My Mean Senpai!

Film posters can be good sources for a quick bite of Japanese without much effort. You have a large image to help you understand context and usually a catchy phrase that shows some of the more creative uses of the language.

This poster is clearly aimed for a younger audience, using very simple language, bold and evocative imagery. It’s a love comedy – and you don’t even need to understand a word of the language to know that! Fortunately, we are language students, so we can pick it apart a little more.


わたしの やさしくない せんぱい。

My Mean Senpai

We had a whole host of new beginner members recently from the special Textfugu deal, so I imagine pretty much everyone on the site can understand this sentence! What’s interesting are the different ways you might translate it. My take is to ignore the negative 優しくない (unkind) and just outright use a positive synonym. Sounds better than ‘My unkind Senpai’, right? (Just in case you are wondering, the Japanese word 先輩 is the opposite to 後輩 (こうはい). They refer to a superior-subordinate relationship, like a senior and a junior, boss and employee, young and old. It’s an important Japanese cultural concept to grasp while learning the language, as the level of the relationship will determine your manner of speaking.

Senpai, then, would be the senior (student, in this case), and kouhai would be the junior. A junior would have to show more respect to a senior and generally use politer language and actions to show it. I left ‘senpai’ in the English translation because it’s one of those words that I feel has a special quality about it that is lost when translated to English. Other such words might include 元気 (げんき) and お疲れさまでした (おつかれさまでした).



I love him and hate him!

スキ?? You may be wondering why the word ‘like’ or ‘love’ is using Katakana. It’s for emphasis (as we looked at here). The opposite of love? Hate, of course – きらい. This also has a kanji (嫌い) but it is omitted here for simplicity.

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10 Responses to My Mean Senpai!

  1. 案努龍 July 14, 2011 at 8:06 pm #

    Good points on translations of せんぱい, げんき and おつかれ。And yes,  I am indeed one of those new members from the textfugu deal (and a bit of a beginner, in the grand scheme of things).

    It’s a bit of an advanced vocabulary word, but a word I find hard to translate to my Japanese friends (りゅうがくせい) is そっちけい。 It is by far the most difficult to translate, because it replaces a word you don’t want to say out loud. 

    We don’t have a word like that in English, but rather, phrases instead. For example, walking by a weapons shop, and my friend says that the shop “looks socchikei” (looks like they sell weapons, only using “decoration” as a front). Then of course you could use it if you see a girl that you suspect may be a guy, or vice versa.. 

    Sometimes these difficult translations are a pain, but at the same time it’s fascinating. Really loving this language!

    • Gakuranman July 15, 2011 at 12:28 am #

      Yup, そっち系 I would usually think of as ‘that kind of thing’. So one one word equivalent in English, which is a little unfortunate sometimes as it can be very useful! Be aware though that the ‘suffix’ reeks of young person’s Japanese and is quite casual. You probably wouldn’t want to be using it in any polite conversation unless the mood felt right.

      • 案努龍 July 15, 2011 at 4:30 am #

        Hah, yeah, I imagine most of this stuff I learn from these Kitakyushu students are not good for polite talk. My friend from Sendai taught me ~せいよ.. Certainly won’t be using that in everyday conversation, lol.

      • Anonymous November 9, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

        Hello, first time posting (but somewhat of a habitual reader),
        Had a question regarding your comment below (if you don’t mind me taking a little bit of your time),
        “My take is to ignore the negative 優しくない (unkind) and just outright use a positive synonym. Sounds better than ‘My unkind Senpai’”

        For the above comment, do you mean, when translating into English use a different, more appropriate synonym? “Mean” as you suggest?

        Thank you.

        Soon as I graduate from TextFugu, coming right over to

        ~ fv

        • Gakuranman November 9, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

          Hey there. Cheers for the question!

          That’s exactly what I mean. Don’t translate words as they literally are – choose the most appropriate word that conveys the same feeling (and meaning) in the target language. ‘My Mean Senpai’ has a much better ring to it than ‘My Unkind Senpai’ for English speakers, even though, technically, ‘unkind’ is closer to the original Japanese.

          • Anonymous November 10, 2011 at 12:39 am #

            I agree. Thank you very much for the response.

            ~ fv

  2. dovorobuchin October 11, 2013 at 12:35 am #

    Indeed I just grabbed the deal from Koichi. (“thanks for holding him ‘captive’, Koichi”) XD

    One quick thought since I’ve just started tackling kanjo on WaniKani — could you maybe add furigana upon mouse-hover? :3 I don’t know if it’s possible with WordPress.. or maybe just add them in parenthesis please? xD

    Great lessons by far!! These had me cackling eheheh~ Ooh, and that Gakuran site, too (dat fake chat lolomgs)!

    • dovorobuchin October 11, 2013 at 12:37 am #

      nuuu!! “started tacking KANJI”

      Where’s the edit button? *A*

    • Michael October 11, 2013 at 1:11 am #

      Haha. Glad to welcome you here at Gakuu! Mouseover kanji readings are something I’d love to add, but it would be quite a bit of work to incorporate it into a WordPress theme. I recommend you use the browser extensions Rikaikun or Rikaichan to read kanji :). We do add the readings to complex words depending on the context and style of post though, but not all. The aim of course is to help learners get used to kanji without furigana help, and push you to remember things :).

  3. dovorobuchin October 11, 2013 at 3:29 am #

    Aahh! I see. :3 And I actually have heard of Rikaichan from JapanesePod101 (though I didn’t know there IS a Rikaikun lol). I actually tried to sleep earlier but couldn’t (1:28 a.m. here) so I’m here instead. xD

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