I watch a lot an anime.
And if you’re reading this, I’d be willing to bet that you do too. Or maybe you read a lot of manga (I do that as well!) and you may have come across the phrase “notice me senpai” once or twice before.
You might be wondering to yourself, “what does notice me senpai mean?”
Well to really understand it, you’ll first have to know a little bit about the hierarchy structure of the Japanese culture AND you’ll have to know what the two words senpai 先輩 and kouahi 後輩 both mean.
Luckily they are both pretty simple and once you understand what they mean, you’ll be able to use them yourself. Hey, you may even be a senpai yourself! Let’s find out!
The Hierarchy of Japan, and In/Out Groups
Okay, so what you have to know is that people in Japan have different social statuses and this fact is very important. If you’ve studied Japanese at all, I’m sure you’ve noticed that you generally use more polite and formal words when talking to, and about other people. And you also use less formal (or even casual) words when talking about yourself.
You would “talk up” to people who are considered your superior in any way. This could be people in your family, people at your job, your neighbors who have been there longer, and the list goes on and on.
On the other hand, when YOU hold the higher position and you are dealing with people who are considered your juniors or subordinates, you can be more informal towards them while they still use formality towards you as a sign of their respect of you and your position.
That first part of it is pretty easy to understand. Let’s move on to groups.
The Japanese culture is also pretty big on the concepts of “inside groups” vs. “outside groups.”
For YOU personally, here is a list of some groups that you are probably a part of now (or have been in the past) and the people who would be considered a part of your personal “in group”:
-Your school is a group and your fellow classmates are in that group.
-Your work is another group and your co-workers (boss too) are in that group.
-Your family is a group and family members are in it.
-Your nationality is a BIG group and there are A LOT of people who share it with you.
On the flip side, an “outside group” is basically anyone and everyone who is not in one of your groups with you. But remember that one person can be in one group with you, and at the same time not be in another one of your groups.
So if you are American and you work at a Japanese company in Japan, you are a part of that company’s in group, but you are still an outsider (out group) when it comes to the Japanese nationality group.
Senpai 先輩 and Kouai 後輩
So now you know all about groups, AND you know all about the hierarchy in those groups, but what about the people who are equal to you in a group, but have been there longer?
Think about school. You may be a sophomore, and one of your fellow classmates is a senior. Now, he’s not your superior in this group (that would be your teacher) but he’s not exactly at your level either since he’s been in this particular group and system longer than you have.
He is YOUR senpai. And you are HIS kouahi.
A senpai, is someone who is a part of your group and who has been there longer than you have. He is your senior in that particular situation, but he doesn’t hold authority over you.
A kouhai is of course the other side of that equation. Someone in your group who has been there less time than you, but who basically has an equal position to you.
Alright, alright… Now you understand the basic meaning of the word senpai, but what is the essence of the word? Why do people want senpai to notice them so badly?
Senpais are the cool kids.
They are the people that you look up to and really admire.
Think about it. When you were a sophomore in high school or college, the seniors were usually the most popular and coolest people in class. They were the ones who knew all the tricks, all the tips, and all the secrets of being at the school. And they had been building relationships with the other students and teachers for the last few years, while you were still pretty new.
So when somebody says “notice me senpai”, in a way what they’re really saying is “I think you are cool! I look up to you! And I REALLY want you to like me too!”
You probably see the phrase most often when a young girl or boy wants their crush to take notice of them. I’m sure you can think back to a time when you are able to relate to that particular feeling.
But sometimes it’s also used when you want someone whom you admire to acknowledge you and your accomplishments as well. Like, a really good teammate that you play a sport with.
- Japan’s cultural is hierarchical in nature.
- It has inside-groups and outside-groups.
- A Senpai is a person who is a part of your group, and they are basically at your same level in that group, but they’ve been there longer, you look up to them, and they are usually considered pretty dang cool!
Notice me senpai! And see you next time!
Want to know more on Japanese culture? Check out these 5 things!
Let me know what you think! And leave a comment below! 🙂
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: