The word 生徒(せいと) means "pupil", but what exactly is/was a 生徒 in Japanese culture? And how is a 生徒 different from a 学生? And in what context would you use the word?


3 Answers 3


According to my Japanese dictionary, 広辞林, the two words are defined as follows:

  • 生徒 -- refers to a student receiving an education from a fixed location such as in middle or high school or from under a tutor etc.   


  • 学生 -- refers to a someone who attends classes, but in particular someone who studies at university.


From this it seems that 学生 is the more general term covering a wider range of students including those in the category of 生徒. As @naruto pointed out in the comments, 学生 isn't quite as general as those definitions might leave one to think (now I'm a bit disappointed in my dictionary). Apparently, 生徒 is the more appropriate terms for a student taking a culinary class, or swimming lessons, or studying martial arts, and I would therefor imagine a number of other things.

  • ありがとうございます! bows like a gaijin
    – Tirous
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 2:03
  • 4
    学生 is not necessarily more generic because one can only use 生徒 in 料理教室の生徒 or スイミングスクールの生徒.
    – naruto
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 2:37
  • So... 生徒 is used for students in an education system that isn't part of the standardised education system and isn't something like martial arts where a different word is used? Is that it, more or less?
    – Tirous
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 2:59
  • 3
    You can safely use 生徒 for schools of martial arts.
    – naruto
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 3:31
  • 2
    Yes, where there's a 先生, there's a 生徒 :-)
    – naruto
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 17:37

I would say that 学生 strongly implies that it is a pupil in a school, while 生徒 is simply a "pupil", someone who learns from someone.

There are many terms for students depending on the situation (school, martial arts, beginner, expert, etc.), but pupil really feels suitable for them all.


In the Japanese school system, it depends on whether you go to elementary school, junior/high school, or university.

Kindergarten or daycare - 園児
Elementary school - 児童
Junior high or high school - 生徒
University - 学生



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