Teacher vs Master
せんせい / ししょう
sensei / shishō
  • しょう
  • artisan, workman

Have you ever come across these two words while studying Japanese? Both せんせい and しょう mean “teacher”, but they carry slightly different meanings than the strict dictionary definition suggested.

せんせい, as you may know, is mostly used for people who are in professional teaching positions, such as school teachers, tutors or instructors. せんせい is also often used for the people with respected jobs, like medical doctors, lawyers, and even some politicians.

しょう, however, is a bit different. A しょう is not a normal teacher, but rather a complete master of an art - they receive the absolute respect and attention from their students. It’s very similar to how Yoda is a しょう of the Jedi, or how Obi-wan Kenobi is the しょう of Anakin Skywalker. Or if speaking about real people, how Socrates was the しょう for Plato, and Plato the しょう for Aristotle.

Nowadays, せんせい (sensei) is being incorporated more and more into the English language and is often used in TV and movies, especially in shows involving martial arts. However, many of “sensei” depicted in those shows would probably be better translated as しょう as those teachers are usually highly skilled fighters (after all, that’s why we watch them!) and have the complete respect from their students and the world around them.

Example Sentences
  • カトリックのがっこうせんせいきびしいことがおおい。

    Teachers in Catholic schools are often very strict.

  • しょうにむかってなんだ!

    Speak with respect to your master!