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  • Japan Times readers respond to my “Once a ‘gaijin,’ always a ‘gaijin’?” JUST BE CAUSE Column

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on August 20th, 2008

    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan

    The Japan Times Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2008

    THE ZEIT GIST

    Zeit Gist Illustration
    CHRIS McKENZIE ILLUSTRATION

    Readers respond: Once a ‘gaijin,’ always a ‘gaijin’? 

    The Community Page received a large number of responses to Debito Arudou’s last Just Be Cause column on the use of the word “gaijin.” Following is a selection of readers’ views.

    Not an epithet

    That Arudou and others dislike the word “gaijin” and would prefer its retirement, I can understand. What I cannot understand (and I doubt Arudou really believes it either) is the insistence that the word is also an “epithet” comparable to “n–ger,” and that Japanese willfully use the term toward (mostly) non-ethnic Japanese in order to berate, abuse or express hostility towards the listener (what “epithet” means).

    “N–ger” carries all kinds of baggage and was used to define second-class human beings. I cannot — and I am certain Arudou cannot either — imagine being part of a race who were abducted from their homes, transported like cattle across the Atlantic Ocean, forced to work as slaves for centuries, only then to be “freed” into a country that informed them they could not share the same public facilities, restaurants or schools with “whites.” Decades of institutionalized poverty, discrimination, and abuse followed. To suggest a meaningful comparison between the word “n–ger” and “gaijin” on any level exists strikes me as being in very poor taste. Indeed, it starts to trivialize history.

    Postwar dictionaries, both English and Japanese, simply define gaijin as a neutral variation of “gaikokujin.” Even Kojien (which Arudou calls “Japan’s premier dictionary”) informs its readers that the contemporary usage (definition three) is a variation of gaikokujin. These same dictionaries do not label the term as derogatory, unlike other Japanese words.

    And what about foreign language words that also mean “outside + person” — words like “Auslander” (German), “straniero” (Italian) and the English “foreigner” itself, which derives from the Latin “foras,” meaning “outside”? Should we to ban these words, too, because they encourage “us vs. them” differences? Of course not.

    Poll results
    The results of a Japan Times Online poll conducted August 6-12.

     

    Gaijin might have become offensive to some listeners for reasons both real and imagined in recent years, but it is certainly not an epithet. To make automatically negative assumptions about what the speaker must be thinking and feeling when Japanese use the word says more about the listener than it does about the Japanese speaker.

    Paul J. Scalise, 
    Visiting research fellow, Institute of Contemporary Japanese Studies, Temple University

    Thanks for the heads-up

    I very much appreciated this article. I have lived with Japanese roommates for the past two years, and have thus naturally made a strong circle of Japanese acquaintances. (I can never be sure who is a friend.) This experience has opened my world and now I can read “kana,” some “kanji,” and speak a smattering of basic Japanese that has begun to improve rapidly due to my recent decision to study seriously. This December I will travel to Japan to scout ahead and decide if I will take an offered position in teaching at an elementary school.

    It has always been interesting to me that even in my so-called native country (I have also lived in Europe for extended periods) I am referred to as a “gaijin” by these acquaintances, without abandon. I have always been aware of the connotations. I have three friends who were born in Ibaraki Prefecture and have lived there their entire lives, and yet they are still called “gaijin.”

    You article helps me to gain some perspective before I venture out to Japan, and I thank you for your wit and clarity.

    Bradley J. Collier, 
    Oklahoma City

    Get over it and move on

    Were Mr. Arudou to come to Austria, he would be called “Auslander.” Auslander translates as “foreigner” but it literally means “someone from the outside lands,” in contrast to the “Inlander” (the native population). The German language has no politically correct term like “gaikokujin” (yet give it time and our useless politicians will come up with one).

    In my opinion it’s not the terms “gaijin” or “Auslander” that cause the problems; it’s who uses them and how. I’ve been called “gaijin” by friends in Japan, and their families, and I have no problem with that. First of all, they know that I’m not politically correct. For example, I still use the German word “Neger” when referring to black Africans and so-called Afro-Americans (and no, it’s not like the English N-word). I’m with Charlton Heston on this issue: Political correctness is a dictatorship with manners.

    Secondly, I like to communicate fast, without holding things up too much (and “gaijin” is undeniably faster than “gaikokujin” — what a mouthful!).

    In German you can use “Auslander” in a very bad way. Neo-Nazi groups do that all the time (example: “Deutschland den Deutschen, Auslander raus” — Germany to the Germans, out with the foreigners). That, however, doesn’t prompt anyone to scream for a new term. We simply get over it and move on.

    Andreas Kolb, 
    Vienna

    Japanese falls short on slang?

    I understand the author’s perspective, but other countries and cultures have similar words in their vocabularies. Don’t the Jews call all non-Jews “gentiles?” Aren’t there plenty of Americans who call Asian people “Orientals?” Perhaps the Japanese just aren’t sophisticated when it comes to slang for other peoples/cultures; all they have is “gaijin.” Lets see what we can come up with in the English language: n–ger, wop, jap, chink, cracker, whitey, spick, etc.

    The author may have Japanese citizenship but he isn’t ethnic Japanese so the typical Japanese will never consider him to be Japanese. Though Japan does have more foreign residents than in the past, it isn’t a melting pot like America. There are greater injustices taking place in the world . . . lighten up!

    Brad Magick, 
    Phoenix, Ariz.

    Like watching pro wrestling

    I would like to commend you on the article “Once a ‘gaijin,’ always a ‘gaijin.’ ” In spite of its being grammatically and logically obtuse, overly simplistic and naive, and hyperbolic to a fault, it was very enlightening and entertaining. Reading it was comparable to watching professional wrestling on TV. Was it supposed to be serious?

    Aside from the mangled, convoluted and inarticulate English that weakens the article, the equating of the plight of the foreigner in Japan to the African-American’s fight for equality and freedom is sad and callous. I am not African-American so I am reluctant to speak for them; however, as one who grew up in the segregated South, I can assure the reader and the author that they are not comparable. The author of the article may have gotten this idea from the movie “Mr. Baseball,” which facetiously alludes to the comparison.

    Since I am partly of Italian-American descent, I am used to the pejoratives “dago,” “wop,” “guinea” and “Mafiosa.” If my immigrant Italian grandfather who was spat on every night at his factory job were alive, he would laugh at the writer’s article and remark, “What’s the problem?”

    “Gaijin” is not essentially “n–ger.” The more we use “gaijin,” the less effective it will be and it will eventually burn itself out like the pejorative “j-p.”

    Tyrone Anthony, 
    Tokyo

    Language has alternatives

    After recently returning to Japan after a 12-year absence, I was wondering if I had missed any debate over the use of the G-word. Glad I can throw my two cents in. Whilst many may be able to shrug it off as one of the lesser annoyances, the word is loaded and it is well within the Japanese language for alternatives to be used.

    Yes, “gaikokujin” should complete the appropriate processes to acquire Japanese residence or citizenship, “nyujirandojin” shouldn’t drink as much as they do, and “hakujin” should wear higher SPF sunscreen. Just please don’t call me “gaijin.”

    Jeremy Brocherie, 
    Osaka

    Send comments on this issue and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp

    ENDS

    50 Responses to “Japan Times readers respond to my “Once a ‘gaijin,’ always a ‘gaijin’?” JUST BE CAUSE Column”

    1. Nevin Says:

      I didn’t like that you compared “gaijin” with “n—-r”; it was inappropriate, as was your use of the phrase “driving/walking while white.” That said, I think “gaijin” is an irritating and unlikable word, and I really like your use of “non-Japanese” as a replacement, although we should all be thinking about how we are similar, rather than how we are different.

    2. MD Says:

      Here’s my point of view…

      I think it depends on your perspective. For someone who spends several months per year in Japan but still lives and work primarily in his own country, being called a ‘gaijin’ most likely doesn’t feel that bad since it can be seen as a statement of fact. In my case for example, I’m a patriotic Canadian, and when I’m in Japan I fully expect to be seen as an outsider. I like Japan a lot, but it’s clear in my head that it’s not my country and it’s not my home… so I don’t care much how accepting people are of me. Most people are usually very nice to me there and easy to work with, and that’s all I ask for.

      But I would assume that due to the exclusionary etymology of the word and its usage, it probably feels quite a lot worse for someone who has lived in Japan for decades, is a Japanese citizen, and considers himself Japanese. If I was to become a Japanese and move all my life in Japan, build a house in Japan, marry in Japan, give away my Canadian citizenship, etc, it would definitively be very painful to be called a “gaijin” after all those years. The problem is that many people divide who is and who is not Japanese by their race… that’s not the case in most of the occidental world. Being called a gaijin in Japan might be the same as being a straniero in Italy when you’re a temporary worker or student… but if you’ve lived in Italy for 20 years and became an Italian citizen, you’re no longer a straniero. That’s what I think the big problem is.

