Sunday, May 9, 2010
Respecting your elders - the Japanese Senpai-Kouhai system
In Japan, the "Senpai" system is an integral part of the society, I won't go into a lot of detail here, but it's basically about respecting your elders and those with more experience with you (wikipedia here). Basically, when you join a "group" (company, club, society or even experiences such as getting pregnant, getting married etc.) you are expected to learn and pay proper respect to those who have more experience.
In normal "grown up" society this is nowadays pretty benevolent and not pushed too hard, but it can take forms close to bullying in schools and in some instances; where the junior "Kohai" have to perform tasks for the senior "Senpai".
An older colleague close to retiremeent age told me of how, when he had joined the company as a junior employee, the older people, after a day of supervising some construction work in the bad heat of the summer, went out to drink. As they had been on a construction site, they had been wearing helmets, sweating profusely. He told me how they made him go buy beer for the whole group and forced him to drink from one of his senior's sweaty helmet, guzzling it down in one go. He finished with complaining to me about how they never paid him for the beer either...
Then The Boy told me of how things had worked when he was in junior high and enrolled in the school club activities. The older student there made the juniors play the computer role-playing game in fashion on their gameboys and do the boring stuff like fighting random foes for experience points to level the character to such a point that the senior could continue the story and the fun parts. For the junior to actually do anything fun like continue the story or purchase any equipment in the game was strictly forbidden.
It's a harsh system, but someone I get the feeling that things have loosened up considerably in the later years...