It's been a LONG time since I posted on this board, but..I couldn't resist any longer. Well, as you can tell by my handle...I don't sweat the word in question so much.
I really think that the weight of the word comes with inflection (not infliction, as one poster repeatedly said...unless you are really really suffering). Voice tone and inflection tend to display the intent behind the word. AND, I would have to say that the word is not really "racist" as it is not ethnocentric. I hate to toss about an overused-to-the-point-of-being-cliche word here, but..I think the term Xenophobic would be more accurate. "Gaijin" is prejudicial in that it is saying "Not from round these here parts." It is not saying anything about actual ethnicity.
That being said... To all the gaijins here whining about it..Grow some thicker skin, ya crybabies!!! IF even hearing the words hurts your feelings so terribly, then politely inform your Japanese friends (assuming you have any) that the word bugs you. Maybe something like 外人と言ったら、気持ち悪いよ。外国人と言うのほうが親切と思う。Granted, it ain't perfect Japanese (before you great linguists lambast me for it), but it WILL get your point across.
OR, you can be like some of the others here...and just don't sweat it.
And, a small story that might amuse some of ya...About 6 years ago, there was a big Japan-America Society shindig in my hometown for New Year's. Everyone in my Japanese language class was participating, and I ended up being one of the guys drafted to wear a hakama. As we were prepping, one sweet little obasan mentioned to our teacher "Gaijin dekai dane!" (I think she didn't realize that even first semester Japanese students would know those words.) Our teacher--a native of Tokyo--replied, in accented English, "But..here. . WE are gaijin..desho?"
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