10 November 2010


Below is a post taken with approval from good mate Ben Foo, the current chairperson of Malaysian Students Association in Japan.



(Jouge Kankei, means "hierarchical relationship" in Japanese.)

Japanese is famous with it's "up and down" culture. It can be seen not only through actions but also in the honorific language in Japanese language, and so hierarchical relationship is a very important aspect in daily lives. Starting from young, Japanese has adopt this culture. It can be in many ways; according to age, according to academic background, timeline being in an organization etc, and it became more important when one goes into the society.

I think this jouge kankei thing is not a popular term among gaijin (foreigners), mainly because we do not have the culture of placing people up and down in a relationship. (Actually I would oppose the previous statement. Asians do actually have some aspect in honorific language). Even young Japanese today don't really take jouge kankei seriously (I think). I would say it's because of the influence from the West, where the society there looks more to the results, rather than the order.

Of course, some might say it's ridiculous to rank someone through age etc even if the person is showing a lower ability. Or some might say respect is to be earned through hard work, and not just by saying "yes sir!" to someone just because he is older.

I personally like and accept the jouge kankei culture, maybe because I've grew up in different organizations and I've experience the culture ever since I was young. In fact, I think most of my long term relationships are based on junior-senior basis. Communication and trust will be and can be achieved through this junior-senior relationship.

Approving or opposing, jouge kankei is a way of improving communication. Do you agree on jouge kankei?


A very mindful read indeed, as such jouge kankei exist from Japanese schools up to corporations. It's not hard to notice this is actually happening almost everywhere in Japan, if you're observant enough.

The most common terms used would be 先輩 (senpai, senior) and 後輩 (kouhai, junior).
For example, Ben's my senior so I would refer him as "Ben senpai" naturally.

Change the scenery back to Malaysia, I'd just call his name, without adding anything extra to the prefix or suffix. That's what I'm calling him now, but that doesn't mean that respect of him diminished.
For us Malaysians, we are not used to refer those who're few years elder than us as "senior", but more to peers, friends. In other words, we're all equal.

It was kinda awkward I felt when new batch of  Malaysian students from the language school refer me as "senpai", I'm just not used to being called as "Fan-senpai" heh. One of the fact is because some of them are actually elder than me and it would be inappropriate I treat them as "juniors" right.

To me, respect to the elder, senior figure is beyond honorific reference. Respect through attitude & appreciation. I may not follow the way Japanese do things, but that doesn't mean that I'm being disrespectful. Until today, I've yet to encounter any difficulties dealing with jouge kankei in Japan.

Just another write-ups on micro-culture of Japan. It's not just all about otaku and Akihabara eh.... there're still many things to learn from Japan.  :)

1 comment:

  1. I never feel comfortable to have non-Japanese juniors to call me with a "senpai" at the end of my name. It's still okay if they are Japanese, because they are used to this environment and style already.

    To me, to be respected, no matter by someone elder or younger, it has to be earned. Being elder than another person doesn't mean you do not have to respect that person. Hence, age and position doesn't really matter to me because I believe we should respect each other ;)