      Peace.

    3. Mark Tanaka Says:

      For all those out there who think that “gaijin” is not an epithet, derogatory term, discriminatory moniker, or that it is simply an alternative for gaikokujin, I propose the following experiment: call a Japanese who is living or staying abroad a “gaijin” and watch his/her reaction. Or ask them how they feel about it. The vast majority don’t like it one bit and many feel rather insulted. Try the same thing with “gaikokujin” and see what happens. In my experience, very little (except for the few bigots who think of themselves as non-foreign wherever they go).

      Gaijin may not be the same, or carry the same historical baggage as the “n” word, but to claim that it is not much more loaded than “Auslaender” or “foreigner” bespeaks an ignorance of either the Japanese language or Japanese society today. Nor is it simply a matter of “difference”; nor does it tell you anything about the “mind” of the listener. Moreover, dictionaries provide little help regarding the nuances of such an expression. Finally, as long as present-day attitudes and policies in Japan remain, it is not likely to “burn itself out”

    4. Doug M. Says:

      I totally disagree. Gaijin is a racial slur and it is used to demean foreigners in Japan. Maybe individuals don’t mean any harm but that still doesn’t stop the rest of the country of Japan in using in a negative manner and exclude those labeled “gaijin” as Debito has cataloged numerous times. If “gaijin” is harmless then why use it to segregate foreigners from Japanese citizens. Why not just say “japanese citizens only”. But ohh no they have to go and use the G word.

      By the way I fully support the right for private establishments to prohibit people of certain race as long as they do it quietly and without public attention. The same goes with Japanese being excluded from establishments in America and abroad, it baffles me how they can continue to use their Japanese culture as an excuse for a “misunderstanding” to gain favorable leverage without consequence, this is how Japanese expect to be treated we should reply in kind.

      The western world has just become too out of touch and too apathetic

      And I am extremely offended by that cartoon with the American using a southern accent. I think America could have been more accurately stereotyped.

    5. Tony Kehoe Says:

      Amazing how many people can’t tell that two wrongs dont make a right. The fact that “auslander raus” is shouted by neo-Nazis in Austria does not justify the use of “gaijin” in Japan. The whole concept of “foreigner” and “outsider” needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history.
      The real issue here is one of consciousness-raising. Just as feminism’s consciousness-raising now causes us to flinch at “one man, one vote” rather than the more egalitarian “one person, one vote”, just as racial slurs such sa “spick” and “wop” have become unacceptable, so it must be made with “gaijin”. Even some native speakers of Japanese recognise this point; broad-minded Japanese parents tell me that they are raising their children to say “gaikokujin” rather than “gaijin”–and it’s hardly a mouthful, only two more syllables. It could only be regarded as a mouthful by the monosyllabic among us.
      One final point: because Debido is a naturalized Caucasian Japanese, for people of the fictional Yamato race to find him not a “true” Japanese is racist in and of itself. Recognition that race and nationality are not synonymous also needs raising, not only in modern Japanese society, but regarding perceptions of Japan worldwide. Until then, racist Japanese will go on getting away with their racism, under the guise of “cultural uniqueness”. far too many non-Japanese buy into this myth as well; high time we disillusioned them.
      It is the right thing to do in the long run.

    6. Chris Mayernik Says:

      Ghandi once said, ” Be the change that you want to see in the world.” Problem solved.

    7. Shinrin Says:

      How about GAIJIN-“SAN” ?

      I had the experience of been referred as “Gaijin-San” by elderly Japanese, quite a few times and, I felt quite well with that. I had the impression that they were trying to respect me.

      Personally I prefer “GAIJIN” (Out-Person – Outsider ?)to “GAI”KOKU”JIN” (Out-of-the-country-person):
      Many modern young Japanese could well fit into the description of a “GAIJIN”, but they are not GAI”KOKU”JIN.

      I think that “GAIJIN” could be better politicized than “GAI-KOKU-JIN”.

    8. Futureal Says:

      Anyone see the last “Fast and the Furious” movie, the one set in Tokyo? It has one scene where the Japanese villain berates the American protagonist with the word in question here, dripping with such contempt that the hero immediately recognizes its defamatory rhetorical function even if he’s not sure exactly what the dictionary defines it as.
      This represents a misunderstanding of the word as it’s commonly used. The American screenwriters seem to have heard that this word is taken as discriminatory by many of the foreign-born population here, and assumed that it must be roughly analogous to their “wab” or “kraut” or the dozens of other unmistakably hostile ethnic slurs that exist in American English. Of course, those of you who live here know that “gaijin” is not taken as explicitly negative by most native speakers, and probably wouldn’t be used as an insult in and of itself as it was in the movie.
      The fact that it’s taken not exclusively as a pejorative does not, however, make it fine for use in the 21st century. The fact that it’s used in a neutral or positive sense, or even in (intended) polite reference to the listener, complete with an attached “-san”, is exactly what is most wrong with the word – it assumes a level of difference so natural that no one should mind being categorized, either in or out, with it. To me, it doesn’t seem to be necessarily beneath Japaneseness, but running parallel. That’s why waiters can refer to us respectfully while never speaking to us directly, and why not understanding the language of the country you’ve lived in for many years can actually grant you more social legitimacy (at least as a commonly known stereotype) than pretty-good-but-not-native keigo.
      Those of us clued in on just what a tremendous heap of ultimately arbitrary social constructions (nationality, language, culture, race) this categorization of “gaijin” stands on are offended by it, even if it’s meant as a compliment. It may not implicitly place us below Japanese people, as “ketou” or “amekou” would, but assumes many things that don’t bear assuming, and then assumes further that those things are natural, objective, and therefore not offensive. The ideological assumption that it’s natural for some people to be different is far more offensive to me than the simple assumptions of those differences themselves.

    9. Bill Says:

      I am a longtime (and Caucasian, it should be noted) resident of Japan. Over the past 20 years “gaijin” has been lobbed at me by everyone from toddlers to university students to senior citizens. Sometimes the intent was clearly less than benign. But usually it seems uttering gaijin, as a behavior, is like the native propensity to stare. It is unrelenting, but at the same time vacuous, devoid of purpose or even any particular intent; it is something most people do without really thinking about it. And I suspect my “otherness” only discourages any qualms on the part of the gawker.

      Obviously, for legal and bureaucratic reasons, some of the natives sometimes need a descriptive term to refer to the non-natives among them. The problem is all the other times when gaijin is used not out of necessity, but simply as a convenient way to mindlessly label a diverse group of people, i.e., as an epithet. And epithets—pejorative or not—tend to reinforce prejudices and discourage critical thought.

      One hopes that at some point in the future, when the trickle of foreign immigrants necessarily becomes a stream, the resulting “gaiatsu” will force the natives to finally evaluate what it means to be a Japanese in the 21st century. Until then, thanks for gadflies like Debito.

    10. Carl Says:

      The fact that we have no problem writing out “gaijin” but feel the need to self-censor when writing “nigger” proves that two are not on the same level, I think.

    11. Michael Weidner Says:

      I think with the case of Gaijin and Nigger, I equate the two to be the same. The reason I do this is because it is used in order to separate and claim superiority over another race. Personally, I think that as human beings we’ve come to the point now where we don’t need to classify everyone around us by what race we are but rather by the fact we’re human or not. I also equate wors like Faggot or Fag along the same line when directed at me.

      My point: We should stop judging each other about what is on the outside and more about what is on the inside. It’s 2008 people; it’s time to grow up and start worrying about the things that are happening like global warming rather than the color of someone else’s skin.

    12. Simon Says:

      I am tired of people saying the N word has all this stuff attached to it. Every word has its etymology, but slavery was abolished over 150 years ago, and so in todays society where people have no first hand or second hand understanding of the events back then, its only meaning is an offensive term for a black person. Gaijin referred to the barbarians outside of Japan, but there are no barbarians any more. The word no longer means that, it is simply an offensive term for a foreigner. Both words are racist. While using the N word is blatantly racist though, using ‘gaijin’ is not (always) quite yet considered to be racist by the Japanese. Just because they are unable to comprehend it being racist in terms of experience doesn’t mean it’s not racist.

      I think the comparison is a valid one.

    13. Simon Says:

      Just to add…

      “The fact that we have no problem writing out “gaijin” but feel the need to self-censor when writing “nigger” proves that two are not on the same level, I think.”

