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What is Sunbae in Japanese?

What is Sunbae in Japanese?


In Japan, there is a term called ‘sunbae’ which is used to refer to someone who is older or more experienced than you. It is an honorific term that shows respect and admiration for those who are in a higher position than you, and it has its roots in the traditional hierarchical system of Japan. In this article, we will explore what sunbae means in Japanese, how it originated, and how it is used today.

Japanese Snack Box

Definition of Sunbae in Japanese:

The term sunbae literally translates to “senior colleague” or “older colleague”. It can also be interpreted as “superior” or “mentor”. Sunbae is used as an honorific to refer to someone who is senior or higher up than you in terms of age, experience, or rank. It implies respect and admiration for the person being referred to.

Origin and History of Sunbae in Japan:

The concept of sunbae has its roots in the traditional hierarchical system of Japan. In this system, people are expected to show respect for those who are older or more experienced than them. This tradition has been passed down through generations and still exists today as a sign of respect for those who have achieved a certain level of experience or status.

Sunbae as a Formal Honorific:

Sunbae is primarily used as a formal honorific that shows respect for someone who is senior or higher up than you. It can be used when addressing someone directly (e.g., “sunbaenim”) or when referring to them indirectly (e.g., “sunbaesama”). It can also be used when talking about someone (e.g., “he/she/they are my sunbaes”).

Sunbae in the Workplace:

In the workplace, sunbae is often used to refer to colleagues who have been working at the company longer than you have, or those with higher positions within the company hierarchy such as managers and directors. By using this honorific title, employees can show their superiors respect while also establishing themselves as part of the company culture by recognizing their seniority within the organization.

Sunbae in Schools:

The term sunbae is also commonly used in schools by students to refer to their seniors who are one year ahead of them (e.g., first-year students referring to second-year students as sunbaes). This practice helps foster camaraderie among students and creates an environment where everyone looks out for each other’s well-being and success.

The Difference Between Senpai and Sunbae:

While both senpai and sunbae mean “senior” or “superior” when translated into English, there are some subtle differences between the two terms that should be noted when using them correctly in conversation. Generally speaking, senpai refers more specifically to someone with whom you have a close relationship (e.g., classmate), while sunbae refers more generally to someone with higher status than you regardless of whether you know them personally (e.g., manager at work).


In conclusion, sunbae is an important term that has its roots in Japan’s traditional hierarchical system which emphasizes respect for those with greater experience and status than oneself. It can be used formally when addressing someone directly (e.g., “sunbaenim”) or indirectly when referring to them (e..g,”sunbaesama”), or even casually when talking about them (e..g,”he/she/they are my sunbaes”). There are subtle differences between senpai and sunabai which should be noted when using these terms correctly; however they both generally mean “senior” or “superior”.


1) Nakamura Kiyoshi – What Does ‘Sunbaenim’ Mean? – Nihongo Master https://www2nihongo-mastercom/what-does-sunbaenim-mean/
2) Japantimes – What Is ‘Senpai’ And How Is It Used In Japan? – Japantimes https://wwwjapantimescojp/culture/2020/08/10/language-words-in-the-news/what-is-senpai-and-how-is-itusedinjapan/#:~:text=In%20Japan%2C%20the%20term%20senpai%20(also%20known%20as%,respectful%20way%2C%20especially%20for%20those%20who

What does Sunbae mean?

Noun. sunbae (plural sunbaes) An upperclassman or senior, in the context of South Korea. quotations ▼ (South Korean idol fandom) An older or more experienced idol, viewed as a veteran, mentor, or predecessor.

What is the Japanese version of Sunbae?

senpai * Senpai (nim) (先生[nim]) /seon bae(-nim)/: high in education/work. * Qualifications of people who have worked or participated in a particular field before you. [Also the same meaning in Japanese is 先生 (せんぱい) /sem pai/. ]

Can I call a girl Sunbae?

They tend to lose respect after becoming friends. If your dong is jaesusaeng unnie you can use oppa hyung or noona. Sunbae guys listen to girls like hubby oppa. Because oppa sounds flirtatious female students prefer to call you sunbae.

What is Sunbae and Sunbaenim?

선배님 (seonbaenim) is Korean and refers to someone with more experience in the same company or school group. It is a made-up word combining 선배 (seonbae) which means old in English and 님 (nim) which means sir. Or called Mr. This Korean name is usually used when someone speaks the official language.

Can you call a girl oppa?

눈나 (Nuna) Used when talking to older female friends. Nuna is the opposite of Oppa. Oppa is only used by women when addressing older men while nuna is only used by men when addressing older women. 나나 is sometimes spelled Nuna. Nuna is used as a substitute for a persons name.

Does oppa mean boyfriend?

Oppa mean boyfriend? Oppa just refers to brother/husband in a friendly tone. It can also refer to your boyfriend or husband.

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