For my CIP ethnography, I joined the Kyoto University Golf Circle, and observed the seniority relationship between the “sempai” and “kouhai.” The reason I decided to do so is because I am interested in Japanese culture placing importance on the concept of “respect your elders” and how it plays a role in the student hierarchy and corporate world. I observed student conduct/behavior and speech patterns towards their sempai during practice on the golfing range and on the golf course (golf competition against Doshisha University Golf Circle). These were the two main locations to observe the behavioral and speech patterns of the kohai members towards their sempais, as well as the importance placed on their school year in making decisions. I thought that university students do not follow this cultural precedent. Do university students of this generation still place importance and follow the sempai-kouhai relationship?
During my participation in the Kyodai Golf Circle, I quickly learned that the sempai had a lot of power. Most of the decisions were made by the sempai, and the kouhai respectfully abided by these decisions. For example, the seniors would decide the restaurants they wanted to go to after practice. The underclassmen would get to vote on which restaurant they preferred to go to; however, the initial decision is made by the upperclassmen. This was interesting because instead of everyone having an equal say, they are limited to what the seniors wanted to eat. I also learned that the golf circle placed heavy emphasis on school year. During practices at the golfing range and at the Doshisha University golf competition, the president of the golf circle and the senior members decided the groups instead of letting the members choose their own groups. Also, they divided the golf groups based on school year and not golf ability. I am at a novice-intermediate level of golf, but because I am a junior, I was placed with another junior who was a much better golf player.
Speech patterns also play a very important role in Japanese seniority, as younger members are required to speak in politer form to their elders. I expected the kouhai to speak completely in polite form to their sempais; however, they spoke in casual form with only a hint of polite form. When I lived in Japan and went to a Japanese tennis club, it was necessary for me to use polite form at all times towards my coaches and sempai. In this golf circle, it seemed as though the larger the age gap was between the members, the more polite form they used. This was seen when a graduate from Kyoto University and former member of the golf circle came to visit. All members of the group used keigo towards him, which I recognized as a sign of respect.
From this analysis of the prevalence of respect for seniority in the Kyoto University Golf Circle, I can conclude that it is still strong in Japanese culture today. I was able to closely observe behavior and speech patterns in this microcosm of Japanese university students in my age group, and was able to conclude that they follow the cultural precedent of respecting your elders.