      200 years ago we had no problem enslaving black people, so I guess because we didn’t feel the need to treat them as anything more than animals, it wasn’t a bad thing…

    14. Bert Says:

      I’ve refrained from commenting on this issue via the internet for a long time, but having read every single one of these responses to his recent article, I felt the need to comment here. I have long drawn the same comparison that Debito-san has drawn with respect to the usage of the N-word and Gaijin. Their histories may be different, but their usage is nearly the same and just as offensive in varying ways. I personally have had Gaijin thrown at me in almost every possible way. It is most certainly a way of discriminating against Non-Japanese. Rather than call people what they are: Amerikajin, Kanadajin, etc. Everyone that is not Japanese gets clumped together in one, convenient category: Gaijin. In the United States, we do not promote this kind of labeling. In fact, in public and in private, someone calling another person to their face a “foreigner” is most certainly looked upon by fellow Americans as a derogatory remark. While there are always exceptions to this mentality (ie ignorant and uneducated people who are present in every corner of the world), the general sentiment in the United States is that you should learn about everyone in the same sense that you study your family’s heritage. What goes on in Japan (immigration policy, legal rights, civil rights, no domestic discrimination laws, etc etc) is so much more than what a recent article in Esquire magazine labeled as “bigotry” that is present in American society.

      One can’t help discuss the meaning of the word Gaijin without diving head first into the discrimination that permeates Japanese society. It’s amazing to me that so many Non-Japanese can live contently with the active discrimination that goes on in Japan. For that, I have only one real clue as to how those people tolerate it: they are the type of people that lack serious introspection. They rarely think about what they say or what they do and the consequences in their own lives, much less think about and dwell on the offensive things that other people say to them.

      Having kept up with Debito-san for a great many years now, even before I lived in Japan, I can honestly say that he hit the nail on the head with this article. We must also remember that because he is a Japanese citizen who is not ethnically Japanese, he is on a whole other playing field when compared to the rest of us NJs.

      Keep up the good work Debito-san.

    15. futureal Says:

      It wasn’t a wise choice rhetorically to use that word in particular as it invites the common criticism that nothing could or should ever be compared to slavery, though other exclusionary words that could serve as a comparison for “gaijin” might not have been as familiar to readers. The analogy he makes is apt, anyway. Both “nigger” and “gaijin” are often used as if that were all you would ever need to know about someone, a pigeonhole to trump any and all personal qualities. They do have that in common, though I have to admit just seeing them together in an opinion piece elicits an almost automatic indignant “taking it too far” reaction from me as well.

    16. futureal Says:

      I’ve seen this before, and wondered about it: in what sense is Debito not ethnically Japanese? He’s surely more a part of this ethnic group than most of the Japanese-Americans I’ve met, who would claim themselves to be ethnically Japanese. The problem seems to lie in that people want to express the concept of race without using the word “race” itself – but ethnicity is not the same as race, and there are many good reasons not to make reference to someone’s race other than the distastefulness of the word itself.

    17. Andrew Smallacombe Says:

      Here’s a useful question for reference: how many of you or your peers as residents of Japan have used the word “Jap”? Did it just slip out? Was it used in an obviously slanderous way, or was it benign in intent?
      I know a lot of people who use or have used the word without any particular malice attatched, but could you convince the local population this?

    18. randomcommenter Says:

      Yeah, I’ve seen a big fight start when a Japanese guy called a white guy a “gaijin”. And I’ve seen entire rooms of liberal, progressive folks go cold and conversation screech to a start because one guy used the “G word”.

      No, wait, I’ve never seen either one of those. But I’ve seen fights start over the word “nigger”, and I’ve seen rooms of liberal, progressive folks go cold and conversation screech to a start because one guy used the “N word”.

      They’re not equivalent. The fact that so many of y’all seem to feel they are is just a sad testament to how much you want to get your outrage on, and how little you understand the massive amount of anti-black racism out in the world.

      “Yeah, I understand exactly how those starving kids in Africa feel: yesterday, I skipped lunch!”

    19. aw Says:

      obviously the n word is very loaded now and so it may seem a big stretch to compare to gaijin,but it is worth remembering that like gaijin ,the n word was in standard use-even people who didnt have any personal animosity towards black people used it as it was seen as normal in white society..it is because of changes in society that this word has become unacceptable in the west..
      i dont see how the word gaijin can be anything other than discriminatory.
      however further than this,the biggest problem i have is the word gaijin /gaikokujin being thrown about like confetti in conversation when its completely unnecessary.
      it only highlights that foreigners are not accepted in japan and sets them apart as not equal to japanese..
      all this talk about it being the same as the word foreigner etc is also complete nonsense.in my experience in other countries,people go out of their way to avoid using the word foreigner in conversation with someone as it can only impart a sense of otherness/unwelcomeness.

    20. Carl Says:

      Please, people. Most of you are willing to type out the word “gaijin” but were, up until a few comments ago, willing to only gloss “nigger” as “n***er” or “the N word.” Not to mention that the cartoon published above even has the word “gaijin” spelled out in big letters. When was the last time you saw a newspaper cartoon with the word “nigger” spelled out in a similar fashion? Meaning? Someone somewhere, including, I’m sure, several of you commenting here, feels that “gaijin” is less of an epithet than “nigger.”

      Point is: I agree with most of the poll respondents in saying that the way the word is being used and by whom is what determines the potential for offending someone. A neo-nazi lobbing the n-word at a random black guy is not the same as two black friends calling themselves “nigga.” An elderly Japanese person accidentally saying “gaijin” is hardly the same as some uyoku moron using it as a national/ethinic/racial/whateveryouwantotcallit slur. How about the word “boy,” for example? We say it all the time but, in a different context and from a different mouth, it could also be a racial slur. The word “nigger” was published in the book “Huckleberry Finn,” an anti-slavery novel written by an author sympathetic to blacks, but at a time and place where it wasn’t considered a racial slur so much as a slang term. It’s all about context and intentions.

    21. randomcommenter Says:

      Some people are saying that, perhaps, the word “gaijin” is just as bad as “nigger”, but its used like “nigger” was back in the 1950s, when it was an “acceptable” word (though not the norm, which was “colored”).

      Imagine taking a time machine back to the 1950’s. Imagine asking a bunch of black people if they thought the word “nigger” was horribly derogatory. I’m guessing 95 to 99% of the people you asked would say “yes”. Now look at us. Half the people here are saying “yes”, half are saying “no”. I’d say that almost definitionally, gaijin CAN’T be as bad a word as nigger, because if it really were, *we wouldn’t even be having this discussion*.

    22. futureal Says:

      The way he used the words in his piece leaves him vulnerable to the accusation that he’s trying to equate the two, meaning that he thinks “gaijin” is just as bad a word as “nigger”, but I don’t think that’s what he meant to say. The two not being equally heinous doesn’t mean that no comparisons can be drawn between the two, though. Please consider that the words may have similarities that bear discussing, despite the fact that they are not equally bad.

    23. aw Says:

      random commentator,

      your comments only highlight the point that debito is trying to make.
      back in the 50s no matter how much black people hated the n word-they wouldnt/couldnt complain about it.
      entire rooms of liberal ,progressive people were using the n word in the 50s.
      the reason why the reaction to these words has changed is because society has changed for the better in their attitudes to racism in the west.
      what debito is saying is that the same change needs to occur in japan..

    24. Chris Bartlett Says:

      If the word Gaijin is used in relation to me I am tolerant enough to assess its use in context, and I don’t over react or react at all if no harm was meant. However, the word has certainly been used in substitution for N-ger, I have even heard Gaijin used followed by the word N-ger, just in case I was under any illusion the use had been made in a derogatory way.

      I suspect a lot of the people playing the use of the word down, have either not lived in Japan or spoken Japanese long enough to fully grasp the subtleties of its use.

      While I wouldn’t advocate a government ban on the word (any restriction of free speech for any reason including PC is abhorrent), I do think it is up to each individual, Japanese or not to decide whether they will use the word themselves, or if editing a written production or producing a television programme to decide if they will personally use it, if they make a decision on personal political correction grounds what’s wrong with that?

      If you are a thoughtful person you will choose your words carefully, political correctness is just one thing to consider and choose to follow or not. Alternatively if you are lazy you will just spew out whatever comes into your head, regardless of whether it is makes you look ignorant, arrogant or PC or whatever…

    25. stefan Says:

      I previously lived in Japan between 1986 and 1992 and recently returned for another stretch on business. The use of the word gaijin is nothing like it was in those days when you would hear it every time you stepped outside – it was non stop. In fact there were days when I did’nt even want to go outside. This time round though I am lucky if I hear that word even once a month. In fact, I tend to hear the word Gaikokujin rather than the dreaded Gaijin on those occasions. Japanese are far more travelled and I think more aware of these issues compared to 20 years ago. Just my opinion, but I think that alot of foreigners who have been living here for a long time need to take a decent break away from the country to get things in perspective.

