What is Senpai and Kouhai?

What is Senpai and Kouhai? At least one has been used a ton in the Otaku community.

Entries into the Otaku Encyclopedia are usually slang words or words mostly used in Otaku media, such as anime and manga. However, Senpai and Kouhai are regular Japanese words that everyone uses. Since they’re used so often, and most people know Senpai from the Notice Me Senpai Meme, I figured I’d cover both Senpai and Kouhai since they go hand in hand.

Basically, Senpai (Hiragana: せんぱい; Kanji: 先輩) is a word that means senior or mentor, while Kouhai (Hiragana: こうはい; Kanji: 後輩) is a word that means junior or protege. The majority of Otaku know it by the senior junior paradigm set in school stories.

Often times in an anime or manga, one character (usually female) is in love with another character who happens to be a year or two older. The younger character is a Kouhai to the older character; the older character is a Senpai to the younger character. That’s the senoir and junior model.

Senpai and Kouhai isn’t only used in school, however. It can be used as an adult with co-workers at a job. Let’s say one person is starting a job and works with a more experienced employee. The more experienced employee is the Senpai to the new employee, and the new employee is the Kouhai to the more experienced employee. That’s the mentor and protege model.

When addressing a Senpai, sometimes Senpai is used directly after a name. Using my name as an example, a Kouhai would say “Hector-Senpai.” Other times they may not say a person’s name and address them simply as Senpai. On the other hand, this doesn’t seem to be the case with Kouhai.

And that’s all you need to know about Senpai and Kouhai! If someone else ask “What is Senpai?” or “What is a Kouhai?” make sure you direct them here! You can find more information on Japanese subculture terms just like this in my growing Otaku Encyclopedia.