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Senpai ( Jap.先輩; by the outdated, not revised document also: Sempai ) is the Japanese term for someone who is with an organization longer than oneself This takes precedence over the age: A 20-year-old who in the second year. works in a company is the senpai of a 30-year-old who is just starting out. The opposite of Senpai is Kōhai . These terms are used wherever Japanese people come together in hierarchical groups, i.e. at school, at university, within the department of a company and in a sports club.

Senpai-Kōhai relationship

The Senpai-Kōhai relationship is an application of the Confucian Five Elementary Human Relationships to the above-mentioned areas and entrusts the Senpai with the task of guiding the Kōhai, as well as taking care of his well-being, if necessary, similar to that between siblings. He gives newcomers guidance and advice, acts as a role model and takes responsibility for his or her Kōhai. A kōhai can expect his senpai to pay for a drink together. The Kōhai can rely on the help of the Senpai, to whom he owes respect and a certain obedience. In sports clubs, for example - and still in traditional working groups at universities - Kōhai take on the clean-up work that the Senpai delegate to them.

The Senpai-Kōhai relationship carries the risk of abuse and can border on harassment, for example, but it cannot be overlooked that in very many cases it creates positive, binding and "productive" human relationships.

Senpai as a term in martial arts

In Budō , Senpai describes a student who started training earlier. The word describes a subjective perspective: classmates who started their training before the student are referred to by him as Senpai, while younger ones are referred to as Kōhai. Ultimately, students who began at the same time as him are referred to as Dōhai.

A Senpai has a certain role model function in Budō and should always be at the side of the younger classmates with advice and action, but should never impose himself on them.


The name is used as a salutation from middle school onwards. In contrast to most other Japanese salutations , usually only the word Senpai itself is used (as is Sensei ), more rarely a combination of name + Senpai . Depending on the degree of familiarity, Senpai can be combined with a first or last name, but the surname is usually used because it is basically a respectful form of address.

In the martial arts, the term is also used outside of Japan.