    26. randomcommenter Says:

      “random commentator,

      your comments only highlight the point that debito is trying to make.
      back in the 50s no matter how much black people hated the n word-they wouldnt/couldnt complain about it.”

      You mean they thought it sucked but wouldn’t complain? Or you mean they didn’t even think it sucked? Because what we have in this discussion is a mix of people who think it sucks, and people who don’t think it sucks. So if you think the word is the equivalent of nigger, you’re either saying:

      1) In the 1950’s, there were a bunch of black folks who didn’t think “nigger” was a racist epithet, or
      2) All us folks who are saying “gaijin” isn’t a racist epithet are lying about our opinions, and secretly believe it is.

    27. aw Says:

      random commentator,
      in your posts,you seem obsessed with whether the n word is the direct equivalent of gaijin or not.this is not the point.the point is that it is a racial epithet and is used intentionally and unintentionally in a discriminatory manner..
      anyway to answer your questions:
      1) In the 1950’s, there were a bunch of black folks who didn’t think “nigger” was a racist epithet,
      you wrote this in your last post not me.(95 to 99%of black people etc)
      personally i believe noone liked being called it,however in some cases the unfortunate people being called it would have realised that the person using it didnt mean to be offensive,and was using merely a word which was in a standard usage in a racist society.
      also,they knew to complain when they didnt have any rights anyway would not be a sensible thing to do ,especially when it would make little difference.so they just put up with it.

      2)2) All us folks who are saying “gaijin” isn’t a racist epithet are lying about our opinions, and secretly believe it is.

      as above,it can be used intentionally or unintentionally but either way supposes inferiority/non-belonging on the part of the other,and in most cases its usage is unnecessary.
      any foreigner who says he likes being called a gaijin is a liar period.its offensive and unnecessary and should be killed off.
      and it will be.

    28. randomcommenter Says:

      I didn’t write that there were a lot. I guessed 1% to 5%, to be on the safe side. Personally, I believe the number is probably more like 99.0 to 99.5%, and 0.5 – 1% is not a “bunch of people”.

      “any foreigner who says he likes being called a gaijin is a liar period.its offensive and unnecessary and should be killed off.and it will be.”

      Well, true, it would be kinda weird if anyone said they LIKED being called a gaijin. But it would also be weird if they said they LIKED being called a gaikokujin. I’m a foreigner. I don’t like being called “gaijin” or “gaikokujin”. I don’t dislike being called “gaijin” or “gaikokujin” either. They’re just neutral words to me, like being called a “man”, or “white”, or “brown haired”. I find it weird that you, knowing nothing about me, can definitively state that I’m lying. What would I gain by lying to you about this?

    29. qwyrxian Says:

      To Aw: I think it’s great that you know all of us better than we know ourselves. I was totally unaware that I secretly thought “gaijin” is a racial epithet. [/sarcasm]

      It seems to me from reading over the comments here that the perception of the word tends to depend to a large degree on when you spent/are spending your time in Japan. As a caucasian whose been living here for about 1 year, I can actualy think of only a few times when I’ve ever heard someone use the word except for 1) newscasters (who usually say gaikokujin, and clearly need a word to use the word “foreigner” when discussing immigration, foreigner’s rights, etc.), and 2) gaijin themselves. This seems to indicate that, in fact, usage is changing. Behavior is even changing–outside of very young children, I don’t get stared at much in public (although I admit I live in a major but non-Tokyo/Osaka city). When I heard about this debate from other websites, I felt like quoting Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride, saying “You keep using that word, but I do not think it means what you think it means.”

      To close, I’ll refer agan to Aw’s last post–s/he says that “[gajin] supposes inferioirty/non-belonging…” The first part of that may have previously been true, and I have no doubt is true for many people, although I doubt it’s true for most. As for non-belonging, well, I actually think your right. I don’t think there’s any question that Japanese people section of themselves and their ethnic/national/cultural identity from the rest of the world. But I don’t necessarily assume that that’s a negative thing. Certainly, when nationalism becomes sharpened by the state into a tool of violence (i.e., World War II, for both the Japanese and U.S. sides), it’s bad. And I’ll further admit that I have no sense of nationalism, and consider exclusivity to be generally divisive. But I also believe that other people and groups have the right to self-determination in terms of identity, such that if other groups want to create a stronger distinction between in-group and out-group than I do, that’s their right. As long as my rights aren’t infringed on, why should I attempt to impose my value judgements about what defines in vs. out group?

    30. qwyrxian Says:

      My apologies on the previous comment…due to the way comments are posted here, I misunderstood Aw’s post–I thought s/he was claiming #2, when in fact that was supposed to be a quote from a previous poster. I see that while he did not claim “All folks who are saying ‘gajin’ isn’t a racist epithet are lying about our opinions, and secretly believe it is.” I see that, rather, s/he makes the slightly less extreme comment that says “any foreigner who says he likes being called a gaijin is a liar period.” I still think that comment is wrong, and I hold true to the rest of my points, but I do apologize for misrepresenting your post.

    31. debito Says:

      LETTER PUBLISHED IN THE JAPAN TIMES. DEBITO

      http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20080826a1.html

      The Japan Times Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2008

      Appropriate that ‘G-word’

      Following is another reader’s response to Debito Arudou’s last “Just Be Cause” column ( http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20080805ad.html ) on the use of the word “gaijin.”

      When I consider the debate over the use of the word “gaijin,” I am of two minds.

      First of all, I consider its practical daily use, where it is given meaning by the intent of the user. When my mother-in-law uses the word, I’m quite certain she does not intend it as an epithet, because she loves me dearly. However, I have heard it uttered in a derogatory and threatening manner enough times — usually unprovoked — to be able to conceptualize it as such. The daily, practical use of the word doesn’t bother me greatly, and I would never go as far as to suggest that is on par with the “N-word,” but I do consider its casual use to be undesirable, as there are a number of more appropriate substitutes in the Japanese language.

      On the other hand, when I think about the word’s cultural impact, I can only conclude that it has an entirely negative influence, epithet or not. I believe the word is part of the framework of a dialectic of exclusion that pervades Japanese culture to greater or lesser extents depending on the demographic being considered. On the surface it is the same old “us-and-them” attitude that we all love so much, but on a deeper level it is a manifestation of an emotional conviction that “outsiders are not able to understand.” Other aspects of this framework include the intellectually problematic “Nihonjinron” — the study of Japan’s unique uniqueness — and the ever-prevalent “the Japanese way” or “wareware nihonjin” (“we Japanese”) responses that are intended to stop a conversation in its tracks.

      Ultimately, the word “gaijin” — and the dialectic that accompanies it — is a significant obstacle to genuine intercultural understanding and appreciation. And in my view it is undesirable in a country that promotes “internationalism” politically, but more importantly one that reflects an increasing trend towards multiculturalism. As The Japan Times regularly informs us, the number of intercultural marriages has increased, as has the population of mixed-race and mixed-nationality children as a result, and the national economic situation is such that an increasing number of foreign nationals will be allowed into the country to work and make their lives.

      So it is not so much the offensiveness of the word that is significant, but the destructiveness of the underlying attitude that we should be weary of. After all, in North America the use of the word “foreigner” is not acceptable in ordinary use, and the only people who do use it freely are victims of a similar mind set. As for Austrians who freely use the word “Auslander,” I have no insight into their thought processes, but I suspect that they are not genuinely interested in a culturally heterogeneous society.

      Unfortunately, though I would condemn the use of the word Gaijin on an academic level, I perceive no end to its use in the near future. For its use to become taboo, the momentum must come from the indigenous population. And it will be decades before there are significant numbers of residents of other cultures that will produce the social and cultural friction necessary for such an understanding to gain critical mass.

      On the bright side, considering the Japanese changes in attitude towards smoking and environmental issues that I have witnessed over the last 10 years, once such momentum does begin I am confident that it will be carried forward in a thorough and meaningful manner.

      For now I can only suggest that people who are bothered by the word try to subvert it by appropriating it. This has worked before.

      (As for those who would criticize Debito for being extreme, I suspect you are not aware of the breadth of his work. Personally, I applaud his efforts. Who else is willing to play the role of the agitator?)

      Christian Orton, Kyoto

      Send comments and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp

    32. TJJ Says:

      Both gaijin and gaikokujin are words commonly used in Japan in disproportion to their actual usefulness. That’s my main objection to both terms – they allow people to be intellectually lazy and thus promote untruths.

      Both words define 98% of the world’s population, and yet there’s nothing about this group of diverse peoples that gives them a common trait other than non-Japaneseness. So when you need to express the state of non-Japaneseness, why not just say non-Japanese. The phrase “gaijin no youna” is meaningless upon close inspection – what do Indians, Germans, Portuguese and Africans have in common that make them ”gaijin no youna”? Only the state of non-Japaneseness.

