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Gaijin -- just a word or racial epithet with sinister implications?

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Gaijin. To most foreigners and Japanese that I know, it's just a word. It means foreigner, and as non-Japanese living in Japan, we take it with a sense of humor that it is what we are.

But to a number of expats, it is more than just a word. It is a stinging racial epithet with sinister implications deep below the surface.

In an effort to get some insight into the word, I decided to contact a number of linguists and specialists in the Japanese Language. The observations of one professor impacted me profoundly, however.

Kevin M Doak is a Professor and Nippon Foundation Endowed Chair in Japanese Studies Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Georgetown University. He’s the author of "Xavier’s Legacy: Catholics In Modern Japanese Culture” and “A History of Nationalism in Modern Japan.” He has translated numerous volumes, written op-ed pieces for the Sankei Shimbun, Sekai Nippo and is even cited by former Prime Minister Abe in his book "Utsukushii kuni E" (2006).

Professor Doak explains, "Gaijin" is a contraction of 'Gai-koku-jin,' or person from a foreign county. Some foreigners in Japan believe it should be interpreted literally, 'non-human' (when the middle term 'kuni' [country] is dropped) but I don't think many Japanese use it in this way. For them it means 'foreigner,' or 'non-Japanese.' It certainly has no inherent racist denotation. A Gaijin can be a person of any race, including Japanese-American or Japanese-Brazilian, of whom there are many residing in Japan.

"However, during and after the American occupation, the term was popularly used as a reference for the many non-Asians, largely white people, who came to Japan. Since these people were immediately distinguishable from the vast majority of the Japanese people, the term 'Gaijin' was often used to say something like, 'Look there, there's somebody different!' Many non-Japanese in Japan have had the experience of a school child pointing to them and exclaiming 'gaijin da!' These kids are not hostile to the 'gaijin' but fascinated by them and often run right up to the 'gaijin' and try to talk to the foreigner, or giggle and run away in embarrassment. I don't believe there are grounds for taking offense in such situations. During the early postwar period, the term often took on an informal connotation of a white person, especially an American.

"So, that usage, which has both a racial and a national tinge, is superimposed by some on the term, but for others the term simply refers to foreigners, regardless of race or nationality. And some Japanese who dislike foreigners may use it with a critical tone; others who are more PC (politically correct) will insist on using the awkward, more formal term 'gai-koku-jin.' But there are much more negative words Japanese can use for foreigners ('banjin,' 'eibei kichiku,' 'sankokujin,' etc), all of which are fortunately quite rare, and of course there are racial epithets in Japanese, of which Gai-jin is not really one.”

The professor then offered his personal opinion: “My own sense is that some foreign residents of Japan who take offense at any use of the term 'gaijin' belong to a well-established phenomenon of foreigners (usually white men) who want to become completely Japanese (culturally, biologically, socially)--cf. Pierre Loti, Madame Chrysantheme, Blackthorne in Clavell's novel 'Shogun,' or James Bond, in 'You Only Live Twice.' For these Japanophiles, any indication that they've not succeeded in becoming Japanese is taken as a personal insult, and I think much of the offense at the term 'gaijin' (foreigner) stems from this anxiety they bring to the situation.”

Indeed, as the professor described upon first arriving in Japan, and doing my first home stay in Kawagoe, some school children saw and pointed to me in amazement on my first day. “Gaijin! Gaijin!” they said. In fact, in years since, not being pointed at in Japan has surprised me more than the few occasions when I am. Even I notice foreigners on trains and follow them from the corners of my eyes. I seem to notice everyone. I’ve even listened in on them in restaurants and cafes just as I suspect some Japanese do of me. What language are they speaking? Where are they from? Why are they here?”

But as those children pointed me out on my first day, I recalled the picturesque middle class neighborhood I grew up in where if a black or Spanish person was seen walking down the street, we knew that either they worked for someone or didn’t belong and would peek out from behind the curtains curiously. Such a visit may have even become the adult conversation of the day, in the playground, at meals and via phone relay.

I also remembered my own career as a jazz musician, working in black neighborhoods and wondering as I walked down the streets if I too was being watched as well by people wondering what I was doing in their neighborhood, also wondering if the stares were real or imaginary. (The love I received from the audiences I played for was indescribable.) At the same time, I also thought of a primary difference between Philadelphia and Japan: In many places in America the place that you belong and seemingly don’t are often merely a few blocks apart, sometimes divided by a highway or a train track… in Japan there’s a huge ocean, so me being here is a big deal; though in recent years there are more and more people like me (statistically speaking, roughly 1.5%, with about three-quarters being Asian.)

In living in Japan, I’ve also reflected upon the privileged status I’ve had as a foreigner. Though not every day, complete strangers have picked up my izakaya tab, sometimes in mere reward for making an effort to speak Japanese. Years ago, one drunk even took me home and introduced me to his wife around about midnight… and later when sober, his college age daughter (presuming I’d teach her Japanese.) In fact, some Japanese parents have befriended me so I’d play with their kids. (Imagine a Japanese person befriending a strange Japanese male to trust around the kids, or an American simply handing their kids over to a random foreigner!) Japanese have also paid relatively large sums of money to sit in rooms with me and practice English, even without asking for my credentials, yet addressing me honorifically as “sensei.”

Stories of “foreign privilege” where I’ve benefited as a result of a type of superficial yet positive stereotyping are too numerous to list. Sometimes it's bothered me. I want to be accepted for who I am, not what I look like. In fact, when my ethnicity is discovered, I’m further praised for the gifts of “my people.” While such behavior is considered bad manners in the West, it is genuinely meant as a compliment in Japan.

Despite this privileged status, it would be untrue to say that I’ve never felt the butt of prejudice. The police checks, for instance, when for simply walking and not looking Japanese, one is pulled aside and questioned. First the cordial nervous icebreakers, then -- Where are you coming from? Where are you going? The inevitable trip-up question. Finally, Where are you from? (The same question everyone else seems to ask as well – sometimes on an almost daily basis. Taxi drivers especially.) “America,” I say. アメリカ人… the officer inevitably says looking at my ID card, politely handing it back to me. Free to go. American.

Of the many times this has happened to me, I’ve thought back to my high school years in Philadelphia when mostly white police offers would arbitrarily stop and sometimes even round up black people “on suspicion,” and the stories of police brutality I heard of, especially in the generation before I was born. By the late '80s/early '90s, I remembered Rodney King, the LA riots and tunes on the radio expressing outrage toward 911 and the police. I’d think of the rage, the anger, the resentment, blacks being pulled over on the New Jersey turnpike and how lucky I was to have been born white. I’d also remember that all of those memories were from another time /another country... perhaps a type of culturally induced trauma.

Because of this, barely a day goes by where I don’t think: “This is Japan, and I am a Gaijin…” and wonder, “But what does it mean?” I’ve thought of it on days when Japanese people speak perfectly ungraded colloquial working class Japanese to me because they don’t quite get I’m a foreigner who happens to be totally clueless to what they’re saying ... and days I’ve spoken Japanese to Japanese people only to have them respond to everything I say in English or say, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English.” (But I’m speaking Japanese!)

I’ve had clerks, bank tellers and hospital attendants go significantly out of their way to help me with things any normal adult (sometimes child) Japanese customer would know how to do… and on the flip side, have dealt with a less than patient customer service reps. “This is Japan,” I imagine the person thinking, “Why can’t this foreigner learn to speak our language intelligibly?” “This is Japan,” I think. For God's sake, she studied English in Jr. HS. I’m trying to speak Japanese…why can’t she cut me some slack?”

Ultimately, I’ve concluded that what it means to be Gaijin depends upon which day you ask me. In the end, I’m a person whose skin is a different color, whose ancestral stock is different, who was raised in a different school system – yet also a person who has lived here a long long time, and in the end would have difficulty imagining myself anywhere else.

© Japan Today

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Mr. Landsberg has some good music up on YouTube

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Once again a great article. For me personally "Gaijin" is usually just the big eyed "Gajin Da" from a child. I don't read anything else into it when it is uttered by an adult. What usually frustrates me is the my own limitations in learning the Japanese Language, rather than the reactions of the Japanese people I am interacting with.

The one time I have really felt hurt and insulted as a foreigner in Japan has nothing to do with the term "Gaijin", but it was when after the nuclear accident the government went out to inform people not to listen to "Harmful Rumors from foreigners", while they them selves published lied upon lie to cover up what was going on.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

The foreigner used to take offense to the word. However, today, most people really don't care what Japanese thinks of gaijin. If you live in Japan, this is a third world country in terms of quality of life. If you're a Korean-Japanese that has been living there the entire life, and graduated from top universities, and has the potential to make country better but there is no opportunity in politics. You will always be an outsider, a gaijin, and cannot run for any political seat or become next mayor, govenor, or PM of Japan. This is where Japan cannot change to times.

-1 ( +9 / -9 )

Its kinda hard to take offence simply at the term gaijin coz its like..... yes I am... so what? Its more of an issue if they are using the term in a derogatory way, then one gets offended.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Per the Kojien (Japanese Dictionary), the definition of "Gaijin" are as follows: (Japanese text didn't work...)

Someone who is not a friend. An estranged person. Someone who should be looked upon as hostile. Foreign (country) person. A different person. The opposite of a Japanese person. The definitions for "ijin" don't look that good either...

Most people, both Japanese and non-Japanese, are quite surprised the first time they actually look the word up. I do understand that the meanings that words have tend to change over time, but that is no excuse for ignorance. If people actually look the word up and understand the meaning it holds and choose to use it anyway, that is their choice. In the end, I think that if the people the word is referring to find it offensive, it should be avoided. Politically correct terms are around for this purpose.

With that said, I know this isn't my country, and I can always leave if I don't like it. I still don't think that it makes it right, and I personally dislike the word. Just my two cents...

7 ( +12 / -5 )

Depends how the word is used and the fact that it is known that some use it in an offensive way should mean the word should be discouraged. The word is often used in Japan and on this site to describe westerners, but this in a way is offensive, i am British and have a much different background than a Spanish or Danish person for example.

If we in the West called all Japanese, Asians when they are in our countries, you can be sure they would be offended and claim racism for not noticing ther "uniqueness" from other Asians. It is not good to lump into one group most of the worlds population. How many times do we see on JT a Japanese person saying "You gaijins are all..." When in fact we come from many places with many different views and value systems. A Japanese person wouldnot automatically to be lumped in with a Chinese or Korean man and nor do i.

5 ( +15 / -8 )

I can make any word offensive, with the right tone. gaijin's just a word. get over yerselves already.

2 ( +12 / -9 )

Personally, I use the term to describe myself and any other foreigners I meet as a joke, all of the other workers I know here even call their Alien Registration Card, the 'gaijin card'. I understand that some people might find it a negative term, but just like other negative words (i.e. queer), once it is embraced by the ones it is meant to offend, it looses its power.

I am proud to be a gaijin and love it when I see small children's eyes light up and hear an excited "Gaijin Da!" exclaimed to their parents, or whenever my bf and I see a student outside of class and get treated like some rockstar. It makes me smile every single time.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

For them it means "foreigner, " or "non-Japanese." It certainly has no inherent racist denotation.

I don't know. Lets run a test on them. We should call them gaijin in Japanese language in other countries in the same manner they call us gaijin here, and we well see their reaction.

8 ( +12 / -4 )

Jeez, man, you have had some unusually positive experiences here. Seriously, random strangers picking up your tab? I've had friends cough up for a beer or two, but that's a whole different league of nice.

It kind of made me think. I obviously can't say what your Japanese level is at, but judging from your own words in this article, you seem to lean more on English for communication here in Japan. I speak Japanese maybe 90% of the time and I wonder if this isn't why I'm not the recipient of such random kindness. For foreigners that speak Japanese with high proficiency, suddenly the Japanese that would have gone out of their way to help you regard you with indifference, and those that would have used you for English practice suddenly avoid you because they have nothing to gain from you.

I think this is maybe the real thing that rubs people the wrong way when referred to as Gaijin. I personally don't mind it, but it in a way kind of denotes that you are, a) only temporary and b) only useful for providing a service.

Also, the professor you quote, while I don't doubt his credibility, seems stricken with a common affliction among gaijin: the "I belong here and you don't" mentality. Leaning on the, "they're offended by the word because they're trying way too hard to be Japanese" crutch seems remarkably obtuse. Some people just want the same kind of respect the Japanese would get in a different country.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

But think about it, do you say to every Japanese you see in your country ' oh a foreigner'? In Latin America, they call you 'gringo/a'. At least that means 'wayfarer'. Why do they never say 'tourist' here? Then there is the word 'alien' which also means 'hostile', that is the worst I think. Someone should come up with less offensive words. Get some education and study where those people are from before calling them names.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Foxie, to add, I think it has at least finally dawned on the general population here that we are not all American^^.

Anyway, how about "gaijin-san"? I have been called much worse, so I am not offended when being addressed as "gaijin", but I do take notice, for I have learned that all Japanese folk, little children excluded ("kaiju da!" anyone?), with an inkling of manners and a sense of respect will never address you with just "gaijin", but rather "gaikokujin". The same is when being addressed with "anta" and "omae" by strangers or the cops (happens to Japanese among themselves as well), I just lower my standards and reply in kind.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I never take offence at the word, just the way it is used. It can be offensive or inoffensive in that way.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

In a country that attaches much importance to the use of honorifics it seems impolite and ignorant to refer to people as "gaijin". How would Japanese like it if I referred to the emporer as "Aki chan"?

9 ( +12 / -3 )

Scrote,

That's a really good point! It also bugs me when complete strangers speak to me in casual-form Japanese. Happens all the time, especially at the gym. They'll point to a bench and go, "kore, tsukatteru?" and then proceed to sit on it and use it as a chair while they chat with other gym acquaintances in polite Japanese. Whatever their choice of words, or how they address me, I don't appreciate being treated like a neanderthal.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I agree with taj.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

I agree too, gaijin can sound nice or nasty depending on tone.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I always find it funny when a Japanese person has taken a vacation abroad - and talks about the people there as "gaijins"! When I point out to them that they, in fact, were the "gaijin" it kind of freaks them out!

Personally I can't care less about the word - people will always use it. I am super happy to be "Gaijin" and not Japanese to be perfectly honest!

3 ( +6 / -3 )

@Chris

Most people, both Japanese and non-Japanese, are quite surprised the first time they actually look the word up.

If you actually have to look up a word in order to ascertain that it might be offensive then I'd suggest it's not really offensive. I doubt many black people have to look up the "N word".

0 ( +2 / -2 )

@The Munya Times

We should call them gaijin in Japanese language in other countries in the same manner they call us gaijin here, and we well see their reaction.

Bu they're not "gaijin", even in other countries. "Gaijin" means non-Japanese. It's like me (an Englishman) going to France. All the folk around me are French, and therefore "foreigners" as far as I'm concerned.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

nah, hang on. I changed my mind.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Bu they're not "gaijin", even in other countries. "Gaijin" means non-Japanese. It's like me (an Englishman) going to France. All the folk around me are French, and therefore "foreigners" as far as I'm concerned.

Interesting perspective, lucabrasi. If I went to France I reckon I'd look on the locals as Frenchmen/Frenchwomen, not foreigners.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

This kind of 'debate' is totally pointless, completely subjective. "( ), A or B?" Wasabi, delicious or disgusting? It's delicious and anyone who says otherwise is wrong. discuss.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Foxie, to add, I think it has at least finally dawned on the general population here that we are not all American^^.

Maybe in Tokyo but not up here. The other day I took an elevator together with 2 women. One, of course, had to say 'amerikajin da'. Thanks God her friend was educated and said that I couldn't be because I was dressed fashionably. Whatever that means...too bad for Americans who actually dress well. But we still have a long way to go to get rid of that amerikajin image.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

i'm gaijin but look japanese and have been here a long time so the only comments i get are how good my english is, while my obviously gaijin friends get complimented on their japanese if they can manage basic greetings. there is a good and bad to both sides. it is what it is.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I've been called things like 'woman', 'housewife', 'English teacher' and 'Guardian reader' with a more offensive tone (and intent) than usually comes with 'gaijin'.

duck

back

water

-1 ( +6 / -7 )

Nice to see rare some non-hysterical commentary on this. Arudou.... where are you Arudou....?

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Foxie,

Statistically speaking, the large majority of non-Asian foreigners in Japan are American, which may have something to do with that. Also, I find the stereotype that Europeans dress well to be just as ridiculous as the one where Americans apparently don't. As an American, perhaps the only thing that bugs me more than being treated like a neanderthal by the Japanese is being automatically treated like I'm at once a pompous, violent inner city thug with no fashion taste AND a backwoods know-nothing hillbilly by Europeans who quite frankly often seem to exhibit some kind of inferiority complex towards Americans and often try to remedy it with unfair assumptions about us.

I'm sure what you're describing actually happened, but I have never in my life heard a Japanese person automatically address an unknown foreigner as an American.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

A Japanese gentleman who worked for Kodo News Agency once told me that the term "gaijin" does not mean foreigner as we Westerners know it. It is more akin to "alien" as alien from outer space, he said. My own reading, after living in Tokyo for 15 years, is that it means that only Japanese people are human and every one else is just not quite human (that is the feeling of the term).

