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I've been working on a script for a Visual Novel, in it one of the heroine's Sakura address's the main hero Talavaliau (Tala for short) as Sempai because she has a crush on him and can't bring herself to actually call him by his name even with honorifics but also as a sign of respect for his nature

i base this on a number of anime/manga/books/games i have seen where a younger girl addresses an older crush as sempai and in most cases their just a class year's difference or have a year gap between their age

i know that sempai is used as a form of respect for younger students to address older students however in my script, Tala ends up being reassigned into Sakura's class so they are in the same year in the school, Tala's and Sakua's age are the same but Tala's birthday falls on the same day as his foster sister (he no longer remembers his real birth date and uses the day he was saved/adopted) which is only 1 month before Sakura's

so i am wondering if Sempai can be used to address a student of the same year/age or if i should use another term which doesn't involve using a person's name

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This question could be improved quite a bit by making it more generally applicable. Some ways to do this might be to remove details about your story/characters and/or frame the question in a way that would be applicable in more situations or to more people. – rintaun Nov 11 '13 at 15:00

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It can refer simply to age, but especially in the context of school it will refer to someone in a grade above you. It's a similar thing in work or other organizations: your 先輩 are the ones who came first and outrank you. Outside of a strict hierarchy (like school or work) I think it just refers to the idea of someone being older, as in 彼は私の5年先輩です。 (He is five years my senior.) It may also be worth noting that dictionary entries tend to roll up the idea of simply being born first into the same definition as seniority in academia or in arts, so this may be more of a reference to someone who is more wise or knowledgeable rather than just being older. For example I don't think you really refer to elderly people as senpai.

Technically your classmate is your 同輩 (douhai), although as istrasci (and formerly snailboat) reminds us this term is not the most common, and instead 同級生 or other more common terms would be used (emphasis that this describes the relationship, not the term you would use to talk to them). These people would be addressed with kun/chan/san/whatever else. When in doubt, just stick within the established hierarchy. As a (pro?)noun used to address people, though, you have senpai but not much else.

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Although correct, 同輩 sounds super stiff to me. I feel like 同窓生 or 同年生 would be more familiar (although I don't know if the latter is a real word, but I recall hearing it). – istrasci Nov 11 '13 at 1:37
同級生 is more common. – Jokester Nov 11 '13 at 6:33
We do not use the word 同窓生 while in school. We use it after graduating from a school. – l'électeur Nov 11 '13 at 7:39
@Jokester: Thank you!!!!!! I knew there was a better word, but I couldn't come up with it for some reason. – istrasci Nov 11 '13 at 16:18
Thing is the question is about addressing a person. Native speakers DO NOT address a person as 同級生. – l'électeur Nov 11 '13 at 21:25

A classmate would never call another sempai. That is reserved for people in the year(s) above you, or people who began your job before you. (You say "just one year apart" but that one year makes a big difference and is important.) In a class at school, everyone is equal, regardless of their actual birth date. She would call him [name]-kun or [name] with no honorific if they were close. If they met for the first time outside school, it would still be ridiculous for her to use sempai because that's only for school/work. If you want her to use something besides his name to his face, it has to be a teasing nickname, like Mamoru would call Usagi "Odango-atama" in Sailormoon.

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In context of some organization, Senpai means came earlier and is not necessarily based on age.

I myself call younger people Senpai in corps.

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