      As other have noted, the term(s) gaijin (and gaikokujin) can be used in both respectful (albeit ignorant) and non-respectful ways. There’s nothing automatically offensive about them, it depends on the situation. However, there are very few situations when it’s really necessary or useful to use it. Far fewer situations than account for it’s actual usage.

      In what situations is it useful? Perhaps when talking about generalities, like rates of the population who [whatever], or names of organisations dealing with foreigners, etc..

      When is it not useful? In almost every other situation. Someone trying to get your attention on the street by calling out “gaijin-san!” Not useful. How do you know I’m not Japanese? Answer: you don’t. You really do not. Someone opining on a particulat characteristic of gaijin? Not useful. In every case I will easily find an exception to disprove your blanket opinion.

      So stop displaying your ignorance, stop using the words when they are not necessary.

    33. PnetQ Says:

      I’d like to make two points.

      To the Japanese:
      Stop calling the Non-Japanese people “gaijin.” Put yourself in their shoes. Above all, behave.

      To the Non-Japanese people:
      Stop calling the term “gaijin” a “racist word” because it is not. The term has its proper role to play in the Japanese vocabulary.

      If you agree on these two, you don’t have to read the following. If you don’t, please follow my arguments below If you don’t have time, try “7) Let’s Examine Examples.” You might find it informative.

      1) Where I Stand
      As I have written in my comment to Debito’s original column in this site. I’m not denying that the Non-Japanese living in Japan are offended by the inconsiderate, ill-mannered or outright rude usage of the term “gaijin.”

      Being a native Japanese, I’ve never suffered in my life a discriminatory treatment whatsoever. Since I have few n-j acquaintances, I haven’t had a chance to witness, as a bystander, their being involved in such incidents as those you talk about in this site. I don’t use the term “gaijin,” referring to a n-j person in the presence of him/her, but that is, in a way, no more than a mere fact that I don’t have an opportunity to do so. Not that I dare to do so, though. (I don’t use the other term “gaikokujin” either, by the same token.)

      The fact that I don’t know a matter, however, cannot be, in any sense, evidence of non-existence of the matter. I’m not going to claim that I know every aspect of this society. Definitely, this issue, the ill-mannered usage of “gaijin” as I put it, is one of the realities that I haven’t experienced, and won’t experience, myself, as an offendee, not an offender, at least, as long as I live in Japan. I’m learning it from you here. Surely there are a lot to learn.

      2) We Are Different
      I agree on the opinion most of you seem to reiterate that the Japanese as a society, and each individual as well, should open them up and learn how to behave and think as a member of the world community. It is also true that the Japanese tend to take it for granted that there are differences between “us” and “them,” and put an unduly emphasis on the differences many of which are merely imaginary. That said, I think two arguments as to the issue of “difference” deserve attention here. I’m afraid some of you are too simplistic.

      2a) Differences across the Borders
      First, I’d like to think about differences which still exist between countries I’m afraid some of the posted comments are arguing that there is no such a thing as difference between countries, and any reference to it in any way is irrelevant, discriminatory and racist. I don’t think it’s true.

      Yes, we are different. To deny it entirely is not realistic or fair. Although we live in the era of global economy, with hordes of people frequently crossing borders, and the internet connecting people in remote corners across the globe as if they were neighbors, still we have the state borders, speak different languages and have different behavioral patterns. The range and importance of what we share across the borders such as knowledge, values and even problems, are increasing. Nevertheless, the differences rooted in our history are very much alive and affecting us in many ways daily. Ignoring them won’t make them disappear. They shouldn’t be ignored in the first place. The differences should be understood.

      I’d like to take up the concept of nationality, for example. In order to make this argument concrete, please allow me to be personal. So let’s think about Debito, a Caucasian guy who has Japanese citizenship, speaks fluent Japanese and have lived in Japan for more than a decade. To call him a “gaijin,” “gaikokujin” or “foreigner” is ridiculous. It is simply wrong. Yet, it is more than likely that those who meet him for the first time almost automatically regard him as a “foreigner” because of his appearance. I understand that to face such reactions from others repeatedly could be disturbing and depressing.

      Genuine as Debito’s grievances are, this is one of aspects of Japan as an apparent homogeneous society, and a resulted concept of nationality. Things would be very different in some big cities outside Japan, say New York City or Sydney. Actually I’m staying in Sydney, Australia, for the moment. This city has a population of diverse ethnicity. Within a month of my stay, I had been asked five times the way to somewhere while I was walking on the streets. I was amused to think that even such a person as me could be seen as local. Surely people here won’t assume someone is a foreigner based on his/her appearance. I’ve never been to NYC, but I guess the situation there would be similar to Sydney.

      However, this is not the case with Tokyo or Sapporo. Even if its homogeneity is relenting these days, Japan hasn’t resolved, nor noticed, the problem of combining nationality and ethnicity into one inseparable concept. When Japanese say “Japanese (Nihonjin),” it is taken for granted that this is in terms of both nationality and ethnicity. Such phrases as “Korean-Japanese (Kankoku-kei Nihonjin),” “Chinese-Japanese (Chugoku-kei Nihonjin)” and “American-Japanese (Amerika-kei Nihonjin)” in the manner of “Korean-Americans,” “Chinese-Americans” and “Japanese-Americans” haven’t gained currency in Japan yet. This concept of nationality reflects the mindset of the Japanese which is, in turn, the result of its history, and the present population structure as well. The same thing can be said of the USA.

      In short, Japan and the USA have different histories which have resulted in different structures of their populations and different mindsets supporting different concepts of nationality. I’m not saying that the differences are fixed and to stay with us forever. Contrary, they have to be changed to accommodate the present-day necessity. I just want you to make your arguments balanced. Fussing over irrelevant differences is wrong. Pretending there are no differences and calling any mentioning them racist is also wrong.

      Returning to my starting point, Debito’s case, I’m not going to tolerate any rude behavior based on the misconception of him being a foreigner. Indeed, it is irrelevant whether someone is a foreigner or not. Rude behaviors are rude to anybody. They should be reprimanded likewise. I just want to point out that the discerning process in mind, either conscious or subconscious, which leads Japanese people to a conclusion that someone is a foreigner, in some cases erroneously, and in other many cases correctly, is not sinister in itself. Like it or not, it is just a reality. How they act on such a conclusion is another issue. My point: Don’t rebuke people in Tokyo because they are not like in NYC.

      (NOTE: I’m talking about preconception people have in mind. Not legal matters.)

      2b) Differences within a Country
      Next, I’d like to think about the difference in general in one country. There are many kinds of difference other than ethnicity or nationality even within one country: gender, age, professions, educational backgrounds etc. The modern history has seen, and is seeing, the significance of these differences diminished. However, the words denoting the differences are still there for us to use. No one has proposed to ostracize such words as “woman,” “elder,” “university grad.” Let’s think about the gender issue. When Lawrence H. Summers touched in his speech a topic of women’s capability in mathematics, he was severely criticized and forced to resign from his position as President of Harvard University. Whatever his real intention may have been, it was an ill-conceived idea to talk about such a thing. However, even at that time, no one asserted that the simple use of the term “woman” amounted to being an incurable male chauvinist.

      The term “woman” – or “female” – is safely used despite all the arguments for the equality between men and women. Why? It is because it is agreed upon by the society that human beings can be categorized into two sexes: men and women. The attributes expected to each sex are getting more and more blurred and uncertain. The opinion may differ person by person. People will raise their eyebrows at you if you try to take every opportunity to elaborate on the differences between the two sexes. And, yes, the term “woman” can be used in a derogatory way if you mean to do so. Despite all these, the use of the term “woman” in itself is not regarded as a problem and the society retains the term in its vocabulary.

      Why don’t you take this attitude to the issue of ethnicity, or whatever subgroups in a society? I may concede that the solidity of ethnicity is less secure than that of gender. I’m not implying that the ways ethnicity is handled in Japan cause no problem. Contrary, there are many problematic cases. What I’m saying here is that you are taking the argument to extremes when you assert that any perception of the differences between the subgroups in a society and the fact that the society retains terms denoting the differences are inherently irrational, hostile and discriminatory, and should be criticized accordingly. To be different is not a bad thing, is it? Haven’t you praised the virtue of diversity in culture? Diversity is another name for difference.

      3) Refrain from Using “Gaijin”
      I am of the opinion that the term “gaijin” itself is not a “racist word”, and it is the usage, the context in which it is used, that causes the problem. Therefore, I have been thinking about in what situation this term is safely used. Then I have come to a conclusion that almost every case in which the term “gaijin” is used in the presence of the person to whom the term is directed is “inappropriate.” The degree of “inappropriateness” may differ case by case, from a mild impoliteness to an outrageous rudeness, almost to a point of being bare hostility. The Japanese should be advised to refrain from using this word. Let me explain why I think so.