"Gaijin" is a term that can never apply to a Japanese person outside of Japan because it doesn't mean "foreigner." If one single Japanese person happens to be in an out-of-the-way overseas country then everyone in that country, even if in the millions in population, is a "gaijin."

The non-Japanese who perceive no insult in the term "gaijin" are simply ignorant and fooling themselves. There is an awful lot of non-Japanese in Japan who suffer from a common syndrome: the oppressed who identify with the oppressors.

Having said that, I will always be grateful for the help I received from both Japanese individuals and the Japanese government. For a Japanese businessman to go out on a limb and serve as a non-Japanese person's housing guarantor is remarkable. I was close to losing a couple housing deposits to an unscrupulous real estate agent until I made one phone call to a Tokyo governmental legal advice help-line. When the real estate agency heard the word "lawyer" they couldn't give my money back fast enough. Bilingual TV? English newspapers? So much "romaji" in the transportation networks now. I bow to those who made such things possible and widespread.

To return to the topic: I am fond of Edward Seidensticker's quote: "The Japanese are just like other people. They work hard to support their—but no. They are not like other people. They are infinitely more clannish, insular, parochial, and one owes it to one's sense of self-respect to retain a feeling of outrage at the insularity. To have a sense of outrage go dull is to lose the will to communicate; and that, I think, is death. So I am going home."

8 ( +12 / -4 )

Look at the kanji..... the ones who do not find offense are the ones who probably can speak the language all that well and don't catch how it is used.....I have also hear hakujin, kokujin, in addition to many others....some of course are better than others.....

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Political correctness is gradually infiltrating the Japanese mindset. The media was presented with a list of "sabetsu yougo" taboo words, and was quick to replace terms for the handicapped, etc., with convoluted euphemisms similar to what has become common in American English. I don't hear "gaijin" as nearly as I used to 30 years ago, and I never see it in the print media or on TV. I am not naive enough to believe that means Japanese hearts and minds have been won over, but at least the process has begun of moving in the right direction, and I will give them credit for that. Let's face it, the world's an imperfect place, but that's not saying some things aren't getting better. I would expect that a generation from now, the term "gaijin" will be largely forgotten.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

@fds,

Why is being showered with compliments for acing basic greetings, like you're an especially slow child, a good thing?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Ed, great post. Just asked my J-hubby about them being a gaijin or not in another country. First he said with a lot of confidence that everybody else is the gaijin then, after thinking about it for a few seconds, yappari chigau, I am the gaijin. He cracks me up with his innocence at times.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

As with a number of other words in Japanese it depends entirely on how it's intoned, and within what context. The only time I ever take offense to the word is when Japanese use it while travelling abroad in reference to the local inhabitants (and if I'm WITH those Japanese I point out to them that WE are the foreigners here, not necessarily them). And on a couple of occasions I've pointed out where documents were unequal; with Nihon-jin no Kata and Gaijin in the same line.

Beyond that, though, there simply is no other word at present, and for lack of a better one people are going to keep using it.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

The observations of one professor impacted me profoundly, however.

Affected. The word is affected.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

even cited by former Prime Minister Abe in his book “Utsukushii kuni E”

What happened to ustsukushii kunis A through D?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Some foreigners in Japan believe it should be interpreted literally, ‘non-human’

How on earth is that a literal interpretation?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

A friend of mine got tired of startling Japanese when he answered his doorbell, so he purchased one of those plastic signs that read 猛犬に注意 (mou ken ni chuui, beware of wild/vicious dog) and used correction fluid to change the 犬 (inu, dog) to read 人 (jin, person). So the sign then read "mou jin ni chuui, beware of wild/vicious person), but it apparently failed to get the desired effect.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Decent article, if a bit meandering. "Gai-jin" is just a word that reflects the uchi/soto mentality, and simply means "not from here" ie "non-japanese."

I think most of those who take offense are either in the Nama-Gaijin Phase or the chakuhachi-playing Wabisabi-Gaijin Phase (as indicated by the article).

1 ( +3 / -2 )

lucabrasiSep. 07, 2011 - 11:32AM JST

Your post seemed to be right to me, though it took me some time after reading your post to rang a few Japanese friends of mine, a Japanese linguist among them. They said.

For one:

"Gaijin" means non-Japanese.

They say the kanji means "foreigner", (someone out and not belonging to Japan thus not Japanese ) and for Japanese people in Japan "gaijin" automatically means non-japanese, so you are absolutely correct on this one.

For the next:

Bu they're not "gaijin", even in other countries.

They said:

Using a the word "gaijin" in other countries toward Japanese is correct, it means foreigner and for the Japanese would either have a simple meaning "foreigner", in which case no surprise there and it's correct, or they would take it's meaning for non-japanese (like as if they were at home in Japan) in that case it would cause some confusion. They also said, hearing the word gaijin to describe them in any foreign countries from a non native to that country, would also result in incomprehension as the speaker is also foreigner in the given country.

Also, they seconded that the word "gaijin" has no any bad, racial or degrading meaning for them.

So thanks for reflecting to my post, you made me do some research when I was lazy to do it before posting a comment.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

simply means "not from here" ie "non-japanese."

It may be that simple, but simplicity itself is not that simple.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The professor then offered his personal opinion: “My own sense is that some foreign residents of Japan who take offense at any use of the term ‘gaijin’ belong to a well-established phenomenon of foreigners (usually white men) who want to become completely Japanese (culturally, biologically, socially)—cf. Pierre Loti, Madame Chrysantheme, Blackthorne in Clavell’s novel ‘Shogun,’ or James Bond, in ‘You Only Live Twice.’ For these Japanophiles, any indication that they’ve not succeeded in becoming Japanese is taken as a personal insult, and I think much of the offense at the term ‘gaijin’ (foreigner) stems from this anxiety they bring to the situation.”

This is so true.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

@ Ed O Jidai

To return to the topic: I am fond of Edward Seidensticker's quote: "The Japanese are just like other people. They work hard to support their—but no. They are not like other people. They are infinitely more clannish, insular, parochial, and one owes it to one's sense of self-respect to retain a feeling of outrage at the insularity. To have a sense of outrage go dull is to lose the will to communicate; and that, I think, is death. So I am going home."

So, did you go home? Easy fix!

0 ( +3 / -3 )

@Foxie

But we still have a long way to go to get rid of that amerikajin image.

Won't happen anytime soon. So just live with it.

People can pratice English with me all day and I'll happily oblige them until I have to go somewhere else. It's way friendlier than a) grumbling or b) pretending not to speak it.

Besides my in-laws, nobody has ever invited me to Japan. So I live by their rules. And to be honest, the rules are not too bad.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

@tranel

I think most of those who take offense are either in the Nama-Gaijin Phase or the chakuhachi-playing Wabisabi-Gaijin Phase (as indicated by the article).

I respectfuly disagree with the latter. A very large part of my life revolves around aspects of Japanese culture.

But I noticed I still look white when I look in the mirror. So I'm a gaijin. I just don't care.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I agree with taj too

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Being called "gaijin" doesn't bother me. But I hate it when little kids point and say "America-jin!!"

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I always find it used in a derogatory way and trying to wind me up or when somebody is regaling me about how much better the Japanese are. What I always found interesting was the same kanji in Chinese (Waiguoren) is never shortened to 'Wairen' ...they have equally insulting specialist terms like 'laowai' (old foreigner) or dabizi (big nose) but I didn't really hear them much when I lived there..even from the yokels. At least in Kansai they do the unusual 'gaijin-san' thing...don't know really what the go is with that...but when you hear someone say gaijin in Kansai it sounds so much more base and offensive. Most Japanese dislike the shortened form of Japanese so I think what is good for the goose is good for the gander so to speak.Even amongst mates and having some very heated discussions about Japan and its people we never refer to them in that way even out of earshot of Japanese people.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

This word "Gaijin" or "Jingai" by the youth altered my entire lifestyle here in Japan. Of course there are other factors to include but I'll try to keep it brief.

It comes down to education. These parents and schools are not educating their children enough. One can feel like an animal at the zoo when gawked at by children or teens. It can be painful for some and demeaning.

For some of us the best way to look at it is to compare it to our own upbringing. I got my hand slapped when I pointed at someone. My mom would pop me on the head if I stared at someone. No one should be made to feel uncomfortable. Rarely do I see mothers correcting their childs behavior when it happens.

The educated Japanese that I've met who have children don't have this problem. Their child has been around the world. Exposed to different culture and arts, they are developing into polite and respectful children. It's not common though.

Japan is a country that seems to have a name for everything though. So why should we be offended? For me it just comes down to flesh and blood and hoping that you would use their intelligence to show some respect. Gaijin feels like a wastebasket term for the unidentifiable. I am American, you can't see or hear that?

You've worked so hard to develop your identity and culture only to have it ignored by a wastebasket term.

I often get into arguments at banks, companies or any institution that seeks to redefine me. They always start with my name. They want to write it in Katakana. Every time I end up looking at it and saying, "Hey, that's not my name". That's not how it appears on my birth certificate. How on Earth did Japanese start thinking they could be higher than my parents who named and to give me a new name.

I feel the same way about the word Gaijin. America is a young country. We fought wars, and blood was spilled to get our identity. We had to defeat Japan to protect our way of life. With that said, I expect them to see me for my nationalities and not a cheap contracted wastebasket term.

For them it's like shooting themselves in the foot. The people who are here in Japan are those they branched out to learn more about the world. I'm sure most of us can recognize different Asians and we most certainly don't try to change their names.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Apparently, the formal meaning of Gaijin is Alien! I have an Alien Registration card! Am I an Alien? Am I like a Martian? from a Japanese perspective, maybe! I belong to a different "species", although who can mate with Japanese! I am so different! I need different medicines and do not appreciate Food served her, and my taste buds are different! Yes, I am an Alien!

0 ( +3 / -3 )

when you hear someone say gaijin in Kansai it sounds so much more base and offensive.

Everything sounds so much more base and offensive in Kansai-ben... :-)

I am American, you can't see or hear that?

A person who isn't up on his English probably won't distinguish an American accent from a British, Australian, Canadian, New Zealand or South African accent.

Americans come in all shapes, sizes and ethnic types. Why would you expect anyone to see that you are American (unless you are one of those doobes who plasters his clothes and every possession with the stars and stripes)? I would pick up on your accent, but by just looking at you? Nah.

You've worked so hard to develop your identity and culture....

?? Doesn't that come naturally? Otherwise it isn't really your identity and culture, but a fabrication. Why expect people to recognise a fabrication?

They want to write it in Katakana. Every time I end up looking at it and saying, "Hey, that's not my name". That's not how it appears on my birth certificate. How on Earth did Japanese start thinking they could be higher than my parents who named and to give me a new name.

So when you meet a person who comes from a country or culture that does not use the roman alphabet, you always write their name as their parents write it? In kanji, or cyrillic script, or arabic squiggles, or whatever? You never approximate into something that can be written using the alphabet? And you expect banks, companies and other institutions the world over to do the same? Or is it just the Japanese you hold to a higher standard?

We fought wars

No need to use the past tense, unfortunately.

I expect them to see me for my nationalities

My nationality is the least part of me. I am not impressed by people who attempt to define me in terms of it. Or themsleves.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

“My own sense is that some foreign residents of Japan who take offense at any use of the term ‘gaijin’ belong to a well-established phenomenon of foreigners (usually white men) who want to become completely Japanese (culturally, biologically, socially).’ For these Japanophiles, any indication that they’ve not succeeded in becoming Japanese is taken as a personal insult

Spot on. Couldn't have put it better myself. Amusing to see responses from Japanophile white men complaining that it isn't true though ;)

@Foxie / @Humantarget, I was called America-jin repeatedly while I lived in Japan. Perhaps they thought I have no sense of style?

@Nessie,

Some foreigners in Japan believe it should be interpreted literally, ‘non-human’

How on earth is that a literal interpretation?

They're using their own standards. That's how they think of certain other nationalities - be it Japanese, or Blacks, or Hispanics or French. If someone thinks even in the most vague way that certain other races are less than human, being pointed out as a foreigner when they're in Japan will automatically hit the panic button. It obviously doesn't help that some Japanese still consider themselves to be some kind of pure-blood race, but if the White Americans could learn to accept Black Americans as human, there's hope for everyone (That is to say, if SOME White Americans could learn to accept Black Americans as human. There's always stragglers clinging to old prejudices.)

0 ( +3 / -4 )

The Kanji characters for Gaijin mean 'outside person'. Definitely not offensive compared to racial epithets like Jap, Gook, or Chink.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I have no problems with the word, but I do take offense to those who use it imply I am of a lower class than themselves, especially when that person eats with their mouth open, picks their nose for everyone to see and believes they are God's gift to the planet!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I agreed with Cleo. NetNinja please drop the stereotype. You give a bad name to all Americans. Please remember America is not the center of the world.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

akkk1: "The Kanji characters for Gaijin mean 'outside person'. Definitely not offensive compared to racial epithets like Jap, Gook, or Chink."

Yes and no. I mean, I agree with what you say, but it's too simple. The 'real' name of Japan is 'Nippon', and during WWII it was shortened to 'Nip' to refer to a Japanese person. This should not in and of itself be a negative word, but since the Japanese were the enemy of those fighting them, it became a derogatory term, as did Jap, and the other terms you mentioned. Likewise, while I don't believe 'gaijin' is offensive in the least, there ARE people who use it to treat you as though you are a lower class of human being or something. It beats the 19th century 'Ban-jin', but when used negatively it is just as bad.

But that was my original point; it depends in what context and how it's used. The only problem I have with the use of the word, aside from what I mentioned earlier, is that it is literally exclusive when used in terms of Japanese laws. The Constitution states that all "Kokumin are equal", and that literally means all Japanese, with foreigners excluded. Can create some problems.

Anyway, have a few friends who get upset when addressed as 'gaijin', but they have other, underlying things that are causing them stress and to be upset, and this becomes an excuse for their anger. For the most part, I don't think it's a bad term at all. Would be nice if they came up with something better in the future, but until then, who cares?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

When I went through immigration in China there were two lines: "中国人" and "外国人": which line must the Japanese go through? That's right "外国人". When outside of Japan Japanese most certainly are "外国人", as the term simply means "a person from another country".

1 ( +2 / -1 )

human target - I'm sure what you're describing actually happened, but I have never in my life heard a Japanese person automatically address an unknown foreigner as an American.

I have been asked this numerous times by Japanese "Are you American"... I reply by saying no and then I ask which region of China are they from. They soon get the point.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Firstly, good choice for a column - guaranteed comments!

I think gaijin is one of those cultural mirrors that people see certain things in which perhaps tell as much about them as the word itself. I always thought 'gaijin' mean't 'non Japanese', and 'outsider', used by Japanese for the weight that such a connotation has to other Japanese - not being in the group - scary, unknown, traitorous!

To non Japanese it's at worst an irritant used because perhaps someone doesn't like you. I can't really work up a negative opinion about it, or a positive one either. If someone yelled "You are not Japanese!" at you, you'd probably laugh, but say to a Japanese person "I don't think you're Japanese' and the response is quite different.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

In general I would say gaijin offends One World, Kumbaya! fantasists and English teachers ashamed of where they come from ("Hokay, yeah, I'm Canadian, but it's like, important to think of yerself as a citizen of the world", to paraphrase the most common of this type in Japan).

The rest of us don't really care. It's just a word. Get over yourselves.

-13 ( +2 / -15 )

I think many words could be offensive when used in the wrong way. I have never been troubled by the word Gaijin and in my many years here I think it was only used offensively a few times. I sometimes call myself "Prince Gaijin".

When I see Japanese tourists in town I refer to them as Gaijin. When I lived in a mountain village they called everyone who was born there, Gaijin, even the local vet who had lived for 40 years.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In my opinion, "gaijin da!" is sometimes offensive when it was utter to you and then the person seems like fleeing. It seems like your a criminal especially after a bad news with foreigner/s as culprit was recently flash on the news. Also, when someone use "gaijin" in a gathering, where you'll feel that you don't belong. Other than that, it is just a word. ^^

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Personally I thought this subject was long dead and buried. Guess not , I supposed it has to be recycled every few years for the newer folks here in Japan.

Go shock your Japanese friends and tell them that prior to WWII Japanese themselves used to call anyone from outside their village or area, gaijin, specifically bu-gaijin, or outsider. It's just after WWII for the most part that it has centered upon foreigners.

It's just a word people, just a word, and to live in a foreign land and let words bother you, maybe you need to seriously think about why you are here. Anyone anywhere can make just about any word insulting, yet even if it's delivered with the intent to insult, it's up to the listener, or person it's directed at to make the decision on whether or not to let it bother them.

Ain't no thing but a chicken wing!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I think it's crazy how many people agree with the professor quoted in the article. I mean, seriously, wanting to be treated with a little respect is not tantamount to "I wanna be Japanese so bad I can frikkin' taste it!"

