I remember "feeling" or realizing how pervasive the SEMPAI / KOHAI relationship is in the Japanese culture for the first time. While living in Okinawa for ten years, I trained in martial arts. 3 in seidokan karate, and 7 in aikido. The Japanese culture is very complex to me, but I loved every minute of it. Anywho, years later, I got the chance to return to Okinawa (job related.) I immediately went to my old stomping grounds and the timing was perfect for a summer training camp on a nearby island. At first I couldn't figure out what was going on...they were being even friendlier, more courteous, and more helpful than I remember. Insisting on carrying things for me, serving me drinks, etc. I slowly came to the realization that they were treating me as their sempai! I knew my skill set didn't command that kind of respect and then realized that the SEMPAI / KOHAI relationship is based on "time served" rather than skill set. Good thing. Had it been based on skill set, I'd have been left stranded at the dock begging for drinks!
I am a fan!