      Actually, some of the readers have already touched the point I’m going to explain. For example,

      (#14) Bert says:
      In the United States, … in public and in private, someone calling another person to their face a “foreigner” is most certainly looked upon by fellow Americans as a derogatory remark.

      What I’m going to explain may be a bit different from what Bert has put in the above sentence, but I think this is a good starting point.

      Each individual bears various attributes to him/herself: gender, age, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, job, income, height, weight, disability, and so on. These attributes have two things in common. One: They stay with you for a considerable length of duration. Some of them may be technically changeable. Others will stay for life. Basically, they are not what you can be in and out at will. Two: They are very private. In most cases, both on job and in private life, others have nothing to do with these attributes of yours.

      And I believe it is a general rule of the decencies that you refrain from mentioning these private matters in conversations unless it is really necessary to do so. By the same token, the term “gaijin” shouldn’t be popping up in daily conversations. I’m talking about the rules in Japan, but as Bert suggests, we may share this manners code across the world. I remember a reader has said in his comment to Debito’s original column that he is offended when he overhears on streets someone speak aloud of him being very tall. That’s right. Your height is a very personal thing. Thus no one should feel free to talk about it in such a freewheeling manner.

      It is deeply regrettable that, according to what every one of you claims to have happened to you, many Japanese seem to be forgetful of this basic rule that I was taught by my parents and learned myself in my life. They should know better than that.

      4) The Context Matters
      A considerable number of readers who have responded to this topic propose that we ban the use of “gaijin” and use “gaikokujin” or “Non-Japanese” instead. I’m afraid this cannot be a cure for the problem. As I have stated repeatedly, it is not the word, but the context, or the attitude of the speaker that causes a problem.

      Imagine you are walking on the street somewhere in Japan. A kid across the street finds you, and utters a cry,

      “Ah! Gaijin da!” (Wow! A foreigner!)

      He calls out to his mates. A group of kids gathers around him, all gazing at you, and saying aloud

      “Gaijin da! Gaijin da!”

      I’m not suggesting Japanese children tend to behave like this. Probably not. This is a made-up scene for the purpose of explanation. Although the degree of offensiveness you feel may vary, most of you would feel uncomfortable about this. Then replace the term “gaijin” with “gaikokujin,” then with “Non-Japanese.” Does it make you feel any better? This is what I mean by saying that it’s the context that matters.

      Also, some of the readers criticize the term “gaijin” for its blanket categorization without any solid meanings except for the dichotomy of “us” and “them.” They prefer being properly called “Amerikajin,” “Kanadajin” etc. I’m afraid this is off the mark too. The term “Amerikajin,” for example, can also be used in a derogatory manner. If you think you won’t be offended by being called “Amerikajin,” it is simply because the term hasn’t been thrown at you in an offensive way so far. Ask Koreans or Chinese who live in Japan. It won’t take you very long to find someone who testifies how the proper terms for them, “Chosenjin (Koreans)” or “Chugokujin (Chinese),”have been used to them in an offensive way. I’m ashamed to admit this. I wish I was wrong in this. Anyway, the point I’d like to make here is: Despite these experiences, they wouldn’t demand these terms, “Chosenjin” and “Chugokujin,” be banned. It is the context and the attitude of the speaker that matters, really.

      5) Dictionaries Don’t Help Us
      One of the respondents to Debito’s original column, and printed by the Japan Times, comments as follows:

      “Postwar dictionaries, both English and Japanese, simply define gaijin as a neutral variation of “gaikokujin.” Even Kojien (which Arudou calls “Japan’s premier dictionary”) informs its readers that the contemporary usage (definition three) is a variation of gaikokujin. These same dictionaries do not label the term as derogatory, unlike other Japanese words.”
      Paul J. Scalise

      Probably responding to this, one of our readers has commented as follows:

      (#3)Mark Tanaka says:
      Moreover, dictionaries provide little help regarding the nuances of such an expression.

      I agree on this with Mark.

      Generally speaking, when a language retains two different terms with very close meanings, overlapping in many cases, they should be regarded as distinct words. They may be replaced with each other in some contexts, but it is not that they are interchangeable in every context. Even in the cases where they are interchangeable, the resulting sentences are not exactly the same, with different degree of formality, politeness and various nuances.

      That is the case with “gaijin” and “gaikokujin.” The fact that “Kojien” defines “gaijin” as “gaikokujin” simply means they are in some contexts interchangeable. However, dictionaries, those for native speakers in particular, tend to fail to thoroughly describe such issues as formality, politeness, and nuances. “Kojien” is no exception. For one thing, these issues are too subtle and varying for lexicographers to describe them in a clear and concise manner which is fit for dictionaries. For another thing, most native speakers need not to be taught these things by a dictionary. They learn themselves in life. Unfortunately, for these reasons, dictionaries are not necessarily a good guide for us.

      6) What “Gaijin” and “Gaikokujin” Mean
      As I have written above, dictionaries don’t help us. Therefore, from here on, let me elaborate on what I think is the real meanings of “gaijin” and “gaikokujin”, and how they work in the Japanese language, based on my understanding and experiences, as a native Japanese speaker.

      “Gaikokujin (外国人)” is a formal word, meaning “someone without Japanese citizenship.” When properly used, no attributes are attached to this word. As a result, this term is neutral in terms of nuances. Governmental documents, for example, use solely “gaikokujin”, never “gaijin.” Formal as it is, “gaikokujin” can also be used in daily conversations without any sense of cumbersomeness.

      “Gaijin (外人)” is a colloquial word, meaning “someone without Japanese citizenship.” However, citizenship is not necessarily the main focus of the attention for the speaker. Various attributes are attached to this word, according to the context. As a result, this term is shrouded with nuances, in some cases slightly, and in other cases strongly. Nuances can be derogatory, but not necessarily so. They can also be benign. I will look to this later.

      When given a single word, “gaijin,” without any context, most Japanese would be evoked an image of westerners. However, “gaijin” covers any nationality or ethnicity across the world: Indians, Arabs, Africans, Latin Americans, and so on. The only exceptions are Chinese and Koreans. I suppose the sense of “otherness” lingering around “gaijin” contradicts the sense of closeness the Japanese feel to the Chinese and the Koreans. However this exclusion is not decisive. “Gaijin” can also cover them if the context requires.

      On the other hand, “gaikokujin” is a mere statement of a legal status, without any attribute such as “otherness.” This term covers all the peoples in the world, including the Chinese and the Koreans. However, it must be noted that because these two terms have similar word forms, and both are commonly used words, they are sometimes mixed up with each other. Those who are carless about language may be saying “gaijin” when it should have been “gaikokujin,” or vice versa. Even those who observe the proper usage may not be necessarily conscious of their word choices. That said, I think the difference of “gaijin” and “gaikokujin” that I have described above is stable in the Japanese vocabulary.

      7) Let’s Examine Examples
      Debito, and most of the readers, claim that the term “gaijin” is an epithet, a racist word, therefore the use of the term should be stopped altogether. My opinion is that it is the context that causes a problem, therefore there may be some cases where the term “gaijin” is used permissibly. Only by examining concrete examples can we reach a meaningful conclusion of this issue. Let’s start.

      7a) Gaijin Hanzai Ura Fairu
      Sorry for this awful start. Yes, that notorious magazine that Debito has already taken up. I don’t mean to say this is a permissible example. No way! This is an egregious one. But I think this is a good example to see how language works.

      There can be two expressions in Japanese.
      7a-ex.1) gaijin hanzai (外人犯罪)
      7a-ex.2) gaikokujin hanzai (外国人犯罪)

      You can find the latter in government documents, newspapers, or mainstream media publication. This phrase means “crimes commited by foreigners,” and is most likely to be used as one of headings in statistics books. Although the topic as such is uncomfortable, the phrase is neutral with no derogatory implication.

      The former phrase, “gaijin hanzai,” is rarely used. This phrase is avoided because of its evident distastefulness. As I have explained, the term “gaijin” is used with preconceived attributes. The attributes are not necessarily derogatory. When combined with “hanzai (crime),” however, the term “gaijin” turns sour. “Gaijin hanzai” implies that some attributes of “gaijin” lead them to crime. In other words, “gaijin hanzai” can be understood as “crimes which are inevitably committed by foreigners,” while “gaikokujin hanzai” may be “crimes which happen to be committed by foreigners.”

      Don’t be mesmerized by the blatant maliciousness of the magazine, though. Please understand the term “gaijin” is not the source of maliciousness. It is the combination with “hanzai” that makes it such distasteful.