Some people believe instead of lumping everyone into "Japanese" and "everybody else", the Japanese should make an effort to learn where the subject is from and refer to them by that, at least. I imagine people will refute this, but for the 20-plus years I lived in the US, I rarely heard anyone use the term "foreigner". Yeah, people would say "Asian" or "Middle Eastern" but narrowing it down to a region is at least a lot better than lumping 99% of the world population into a single, inferior category.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I guess my parents had a strange way of educating me... I was always told to NEVER stare at someone who looked a little different - whatever the reason : colour, having some kind of handicap - whatever ! Much less to point at them and/or make any kind of remark addressed to them. When I lived in Kobe I was flabbergasted to hear a young mother address her child who was misbehaving with the words : "If you don't behave, the gaijin sitting over there will eat you... !" Since I was the only foreigner in the carriage...

One of my British friends told me one day he was so fed up of being asked if he was American he inevitably replied : "Why no ! Are you Korean... ?"

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I don't know. Lets run a test on them. We should call them gaijin in Japanese language in other countries in the same manner they call us gaijin here, and we well see their reaction.

Funny you should say that because that's exactly what I do here in Japan. I call the Japanese gaijin. After a couple seconds of dumbfounded looks I ask them if they are Canadian. They say no. Then I say that's right, I am Canadian and you're not. Therefore, to me, you are a gaijin. Because it's not just a word as many here would like us to believe. It reinforces this stupid belief that a lot of Japanese have that there are two kinds of people in this world, Japanese and everyone else.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The problem is that in most languages we don't use the same terms for people when we are describing them and when we are throwing a racial name at them. Think about it. When a Japanese gets mad at a foreigner the first word to come out of his mouth is "GAIJIN" or "KUSO GAIJIN". If a white person gets angry at a black person he uses a derogatory term. But that same term will not be used if he is just referring to or describing him unless he has some prejudice towards him. The same goes for all races in the English language. That is the reason English speakers get angry when they hear that term. You can't use the same derogatory terms for people when you also just want to refer or describe them. There has to be a difference. Japanese don't realize this because of their lack of experience when dealing with foreigners. It is a misunderstanding.

What the professor said below is just NONSENSE. I have never heard of such dribble before.

The professor then offered his personal opinion: “My own sense is that some foreign residents of Japan who take offense at any use of the term ‘gaijin’ belong to a well-established phenomenon of foreigners (usually white men) who want to become completely Japanese (culturally, biologically, socially)—cf. Pierre Loti, Madame Chrysantheme, Blackthorne in Clavell’s novel ‘Shogun,’ or James Bond, in ‘You Only Live Twice.’ For these Japanophiles, any indication that they’ve not succeeded in becoming Japanese is taken as a personal insult, and I think much of the offense at the term ‘gaijin’ (foreigner) stems from this anxiety they bring to the situation.”

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I imagine people will refute this, but for the 20-plus years I lived in the US, I rarely heard anyone use the term "foreigner".

You are right not foreigner but immigrant or illegal immigrant. Which depending upon how it is used could have the exact same connotation.

When I lived in Kobe I was flabbergasted to hear a young mother address her child who was misbehaving with the words : "If you don't behave, the gaijin sitting over there will eat you... !" Since I was the only foreigner in the carriage...

Because she expected that you would have no idea that you could understand what she was saying. Japanese are raised differently and are not taught to be tolerant of differences between races or nationalities. I can tell you from my own experience that it makes their minds twist something fierce when they look at me as a Caucasian and I tell them I am Japanese. They have a very difficult time differentiating between their own ethnocentric selves and nationalities.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

And I have lived here for more than twenty years.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I don't mind the word usually (easy to tell when someone's using it in an unpleasant way), and I don't mind being mistaken for an American (after all, Americans are the majority by a long way when it comes to white folk in my town), but I hate this conversation (which I've endured three times now).

America?

No, England

How long Japan?

Twenty-one years.

You like Japanese girl?

Well, I married one....

Where from in America?

Bye!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I am Jewish and we have the word goyim.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The professor then offered his personal opinion: “My own sense is that some foreign residents of Japan who take offense at any use of the term ‘gaijin’ belong to a well-established phenomenon of foreigners (usually white men) who want to become completely Japanese (culturally, biologically, socially)—cf. Pierre Loti, Madame Chrysantheme, Blackthorne in Clavell’s novel ‘Shogun,’ or James Bond, in ‘You Only Live Twice.’ For these Japanophiles, any indication that they’ve not succeeded in becoming Japanese is taken as a personal insult, and I think much of the offense at the term ‘gaijin’ (foreigner) stems from this anxiety they bring to the situation.”

This is so true.

Yeah, uh, no it isn't.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

@Yubaru,

You're referring to a relatively small contingent of Americans, I think. Even Republicans, who are more than happy to toss around the word "immigrant" in online forums (such as this one), are reluctant to use the word in polite company unless they're really on the fringe.

And, T rex, most, maybe all languages have a word similar to "gaijin" but how many people actually use it with the kind of frequency the Japanese do?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@Yubaru,

You're referring to a relatively small contingent of Americans, I think. Even Republicans, who are more than happy to toss around the word "immigrant" in online forums (such as this one), are reluctant to use the word in polite company unless they're really on the fringe.

Really? Tell that to the folks in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico. It's not so small as you think.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

@takoyakitora You are right. It is not true. I wonder how much experience the so called PROFESSOR ACTUALLY has in Japan. I have never ever heard of such a situation at all.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@takoyakitora

I call the Japanese gaijin. After a couple seconds of dumbfounded looks I ask them if they are Canadian. They say no. Then I say that's right, I am Canadian and you're not. Therefore, to me, you are a gaijin.

Okay, let's think about this a minute. Let's imagine you're back home in a bar in Vancouver (or Montreal). A Japanese guy comes over and calls you a foreigner (or un etranger). After a couple seconds of dumbfounded looks he asks you if you are Japanese. You say no. Then he says that's right, I am Japanese and you're not. Therefore, to me, you are a foreigner/un etranger.

Fair enough?

(I'd say yes)

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

It is entirely in its USAGE. Would I refer to a Japanese person as a "Jap" if I were trying to describe him unless I was angry with him? NO. I would never utter the term unless there had been a confrontation with him. Terms that are used in derogatory ways must be separated from normal adjectives that are used to describe someone by their race or people take offense. Go back to your country and use a derogatory term to a person of another race and see if you don't get anything but anger.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

You're absolutely right Luca. But the big difference is I wouldn't refer to him automatically as a foreigner. i would actually take the time to find out where he's from, ask him his name, ask him about his country, buy him/or hopefully her a drink, and introduce him/her as my new friend (insert name here) from (insert country here). In other words the exact opposite of what happens here.

I get your point and the point of everyone else who says it's just a word. Of course not everyone uses it in a derogatory way. For those who just slip it into a conversation I say "you mean Gaikokujin?" They often correct themselves and say "yes, Gaikokujin." My comment, and I'm guilty of not distinguishing between them, was aimed towards those who use the term offensively or ignorantly. Obviously the use of the word Gaijin is going to have a different impact on everyone. For me personally, I don't like it and see it as a lazy, low brow, ignorant way of referring to someone who isn't from the same place as you.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

laws did the 'ukkai' bit too.

Sorry, that was supposed to be "ukkari"....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@takoyaki

Okay, right.... If the other party starts out with the "gaijin" crap and is obviously being a smart-alec, then fair enough.

You're right...some people use it as an insult while others use it completely innocently. It's up to us (gaijin) to react appropriately; don't let it go when there's obvious malice involved, but don't overreact to a mistake or simple ignorance. :)

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I did once try applying the term "gaijin" in an inoffensive and non-aggressive voice to a few random Japanese tourists walking around Oxford.

The looks of shock and perplexity were something to behold; obviously the term is not as neutral as many would like to think.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

most, maybe all languages have a word similar to "gaijin" but how many people actually use it with the kind of frequency the Japanese do?

@HumanTarget

Ever been to Thailand, my farang friend?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's up to us (gaijin) to react appropriately; don't let it go when there's obvious malice involved, but don't overreact to a mistake or simple ignorance. :)

I agree, and as a Gaikokujin here in Japan, I think I've been pretty accurate in my judgement of those who have used the word in question.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

In the movie Rising Sun, Eddie Sakamura made me laugh when he told Captain John Connor

"Connor san, you pretty smart cookie for a gaijin."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think it is normally used in contemporary Japanese as a colloquial abbreviation of gaikokujin without much thought. Such things happen often around the world. It is like calling Australians Aussies or the British Brits.

The central part of my perception is - it is a colloquial expression. Is the speaker acquainted with me to a degree that it is in his cultural context okay that we speak on a colloquial basis? Then it's fine, because he will not complain when I mess up with the different levels of politeness in Japanese and forget about ~san and so on. Or mix short and long forms because I'm too excited to care about grammar.

If we are neither friends nor colleagues, I consider it offensive. It implies that the Japanese speaker thinks that he has the right to speak with me or about me as a superior without knowledge of my position. He refers to me as someone outside of his hierarchy and thus lower than all positions inside of that hierarchy. In that context, it is rude and has a clearly negative connotation. Or it could have a racist meaning. One never knows. Thus, it should be avoided.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Since moving back to canada with my j-wife, one of the things I told her is that once we are there, no one will come up to you and ask if you are a foreigner.. no one will even consider her to be non-canadian because there is no definition of what a canadian looks like anymore.

Its a lot different than when we were in Japan.. at least for me. Being the token white guy was pretty cool when I first got here (definitely a charisma-man feel going on) but after awhile it just got tiresome and I would just try to ignore what was going on around me (thank you iPod!!). Like when I used to teach english over there, I would take the train back home and basically the train was full of high school students and I would inevitably hear the "sugoi's and kakkoii's" come up and once in awhile one group of kids would push one of their friends over and try to speak english to me... kinda interesting at first but after awhile just tiresome so once the headphones went on, peace with led zepplin.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Depends on who is shooting the word.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I hate this conversation (which I've endured three times now).

I play my violin for you.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@Breitbart

I play my violin for you.

Ah, you can mock. But, as an actual American, you'll never know the pain of being mistaken for one....

2 ( +4 / -2 )

luca - That's not pain, that's good fortune. :-D

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Very well written piece, but I believe it misses the central point. IMO the fact that Japan has only about 1.5% of its population as non-Asian, and can therefore so easily identify and classify someone as a "foreigner", regardless of how the term is intented, is a major cause for concern about its future. So long as there is still the sense of Japanese superiority, as evidenced by Morita from Sony's classic quote about never trusting anything a foreigner says, Japan can never truly become part of a global economy. In my over ten years in Japan I ran into as many Japanese, young and old, who would deliberately flee if I walked up to wait behind them on a subway platform, as Japanese who wanted to learn more about foreigners. As long as any sense of fear or dis-trust is immediately associated with the term by Japanese, it will always have some "sinister implications".

4 ( +6 / -2 )

@Serrano

luca - That's not pain, that's good fortune. :-D

Depends if the other party is an America-crazy gorgeous nymphomaniac or an Al-Qaeda terrorist.... :(

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Breitbart

It hurts so bad you were forced to take the name of a fictional Yank to deal with the pain...

He was an Italian gentleman and a scholar, colour of passport not withstanding....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

For me, if i say the N word, I look around before using it. You know that feeling of ooops was that too loud? Thats how i feel when someone uses gaijin , a little uneasy. Ive gotten used to saying gaikokujin now. Im not sure why but i feel like its PC. Or when someone says gaijin-san. It feels like they are going out of their way for me not to mistake their intentions. I dont really care about the meaning (non japanese) , outsider, etc.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

remember that japan is not only the eastern most archipelago this side of the meridian (or was it that side?), but has also forcibly isolated itself from intercourse with other countries for long periods of time (i.e., 250 years during the edo period before the opening by the black ships in the 1850s...)

and the term gaijin is generally simply an abbreviation of gaikokujin, not used with any derogatory intent.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

For what it's worth.... I find it really strange

when people I know who are offended by the word try to convince me to be offended too.

Ludicrous, in fact.

Here’s why: none of us foreigners have a historical or cultural association with the term ‘gaijin.’

I think it’s no exaggeration to say that 99.9% of us heard the term for the first time after we visited or moved to Japan.

This means, of course, that those foreigners who are offended by the word have made a CONSCIOUS DECISION to find the word offensive.

When people like this try to convince me – someone who has no problem with the word whatsoever – that I should – no, need – to be offended, I feel pity for their attempts to make me adopt, carry and feel their anger.

I don’t need the anger (I know there’s probably many, many far more serious issues I should be really worried about, and a simple word isn’t one of them), and I know many foreigners couldn’t give a rat’s a*se about the term.

We also have also made a conscious decision to NOT be offended by the term.

Why anyone would want another person to get angry over a word is just beyond me.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

One more....I also get the distinct impression that people who are offended by the term 'gaijin', or any other word for that matter, probably don't know how good they've got it.

People with imaginary problems (& who probably take way too much of the good things in their lives for granted) allow themselves to get upset utterances of a collection of letters.

And the bottom line is: those who are offended by the word are actually making a CONSCIOUS DECISION to get upset about it.

Why would anyone actually choose to make their day worse??

1 ( +4 / -3 )

After the US occupation years up to the early sixties, the Japanese kids called caucasians アメリカ人 (ame-rika-jin), never called them 外人 (gai-jin). I know because I've lived here during those years.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

My 2 cents -- The reason this one word is so charged with implications (peaceful or otherwise) is the alien nature of Japan's culture -- not the foreigner's. In order to achieve complete assimilation into this culture and not be labelled 'an outsider/gaijin', one has to not only look Japanese, but also communicate with the sophistication and collective-mindset that can only come with intense scrutiny over many years or to be raised in it.

So the label, 'gaijin' means you have not attained this integration into this society. It is a constant reminder that I cannot be unforeign. It is something I have to strive to achieve, or be born into it. Doesn't that sound like a social caste system to anyone else?

But, like others have posted, it doesn't need to bother me. I personally don't mind not being Japanese. Even if I could achieve total integration into this society, I'm not sure I would like the lifestyle. Especially now, with the way the average Taro and Hanako just let the authorities walk all over them during this nuclear crisis.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

naruhodo1-

For me, if i say the N word, I look around before using it. You know that feeling of ooops was that too loud?

I feel the same way about the N word: I feel like people are staring at me when I say 'Nuclear.'

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@naruhodo 1

For me, if i say the N word, I look around before using it.

And you've just beamed up from where? 1950s Alabama?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Back on topic please. The N word is not relevant to this discussion.

To all the folks that have commented that they would or might call a Japanese person gaijin if the chance ever occurred for them while they the Japanese visited or came to their home country, here is a something to think about.

You obviously have a rather shallow, or shall I say inexperienced view and knowledge about Japan, Japanese people and the language in general to think that this would actually mean anything. Sure to some it might click, but to the average person the word itself "gaijin" is thought of in the context of not Japanese, so where ever they go on the planet to many Japanese people, and I apologize for talking in generalities because there are exceptions to every situation, you are still the gaijin, not Japanese.

Again a generalization through experience, they don't usually look at things critically, and are very casual in their use of the word, and for most, there is almost, usually, no intent to criticize, belittle, or put down, any foreigner they come across when they use the word towards you.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

I'm Gaijin hahaha. So what? Strange theme of article.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I'm in the "not what you say, it's how you say it " camp. The label is used to describe me many times, and many situations, but only a handful of times have I thought the term was being used negatively on me. That said, it wasn't the word, it was the tone and manner that hurt.

Japanese reactrion can be funny though. A friend of mine spotted two Japanese girls in a supermarket just outside London. He raised his arm and pointed to them whilst saying (in a relatively loud voice) "Gaijin da, gaijin!". They were horrified, and responded "chigau, chigau!". The situation he had put them in made them feel very uncomfortable and instantly defensive. I wonder what would have happened if he had shouted "Nihon jin da, Nihon jin!"?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Yes, the word Gaijin is offensive. Not only does it Scarlet label you, but the ripple effect of the face behind the word will touch you in every part of your daily life till you wake up from the ignorance and finally realize that you are being abused. You're kidding yourself if you think it's just the word. Of course that would tell me what side of the whip you've known. Only those who have lived through it, know it. It's funny when I see you in the same boat as me. Things have changed.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Currently, there are about 2.5 million non Japanese living here, mostly Koreans and Chinese who were born in the country, and people of Japanese decent from Brazil.

By the year 2050, the country will need 30-50 million foreign or Gaijin workers to do the work and pay the taxes. With the current birth rate, the Japanese nation is on a road to extinction which could happen by the end of this century.

These new foreign workers will demand equal rights as a Japanese national and the word Gaijin will have to stop being used. They won't be able to insult the people who will be feeding them.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

If we in the West called all Japanese, Asians when they are in our countries, you can be sure they would be offended and claim racism for not noticing ther "uniqueness" from other Asians. It is not good to lump into one group most of the worlds population. How many times do we see on JT a Japanese person saying "You gaijins are all..." When in fact we come from many places with many different views and value systems. A Japanese person wouldnot automatically to be lumped in with a Chinese or Korean man and nor do i.

Yuck im agreeing with Steve. But for the exact reason you state above is the exact reason the Japanese walked out of the League of Nations prior to WWII. America enacted policies that applied to Asians...and Japan thinking themselves to be above their other Asiatic counterparts took offense and walked. Obviously those policies were pretty blatant and racist.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The more people who don’t like being called gaijin and kick up a stink, the worse the reputation of foreigners will be.

Gaijin is a way to describe non-Japanese. Why should anybody, foreign or Japanese, have to hurt their head thinking up another term?

