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  • General Information that you will need and want to know before visiting Japan. We will give you all the tips and tricks you need to know to make the most out of your trip to Japan.
Senpai and Kouhai

Japanese Senpai and Kohai System

Japanese Senpai and Kohai system

In Japan, seniority and experience takes precedence over qualifications and ability. The saying “respect your elders” is definitely a huge thing in the every day life in Japan. From students to adults working you will often hear about “senpai” and “kohai”. Senpai basically means senior and kouhai basically means junior. These two words are something that is probably used every day at least a few times. Anywhere you go in Japan, you will have to know about the senpai and kouhai system and you will have to respect it.

Senpai and Kouhai

So here’s a bit of what you should know about the system.

From a young age, when you are a student in Japan you are expected to speak in keigo (formal Japanese) to your elders. Whether that be your teacher, other adults, people you are meeting for the first time, people that you are acquaintances with and students that are older than you. So a lot of the time people will think that keigo is used when speaking to your elders but it is actually used when you are talking to people that you don’t know even if they are younger than you and you are expected to use keigo to people that you don’t really know well even if they are the same age as you.

But sometimes, in certain work places, you will see that if someone younger than you has entered the company earlier than you then they are considered to be your senpai. Every year around April, students will have already finished job hunting seasons and they already have a job lined up after their graduation which takes place at the end of March. And when they enter the work place in April they will experience being thrown back to the bottom of the system again. They will either experience being bossed around by their senpai’s or they will meet a senpai who is nice enough to guide them through the new life of becoming a full time worker. Pretty much when you are a kouhai you are expected to do all the things that no one else wants to do. You will be expected to go out for drinks until late and you will be expected to drink if your senpai tells you to drink. I know that so far, everything that i’ve mentioned makes it seem like a horrible system. And yes, it is tough but it is not all horrible and in many ways it is meant as a way to discipline people. I believe that’s why Japan is respected for being such a well organized and well mannered country. Because everyone has experienced this tough system and they are very well disciplined by this system.

And most senpai’s are very nice to their kouhai. In fact, in many ways, a senpai’s role is to take care and look after their kouhai. If there is a strong friendship between the senpai and kouhai, the senapi will drop anything and do whatever they can to help their kouhai. They will often pay for their kouhai when going out to eat and they will help them write their resume or they will help them with a work project or whatever else it may be. Especially if there is that senpai kouhai relationship from middle school or high school, often times this friendship will last for a very long time. And most of the time, if you were to get into any major problem they will almost always help you out. Of course, this is not always the case, but I am just saying that it is highly likely for the above to happen.


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