      7b) Gaijin Kompurekkusu
      This is a term denoting a kind of inferiority complex which some Japanese are said to have to foreigners. Some people argue that this mentality is the hotbed of the morbid psyche which acts discriminately against foreigners.

      There can be two expressions in Japanese.
      7b-ex.1) gaijin kompurekkusu (外人コンプレックス)
      7b-ex.2) gaikokujin kompurekkusu (外国人コンプレックス)

      These two phrases are almost completely interchangeable. Both denote the same psychological phenomenon among the Japanese. Neither of them has any derogatory implication to foreigners. Logically speaking, I think the former is a more natural expression than the latter because by using the term “gaijin”, certain attributes are expected that cause inferiority complex in some Japanese. To assume that a mere legal status as “gaikokujin” provokes such psychology is a bit absurd. Anyway, both phrases are widely used. I think those who prefer “gaikokujin” in this phrase do so because they know the term “gaijin” is detested by foreigners. Also, it may be that they want their language to be formal.

      The point is: In this case, the term “gaijin” means no harm. True, this mentality may be harmful to foreigners, but this phrase is not the product of that inferiority complex. The phrase simply denotes the mentality.

      7c) Gaijin Bochi
      In my native city, Yokohama, we have Gaijin Bochi (the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery). This cemetery dates back to as early as 1854, and is one of tourist spots in Yokohama. Actually its formal Japanese name is “Yokohama Gaikokujin Bochi,” but I have been calling it “Gaijin Bochi” since my childhood up to now. Let me explain why.

      So there are two Japanese expressions.
      7c-ex.2) Gaijin Bochi (外人墓地)
      7c-ex.1) Gaikokujin Bochi (外国人墓地)

      Both expressions are acceptable to me. I may use the latter, but prefer the former. As I have explained, the term “gaijin” accompanies preconceived attributes, and the context determines what attributes they are. In this context, it is the historical backgrounds that are evoked in me by “Gaijin Bochi.”

      The history of the cemetery started in 1854 when Admiral Perry opened up Japan. Since then, many foreigners, probably most of them being nationals of then world powers such as Britain, US, France and Germany, came to Japan, daring the daunting distance, difficulty in communications with their homelands and the danger of living in an uncivilized society some members of which were really hostile. The British merchant who was killed in Namamugi Jiken (生麦事件), or Richardson Affair, in 1862 and other victims of xenophobia those days were buried in the cemetery. Among the foreigners who came to Japan those days, some of them may have come to seek their fortune, some employed by the Japanese government, and some simply drawn by the lure of the unknown land. Many of them contributed greatly to the development of this society, and many of them passed away here and were buried on this land.

      I am always reminded of this history by “Gaijin Bochi.” With “Gaikokujin Bochi,” most of these evocations are lost to me. There are several “foreign cemeteries” other than that in Yokohama across Japan. Both “gaijin bochi” and “gaikokujin bochi” are used to them. I haven’t done any counting, but it may be that the organizations which run those cemeteries prefer “gaikokujin bochi.” On the other hand, those in tourist industry seem to use “gaijin bochi.” Do you call them, and me, racist?

      7d) Gaijin Mitaini Ashi Ga Nagai
      This is a made-up scene. A Japanese teenage girl speaks to another Japanese girl in a schoolyard.

      “Hi, I saw you yesterday walking with your boyfriend. He’s cool. He has long legs like a gaijin.”

      Does it sound ridiculous? I’m afraid so. The above line is meant to be spoken in Japanese. I’ve put it in English to explain the situation. Now, let me put the last part of it into Japanese.

      7d-ex.1)
      “Gaijin mitaini ashi ga nagakute kakko iine.”
      「外人みたいに、脚が長くて、かっこいいね。」
      7d-ex.2)
      “Gaikokujin mitaini ashi ga nagakute kakko iine.”
      「外国人みたいに、脚が長くて、かっこいいね。」

      Either form can be used with exactly the same massage, and the same nuances. The former would be used more commonly because the term “gaijin” brings with it some preconceived attributes which in this context may be a quality to be admired for its good figure. The latter, combining a legal status with good figure, doesn’t make sense. However, as I have explained above, these two terms are often mixed up with each other. Hence these two expressions. It must be noted that the choice of “gaijin” instead of “gaikokujin” doesn’t add any bad feelings to the statement.

      Some people may not like the idea this statement is based, but the term “gaijin” in this context is not being used as an epithet. Some points must be made: 1) In this case, the term “gaijin” is not directed to any particular real person. It is used as a modifier. 2) This statement was made with no foreigners in their hearing. 3) “Gaijin” is valued positively and admired.

      Those who find this statement not to their tastes may argue such a perception reflects inferiority complex among the Japanese, and that in turn leads to discriminatory behaviors against foreigners. It may be true. It may be not. I think, however, as long as this girl’s admiration to foreigners remains at a mild level, and as long as she knows when to use such an expression, this statement should be regarded as permissible. It is an evident misunderstanding to call the term “gaijin” in this contex an epithet. .It is not fair to call this girl “racist” either.

      7e) At a Cafe
      Imagine you have had a coffee at a cafe somewhere in Japan. When you have gone, a waitress speaks to her colleague,

      A “Wow! He forgot his bag. Look. Over there.”
      B “He? Who? I don’t remember.”
      A “That foreign gentleman, you know.”

      The last line by waitress A can be rendered in many ways in Japanese.

      7e-ex.1)
      “Hora, ano gaijin-san.”
      「ほら、あの外人さん。」
      7e-ex.2)
      “Hora, ano gaijin no okyaku-san.”
      「ほら、あの外人のお客さん。」
      7e-ex.3)
      “Hora, ano gaikokujin no okyakau-san.”
      「ほら、あの外国人のお客さん。」

      7e-ex.4)
      “Hora, ano gaikokujin-san.”  (wrong usage)
      「ほら、あの外国人さん。」
      7e-ex.5)
      “Hora, ano gaijin.” (impolite)
      「ほら、あの外人。」
      7e-ex.6)
      “Hora, ano gaikokujin.” (impolite)
      「ほら、あの外国人。」
      7e-ex.7)
      “Hore, ano gaijin-san no Okyaku-san.” (redundant)
      「ほら、あの外人さんのお客さん。」

      It must be acknowledged that mentioning your “foreignness” is relevant and permissible in this context. If this happened in NYC, mentioning the fact that you are a foreigner or that you seem to be a foreigner wouldn’t work. There would be too many foreigners in NYC to pinpoint you. They can’t tell if you are a foreigner by your appearance in the first place. However, in Japan it is the quickest and most effective way for the waitress to make her colleague understand who she is talking about.

      By saying “gaijin” or “gaikokujin,” the waitress is mentioning your appearance. There is nothing wrong in mentioning your appearance in this context because the appearance is all the information she has about you. She doesn’t know whether you are American or Canadian. She doesn’t even know if you have Japanese citizenship or not. All that she can say is you looked like a foreigner. Therefore, the term “gaijin” is, in this context, a very logical and appropriate choice. Please notice also that this statement was made without your presence.

      Let’s see the examples above. The first three are acceptable expressions. The others are not. The first two would be the ones most widely used.

      “Gaijin” in ex.1 is used without any derogatory implication. This “gaijin” simply means someone with certain attributes which discriminate him/her from others as a foreigner. Although this “gaijin” doesn’t have any negative meaning, a suffix of politeness, “san,” is required here because this “gaijin” is a direct reference to a real person, not appearing as a modifier. Expressions without the suffix,”san,” such as ex.5 and ex.6 are impolite even if they are made without the presence of the mentioned person. On the other hand, “gaikokujin-san” (ex.4) is not acceptable for a grammatical reason. Probably because of its “formalness,” “gaikokujin” cannot be combined with “san.”

      In ex.2. “gaijin” is used without “san.” It is acceptable because this term is being used as a modifier here. A seemingly more polite expression, “gaijin-san no okyaku-san” (ex.7) may be used if the speaker is very keen on being polite. Many female speakers may find ex.7 more comfortable than ex. 2. However, linguistically speaking, this expression has a problem of redundancy.

      Ex.3 is also an acceptable and natural expression. Those who argue that “gaijin” is a racist word may ask why I insist on retaining the two expressions with “gaijin” when I’m OK with ex.3 using “gaikokujin.” To tell you the truth, personally, I prefer ex.1 or ex.2 to ex.3. With the term “gaikokujin” being explicit about citizenship, which I think is irrelevant in this context, I feel rather uncomfortable. If I may a bit exaggerate, I feel as if I were a policeman demanding a passport.

      The point I’d like to make here is: There are occasions where the term “gaijin” is used to refer to a particular person properly, effectively and without any ill intentions.