Funny story comes to mind – in my bashing days and before I knew better, I went to snack bar in the country and was upset that my order had “gaijin” written on it.

The poor cook then wrote something else instead. All he was doing was writing a description so he knew which order belonged to which customer.

Gaijin was the most logical and obvious way to describe me. My offence was sorely misplaced.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Basher,

Never been to a snack bar, so correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the whole appeal that the waitresses get to know you and learn your name and such? You were just "gaijin" to them?

So, what did they write on everyone else's orders? "Nihonjin"?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

You obviously have a rather shallow, or shall I say inexperienced view and knowledge about Japan, Japanese people and the language in general to think that this would actually mean anything.

Much like the Japanese world view?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I dont care what anyone calls me, as long as its not too early in the morning.in Japan Im a gaigin in Australia Im a foriegner, at home the old man says Im a pain in the axxx

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Excellent article! I've been wondering why there are two versions of the word for "foreigner". Never took offense by being called one, though I know a few that would be up in arms if not called Gaikokujin.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I would take the train back home and basically the train was full of high school students and I would inevitably hear the "sugoi's and kakkoii's" come up and once in awhile one group of kids would push one of their friends over and try to speak english to me... kinda interesting at first but after awhile just tiresome so once the headphones went on, peace with led zepplin.

Malfupete - Before your gaijin ego gets too inflated 1. I've seen the butt-ugliest gaijin be described as Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt etc. just because they are white. 2. Zep is ok for about 5 minutes but they are the Barry Manilows of rock music.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

This article reminded me of my first time in Japan and not knowing what the word meant. I was eating at a restaurant with a Japanese friend, when suddenly this little boy (about 5 years old) in the next booth, looked and pointed at me and said ''gaijin''! But his parents looked so embarrassed and told him to hush and said sorry to me. My Japanese friend told me it meant ''foreigner'' but not a nice way to say it. Which then made me wonder what were the kid's parents teaching him at home?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Ah here we are again, think I have read about this before haha LOL!

Gaijin, I am happily one of those, gives me more freedom in Japan than the natives, great reason to enjoy being one.

The word as some have correctly figured out is ALL about context & tone, certainly the writer a jazz player shud know how tone affects everything LOL!

Gaijin, what does it mean, h'm while most Japanese & non-Japanese say it means foreigner & it does to an extent, the fuller meaning again which a few have figured out is it means non/not-Japanese is closer to the all elusive truth, but like infinity we will NEVER GET THERE LOL.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

You obviously have a rather shallow, or shall I say inexperienced view and knowledge about Japan, Japanese people and the language in general to think that this would actually mean anything.

Well congratulations to you for being such an expert.

The problem is it does mean something, you said it yourself. If the word means non-Japanese, then it's just another example of how the Japanese consider themselves unique and completely different than everyone else on the planet. The fact that they would have to have a word to describe everyone non-Japanese reinforces this B.S. belief.

Again a generalization through experience, they don't usually look at things critically, and are very casual in their use of the word, and for most, there is almost, usually, no intent to criticize, belittle, or put down, any foreigner they come across when they use the word towards you.

And this makes it OK?

The number of times Japanese have been hurtful or downright insulting due to their cultural ignorance is appalling yet apologists constantly make excuses such as no intent to criticize. The use of gaijin to describe someone who is not Japanese is a perfect example.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

@takoyakitora, thank you. I never said it was right, I never said what they did was wrong. I am trying to explain the reasoning behind it. The longer you live here the better you'll understand it and more importantly see it for what it is and learn to deal with it better.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Depends.

My g.friend and other close JP friends call me ayashi gaijin all the time; a lot of my students call me henna gaijin as well. I love both terms.

When I ask something to someone (store or rest. staff) and they ask someone else in Japanese and refer to me as Gaijin san... I guess it's their way of being polite. Tho I would never say "there's a gringo asking for something" in their faces back home.

If I hear "baka gaijin", depends on who said it, I say 90% of the times I would feel quite insulted.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

The fact that they would have to have a word to describe everyone non-Japanese reinforces this B.S. belief.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaijin

Read an learn, the history of the word was not initially used to describe foreigners. They have come up with the word gaikokujin, to be quite honestly PC in today's world. It isnt BS either. Understanding where it comes from, how it has morphed into what is supposed to be proper today helps one with understanding how to deal with the word.

To blatantly dismiss the fact shows an ignorance about the language here.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

If you check the translation of your gaijin torokushou, you will notice we are all ALIENS...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

If I hear "baka gaijin", depends on who said it, I say 90% of the times I would feel quite insulted.

And if you heard it said just the way you wrote it here chances are the person saying it doesn't speak Japanese very well either. Consider the source. Now then depending upon the situation if they referred to you as baka na gaijin you very well may have a reason to feel insulted, again depending upon the situation.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

@takoyaki

The fact that they would have to have a word to describe everyone non-Japanese reinforces this B.S. belief.

We discussed this a bit yesterday, but surely every country has a word to describe anyone who isn't from that particular country. In English-speaking countries it's "foreigner".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@HumanTarget

As I remember, it was a small place and the cook was run off his feet. He did remember me next time I went there, as do staff of every place I go to, Japanese or not.

As for knowing my name, I can think of many places I go to where my face is known but not my name.

I don't think it's the "done" thing for cooks to ask every customer's name and to be honest, I wouldn't mind after becoming an regular customer but getting asked the first time is kind of creepy.

How many places do you walk into the first time and they ask your name as soon as you order?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

So, what did they write on everyone else's orders? "Nihonjin"?

No. It would not identify the other customers. It would be like "lady with red scarf" or "man with blue umbrella" etc.

Should that be seen as a sinister plot too?

In my case, 2 characters. Lucky break!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@hoserfella

Funny! :-)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

For those who might see me as an apologist, I'm just pointing I'm okay with the word "gaijin".

Don't get me wrong, I've met al kinds of unpleasant characters in Japan. But the worst there is better than the worst in my own country.

And I've met some really, really nice people in both. Colour does not matter.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Actually it says gai'koku'jin torokusho :) Just saying.

Agree that it is what it is. How it is used determines the meaning behind it. I have very rarely heard it used in a derogatory fashion, and believe that most people don't use it as such.

The kanji of the word 外人 literally refers to someone from outside. It is likely more of a slang/abbreviation than anything. 外国人 refers to a person from another country. I may be wrong but the Japanese people using the term 外人 other countries are mostly tourists and are with a group of other tourists, or Japanese speaking people... in this case they are referring not to the country, but outside their group. It is not so much a case of discrimination as a conceptual shift that has not been made. As one poster above said, the open minded person will make the shift. At least in my experience, once they make that shift (i.e. it is called to the attention, or they consider themselves a part of another group, etc.), they cease to refer to people as 外人. It is simply how they have perceived things for a most of their lives.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

sfjp330Sep. 07, 2011 - 09:12AM JST

" If you live in Japan, this is a third world country in terms of quality of life"

What are you smoking? You have obviously never lived in a true third-world country if you believe that statement. My quality of life - other than the fact of living in/near a big, polluted city (which developing AND developed countries alike have) - is much better here than it ever was back in the States. And I made decent money and lived in a low cost of living area.

Sure, if a gaijin comes here and lives in a cramped, roach infested apartment cuz they're too scared to spend a yen or two, then yeah, life might seem third world country-ish. But it is not the quality of life OFFERED that is third world here, it is the quality of life one chooses to live.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Back on topic -

Most Japanese do not mean anything by calling gaijin um, well, "gaijin". Most of the time, it's just out of laziness or habit. However, they DO know the difference between "gaijin" and "gaikokujin". I've been called "gaikokujin" more times than not. I've oft heard the word "gaikokujin" used in reference to other foreigners. So, obviously there must be a difference.

The thing is to not let someone get away with it when they do use "gaijin" when referring to you or another foreigner. Correct them, and let them know that the proper word is "gaikokujin". Almost always they realize their mistake (?) and abruptly apologize. Again, they KNOW that it is technically improper to use "gaijin", but they just get lazy sometimes and forget.

And besides, there is no racism in Japan anyway. At least, that is what most Japanese think. True story - they will proudly say it to your face. If you try to call foul and say that something is "sabetsu" (i.e. discrimination), they will smile, shake their head, and calmly but confidently tell you, "no, its just 'kubetsu' (distinction)", and POOF!, as if by magic, everything is once again okay - and justified.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

oh burst into tears poor gaijin! Jeez, aren't we all adults? SO WHAT if someone is rude to you, get over it. Political correctness is a ridiculous attempt at censorship. Anyone should be able to say anything they want, as long as they accept the consequences. Personal responsibility , not whining.

-10 ( +2 / -12 )

Anyone should be able to say anything they want, as long as they accept the consequences.

Baldy.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It doesnt bother me at all , as i am a person from outside japan which is what it means Gai = outside jin = person, anyone who has a problem being referred to as what they are need to get a life.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

It doesnt bother me at all , as i am a person from outside japan which is what it means Gai = outside jin = person

ExportExpert - I think we're all agreed on that. But what if the person referring to you as "gaijin" looks at you like you're something they've just scraped off their shoe?

1 ( +3 / -2 )

what if the person referring to you as "gaijin" looks at you like you're something they've just scraped off their shoe?

The problem is with the attitude of the person with the look, not with any word he happens to use. What if he looks at you like you're something he just scraped off his shoe, and calls you by your nationality - igirisujin or amerikajin or whatever. Does that make your nationality an insult in all situations?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Cleo i agree

Horsefella as cleo mentions its not in the word but the attitude etc

0 ( +2 / -2 )

See, this is why Japanese don't ever consider living abroad - the world is full of foreigners!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

If you check the translation of your gaijin torokushou, you will notice we are all ALIENS...

Meps, meps!

See, this is why Japanese don't ever consider living abroad - the world is full of foreigners!

Don't live abroad? There are enough Japanese in my small town near Salem Ma that they have their own band and events in the annual International Festival...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Re : YubaruSep. 08, 2011 - 02:23PM JST

If I hear "baka gaijin", depends on who said it, I say 90% of the times I would feel quite insulted And if you heard it said just the way you wrote it here chances are the person saying it doesn't speak Japanese very well either. Consider the source. Now then depending upon the situation if they referred to you as baka na gaijin you very well may have a reason to feel insulted, again depending upon the situation.

When my "gaikokujin" aunt and uncle came to visit us in Japan; an American friend took us to visit the "Gaijinbochi" in Yokohama. Suddenly we heard a voice behind us say "Baka gaijin" and turned around to see a couple of Japanese young men who, suddenly realizing we probably understood their Japanese, ("incorrect" or not...) looked very sheepish and embarrassed and, probably trying to make up for their "faux pas", asked - in Japanese - if we'd like them to take some photos for us...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@takoyakitora, thank you. I never said it was right, I never said what they did was wrong. I am trying to explain the reasoning behind it. The longer you live here the better you'll understand it and more importantly see it for what it is and learn to deal with it better.

Been here for 6 years. Not as long as some, longer than others. I never came here with a chip on my shoulder, still don't have one for that matter and I love living here. What I don't like is ignorance or a belief that someone is better than someone else because they themselves are too ignorant to look at things more than 5 inches in front of their noses.

Read an learn, the history of the word was not initially used to describe foreigners. They have come up with the word gaikokujin, to be quite honestly PC in today's world. It isnt BS either. Understanding where it comes from, how it has morphed into what is supposed to be proper today helps one with understanding how to deal with the word.To blatantly dismiss the fact shows an ignorance about the language here.

I see. So therefore, if I understand you correctly, ALL Japanese know, understand, and use the word according to the historical context? From what i could gather from the wikipedia site you linked to, the context hasn't changed much from its beginnings to now.

but surely every country has a word to describe anyone who isn't from that particular country. In English-speaking countries it's "foreigner".

Glad you brought this up Luca. I was actually going to mention this in my last post. You're right. In English speaking countries we do use the word foreigner to describe people not from our country. However I have never heard anyone say "Hey look at that interesting foreigner over there." or " Wow what a cool foreigner!" Most of the time I hear the word foreigner used to describe people in such cases as "Stupid foreigner!", G** Damn foreigners coming over here and taking all our jobs. But even when people have problems with foreigners they refer to them based on their nationality instead of lumping them all in to one group, like they do here.

Again not everyone uses the word gaijin with malice or in a mean spirited manner. Bu it doesn't make it right. Is it really so hard to say Gaikokujin?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Professor Doak explains, "Gaijin" is a contraction of 'Gai-koku-jin,' or person from a foreign county. Some foreigners in Japan believe it should be interpreted literally, 'non-human' (when the middle term 'kuni' [country] is dropped) but I don't think many Japanese use it in this way.

More accurately, many speakers assume it to be an abbreviation of 'gaikokujin' and use it as such. But 'gaijin' actually precedes 'gaikokujin' and, as pointed out above, used to mean anyone outside someone's community. I don't think 'gaikokujin' is political correctness; it arose out of need as Japanese developed a political state. I'm not sure what Doak means by 'non-human', though.

The professor then offered his personal opinion: "My own sense is that some foreign residents of Japan who take offense at any use of the term 'gaijin' belong to a well-established phenomenon of foreigners (usually white men) who want to become completely Japanese (culturally, biologically, socially)-cf. Pierre Loti, Madame Chrysantheme, Blackthorne in Clavell's novel 'Shogun,' or James Bond, in 'You Only Live Twice.'

More oddities here. I don't think even hardliners can make themselves "biologically" Japanese. And trotting out one novelist, an opera and two fictional characters doesn't really exemplify the point. I wonder if he thinks that Marutei Tsurunen is trying to become completely Japanese, biological and all, by exercising his right as a citizen to stand for election.

My own view is that if someone calls me a 'gaijin', that means they have trouble getting past being confronted by someone who is different from them. I pity them, and hope the word fades away.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

What I don't like is ignorance or a belief that someone is better than someone else because they themselves are too ignorant to look at things more than 5 inches in front of their noses.

You see, you really don't get it, if after 6 years you still have a chip on, or you got one on your shoulder now. If you actually think this way and act on these feelings in your dealings with Japanese people who may call you gaijin, things are going to get a hell of a lot harder than easier for you.

I see. So therefore, if I understand you correctly, ALL Japanese know, understand, and use the word according to the historical context? From what i could gather from the wikipedia site you linked to, the context hasn't changed much from its beginnings to now.

Dont assume something here, you'll end up regretting it. I never said what you are trying to infer here. Many if not most Japanese do not know the background of the word gaijin themselves and are surprised many times to hear themselves how it was used prior to WWII. The problem is education and society and people learning to live outside of their own little box.

Again not everyone uses the word gaijin with malice or in a mean spirited manner. Bu it doesn't make it right. Is it really so hard to say Gaikokujin?

Quite so, but it doesnt make it wrong either. But good luck on your crusade anyway, someday I hope you'll see the light, but if you don't remember you were warned.

I'm afraid that eventually you and others that feel like you do will end up disappointed, dissatisfied, disillusioned, and leave Japan with a sour taste in your mouth because you ended up getting caught up in things like this and others as well that destroyed your romantic vision of what things should be like here.

Oh, you experiences are what they are, doesnt make them any less important or not, and it really doesnt matter just how long you've lived here either. Some folks get it faster than others, and some never get it at all.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

ExportExpert - I was playing Devil's Advocate. Your first post suggested you had no problem being referred to as "gaijin" at any time

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

You see, you really don't get it, if after 6 years you still have a chip on, or you got one on your shoulder now. If you actually think this way and act on these feelings in your dealings with Japanese people who may call you gaijin, things are going to get a hell of a lot harder than easier for you.

Incredible. Unbelievable actually that someone who appears to be as intelligent as yourself would be so narrow minded as to think I walk around looking to pick a fight with anyone who would dare look their nose down on me. I am not that fragile. perhaps you are.

Dont assume something here, you'll end up regretting it. I never said what you are trying to infer here. Many if not most Japanese do not know the background of the word gaijin themselves and are surprised many times to hear themselves how it was used prior to WWII. The problem is education and society and people learning to live outside of their own little box.

Is that a threat? I don't assume anything. You posted a link to something. I read it and based on what you are saying have determined you don't quite understand the meaning yourself. If you did then you would see how wrong you are in the rest of your comments.

But good luck on your crusade anyway, someday I hope you'll see the light, but if you don't remember you were warned.

Thank you very much Oh great defender of the Yamato! However I'm not on a crusade. I'm merely stating my opinion based on the article, my personal experiences, the experiences of others I've talked to, and the thinking of many Japanese themselves when I speak with them. I'm not reading into anything here. In fact most of us on here whether they be pro or con the use of the word "Gaijin" are basing our opinions on our experiences whether they be good or bad.

Oh, you experiences are what they are, doesnt make them any less important or not, and it really doesnt matter just how long you've lived here either. Some folks get it faster than others, and some never get it at all.

How lucky for you that every experience you have had in Japan has been wonderful and magical.

I'm afraid that eventually you and others that feel like you do will end up disappointed, dissatisfied, disillusioned, and leave Japan with a sour taste in your mouth because you ended up getting caught up in things like this and others as well that destroyed your romantic vision of what things should be like here.

