Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Today I have another guest writer for my blog. I convinced my jr. high school student to tell me about his school life. Tetsuhiro is very good in English and makes the effort to use the English words he knows to communicate. The other day I asked him to tell me about the senpai-kohai system in English and I wrote down his information and made it into a composition for him.

The senpai-kohai system is unique in Japan. Japanese value superiority and rank and the language and vocabulary changes depending on which person of rank you are speaking to. (This is why Japanese love business cards. It lets them know immediately what rank the other person is so they can adjust their language accordingly. It is also the reason why one of the first questions one asks a foreigner is their age.) Unfortunately the ranking system can get out of hand in the adolescent years and it can escalate into never ending hazing, much like when joining a fraternity or sorority.

I hope you enjoy Tetsuhiro's observations of jr. high school life.

In Japan, there is the senpai-kohai system. "Senpai" means senior or older person and "kohai" means junior or younger person.

Right now I am a first year student in jr. high school, and my senpai are the second and third year students. Next year when I am a second year student I will have third year senpai and first year kohai.

Even in companies, anyone who has worked longer than you is your senpai. The senpai teach the kohai the ropes of company life. In school, the senpai will teach the kohai about techniques or skills in the school clubs. Senpai are important for making a group of students into a team. I like the senpai at my school because they are kind and interesting. My school has very good senpai. I'm lucky.

BUT... In some jr. high schools the senpai are very mean. The school may not have a rule about something but the senpai will make "rules". For example, most jr. high students spend all day in the gym clothes. The gym clothes have a zipper in front. In school the first year students are only allowed (by senpai rules) to zip their shirt up to the collar. But second year and third year students can zip all the way up or leave their gym clothes loose. If a first year student wears his gym clothes another way, he will get scolded by the senpai or bullied.

Another example is socks. The senpai say that first year students are only allowed to wear white socks that go to the calf. Only if you are a second year or third year student can you wear socks other than white, or socks that have designs, or ankle socks. If you get on the bad side of a senpai you will be bullied until the senpai graduates. And the senpai are very good at not letting the teachers know about the bullying.

I'm glad I go to my jr. high school and don't have problems with senpai. Next year I will be a second year student and I want to be a kind and friendly senpai.

Tetsuhiro in his gym clothes... Zipper hanging loose.


Rae Ann said...

More culture, I just love it. Now I worked for Selex Systems USA, her in the US, sister company to Cannon Inc, both owned by Copier Company in Tokyo Japan. Although I don't speak Japanese, I always took notice to this.....when we had visitors from Japan, one could always tell who "Senpai" was, by the how far my boss bowed. I took notice to Akira-san, my boss and president of Selex, bow lower than our visitors. I later found out that they were very high ranking persons from Copier Company who actually owned us. Very Interesting.Rae Ann

Mrs. Goodneedle said...

Another wonderful glimpse into life in Japan. Thanks to Tetsuhiro for a wonderful composition, he did very well, and I'm sure is a kind and friendly young man!

Mimi said...

Thanks so much for having your guest writer.

This young man did a great job in expressing himself. Social interaction in junior high and high school can be more than a little difficult. Being young has it's problems, too.

Also, thanks for educating us about life in Japan.


sewprimitive karen said...

What a wonderful description he wrote. Bullying is the worst, I wish nobody had to endure it.

Amanda said...

Fascinating. Here in the UK, and I imagine in most of the West, we are at great pains to treat everyone equally, to be as classless as possible. A system such as yours seems to be open to great abuse, and to enable bullying. Is that the case? Is bullying endemic in Japanese culture, or are people able to cope with the system without abusing it?

Shasta said...

Tetsuhiro did a wonderful job with the composition. It is an interesting system - with so many benefits and potential drawbacks. I would imagine that even without that system, the older kids would make up arbitrary rules for the freshmen. I'm glad that bullying of that type doesn't go on at his school, and he can zip up his shirt the way he wants.

limpingalong said...

Thank you for sharing this bit of your life. I am really interested in Japan and the Japanese people.
In the mid-70's we had Japanese young women spend 6 weeks at our house as part of a cultural exchange program. It was a wonderful experience for my children.

I enjoyed the composition by Tetsuhiro. He did very well with English! I teach a group of women who want to learn English. It is a 2-hour/week class but we manage to learn a lot during that time. I say we, because I learn as much as the students. I have never had a Japanese student but have had students from Korea, China, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Iran, and Thailand.
I'll be back for a visit again, soon. You are invited to drop into my blog, also.

The Calico Quilter said...

Please thank Tetsuhiro for his interesting and enlightening composition. He's fortunate his schoolmates are not taking advantage of the situation. Even here, where there are not hard and fast rules of status, the younger kids can have it pretty hard in high school.