( LEVEL - Beginner - N5 N4 N3 N2 N1 - Advanced )
In English, you can simply say “a brother” or “a sister” no matter if they are older or younger. On the other hand, in Japanese we say “兄” or ”弟” instead of “a brother”, or “姉” or ”妹” instead of “a sister”. Why? It’s because of Japanese seniority, so we respect older/senior people even in your family members. That’s why we identify them.
When we say “兄弟 (kyou-dai)”, it literally means “old-brother and young-brother”, but it can include siblings who were born from the same parents such as old-brother and young sister (兄妹 kei-mai), old-sister and young-brother(姉弟 shi-tei) and young-brother and young-sister (弟妹 tei-mai). Simply speaking, you can consider “兄弟 (kyou-dai)” as “siblings” in English. However, when it comes old-sister and young-sister, we often say “姉妹(shi-mai)”.
Now you might wonder what to say for more than three siblings. Generally speaking, you can still use “ “兄弟 (kyou-dai)”, but you can also add the details if you want to: e.g.“兄一人と姉二人の兄弟” (I have an old-brother and two old-sisters), instead of just saying “three siblings”.
Lastly, I would like to introduce some interesting examples with 兄弟 and 姉妹 :
兄弟会社 (kyou-dai gaisha): fellow subsidiary
姉妹都市 (shi-mai toshi) : twin-town, sister-city, friendship town
姉妹校 (shi-mai kou): sister school
In this case, “兄弟 (kyou-dai)” and “姉妹(shi-mai)” means “close relationships”
Fun Activity: Let’s memorize Kanji with illustrations!
Now let’s try to remember nature Kanji linked to each illustration.
*Please take note that the following illustrations are based on my inspiration from Kanji shapes. (Often people find it easier to remember Kanji by using mnemonics).