I would suggest you be careful not to assume something here. Pretty foolish of you to believe anyone who finds offense to the use of Gaijin falls into this category. I for one never have. I'm quite happy overall with my experiences here. If you feel disappointed by that, that's your problem

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

In the vast majority of cases it's true, we are foreigners here in Japan, very few are Japanese citizens. I don't take offense at being called gaijin, unless it was said in a truly aggressive/condescending tone/situation which I have yet to encounter in my 20 years here.

What I find shameful and disgusting is when in the States, people (usually whites) say to a person who is of Asian/Middle Eastern descent (for example), "Where are you from?" Uhh, Chicago. "No where are you from??" Chicago!!! They imply that since you're not white you must have been born in another place. Only whites can be "real" Americans (conveniently forgetting the Native Americans). I daresay the same thing happens in the UK, "What part of Pakistan do you come from?" London......

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Incredible. Unbelievable actually that someone who appears to be as intelligent as yourself would be so narrow minded as to think I walk around looking to pick a fight with anyone who would dare look their nose down on me. I am not that fragile. perhaps you are.

Ahh, sorry but you are just reinforcing what I wrote about earlier, I never said you were looking for a fight or otherwise. You take things too literally and if that is how you view Japanese folks who you deem are ignorant you certainly sound like you have a chip on your shoulder, whether you can admit it or not.

Is that a threat? I don't assume anything. You posted a link to something. I read it and based on what you are saying have determined you don't quite understand the meaning yourself. If you did then you would see how wrong you are in the rest of your comments.

I don't make threats, you are the one who is reading it that way. I merely pointed out a fact to you about Japanese not knowing the history of the word gaijin themselves. I definitely know what it means believe me.

I'm merely stating my opinion based on the article,

Myself as well, and the responses that some people make here too, yourself included.

How lucky for you that every experience you have had in Japan has been wonderful and magical.

See the chip again, you are assuming something that I can assuredly share with you is very wrong here, meant sarcastically or otherwise. Odds are I have experienced tons more good and bad as well then you have over time, it doesnt make either of our experiences better nor worse, less or more valid either, they are our own. It's how one chooses to view and learn from them personally that makes the difference.

I would suggest you be careful not to assume something here. Pretty foolish of you to believe anyone who finds offense to the use of Gaijin falls into this category. I for one never have. I'm quite happy overall with my experiences here. If you feel disappointed by that, that's your problem

It is very safe to assume because I have met plenty of fellow gwaijin that have such a bitter taste in their mouths about how they think, key word here, think, they have been treated, and yet never accept or learn to face the reality of what life living here is like. And all have left as fast as they could because they couldnt wrap their minds around the reality that Japanese people are not any different then people anywhere else in the world in many ways. They came here with a preconceived notion of what things should be like and got their bubble popped. Many foreigners that come here do fall into this category and end up with a love hate relationship about the country and it's people.

And I stick by what I said before, some get it,and live here accepting things as they are despite all the crap they experience along the way. They create their own world and say screw it to those that don't know them or are not willing to accept them for who they are. They do very well too I might add. And others don't get and end up bitter.

I am here by circumstance, and I make it what it is for me and my family, and I will add that it would be the same no matter where or what country we lived in. You make it what you want to be.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I am finding everyones different perspectives on the word and how it is used, personal anecdotes and experiences absolutey fascinating to be honest!

I am interested that some people take offense at being called America-jin! Isnt that pretty offensive towards Americans? If someone asks if I am from America (happens a lot) I just say no, the UK. No big deal. I mistake Canadians for Americans and vice versa all the time - now THAT gets a response!!!

Many many people in my home area assume I am Russian, as there are quite a few Russian women around here. Far from taking offence I am very flattered - they are invariably beautiful and married to rich Japanese men. What a wonderful compliment!

"Gaijin" does not mean alien in the not-of-this-planet sense. There is a separate word for that. It simply means non-Japanese. What else should they call us??! It is completely unreasonable to expect them to spot the difference between a Brit and a Dane - I couldnt even do it (except the Danes in general seemto be far better looking than we Brits!!!).

I also find it hilarious the suggestion that because I dont generally take offence at the word that I am the oppressed identifying with my oppressor! WTF???!!!! No, quite simply I have a lot more going on in my life than worrying about a word. It is the intention behind it that is important. I say gaijin myself all the time in casual company, just because gaikokujin is too much of a mouthful!

If I heard baka gaijin absolutely I would take offence - who wouldnt??! But baka igirisujin, baka josei, baka anything else would be the issue, not gaijin! BTW if I heard someone say "Baka na gaijin" would assume THEY were the non-Japanese speaker! "Baka gaijin" is not grammatically correct, but it is how natives speak.

When I get little kids point at me or come up to me, I feel that is my chance to give them a good impression of non-Japanese that will hopefully stick in their minds for the future, so I am invariably polite and friendly. If I get stupid teenagers yelling "haro! haro!" across the street at me, I just pretend to be French ;9 !

I am likely to be here forever, and I am likely never to be anything else in my life but a gaijin. Suits me. I am proud to be non-Japanese with all the benefits that entails. My husbands friends and colleagues speak with envy about his gaijin wife, our relationship, our children and all the opportunities the situation brings for us. Whats not to love??!

I am far more offended and upset here being treated like a second class citizen because I am female than because I am an "outside person". But thats a separate topic for a separate thread....!

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Nicky WashidaSep. 09, 2011 - 08:28AM JST I am far more offended and upset here being treated like a second class citizen because I am female than because I am an "outside person". But thats a separate topic for a separate thread....!

We should get together sometime ! We seem to have a lot in commen !

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@troyinjapan

And I have lived here for more than twenty years

Wow, you beat me by 4 years. Maybe I should call you Sensei and follow your lead?

Big whoop.

In my mere 16 years, I was able to work out I was the outsider. It was up to me to fit in.

I noticed a big shift in attitudes towards foreigners while I was there. All for the better, but hey, it's their country.

I want to move back. One day, I will make it happen.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

@qazwsx,

why all the hate on the US? In reality, it's not that those people are assuming you weren't born in the US. That's just a shortcut for asking, "What is your ancestry?"

In fact, it's usually the other way around in the states: because, you know, of all the diversity, generally people assume you were born in the US even if you weren't. That's why you don't get Americans congratulating you on being able to say "Hello!" or order a latte properly, even if you're clearly Asian or of whatever other descent.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Yubaru-

And I stick by what I said before, some get it,and live here accepting things as they are despite all the crap they experience along the way. They create their own world and say screw it to those that don't know them or are not willing to accept them for who they are.

I think a lot of the people who take offence at the word are not happy with what the word implies to them. It implies that they have to "create their own world and say screw it to those that don't know them or are not willing to accept them for who they are." (to use your own words.) Meaning: the Japanese subconsciously are not truly accepting us as equals, but as outsiders.

The truth is -- words can hurt -- and not because of what the speaker believes what the word means. I can use words to describe the native people of Canada -- words that I don't intend to be offensive -- but words that can be received as offensive.

Personally, the word doesn't bother me, and I've used it myself. But now, after reading other's feelings, I'm going to stop.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The truth is -- words can hurt -- and not because of what the speaker believes what the word means. I can use words to describe the native people of Canada -- words that I don't intend to be offensive -- but words that can be received as offensive.

Personally, the word doesn't bother me, and I've used it myself. But now, after reading other's feelings, I'm going to stop.

Words can only hurt if the person they are being directed to let them.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Yubaru - could you explain that again? I don't understand your meaning.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Reformedbasher asked if I had gone home. This (not Japan)? Home? I'm a total fish out of water wherever I am.

A brief story: Returning to Japan after taking off overseas for a couple weeks, as I was wont to do every year or so; because of my longish-term visa, I could use either the non-Japanese (gaikokujin?) immigration line or the line reserved for Japanese people. Both were OK. The Japanese "national" line was shorter, so coming back from Thailand (or was it London?), I chose the Japanese line. The Japanese guy behind me got his jockey shorts in a twist and informed me that I was in the wrong line. "You have to use that line over there. This is for Japanese people only." I glanced over to the right at the much longer line and smiled softly and took a step forward and completely ignored him from then on. I don't remember if he used the term gaijin or not. After clearing immigration I turned and noticed my interlocutor looking at the immigration officer like he wanted to do him harm.

An hour later, stretching my legs out in the Keisei Skyliner I looked out the window of the speeding train and thought to myself, "Ah, home!...Home? Yeah. This is my home. Thank God. But I wonder what they would think of me considering this home... Not fluent that well in the language. Few connections. Cognizant of some history and culture but oblivious to myriad cultural norms and standards (thank the heavens also that they didn't always apply to we lucky-dog non-Japanese). How long can I remain in but not totally of?"

Now days I wish I could be referred to as gaijin, or ijin, or hen na yatsu, or kichigai uchujin; or anything except the only Japanese epithet appropriate to me now: the irreversible, inescapable rojin - "tottering old fart".

So if you see me on a crowded train get your ass out of that Silver Seat and let me get off these weak and spindly legs for a couple minutes. That is, if I ever return "home" again.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@horrified, sorry the quote function here sometimes is off a bit....my bad. My response.

Words can only hurt if the person they are being directed to let them. This should have read; Words can only hurt a person that they are being directed towards if they let them.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Yubaru -- thank you for your response. Yes, that is true, words can only hurt if the receiver lets them hurt. For me, 'gaijin' doesn't hurt. I don't even have to try to not let it hurt me -- it doesn't. If someone calls me a thief - it doesn't hurt me, either. I suppose, though, if I were accused of being a thief by the police and prosecuted as such, the term might hurt. Letting that not hurt me might be more than I can bring myself to do.

In the same way, some people might be sensitive to being continuously called an "outsider." I don't think it is unreasonable to think that it is too difficult for some to not let it hurt them. I mean, think of the term itself: outsider. It means the other person is not part of the group. Not part of the pack. Not part of the family. Always a visitor. Always a guest. Always close, but never close enough.

Or, like Ed says above, "in" Japan but not totally "of." This is a significant point for many people. The connotation is not neutral. Excluded and not included.

I don't want to presume to know your experiences here. My experiences have been mixed, like most of my non-Japanese friends. Some great, some good, some bad. But because of my appearance and accent alone, I've found that the area I live in (Tohoku) has a population that is willing to host me as a guest, but nothing more. I can buy a house and send my kids to school here, but my role is limited. The smoothest path is for me to keep on teaching English.

I should not try to import products on any serious scale. I should not try to join forces with one of the many local business keiretsu. I should not try to expect the majority of customers to trust me as a business owner who is dependable. I should not expect my business to be treated equally with advertising magazines and newspapers when the competition is Japanese-owned. I should not expect equal treatment from the local police force. These attributes are reserved for the 'non-guests.' The 'non-outsiders.' Perhaps your area and experience is different. But I know this area well (arrived in 1991,) and many others here share my sentiment.

I enjoy visiting Osaka -- the people there seem a little more open to non-Japanese. Maybe I'm just in the wrong area. All that to say is I can identify with those who find the term 'gaijin' to be offensive. I don't think it takes a lot of effort to treat people like equal human beings. I think the lack of this effort is what needs to change in this country. Seriously.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@takoyakiIn

English speaking countries we do use the word foreigner to describe people not from our country. However I have never heard anyone say "Hey look at that interesting foreigner over there." or " Wow what a cool foreigner!"

Excellent point. Never thought of it like that. Thank you :)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Ed O Jidai

...because of my longish-term visa, I could use either the non-Japanese (gaikokujin?) immigration line or the line reserved for Japanese people. Both were OK.

What kind of visa do you have? Most airports have only two lines: one for Japanese citizens (ie with Japanese passports) and one for non-Japanese citizens (ie with foreign passports). The visa is irrelevant. Major airports also have a "re-entry" line for foreigners with long-term visas, but Japanese passport-holders can't use that. How did you end up in the same line as a Japanese national?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

in japan, you have all sorts of people (like everywhere else), from a minority of xenophobes that use the word gaijin with the worst despicable meaning, to a majority of great hearted wonderful people that use it to mean simply non-japanese. i really can't understand what's the big deal with this. it's like a conspiracy theory, that some substantial part of this lovely country hates the rest of of the world and is planning to take over. sorry, but i, a gaijin, believe in the goodness of this culture.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I'm enjoying the tears... Gaijin insults non whites on daily basis in home country, sees no problem. Gaijin goes to Japan, gets dose of own medicine, Gets upset.

Cry some moar.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

I think this author, being white, is writing this article from his own opinion, a white guy from the USA, but he must not know any black people?? I hear plenty of Japanese refer to blacks as gaijin or gaikokujin, so this theory that it only used to single out white folk is not right, a white person is just one kind of race, and some people get pissed off when they are reminded that they are not Japanese, maybe will never be Japanese etc..as for me, just depends on my mood, if I am tired and somebody is going on and on about all the differences between a Japanese person and a Non Japanese person I will change from normal, standard Nihongo over to Kansai ben, like the Osaka dialect and remind them, outside of Tokyo, many folk NO NOT LIKE TOKYO nor to LISTEN to the so called fake TOKYO BEN and ask these same folk, hey what about Kansai is the HUMOR the same there as it is in Tokyo?? The food?? The way of living etc...??Most folk Japanese will laugh because they will remember that even in little Japan, it does have many regions and again take KANSAI for an example, they are proud of their own culture, history etc..and that all Japanese should love their culture, country etc..just as people from all over the world should love themselves, their country, their heritage etc...

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Maybe a bit too early but what the heck, a few years back, drinking in a place called shonben yokocho in Shinjuku having a great time, it was snowing, and eating yakitori, having beer, etc..while snow was falling and like I said having a good old time, one Japanese guy bought me some beer, I then asked him what he liked, shochu?? So I bought him some rounds too and I said that I really liked Japan but he said I should be careful, that some Japanese were bad, that they did not like gaikojin etc..I told him daijoubu!! Im ok right? So after too many beers I had to go an pee, and there I am, in this dingy outdoor toilet for men ready to pee, and then this Japanese guy comes in stumbling with a very red face and as I was starting my business there, I let out a WAA KIMOCHIII! Just a huge relief on my poor bladder, then the Japanese guy said something like HONTO DA NE until he opened his red drunk eyes and says WAA IRAN JIN DA!! OH, an Iranian! I says Chigau! Mexico jin da! and these fool kept going on that I was an Iranian, so I turn to this fool, and as I TURNED to this fool I explained to him look, I am 100% Mexican, no, no maybe 150% Mexican and proud of it. All whilst still doing my business all over this guys legs! But this Japanese idiot was so drunk he did not notice I was educating him and pissing all over him at the same time, but then I had the bright idea, I said, you must be Korean?? No Chinese?? You do not look like a real Japanese, maybe you are half Korean and half Chinese?? and the drunk responded with chigau chigau, I kept on pissing all over this guy and says, hey, sorry I do not see any difference between you and Korean, Chinese etc..then he realized I was pissing all over him but he was so drunk, that when he tried to chase me, his pants were already down to his knees and he just kind of slipped in the YELLOW SNOW, and I just went back to have a few more beers and yakitoris, Kanpai!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@lucabrasi: The time I was speaking of was more than a decade ago. However, I found this quote from someone in 2007 just after fingerprinting was initiated:

I know everyone is hoping to hear a horror story but the system worked perfectly at Narita today. There is a large sign as you enter the immigration area "Japanese passports and re-entry permits" one lane and "foreign passports" the other lane. A couple of desks were open for re-entry permits while about 10 were open for Japanese.

But, yes, at the time I wrote of there were only two categories of lanes. Any non-Japanese person with a re-entry permit and valid alien-registration card could use the Japanese-nationals' lane. Is that no longer the case? Just out of curiosity (and for staying on topic), is it disturbing to anyone that "gaijin" of any ilk should be allowed to use the same facilities that have also been specifically demarcated for Japanese people within Japan, such as in this case: a foreigner standing in and passing through a line for Japanese people that was set apart from non-Japanese? And isn't this really the crux of the question here? We know that, indeed, it would be disturbing to a certain percentage of Japanese people ("What are you doing in this line [country]? Go over there [home]. You don't belong here with us! Young, fair-complected, blond, blue-eyed gaijin excepted.").

It is an indisputable fact that Japan is a highly discriminating, racist society. And we non-Japanese revere and respect those Japanese people and policies that have helped to alleviate the harsher aspects of that reality. To me, the use of the word gaijin, even in its mildest form of "outsider", reinforces an intolerance for differences among people and other races that I would rather see lessened.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Over twenty years ago, when I first came to Japan; the people whom I considered friends or family never used that word and didn't allow me to use it. People who didn't know me, addressed me as such. After winning them over with good citizenry and bringing something to the table, they stopped using that word. Every country has an ignoramus or two. Just consider the source... and move on. Hell, back in the day, the spouse of a foreigner was removed from the family register, consequently, les than a "gaijin" (no country, no family). No matter what you are called and how long you have lived here and how much kaniji you know, you'll never vote, have a family seal, or be an established head or add on to the family historical register. Japan is for the Japanese, but that does not preclude us from being good contributing citizens. We are here because we are doing better than we would in our own countries or your spouse decided "hell no, I'm not going to be "gaijin" in your country." ha ha ha. Look, Japan is a wonderful choice, live it, love it, and enjoy it

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I just arrived in Japan to live for three years, been here three weeks and have not heard the "Gaijin" word at all yet!!! Personally, I don't care if this word is a Pejorative. Every country in the world has their own pejoratives towards a foreigner. I know who I am and where I come from, why let a word offend me? I'd much rather enjoy the country and make long lasting friends while I'm here.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Ed O Jidai

But, yes, at the time I wrote of there were only two categories of lanes. Any non-Japanese person with a re-entry permit and valid alien-registration card could use the Japanese-nationals' lane. Is that no longer the case?

