The meaning of Senpai

Senpai [先輩] is equivalent to 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 a respectful treatment for older or more experienced people, a parent, graduate or someone years ahead in school education.

Senpai e kouhai – qual significado e a relação entre eles?

The word SEN-PAI [先 - 輩] is the junction of the ideogram sen [先] that gives the idea of the future, precedence, head, front, old and first. Together with the ideogram father [輩] that gives the idea of comrade, companion and person. Literally a companion who has more experience than you.

In Japanese, a person should never call himself a senpai, nor does he even run after that title as some run after the title of veteran or scout. Being a senpai means being recognized by others, it is an honor that needs to be earned.


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

Senpai e kouhai - qual significado e a relação entre eles?

The meaning of Kouhai

Kouhai [後輩] is basically the opposite of without father, a generic equivalent to freshman in the west. Other meanings and ideas that the word passes on are of junior and younger people. The ideogram [後] gives the idea of behind, after, rest, successor, heir, previous and things like that. The word also has the ideogram [輩] but is pronounced hai.

In a simple way, senpai it is used to refer to an older and more experienced person, a mentor or senior. Kouhai, on the other hand, is a younger, novice or inexperienced person. Nobody feels offended by being called Kouhai, on the contrary, there is a great relationship between the 2.

Senpai e kouhai - qual significado e a relação entre eles?

If you chatted or befriended a veteran, you automatically became a kouhai and should call him senpai as a sign of respect. Not using this treatment is as if you don't respect yourself. Only not all veterans call their kouhais for treatment, but rather by name or nickname.

Senpai Slang - What does Paisen mean?

There is slang that practically reverses the position of ideograms in Senpai. Slang is paisen [パイセン] and means the same thing, senior, superior, older, graduate or parent. It is worth mentioning that this slang is more rude and as the Japanese are educated they do not usually use it.

even though paisen being an informal word, it can be used when you are very close to senpai, he will not face you in a respectful but often affectionate way. It is simply a joke with the word Senpai, usually used in a cute, fun and casual way, but it is still good to be careful about when to use it.


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

Using the words Senpai and Kouhai

The words in this article are suffixes just like [san, kun and chan] and are used after the name and separated by a hyphen in Portuguese. The main difference is that the Japanese usually use Senpai and Kouhai as a nickname, without the need to mention the name before.

Generally a senpai addresses a kōhai with his first or last name followed by the suffix -kun regardless of gender. Similarly, a kōhai addresses a senpai by name with the suffix -senpai or -san.

Senpai e kouhai - qual significado e a relação entre eles?

There is usually no separation according to age between these treatments. Those who arrived at school in the first year are considered kōhai of those in the second and third years. There is a great friendship between kouhai and senpai, which can continue even when they left the school or organization.

In jobs a person who is longer than you is considered a senpai, no matter if he arrived just a day earlier, you will still be the kohai. The concept is simple it only becomes complicated when strange circumstances happen such as failing or stopping work and coming back again.

Some people write in Portuguese without father, but I hope there is no one without a father here. It is not incorrect, but using the word sempai further strengthens the idea of saying that someone has no father. The right thing to write is also kouhai although some romanize like kōhai (accents in Portuguese already arrive).

Senpai e kouhai - qual significado e a relação entre eles?

Relationship between Kouhai and Senpai

The senpai should show compassion by listening and putting yourself in the kouhaiexploring your thoughts and feelings. Many have already felt the relief that results from talking to someone who is willing to listen to them. Senpais must realize that kohais at certain times need help, and they must create the right conditions for conversation. He needs to make himself available whenever necessary.

In Japanese sports clubs, such as baseball teams, kouhai generally perform various household chores for senpai including washing and cleaning. O kōhai you cannot participate in all club activities until you have a certain experience.

Senpai e kouhai - qual significado e a relação entre eles?

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

If you are in the habit of watching drama and anime, you must have noticed the relationship between them or noticed several times that students refer to older ones as senpai. Some, when they become veterans, feel proud and satisfied, and do their utmost to help newcomers.

