Ideograms for “teacher” in Japanese are:
Contained within these characters is something quite conceptually different from the English word “teacher.”
The first ideogram is 先 (sen – せん), means “before” and 生 (sei – 生), meaning life.
Your sensei is not merely a teacher, but also a mentor for life, fortifying disciples with knowledge and wisdom to forge a unique path in the world.
Here one can internalize the concept of sensei, by erasing the Occidental notion of what it means to be a teacher.
Honestly, when first arriving in Japan and starting the journey as language instructor, being called sensei left one slightly uncomfortable never having been formally educated as a teacher/sensei.
One soon came to realize the magnitude of the work and commitment necessary to be worthy of the esteemed title sensei.
Here in Japan, sensei can also be applied to the following:
However, here one must always take extra precautions as described by the quirky Japanese expression—mayu ni tsuba wo tsukeru—wipe saliva onto one’s eyebrow—keep one’s wits about them.
Really, here in Japan anyone wanting to call themselves sensei is welcome to do so.
However, as mentioned above, here is where one must be very wary of the unvetted and self-appointed sensei.
For an example, a self proclaimed marketing “guru” spamming the world with false hopes and dreams, while fleecing the gullible and naive.
Also keep in mind, sensei can be used in a highly derogatory and condescending manner, depending on the situation, tone, and various other protocols in play within the unwritten rules of the Japanese society.
One must be consciously aware as to the actual credibility of anyone calling themselves sensei.
Just because someone is awarded the title of sensei, does not mean they are also magically embodied with the essence of what it actually means to be a sensei.
Most teachers one encountered while being “educated” by the Industrial Education Complex were mundane and void of any sense of purpose, hope, or vision.
Indeed most of these people were simply government employees doing a prescribed job with no ability to prepare pupils for life in the real world.
In institutes of higher learning, most of the professors are dedicate to a particular domain of study and commit their lives to the advancement of the chosen subject.
Now more than ever, the motive and intention of any teacher must be regularly scrutinized carefully.
The worst thing that could ever happen to a fresh bright-eyed and bushy-tailed student thirsting for knowledge and guidance is to be indoctrinated into a system disconnect from the truth and reality of the subject hand at matter.
Any sensei worth their salt will have invited intellectual curiosity, civil discourse, and objective investigation into the classroom.
Moreover, a true sensei will welcome any and all challenges their their mastery and discipline, with the ulterior motivation of having one’s own disciples surpass them and become a sensei in their own right.
This is described in a Japanese Proverb—oni no nyōbō kijin ga naru—wife of a devil grows worse than her mateor—apprentice outstriping the master.
It is only then can the authentic sensei feel a deep sense of personal satisfaction, for their own destiny has now been fulfilled after enlightening the next generation of those destine to lead the world into new paradigms of our evolving civilization.