Good God, yes, I remember now. Those were the days. No. I'm afraid that these days foreign passports are all dealt with separately from Japanese. whatever the visa. As I said, the major airports divide foreigners into "visitors" and "residents", and the residents line is always the shortest of the three. My local airport (Fukuoka) doesn't do this though, so I'm treated the same as a weekend tourist from Busan, despite having lived here over twenty years. Still, it's the same for a Japanese resident in England (all non-EU passports treated the same), so I guess immigration sucks everywhere.... :(

0 ( +0 / -0 )

SerranoSep. 11, 2011 - 02:31AM JST

"apply to all feed and food from 12 prefectures"

That should cover it.

"National Azabu are testing their foods for radiation.

zichi - That's becuae there's a bunch of rich gaijins shopping there.

I feel so insulted by Serrano! Using the G word! Just like if we was back in ALABAMA! Power to us people from outside of these islands, my fellow gai KOKU jins!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The statement above is SARCASM, oh, you know like Monty Python etc...we should learn from our African American brothers that turned the N word from something hateful, negative into something with love, being part of the same team, experience etc..let us turn the G word into new RAP music showing our pride at being 100% or 50% or ???% G!! You all down with loving yourselves, the forget about the G spot and move on to your heart and soul and love yourselves, this is not sarcasm, be proud of who you are, heck I am Mexican, love being Mexican, I do not give too hoots what any racist fool anywhere in the world says about us Mexicans, do care more about why mom, who is very Mexican, says about my hair cut, my shirts, pants, friends, beard?? my side burns, yes, 2 Mexicans, no maybe about 4?? my parents, my grandparents, if they did not like my beard etc..well time to chop it off just to make them feel YOUNGER, but ah yes, here in Japan or back in the USA?? Mexico?? Should we be controlled by what others MAY be thinking about us?? In my case, I tell my kids here in Japan, you see that scum bag across the street?? Yeah that dirty guy over there checking out junior high school girls etc..I am sure that is a hentai, so be careful, or if I see another idiot Japanese on his stupid LOUD motorcycle I let my kids know, see that guy, has nothing better to do that to make noise, try to get attention, because that poor sod?? never had LOVE nor ATTENTION as a child and now he is BEGGING, CRYING, SCREAMING for love and attention all the wrong way etc...this is not to be racist etc..this is survival, back in the USA, I point out the homies with tattoos all OVER THEIR FACES and let my kids know, these guys were in jail, had nothing better to do than to count the days, months, years etc..so back to the G word, we all need to relax, and ask our fellow Japanese if they would like to be singled out in public?? Work? at a park? and say kids in other countries yelling, OH LOOK, a Jap???? I am sure most Japanese would then realize that they are sinning, no matter how cute little kids are that are afraid or curious of others different from themselves.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Elbuda MexicanoSep. 11, 2011 - my fellow gai KOKU jins!

Actually, if you knew what "KOKU" (with a slightly different spelling : "COCU") means in French, you may come to prefer just plain old "gaijin"...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@HumanTarget

That's a really good point! It also bugs me when complete strangers speak to me in casual-form Japanese. Happens all the time, especially at the gym. They'll point to a bench and go, "kore, tsukatteru?" and then proceed to sit on it and use it as a chair while they chat with other gym acquaintances in polite Japanese. Whatever their choice of words, or how they address me, I don't appreciate being treated like a neanderthal.

That is very very true and also very shameful that "some" japanese lack sense of respect toward foreign persons. I would never address a foreign person using casual-form japanese. It's so disrespectful, shit. And yes, NOT EVERYONE is American!!! I wonder why people here insist in believing every light skinned person must be American~ Lame(?)

Still, I wish I was "gaijin" rather than your common ordinary japanese woman with nothing physically (unlike the beautiful British ladies for example~) or emotionally appealing. I take "gaijin" a thousand times over your ordinary japanese. and if you ask me, yes, a japanese, the most hated, inferior complex and arrogant asian ever to exist in the Asian continent.

Truth hurts but it is the truth nonetheless.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Bluewitch do not worry about all the Amerika jin, my obaachans back in Mexico and in California, they both swore to me that I should come back from CHINA! In Mexico and Latin America, all Asians are chinos, Chinese in English, so here in Japan old folk think anybody white is an Amerika jin and back in Mexico old folk think that all Asians are chinos, oh you from Tokyo, oh China is very nice, Bruce Lee etc..you should see the face on my Japanese amigos when we go to work in Mexico and most Mexicans do not know the difference between China and Japan, Korea, etc..so I do not take it to seriously, we all need to relax, but now Jacqueline from France has me wondering what is COCU in French! Merci bucou??

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Elbuda Mexicano: what is COCU in French

Any good French-English, or French-Spanish dictionary will tell you...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Elbuda Mexicano

my obaachans back in Mexico and in California, they both swore to me that I should come back from CHINA!

ROLF!!!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@gyouza

Japanese reactrion can be funny though. A friend of mine spotted two Japanese girls in a supermarket just outside London. He raised his arm and pointed to them whilst saying (in a relatively loud voice) "Gaijin da, gaijin!". They were horrified, and responded "chigau, chigau!". The situation he had put them in made them feel very uncomfortable and instantly defensive. I wonder what would have happened if he had shouted "Nihon jin da, Nihon jin!"?

That happened to me when I was visiting Korea. I was inside a toy store and 2 young Korean women pointed at me and shouted "gaijin!". I just wanted the earth to open and swallow my body. (x_x)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

(unlike the beautiful British ladies for example~)

BlueWitch babe, thanks for the compliment, but we actually spend most of our time walking around Japan wishing we looked more like YOU guys!!! I am happy in my own skin, and kind of enjoy standing out with my blonde hair and...erm...other "features" but I would definitely swap for silky straight Japanese hair and perfect Asian skin any day - especially in this heat!!!

BTW - boy or a girl??!!! I am guessing its over so Omedetou either way!

@JAck1987:

been here three weeks and have not heard the "Gaijin" word at all yet!!!

Maybe not to your face....!

Seriously though - welcome to Japan and I hope you have a fantastic 3 years in this wonderful country. Bear in mind though that there are people around who have had experiences like this:

A woman yelled at my 5 year old daughter for carrying her toy scooter into the elevator in our old building. There was no-one else there, plenty of space. I told her it wasnt a problem (in Japanese) she is only 5 (in Japanese) but she just got more and more irate. Finally, exasperated in English I said "Please - calm down!" - she punched me in the shoulder and kicked the pram with my 2 month old baby in it sideways. Thankfully my hand was still on the pram but I fell sideways with the force of her blow, and the last thing I remember was her face in mine screaming abuse and finishing with the word "GAIJIN!". So you see, give it some time here and see how you then feel.

Personally, as I said before it is entirely how the word is used that bothers me, not the word itself. The above is an obvious example, but I often hear it said in an almost affectionate way to me, and there seem to be nothing the Japanese enjoy more than when I make a mistake, apologise profusely and tell them to please excuse me I am "just a gaijin" - BIG way to win friends here!!! Whether you mean it or not, humble works wonders here.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Gaijin, please!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"Gaijin" used to bother me.... but now I realize that 99.9% of the time it is not meant in any offensive manner and actually underscores more that the Japanese are very insulated and ignorant of the world. This despite their voracious reading appetite.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

For me I'm not really offended if someone calls me gaijin (unless there is a -san tacked on the end and they use it instead of my name), but I do appreciate when people take the time to say gaikokujin or gaikoku no kata.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Nicky Washida: Thanks for reminding us that discrimination in Japan can also have positive manifestations, that is, if one is an instant-superstar blond. Being referred to as kirei na gaijin might take the sting out of the word for many.

@Elbuda Mexicano: In reference to Jacqueline Miyagaya's French koku pronunciation in gaikokujin: I just looked up the French cocu in Google Translations: "cuckold" in English; "cornudo" in Spanish (I can imagine an interesting meaning of korunudo in Japanese).

@lucabrasi: So, Japan was headed for a more multi-cultural approach, such as ALL residents, Japanese and non-Japanese alike, using the same lines at airport immigration; and Prime Minister Obuchi's proposed official institution of English as the second language of Japan, but this process was waylaid and subverted by certain reactionaries and the death of Obuchi. Too bad.

I was reading comments at The Economist about embarrassing times learning a foreign language when this comment popped up: http://www.economist.com/comment/1023929#comment-1023929 (Give the link a little time. It will pop down to the appropriate comment, first paragraph being the one of interest).

Then there is this sterling example of just how one person was inspired by discrimination in Japan: http://www.japantoday.com/category/crime/view/norway-killers-manifesto-includes-praise-for-japan-for-not-adopting-multiculturalism

I just don't see the word gaijin as entirely benign, nor do I necessarily see it as "sinister". Although it certainly is a racial epithet.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Nicky Washida

A woman yelled at my 5 year old daughter for carrying her toy scooter into the elevator in our old building. There was no-one else there, plenty of space. I told her it wasnt a problem (in Japanese) she is only 5 (in Japanese) but she just got more and more irate. Finally, exasperated in English I said "Please - calm down!" - she punched me in the shoulder and kicked the pram with my 2 month old baby in it sideways. Thankfully my hand was still on the pram but I fell sideways with the force of her blow, and the last thing I remember was her face in mine screaming abuse and finishing with the word "GAIJIN!". So you see, give it some time here and see how you then feel.

Had that woman done the same thing to me, you can swear she would be hidden under my tatami room as we speak. No one has the right to speak or treat you like that, regardless of race, nationality, creed. She was lucky it was you and NOT me. You are truly a sweet person. But don't let anyone get away with such brutality, Nicky. Defend yourself!! They are nothing but scared little cowards.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@BlueWitch - message received!

On the crazy woman - we called the police - the elevator had a camera and it was all on video. She was arrested and charged with assault. She tried to claim I damaged her 60,000 yen Chanel boots!!! But it was clear as a bell on the camera.

The charges were later dropped due to "lack of evidence" surprise surprise! But then my husband went to talk to her to try and straighten things out (as she was also a resident of our building) and she kicked him hard in the shins and was re-arrested! Turns out she has a drug problem - go figure.

She was obviously crzay and had I been alone I would have walloped her but I was terrified for my kids. My daughter was crying her eyes out having seen me belted, and the baby`s pram had tipped sideways.

But dont worry - I KNOW 99% of Japanese are lovely, wonderful people - like the very kind lady who helped me get an emergency paediatrician appointment just this morning, although she was very confused that the father on the hokkensho was a Japanese and confirmed twice he really was the father. She apologised and said she was surprised because it was unusual - a "gaikokujin" Mother. I just laughed and said yep, I wonder why I married him myself sometimes! I suspect the whole reception desk will still be laughing about that when we go back for the appointment this afternoon!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@Nicky I missed the part where you let go of the pram and jacked her ass a foot off the ground, well atleast not in front of the little one. However, I understand why you didn't, for I share the same patience and tolerance of rude, insolent, arrogant, idiots in/from any country. I always think of myself as an ambassador to my country of origin/and of the country of residence in most situations. The "gaijin" thing will be discussed ad infinitum resulting in the fact that there are rude, insensitive, dumb people in every country and Japan, with all it's beauty and traditions is no exception. We have used this forum for far more negative comments about each other, politicians, etc. Call me what you want, but call me, my commitment is to give you 110% for your yen and off to the ginko goes this hen'na gaijin. As @Nicky, "I'm happy in my skin" Some of us call unnecessary attention to ourselves, anyway. All this amounts to is freedom of expression which means: opinions are lke a-holes, everybody has one. Some show theirs more than others, oops! share their opinions more than others.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

ojiiu812badboy

Thanks ! Just when I needed a good laugh !

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It also bugs me when complete strangers speak to me in casual-form Japanese

It bugs me even more when I go to the hospital and the doctor, whom I have never met before, wanting to brag with his English, calls me with my first name like they do in America.

I mean, we didn't go together to the same kindergarten now, did we?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

As @Nicky, "I'm happy in my skin" Some of us call unnecessary attention to ourselves, anyway.

Erm - not sure if you are referring to me or the woman who bashed me, but I wasnt calling any attention to myself deliberately and I never do. I am blonde and tall(ish) therefore I stand out a mile. Cant help that. Only thing I can do is dye my hair dark and walk on my knees. The former is not going to happen because I would look like a witch (no offence Blue Witch!), but the latter - yeah well, heading in that direction!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

PS I wasnt so much patient and tolerant as knackered (newborn) and scared for the kids - she was obviously mad (dilated pupils, slurring words) and people in that unstable state are too unpredictable to engage. Plus this is Japan - what would happen if we got into a real fight and the police were called? - you can bet it would be my bum warming up a cell bench.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Foxie.

Fully agree, ditto for hot-lines, etc.

Hey, I got a perfectly good family-name and not even a tough one to pronounce. Hate that fake "1st-name" usage from anyone, that is something reserved for close friends and family. You need to earn the usage of it.

Granted at times in Japan I forget that 1st and last names are reversed for introductions, so can be mistaken unless other party also clicks on. But soon rectified.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

ojiiu812badboy:

I always think of myself as an ambassador to my country of origin/and of the country of residence in most situations.

I think You bring up a very important point: we represent something here, a group, a country or if You want to extend it further - we (as a group) represent generally alternative cultures. By living here, we have to perceive ourselves as role models for the Japanese observer. We have to show that we can behave with dignity in spite of being not-Japanese (not that we'd behave differently at home). This is the only way to let those Japanese who never venture beyond their country's boundaries know that Japan is not the only civilised place in the world. This is the only way that the gaijin mentality will ever fade away.

We are free to be happy that we do not wear the straightjacket of a Japanese upbringing. We are not entitled to lecture anyone about it. Our purpose (besides our personal lives) in this country (for the Japanese society) is to show alternatives to traditional (Japanese) approaches. Japan is a culture which achieved amazing advances in the past by implementing aspects of other cultures in a Japanese way. I believe that foreign students like me still basically have this role in the Japanese society.

We should also always keep in mind that politeness is the most disarming tool that we have at our disposal. I for my case cannot imagine anything more embarrassing in a social group trying to save face as being corrected for my own rude behaviour in my native tongue by a non-native speaker who uses it correctly and politely. Keigo is one of our best friends.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Foxie,

Addressing people by first name is part of American culture. It's supposed to be friendly and disarming, which would be appropriate in a doctor's office, I should think, where you might be nervous about what's about to transpire. Addressing someone by last name suggests you want to distance yourself from them, or don't care much for their wellbeing. I would hardly say this is an offense on the level of calling someone "outsider" to their face, or refusing to speak to them in a respectful manner. Honestly, the open contempt for Americans that I get from other westerners is leagues worse than anything I get from the Japanese.

On topic, I'm aware that some Japanese people seem to have the misconception that foreigners are more familiar with casual form than polite form, but in actuality, most formal Japanese education systems start with polite form and work down to casual. I try to correct this mosconception as often as possible, but it doesn't seem to stick. Besides, if the underpaid woman at Lawson addresses me in "masu" form, that lazy guy at the gym that uses it as a social club better do the same.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Human Target.

Sorta agree but we are NOT talking about the american way or culture here. Foxie just used it as an example/reference.

I as a european find the initial 1st name usage highly offensive as it is not my culture(understand it and grind my teeth when it happens), now if japan is adopting the US way they will alienate a lot of foreigners same way that many US businesses do. Now if people want to be culture-insensitive ....

As for the polite and casual way of talking in Japan I 100% agree. I always use the -masu form or the more polite expressions.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I always think of myself as an ambassador to my country of origin/and of the country of residence in most situations.

I totally agree with this too, and for the most part I try hard to live to it. But I must admit, I tend to lose it a little when I am being blatently discriminated against or someone is being extremely hostile or rude to me. Thankfully that happens very rarely and as I said before, a big smile and a bit of humbleness goes a long way to diffusing most situations.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@HumanTarget - you are right and yet this is one of the things I have found hardest to adapt to being here. Even by UK standards I am extremely warm, open, and casual. When I am superpolite in Japanese and especially use keigo, I feel really uncomfortable because even though I know I am following social norms and doing the right thing it just doesnt feel like "me" at all, and in my 75%-of-my-life-in-the-UK-or-western-countries heart, I feel like I am being cold and rude, even though I know in Japan I am not! Its an interesting personal struggle to come to terms with what is correct and what is natural for me.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Nicky Washida,

you are built to live in Kansai than Kanto. Kanto is for square pegs and Kansai for round ones. Ask hubby if he can put in for a transfer?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The general perception of "the WEST" is the US, which is not too far from the truth, if You simply crunch numbers of westerners in Japan. However, they are mosty rather oblivious that western culture is very diverse and the US culture is by no means "western standard".

