When I was a student the system was more prevalent than now. In Korea seniority is taken more seriously: Kohai must turn away from sempai to drink or smoke a cigarette.
Gavin Dixon (Australian)
MBA consultant, 36
Some say it’s essential to pass on knowledge and hold the societal fabric together, others say it’s an anachronism. I think it seems to work well, and it’s becoming less rigid.
Student, 17 (German)
At school the language used by a kohai to a sempai is more polite. But in everyday life, I’m surprised because I often see old people standing on trains and nobody offers them a seat.
Lecturer, 35 (American)
I notice that kohai always cater to the sempai — serving drinks and never expressing opinions without referring to them first. I am not always comfortable as I’m outside the system.
It’s good to respect elders, but it should be for their attitude or experiences. In some firms they are starting to respect people for their work, not their age or time spent at the firm.
Public schoolteacher, 28
It’s an important element of Japanese culture because it works to keep the people stable and polite. It can be a useful way to learn from those who know more.