Unfortunately, there are many cases, that veterans do not play their roles, and act in an ignorant and contemptible way, offending the kouhai and people of lower levels, where it can also occur ijime (bullying). It is unlikely that people like that will be called by the honorific or receive special treatment.

Senpai e kouhai - qual significado e a relação entre eles?

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 the word as in the word crush. This even won memes like “notice me senpai”Which means watch me or notice me, an expression that also emerged from anime and manga. This expression indicates the need for approval that many people have for older or higher elements.

Unlike crush, which is used for platonic love. Senpai is one level up, because we have a little intimacy and we know the person. They take care of the kouhai in a way that they fall in love. The fact that the kouhai are one level down causes them to have no hope of a relationship, especially when kouhai, there the suffering is even greater.

Senpai e kouhai - qual significado e a relação entre eles?

Senpai and Kouhai in anime and manga

Most who fell in this article probably heard the word Senpai and Kouhai through anime and manga. This is because most anime take place at school, where these 2 treatments are usually 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 anime list and manga that portray the relationship between senpai and kouhai, despite the fact that most school anime do this:

  • Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun - A great example of how not to be noticed;
  • Accel world - An action anime that portrays a little of the subject;
  • Itazura at Kiss! - A beautiful romantic comedy;

If you want to play something related, we recommend Yandere Simulator! But beware that he is very macabre!

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

Senpai e kouhai – qual significado e a relação entre eles?

Seonbae and Hubae - Senpai in Korean

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


When seonbae is applied to taekwondo, the Koryo shape has a floor pattern that traces the Hanja character to seonbae; in this context, the term seonbae refers to a class of civil servants from ancient Korea.

Hubae [후배] is the equivalent of Kouhai, used to refer to freshmen and juniors. Usually, people in senior and junior relationships are called Seonbaenim [선배님] and Hubaenim [후배 님], where the nim equals one Korean treatment suffix.

Senpai x 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 kouhai as a privilege, and have the right to use a negative expression also 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 take advantage of this power to make freshmen buy things, without an ounce of love and empathy.


The power of senpai varies depending on each club and school, in schools like Nistai Women's Volleyball Club, there are 300 items that lower class students should do. The fact is, freshmen have far more tasks than veterans.

Although the objective of this freshman and veteran hierarchy is good, unfortunately it is not fulfilled with due respect by a good number of students. Usually in this case, freshmen tend to move away from a particular senpai.

Senpai abuses with Kouhai

Of course, there are cases where the freshman may feel hit by the shade, have grudges, and in the future be forced to assume the position of “senpai” in social norms. No one is forced to follow the hierarchy, but it is very likely that it will negatively affect the entire chain.

Those who criticize the system think that it is arbitrary and unfair, that senpais are often aggressive and that the system results in students who are shy or afraid to stand out. For example, some kōhais fear that if they overcome their senpais in an activity, their senpai will lose their readiness, some even compel the kouhai to apologize.

Some take advantage of the abuse of power (power hara) to make the slave freshmen. 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 hierarchy of Senpai-Kouhai. People are encouraged to see freshmen as “new friends” who help each other in many ways, and do not consider them to be inferior or use tools.

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

Senpai e kouhai – qual significado e a relação entre eles?

History and Origin of Senpai and Kouhai

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

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 the elders and the cult of ancestors that Chinese Confucianism taught were well accepted by the Japanese, and these influences spread throughout daily life.

Senpai e kouhai – qual significado e a relação entre eles?

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's property.

The father had power because he was the one who received an 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.

In addition to the hereditary system, only the eldest son could receive the father's belongings, and neither the eldest daughter nor the youngest children received anything from him.

Senpai e kouhai – qual significado e a relação entre eles?

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

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

Videos related to Senpai and Kouhai

To finish the article, we will leave some videos related to the words investigated in this article. If you liked the article leave your comments and share with friends.