My country is in some respects rather square (like England), but I prefer to be called by colleagues and other students by my first name (or an abbreviated form). It feels weird, if Japanese speakers start to attach san and sama to a first name, though (whereas chan or kun doesn't create an awkward feeling). The Japanese culture doesn't provide insight into the different modes of addressing people in some western cultures. That is not restricted to Japan though.

@Human Target:

Addressing someone by last name suggests you want to distance yourself from them, or don't care much for their wellbeing.

English doesn't offer a pronoun for formally addressing people. From my German point of view, that is the main reason why Americans use to first names very early. The awareness for the distinction is enhanced if there are distinct forms. The reasons are not too different in the Japanese case either. That doesn't have anything to do with distance or not caring. It is a form of showing respect. If You do not want this for Yourself, it is perfectly okay. But the assumption that a polite speaker doesn't care is plainly wrong.

Honestly, the open contempt for Americans that I get from other westerners is leagues worse than anything I get from the Japanese.

Are You sure that this is against the individual Americans and not against certain aspects of contemporary American culture and politics? There are few countries with citizens as diverse as the US...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Old fashioned" ? Or too "European" ? Whatever the reason I must admit I do not appreciate being called by my first name (which is constantly "mispronounced" as Jiyakoureenu) while I am expected to continue using the famly name accompanied by "san" for my interlocutor... (Although I know I am definitely considered a "friendly person"...) There is a time and a place for everything...

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When I first came to Tokyo, kids pointed at me and yelled "Amerika-jin da!"

Being British, and having difficulty finding work as a teacher, because I was NOT American and spoke "regional" i.e. non-American English, I was not pleased to be addressed thus.

When I went to Fukushima, people said, "Gedo da!" (ketto (hairy Chinese)

But I don't see anything offensive about "gaijin."

I am an outsider. I'm not Japanese. It seems quite clear.

I certainly prefer it to "Amerika-jin!"

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Human Target,

Being addressed with first name is perfectly fine if I would be in America because it is part of their culture. It is however not part of my culture nor is it a part of Japanese culture. To me it shows disrespect when strangers address me that way. Even the postman here does it, calling out loud 'Foxie-san, I have a package for you'. I mean, what are they thinking? And that, eventhough my Japanese family name is written in Japanese all over it. And I never even had an affair with the postman.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I had little kids say gaijin when they saw me, didn't bother me & it wasn't the same feeling as being called the N-word, I know because I've been called that more times than I can count. I actually refer to myself as having been the Jolly Black Giant (a reference to the Green Giant, used by brand of same name in America). I knew it wasn't common for the people around me to see a black person (African American) and seeing as how I was much taller than even my host father, how could I not expect some kind of reaction. After all, when my pale white,redheaded husband and I go to some places in our own country we've been treated rudely. I guess we have a somewhat twisted sense of humor because we make our own jokes about these situations. I am less bothered by being called a gaijin, than I am by all the people in my own country who have said: I don't see color. Okay, well I find that odd because I definitely notice that I have an awesome, non-cancer causing tan whenever I look at myself.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Zichi

you are built to live in Kansai than Kanto. Kanto is for square pegs and Kansai for round ones. Ask hubby if he can put in for a transfer?

You are so right, and that has been said to me many times before! I always feel very at home out west! My husband is from Osaka and VERY proud of it!

@Ed O Jidai: I have to say from my experience on balance I have experienced much more positive discrimination than I have negative, but I am in a fairly unusual position, relatively speaking. I am female, I speak Japanese but I am British and married to a Japanese guy with (if I do say so myself!) some pretty damned cute kiddies! So people are REALLY interested in us all the time. Its nice - was never "hero-worshipped" like this back home!!! I know some people find it shallow or will probably claim I am "lacking in self-esteem" or all the other psycho-babble you hear because I ENJOY receiving compliments and being told how obviously intelligent and erai I am after nothing more than a "konnichiwa" or being able to hold a set of chopsticks straight but a) no-one ever showered me with compliments back home unless they wanted to sleep with me and b) I am knocking on forty and you gotta take whatever you can get these days! I try without exception to be polite and friendly to everyone I meet until they give me cause to react otherwise (eek!) and I am so irritatingly positive my best friend cant stand me at times - but that is what has seen me through 9 years in Japan and 8 years of marriage to a Japanese guy ;9 ! and still going strong so it seems to work for me!

Great article by the way, very topical for all of us, no matter how much we try to "be cool" about the whole issue!

On the rare occasion that discrimination does happen to me, it is usually pretty bad.Thankfully though it is rare, and I am trying to train myself to rise above it. finding it difficult though, being kind of an alpha-female type!

@Kamala Brown Sparks- in my humble opinion (based on extensive life experience in 5 continents!) there are few things more attractive than someone who can laugh at themselves. When I was much much younger I was totally in love with a Ghanian guy I used to work with (lovely family man) who used to come into work and say things like "Im not feeling good - do I look pale??!" or "I think I caught the sun this weekend!"

So let me just say right here and now - my name is Nicky Washida and....Im a gaijin! Out n proud!

4 ( +5 / -1 )

It's just a WORD... cool down...

@johninnaha... yah, that people usually think as a western you are an Amerika-jin is a worser fact...

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I always think of myself as an ambassador to my country of origin/and of the country of residence in most situations.

Has to be a tedious life you live when dealing with folks here and you thinking this way. I hope things work out for you. Maybe former or current military type? I know for a fact that when newbies come to Japan in the US Military they are given a speech telling them something almost word for word the same as this.

I am who I am and to the people around me as well. I don't give a hoot if some ignorant person decides to point a finger at me and call me gaijin, they don't know me, I don't know them and they are not a part of my universe. I'm not being cold about it, just stating my reality.

I think some folks just THINK too much.

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@weber - english DOES have a polite system for addressing so it is part of our culture in the US - and those are mr., mrs., miss and ms. i DO NOT like being called by my given name by anyone other than friends and family.

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i DO NOT like being called by my given name by anyone other than friends and family.

Get used to it here, particularly if you have a difficult name to pronounce. It really isnt anything more than a matter of ego or pride.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@Sillygirl: I wrote of a pronoun, a polite version of "You". This does not exist in contemporary English, as far as I know. The existence of formal ways of addressing people is neither new nor special. There is probably no language without such expressions. It exactly corresponds to the Japanese san and sama or countless other expressions around the world. I do not claim that all English native speakers like being addressed by their first name. The perspective whether this is appropriate or not is an individual's choice.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Sillygirl: I wrote of a pronoun, a polite version of "You". This does not exist in contemporary English, as far as I know. The existence of formal ways of addressing people is neither new nor special. There is probably no language without such expressions. It exactly corresponds to the Japanese san and sama or countless other expressions around the world. I do not claim that all English native speakers like being addressed by their first name. The perspective whether this is appropriate or not is an individual's choice.

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At the end of the day I am a long-term guest here,

It's probably just semantics here, but when I read this I can not help but believe that while you feel as if you are a guest here, you have no intention of staying here.

I do not understand why people who choose to make their homes here, or any foreign country other than their own, they choose, like you do here, to refer to yourselves as guests.

I live here, I am not a guest, guests usually are invited, and I was not, I live here of my own volition.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

With all of this stuff about Scotland, I'm just going to have to put in my two new pence for Wiltshire:

A good old West Country proverb:

"Oi don't care what they do call oi, as long as they don't call oi too late for supper!"

1 ( +1 / -0 )

gaijin is racist, I disagree with the author, it is why near all media outlets don't use the term as well.

Not the best source but: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaijin

"The term has become politically incorrect and is avoided now by most Japanese television broadcasters"

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Just wear a face mask and sunglasses to not look like a gaijin lol

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But I agree with the author, there have been several times I've spoken perfect Japanese to someone and they have said back to me "sorry I don't speak english", to I reply (in Japanese) "do you speak Japanese?"... to they reply "no english, no english"... I call it gaijin panic... it's why my order at mcdonalds is wrong 50% of the time (items missing) or the combini staff forget the chopsticks or fork when getting food... sometimes Japanese panic over the thought that this person might not speak Japanese and when you start speaking it they panic even more.

< /2 cents >

1 ( +1 / -0 )

say it out loud, "i am a gaijin and proud"!

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@Yubaru

It's probably just semantics here, but when I read this I can not help but believe that while you feel as if you are a guest here, you have no intention of staying here.

I do not understand why people who choose to make their homes here, or any foreign country other than their own, they choose, like you do here, to refer to yourselves as guests.

I live here, I am not a guest, guests usually are invited, and I was not, I live here of my own volition.

Sorry - quote button not working again.

Maybe it is just semantics but I didnt come here of my own volition. My husband (then boyfriend) invited me here for a year and after we got married we stayed, although the original plan was to return back to the UK. I do live here and I am probably going to be here forever, but until I have Japanese citizenship, can vote and take a full part in Japanese society, get in the Japanese line at the airport and otherwise be treated as if I was Japanese, I will always feel like a guest here. But I dont think it is any big deal to be honest. Just another word, like gaijin. For the most part I am treated very well and I am proud to represent my own country and culture whilst also being a part of this one. I guess it just represents a different feeling to what I have when I go back to the UK, where of course I dont feel like a guest, even though I dont actually live there anymore.

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@gogogo - ha ha! Yes, that reminds me of the time when I spent the best part of 10 minutes in conversation (in Japanese) with my daughters new kindergarten teacher on her first day, and then she turned to my husband and asked him if I speak Japanese!!! Talk about crushed!!!

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Maybe it is just semantics but I didnt come here of my own volition. My husband (then boyfriend) invited me here for a year and after we got married we stayed, although the original plan was to return back to the UK. I do live here and I am probably going to be here forever, but until I have Japanese citizenship, can vote and take a full part in Japanese society, get in the Japanese line at the airport and otherwise be treated as if I was Japanese, I will always feel like a guest here.

Ok, outside of the voting part, and as a fellow foreign resident of Japan, who btw does go through the Japanese line at the airport btw even as a foreigner, I used to feel like a guest but the newness wears off and the daily living takes over and one eventually gets accustomed to life here.

I can not however think of myself as an ambassador of my home country when I've lived here longer than "there".

I sincerely hope that you get passed feeling like a guest and accept certain realities about living here, like the right to vote. Unless you take Japanese citizenship you won't ever see that, and it isnt just Japan that reserves the right to vote to those who are citizens.

-1 ( +1 / -3 )

@yubarubu - i have a japanese last name. should be easy to pronounce. have had it for over 20 years.

-1 ( +0 / -2 )

@Ty

Impressive list of engineering achievements and innovations you have there. You must all be so glad that we English did such a good job of civilising and educating you! ;)

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Yubaru-

I sincerely hope that you get passed feeling like a guest and accept certain realities about living here, like the right to vote. Unless you take Japanese citizenship you won't ever see that, and it isnt just Japan that reserves the right to vote to those who are citizens.

I've been here a while and have friends who have been here more than 30 years and they are still being treated like guests. I feel like a guest everyday because I'm being treated as such. Don't see that feeling passing anytime soon. Try running your own business here and see if you feel like you're on equal footing as the locals. The word gaijin=guest.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@yubarubu - i have a japanese last name. should be easy to pronounce. have had it for over 20 years.

Ok, then the onus is on you I guess in how you choose to introduce yourself to Japanese people. If you choose not to include your first name then there would be no reason for them to use it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Personally l do not care what l am called, been called a lot worse than gaijin. What l dont understand is the double standards surrounding the use of the word. The reason l say this is l had a rather heated debate with a friend about this last night. He thinks that it is ok to use the word Gaijin to describe non Japanese, l pointed out to him that some view the word as a negative word to describe them (asked how he would like to be called an alien), his initial response was but lm not an alien l am a Japanese). When l pointed out that when he travels abroad he is an alien he replied "no lm still Japanese". Ok thats interesting! The second point we discussed was why not use gaikokujin instead as its much politer, to which he said Gaijin is just a shorter version of this word. Ok fair enough so l tested him and said "can l refer to Japanese as Japs then?". Lets just say l need to mend some bridges, but the point is the word Jap is an abbreviation of the full word as is Gaijin. Both words can be said harmlessly or nastily yet we as Gaijin are expected to smile and move on yet when the shoe is on the other foot its an insult and worthy of an apology.

But as l said personally l dont care if lm called a Gaijin, or anything else l tend to give as good as l get. I just found it interesting getting anothers perspective on it

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I've been here a while and have friends who have been here more than 30 years and they are still being treated like guests. I feel like a guest everyday because I'm being treated as such. Don't see that feeling passing anytime soon. Try running your own business here and see if you feel like you're on equal footing as the locals. The word gaijin=guest.

Accepting that no matter how long you live here you won't ever be viewed as being Japanese, an ethnic Japanese that is. Japanese people, particularly in business often treat their customers or business associates as guests to their faces as well. That's nothing new and nothing to do with being "gaijin" either.

I've learned through experience here that much of it comes from foreigners being more critical of things around them, their surroundings, and how people interact with them, more so than the average Japanese person. Some carry a chip on their shoulders that they never lose, with the expectation that because they have lived here for what seems like forever, they are never truly viewed as being equals. That's just part of life here.

As I wrote earlier, paraphrasing here, it really shouldnt matter, especially to those that are not involved with you, or don't know you either. In the past I have helped to run a business here, from start up, and I know how you feel. I've also worked in sales for a well known Japanese company, working closely with other Japanese companies as a customer, and believe me I actually liked being treated as a guest, because they wanted our business and money.

You are the one that controls your feelings, it seems to me that from reading your posts here is that, not a knock on you in any way, you are allowing others to control how you feel or should be feeling.

-1 ( +0 / -2 )

I sincerely hope that you get passed feeling like a guest and accept certain realities about living here, like the right to vote.

Why? Why does it bother you so much how I feel? Iam happy and comfortable with my status here and I dont feel like I need to get past or accept the reality of anything.

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i really don`t like being called gaijin - but i do always consider the source. said in ignorance i sometimes correct them, sometimes i just let it pass. i really really hate gaijin-sama - that smacks of ridcule, to me., and i have been called that many times in 20 years.

@yubaru - no, at the post office, at the doctors, at the dentist, at city hall, with a charge card - i am not choosing how to introduce myself and these people insist on calling me by my first name. so the onus is not on me. my name is written just like the japanese names - last name first in KANJI and then first name in katakana. they insist on calling me by my first name and i have been correcting them for 20 years.

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and i am a heavily taxed gaijin.

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You are the one that controls your feelings, it seems to me that from reading your posts here is that, not a knock on you in any way, you are allowing others to control how you feel or should be feeling.

Well, perhaps Japan is best suited for those who can ignore the thoughts and feeling of those they live amongst, those they do business with, those they talk with and see everyday. If you can achieve that then I would have to say you can turn off your emotions with robot-like ability. But that does not represent maturity or any sort of laudable skill. In fact, it is a step in the wrong direction of emotional development. Reading your posts makes me feel that you think you've attained some high level of status because you have gaman and those who expect to be treated as equal humans 'don't get life in Japan.' Don't worry, you'll figure it out after you've lived here long enough. Someday you'll see.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Reading your posts makes me feel that you think you've attained some high level of status because you have gaman and those who expect to be treated as equal humans 'don't get life in Japan.' Don't worry, you'll figure it out after you've lived here long enough. Someday you'll see.

Heck no, you are dead wrong, I rant, I rave, on occasion, but I don't do it here, and I don't do it around people that don't understand either, ie Japanese. But I do realize the futility of trying to change the world, it ain't ever gonna happen.

What will and does happen though is that I change my world and the people around me. That's plenty enough for me. Because changing one person has a ripple effect and I have no illusions or delusions for that matter that it's going to be anything more than that.

Robot ability? You know up until now I was giving you credit for being able to state your thoughts, ideas, and opinions without getting personal, I guess I must have touched a nerve with your two recent responses that caused you to post what you did. Interesting.

Oh and if you haven't figured it out yet, and yeah this is going to sound condescending too, it's very laudable here for one to be able to keep their emotions in check, one gets a heck of a lot farther in personal relationships and business as well to keep said emotions held back.

You know coming to think of it, maybe you've hit upon the reason you always feel like a guest, I know plenty of Japanese people that do not want to have to deal with a gaijin and their emotions so to keep the peace they just smile and be nice all the time, treating them like guests. Oh and that is not just conjecture either.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Yubaru-

You obviously have a rather shallow, or shall I say inexperienced view and knowledge about Japan, Japanese people and the language in general to think that this would actually mean anything.

Well I think you've stated your position in life (and on this topic of "gaijin") quite clearly, here.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Well I think you've stated your position in life (and on this topic of "gaijin") quite clearly, here.

Well thank you very much....(sarcasm duly noted)

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Strange how so many foreigners don't like to be stereotyped by words like "Gaijin" but foreigners too frequently stereotype the Japanese, as often seen in comments on these forums?

8 ( +7 / -0 )

YubaruSep. 13, 2011 - 09:36AM JST

i DO NOT like being called by my given name by anyone other than friends and family

Get used to it here, particularly if you have a difficult name to pronounce. It really isnt anything more than a matter of ego or pride.

NO, she doesn't have to get used to. It's NOT part of Japanese culture, it's just laziness and disrespect, plain and simple. My parents always taught me to address people by their last names since I was a child. Japanese and Foreign persons alike. No distinctions.

Why would I call my foreign friend by his first name when he calls me by my last name all the time?

Japanese that address Foreign people by their first names are NOT being friendly. They are being ignorant and disrespectful, PERIOD. Hope you understand that.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

thank you BlueWitch.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

BlueWitchSep. 14, 2011 - 03:46AM JST. NO, she doesn't have to get used to. It's NOT part of Japanese culture, it's just laziness and disrespect, plain and simple. My parents always taught me to address people by their last names since I was a child. Japanese and Foreign persons alike. No distinctions. Why would I call my foreign friend by his first name when he calls me by my last name all the time? Japanese that address Foreign people by their first names are NOT being friendly. They are being ignorant and disrespectful, PERIOD. Hope you understand that.

You know, it might sound silly with your nickname and all, but you are like a BlueAngel that comes from up there and says correct, right things. I was going to comment on the "Gaijin" issue here, but now ... I can't come over your nice comment. I hope, many people will read it and try to understand.

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NO, she doesn't have to get used to. It's NOT part of Japanese culture, it's just laziness and disrespect, plain and simple. My parents always taught me to address people by their last names since I was a child. Japanese and Foreign persons alike. No distinctions.

Blue your parents are the exception and not the norm when it comes to Japanese kids, they assuredly are not taught the distinction between addressing Japanese and foreigners. Is that a problem? Yes I would say it is. And it is also a cultural problem as well.

If one wants to constantly take the time to correct every person that they come in contact with and insist on that or those people to correctly, excuse me, in her manner, to say her name, eventually one is going to go nuts. In her example as well regarding hospitals, and what not, it is common practice for people to be called for using both last and first names, I know. Accepting it and letting it go and getting the people that she is usually in daily contact with is another story. If you want to reinforce the image of a complaining gaijin to every person she runs into, go for it.

Personally it's a waste of time and energy. I have a difficult name to pronounce in Japanese, in all my years here only a handful of folks can say it right. I used to try to get folks to say it right but the frustration is overwhelming when one doesnt understand that the language doesnt have the same sounds. Now I know and am more forgiving.

Sorry.....something pressing just came up...more later.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@yubaru - you are so wrong about the names in the hospitals, etc. using only the first name. i feel that it is NOT a waste of time and energy to teach manners - but then again i am a parent and a teacher. you must live in a happy little bubble where nothing bothers you. as i said, there are times when i let the gaijin thing roll off my back but this is not a perfect land (so many of the "gs" think it is and we should just shut up or leave) and i do this even i my own country where manners have seem to have gone backwards. if you are happy with your life then go for it. i do not get my knickers in a twist but when i see a chance to teach (not yell and scream as your little posts infer) i take it. and i do not live in a world where i have to take everything that is dished out with a smile but i am not miserable, either.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

@yubaru - you are so wrong about the names in the hospitals, etc. using only the first name.

Read what I wrote, hospitals use BOTH last and first names when calling patients. That is to avoid confusion between 2 or more patients having the same name. Even then it happens. I am not wrong, you read it wrong. I never wrote that they use FIRST names only.

NOT a waste of time and energy to teach manners - but then again i am a parent and a teacher

Hey go for it, I am a parent and I use MY time to educate MY children. I am not going to waste my time teaching people that have no interest in learning, AND will forget within a minute or two of being educated.

To the rest; to each his or her own. I go to bed nightly safely knowing that the only people in my life that are worth getting angry or upset with or like or love know me and my name. To the rest, they don't matter and I will not waste my time teaching them something, again to reinforce it here, they will certainly forget in moments.

You want that job.....feel free.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The more I think about it, the more I realize I've never been addressed by first name in a formal setting in Japan unless my first name was the only name I volunteered. The only person I can think of offhand that addresses me by first name is my boss, and that's only because he knows I prefer it - probably because I'm a filthy, ignorant American.

I'm even looking at about a dozen E-mails in my inbox right now addressed to me last name first, even though the Japanese know full well that it's the other way around in the west. I even get a slick "Mr." in front AND "sama" at the end in a few.

I wonder if maybe this isn't just a case of gaijin paranoia. I can imagine any exceptions being a result of your Japanese partner overthinking the situation and mistakenly concluding that westerns prefer first names.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

i am so happy for those of you who live in your wonderful bubbleland and do not want to make your surroundings more pleasant and those of your students, family and friends who may travel out of this country and maybe get some rude awakenings. you just stay in your bubbleland and i will take on the job of politely correcting when i am able. i am happy to do it and not live in a bubble - and i also learn something and it can actually lead to some interesting encounters.

-4 ( +1 / -4 )

@Nicky Washida: I suppose that there could be other British women in similar circumstances in Germany or France. The former could take the term "Inselaffe" (island ape) and use it to her advantage by hunching down with bowed legs and arms and and making, "Ooh, ooh," monkey sounds. And a Brit woman in France could get far when committing faux pas, by appending a, "Mais, naturellement, je suis simplement un rosbif".

It is possible that Japanese people are so insular and so confident in their island-isolated superiority that they could use a commonly-used racial epithet in the most natural way without an ounce of malignance in the tone of their voice. But to some of us, when we hear non-Japanese people actually refer to themselves as gaijin it comes off like something in the American antebellum South. There were house "racial epithets" and field "racial epithets". It was a common term. Everyone used it, even, at times, for themselves. The house "racial epithets" may have even felt a sense of superiority over their manual-laboring brethren. When I hear non-Japanese people use the "G" word self-referentially, what I hear is: "Yo! White man's 'racial epithet' here. I loves the white man".

You are the one who has to live in Japan and you are doing the best you can. You are acting in ways that have proven to you beyond a doubt their efficacy in helping you survive and, hopefully, thrive. But, please, there are certain things you should keep only between you and your chosen "masters," although it probably doesn't bother you at all how you make some of us cringe. Nor should it. You are obviously too strong for that.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Ed, your observations are great. But don't you think embracing the word "gaijin" is a way to disempower it?

Nearly every minority or oppressed community does this. African Americans, gays and lesbians, women, etc.

Why shouldn't we refer to ourselves as "gaijin"? The Japanese know full well that it's considered derogatory. As someone else pointed it, most major television stations have policies not to use it, and whenever I refer to myself as a gaijin in Japanese company, I am often answered with sheepish, apologetic looks. My Japanese acquaintances usually then say something about how strange it is to hear a gaijin refer to himself as one, and it draws the issue to the forefront and sometimes even creates a dialogue.

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@Nicky I'll never refer to anyone in the forum directly (bringing attention to one's self was in reference to some outlandish posted comments by X individual(s) at one time or another), once I read a comment that was totally disgusting (to me), but my angry, rude comment in response just didn't go through (thank you computer Gods). I just generalize about the topic discussed without airs or expertise. This forum has a lot of didactic value. Most are quite learned and opinionated contributors, only a very few are educated fools. I read all with an open mind and a thirst to get more insight into history, survival, and sometimes help with sheer common sense. I laud Japan Today for this forum and their research staff for the "hot topics" however, this one seems to be like a wildfire in the heat of the hottest of summers. I hadn't taken note of how long the topics last, but this one seems like an eternity. This is a good thing! I look forward to the day when we can Skype this, then again.... :) then again, I'll pass. In spite of all this "gaijin" stuff, rarely has our country folks got up, packed, and left Japan because of prejudice. We surely haven't! As I stated, I have dealt with far greater a-holes and hypocrites in my country and other countries travelled/lived in. Bias is not right, regardless of culture, tradition, creed, religion, or ignorance. Sometimes we just have to get by perceptions stemming from post war or the 90210 (TV) mentality, rather than "bad" Japanese. For those of us who are teachers, when we teach a language, we teach a culture...and I have seen the difference in the maturing young adults in Japan..."expert in humanities anyone"? The longer you stay here in Japan, truly win people over and establish a good strong network, the lesser the bias, prejudices, and BS in general. However, something else will come up...like jealousy. Take the bull by it's horn. it works for me, "chokusetsu ni" is not always the best way.

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I'd say there's a clear difference between abbreviations like "Jap", "Brit" and "Aussie" and the really nasty words.

In my country (England ) I'd say that "Jap" isn't offensive;it's a bit dismissive (like "Yank"), but it can be friendly. Whereas "Nip" is definitely unpleasant.

In Australia, "Pakis" is used by sports commentators to refer to the Pakistan cricket team and is seen as harmless, but in England it's as bad as the "N-word".

I'd class "Gaijin" with "Jap" or "Yank" or "Limey": nothing to get too worked up about.

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Anyway, have a few friends who get upset when addressed as 'gaijin', but they have other, underlying things that are causing them stress and to be upset, and this becomes an excuse for their anger. For the most part, I don't think it's a bad term at all. Would be nice if they came up with something better in the future, but until then, who cares?

Who cares? The few friends that you have that get addressed that way and the one's that write articles on websites expressing the same feelings and then people who live overseas who read them and come over here with a pre-installed chip on their shoulder.

I agree with what you wrote btw and I wish that more people would feel the same way.

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The problem with Yank is, it's not even accurate, as most Americans are not Yankees.

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Ed O Jidai:

It is possible that Japanese people are so insular and so confident in their island-isolated superiority that they could use a commonly-used racial epithet in the most natural way without an ounce of malignance in the tone of their voice.

I think you hit the nail on the head, there. It is a negative word, but not always used that way, due to ignorance of the user. The homogenized mindset here cannot fathom that this island culture is slanted towards a superiority complex and all the identity disorders that go along with it. I really believe that is the source of all the tension with China and Korea: identity issues. "You can't be like me (because I'm not secure in who I am) so I must keep you as an outsider."

Gaijin=outsider=guest

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@horrified: I once read that there is really no such thing as a superiority complex. It is only a twisted-around inferiority complex.

Further on this issue: What about non-Japanese or "half" school children in Japanese public schools? Is ijime (being picked on) still a problem, particularly during junior high and high school? I have known of non-Japanese people who left Japan because their children were reaching school age, in order to avoid ijime. Is the best way to defuse this ijime to say , while being pummeled, "Ha ha. Yappari, ore wa gaijin da. Ouch." Or, "Half dakara, sho ga nai. Nagutte kure. Ha ha. Ah, itai ze!"? Or would the best course of action be to enroll such non-Japanese children in a martial arts course at a young age?

What about those things called gaijin houses? Still there in Japan? Needed because of what? Separate but equal housing segregation? The difficulty foreigners have in securing housing because they are non-Japanese? I know that to be my case. If the posted available apartment notices in front of real estate offices didn't say outright, "No Gaijin!" (or the Japanese equivalent) then there were innumerable real estate offices I couldn't get a foot in the door before hearing, "No gaijin!" After finally finding tolerant real estate agents it became the same thing over again among potential landlords: "No gaijin."

A Canadian I met said that it was when he started looking for an apartment is when he developed his IHTFC attitude.

I believe things are somewhat different now. Less difficult to find a place to live but still forms of segregation.

@Human Target: Whatever works for you. Would referring to yourself as a gaijin really tend to neutralize the term or will it continue to cause Japanese people to be disconcerted at hearing someone refer to him/herself using such a term? Or will they fill with boundless mirth at finding someone who really knows their proper place, without being an uppity "racial epithet"?

Would continually calling yourself "filthy scum" ever eventually mollify those two English words? You have about as much chance mollifying the term gaijin in the eyes of those who most use it. But wait. I think you are on to something. It's like the way some restaurants lose all their Japanese clientele when the restaurant gets a reputation as a bit of a gaijin hangout. If we used the word enough it would be seen as the property of gaijin and Japanese people wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole.

Oh, I just used the word restaurant. No discrimination there at all, not! But I am most grateful to those establishments that deigned to allow my patronage. Thank you. I will always think of you with kindness.

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To the original question:

Gaijin -- just a word or racial epithet with sinister implications

It is racial epithet with sinister implications

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What about non-Japanese or "half" school children in Japanese public schools? Is ijime (being picked on) still a problem, particularly during junior high and high school?

Having put two very obviously haaf kids through the system, both public and private, I can say we never once had a problem with ijime or discrimination. If anything being haaf made them more popular with their classmates, not less. Never heard of any of the other haafs in the school (variety of ethnicities) having any problems on account of their haafness, either.

Also never had any trouble with housing or restaurants.

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We have been finding the same as Cleo. Both our children are given privileged status, so no ijime. We live in a large center, and my kids are going to top-rated schools. Many of their classmates are from affluent and educated families. I get the impression that these parents would welcome us even if my wife and I were both "outsiders." But as it is, my wife is the main conduit for these relationships and I rely on her to help bridge the cultural gap: something not necessary when we were in Canada.

Regarding accommodation, things were difficult here 20 years ago when I was single. Purchasing a house was hard because the banks aren't lending to anyone self-employed, not just non-Japanese. Four years ago I was looking for a rental for an non-japanese employee and I was rejected twice before finding an ultimately abusive landlord willing to rent to us. And that was after spending several years befriending a real estate agent so he would deal with us.

My impression of it is many of the locals feel it's extra work to deal with non-Japanese because we are unpredictable in their eyes. They have all of these systems within cultural systems that require a tuned sense to be a smooth-functioning cog in the machine. If someone has the life-long patience to adjust themselves accordingly, then by all means go for it. But don't be disappointed when the furthest you can achieve here is a far cry from equality in any sense or form.

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Because Japan is a hierarchical society it is easy to understand how a lone-wolf "gaijin" resident such as myself could be seen as lower than the lowest Japanese person. Academic and business "gaijin" guests are conferred a status by their hosts. Married "gaijin" take on the general position of their spouses. But what happens in Japan when the Japanese half of a mixed marriage dies? That would be like losing sponsorship for the cast-adrift "gaijin," wouldn't it? Do these now-unconnected "gaijin" become non people? It is all case by case, I suppose.

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Think of Japanese hierarchy as a kind of ladder upon which all Japanese people place themselves -- either higher or lower than everyone else. The word "gaijin" can mean "person or people outside the hierarchy," totally off the map. Not even lower than everyone but outside all norms of existence.

There is also a racial component to the word "gaijin." It has the meaning of "person outside the Japanese race." It is a term used BY Japanese for those who are not Japanese. So, for non-Japanese to refer to themselves as "gaijin" is the ultimate in absurdity. Not only is it self-debasing but it is a word used (only!) by Japanese for those outside their own Japanese race. The word "gaijin" does not have a general, universal meaning of "not-Japanese" but "those creatures who are not WE Japanese."

Being born in Japan and being utterly fluent in the Japanese language and customs does nothing to strip away a non-Japanese person's "gaijinness." Nor does becoming a naturalized Japanese citizen, as one can see here: http://www.debito.org/yunohanatranscript103100.html Nor does becoming highly skilled at traditional Japanese arts, such as here: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/no-place-for-you-aussie-geisha-told/story-e6frg6nf-1226069744853

"Gaijin" is a word to be used only by Japanese people. In fact, a former landlady once told me, "You're not a student anymore are you? You're working now and trying to live here. I don't mind if a "gaijin" comes here as a student just to check out Japan for a year but you have to go home. You have no business actually living in Japan. Japan is for Japanese. Go home." Not only is the term "gaijin" for Japanese only. The nation of Japan, it seems, is for Japanese only. When I heard my landlady say the latter I thought it would be poetic justice if we, the international community, could restrict severely all Japanese people and business to only Japan. If we in the rest of the wide world strictly curtailed travel, study, and business activity of Japanese people outside of Japan they would merely be getting what they give. That is how I felt then.

It is clear that I find the term "gaijin" and its associations reprehensible. I wish there was a Japanese term which meant, "Treat this person as an equal to yourself -- neither higher nor lower." Is that even possible? Can anyone come up with such a term? Gaikokujin nakama?

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Although it would help the Japanese to clearly understand their exclusive attitudes and policies toward "gaijin" I am now absolutely opposed to those who would advocate the establishment of a world-wide, international Japanese exclusion zone. A zone that would include virtually every nation and location on the face of the Earth outside of the Japanese archipelago. Such an exclusion zone would be an insult to common human decency. But then, why is such exclusivity tolerated within Japan?

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I personally do not care, and do not feel offended. When the Red Hot Chilli Peppers go on Japanese TV and act like idiots telling people they love Japanese food and ate Zen Chinese food last night WTF??? No body in Japan cares about your stupid sarcasm when you have 2 minutes to talk via translator and so Japanese can't understand why you even attempted to expect a translator to intrepid your stupid shit. So how do Japanese explain this. "...oh, just a gaijin ...."

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This whole article is something quite ridiculous. As a white person you have never faced persecution, therefore I am so sorry that for once in your life you visit a country where you are not liked or viewed as different. Please be aware that this is the kind of persecution people of colour face on a daily basis. You are also rather ignorant. As a Latin American it offends me deeply that you used the word "Spanish" to refer to us in correlation with blacks. Spanish people are white Europeans, whilst some Latin americans are indeed of European anscestry, the majority (like myself) are of mixed Amerindian decent, please do not confuse the two. It is laughable that you criticise Europeans when you in fact are (as a white American) European. It would be lovely if one day you white yanks would realise that most countries outside of the US dislike Americans, inherently dislike Americans I might add and also most US citizens who are POC don't think too highly of you either, meanwhile you live a care free life with no real issues resulting in you getting upset over issues that will never be an issue for those of us with brown skin. You have white privilege. Apreciate it. Don't use it to perpetuate ignorance.

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