      7f) On the Street
      Among the examples of acceptable usage of “gaijin” I have produced above, none is directly spoken to a Non-Japanese person. They are a fixed special term (gaijin kompurekkusu), a proper noun of a place (Gaijin Bochi), and conversations involving no foreigners.

      Now, I think I can show you an occasion where “gaijin” is directed to you meaningfully and without any harm.

      This is a sequel to the previous example “7e) At a Cafe.” Now the waitress takes to the street, with your bag in her hand, trying to catch up with you. She sees your back 10 meters or so ahead, quickly moving away. Fearing she can’t catch up, she calls out to you

      “Wait! You’ve forgot your bag.”
      (This line is spoken in Japanese because she can’t speak English, and with a bit of conversation at the cafe, you have let it known that you speak Japanese.)

      But you don’t notice, and keep moving away. She calls again, addressing you more specifically.

      7f-ex.1)
      “Okyaku-san! Kaban wasure mashita yo! Okyaku-san! Gaijin-san!”
      「お客さん。カバン忘れましたよ。お客さん。外人さん。」
      7f-ex.2)
      “Okyaku-san! Kaban wasure mashita yo! Gaijin-san no okyaku-san!”
      「お客さん。カバン忘れましたよ。外人さんのお客さん。」

      7f-ex.3)
      “Okyaku-san! Kaban wasure mashita yo! Gaijin no Okyaku-san!”
      「お客さん。カバン忘れましたよ。外人のお客さん。」
      7f-ex.4)
      “Okyaku-san! Kaban wasure mashita yo! Gaikokujin no Okyaku-san!”
      「お客さん。カバン忘れましたよ。外国人のお客さん。」

      I think the first two expressions are most likely to be used in this situation, but ex.3 and ex.4 may also be used. The first two may have a little higher level of politeness than the latter two. It would be worthwhile to call your attention to ex.2. This is the same expression as 7e-ex.7 which I judged redundancy. When used to address a person, I think, this expression would be preferred because of its intended politeness despite its linguistic redundancy.

      What do you think of this situation? Do you feel insulted in public? Is this waitress throwing an epithet at you? Let’s examine closely. If it were in a cafe, she wouldn’t have to call you “gaijin-san.” By calling you “okyaku-san,” she can make it clear that she is speaking to you. Therefore calling you “gaijin-san” in the cafe would be unnecessary and impolite. Then on the street, at first, she still calls you “okyaku-san” because she thinks you will notice that you are being called to. But you don’t think it’s you who are being called. There may be too many candidates to be called “okyaku-san” around you. At this point, she decides to be more specific, and chooses the only way for her to be specific, calling you “gaijin-san.”

      I think it is a reasonable act. First of all, it will work. In most streets in Japan, there aren’t very many foreigners walking around you. You will notice that you are being called. At least “gaijin-san” is more likely to catch your attention than “okyaku-san.”

      Secondly, despite all things you have being saying, the term “gaijin” is not derogatory in itself. I think I have shown you examples. The notion of “gaijin” can be embraced with intimacy. Although this self-claimed intimacy may be annoying to you, it is not hostility at least. Think of the term “gaijin-san.” This combination has been in the vocabulary of the Japanese language for long now. It is not an artificial coinage, trying to dilute the derogatory nature of the term “gaijin” by adding “san.” This combination is stable and natural. I’d like to remind you of what I have said to explain “gaijin hanzai.” When put together with “hanzai (crime),” “gaijin” turns venomous. When combined with “san,” “gaijin” acquires an amiable tone. That is how language works.

      You may argue that in the English speaking world, you’ll never call out to someone on the street by saying “foreigner.” It is rude. Therefore, it should also be regarded as rude when someone calls out to a Non-Japanese person by saying “gaijin-san.” It doesn’t matter whether it is with “san” or not.

      To this argument, I’d like to point out that it is wrong to assume you can always find in a foreign language a counter-part word to your own tongue. Although they are overlapping in many ways, the terms “foreigner” and “gaijin” have different meanings and functions. You shouldn’t criticize the Japanese language because it uses “gaijin” in a way that “foreigner.” is not used.

      7g) Gaijin Wa Kao Dasu No Kana
      This is the last example, and how I use the term “gaijin.”

      I was watching YouTube video clips of amateur ukulele players. After several video clips, a young Caucasian guy appeared on the screen and started to play. Watching him play, I murmured to myself,

      7g-ex.1)
      “Gaijin wa kao dasu no kana?”
      「外人は、顔、出すのかな?」
      “Do foreign guys prefer their face on the screen? I wonder.”

      In some video clips, players show only their hands and instruments. In others, they appear on the screen full face. At that time, I came up with an idea that there might be different tendencies regarding whether they show their faces or not between Japanese players and foreign players. Immediately, I dismissed the idea as meaningless. Then I noticed that I had used the term “gaijin.”

      Let me quickly make my case for this usage.

      First, the term was not thrown at a person. It wasn’t spoken in public, nor used in conversations. It was spoken to myself without anyone around. It wasn’t so much communication as to be a thinking process.

      Second, what I had then with the term “gaijin” was a simple dichotomy of the Japanese and the foreigners plus certain untenable attributes attached to them. But it was only a starting point. If I had been serious about the idea, I would have tried to get more specific. Is it wrong to have such a vague notion? I don’t think so. Think about the term “Asia.” Sometimes I wonder what the term, with that wide coverage of areas, could really mean. But I use the term often, and it works. These terms have their proper roles to play in the vocabulary.

      Third, I don’t think the term “gaikokujin” was better than “gaijin.” The issue of citizenship, which the term “gaikokujin” is, as a definition, explicit about, is entirely irrelevant in this context.

      Forth, I didn’t have any derogatory implications to anyone.

      Therefore, I believe the term “gaijin” in this context is not an epithet, and I’m not racist.

      8) Why I am Insistant
      You say the term “gainin” is an epithet, and I say it is the context that matters. In a sense, however, we share the same conclusion that the term “gaijin” is being used to Non-Japanese in a discriminatory way, and the Japanese should stop using it Practically speaking, it doesn’t makes a big difference whether it is “the term itself” or “the context.”. The Japanese stop using it. Period. Then why fussing over such a trivial distinction. There are two reasons.

      First: It is because it matters a lot to me. After thinking about this issue over a week, I have started to think that most of you may not be interested in how the term “gaijin” is used out of your awareness. I have shown one example in which I think the term “gaijin” is thrown at you meaningfully and permissibly. I have also shown some other examples where no foreigners are directly involved, and explained why I think they are permissible. It would be the end of the story to you if “gaijin” stops popping up before you. However, when you call the term “gaijin” a racist word, you are demanding all the Japanese speakers stop using it even in cases like the ones I have shown above. I’d like you to think if these examples are really offensive to you, and harmful to the society.

      It may not be necessary for me to seek your permission to use the term. I may be able to keep murmuring “gaijin” to myself in my confinement without your knowledge. Still I feel urged to seek your understanding. Language is part of me. It hurts me when I hear you call a term which I think can be used meaningfully and without any negativity a “racist word.”

      Language is always changing, shifting and developing. In many cases, words soon get “contaminated” through the course of usage, assuming deteriorating meanings. I think this is what is happening to the term “gaijin.” Unless the Japanese learn how to behave responsibly in this era of “internationalism,” the term would be damaged and become what you claim it is. You may say that is what has happened. I say not yet. I will try to understand your situation. I’d like you to understand my side of the story.

      The second reason, very quickly: Because it is not the term but the context that causes a problem, it won’t change the situation to ban the term “gaijin” and replace it with other terms, say “gaikokujin.” As I have explained, “gaijjin” and “gaikokujin” are often mixed up with each other. Being put in a place of “gaijin,” the term “gaikokujin” will soon be acting in the exactly same way as “gaijin.” Other terms won’t work either. It is the mentality of the Japanese people underlying the language that has to be tackled.

    34. TJJ Says:

      PnetQ

      Thank you for taking the time to write all that down. It was a well-written and informative peice.

      Generally I agree with what you have said (as you will probably note from my short post immediately above yours) in relation to the prima facie neutrality of the words. Context is the all-important factor.

      However, I have 2 minor points that I hope you will consider.

      1. The idea that “gaijin” is a word that can be used among Japanese, in private, but not around gaijin is a little creepy. To be frank, if I knew that Japanese people were using a term to describe me behind my back, in secret, I would be more disturbed than I am now when the word is used in my presence. I know that this might come across as obstinate, but I’m sure if you put yourself in the same position, you would see what I mean.

      2. I’m still not convinced by the example you gave of the waitress needing to use “gaijin” in order to chase down some customer and return his/her forgotten bag. Are you suggesting that it’s a hopeless task to chase down a Japanese cutomer who mistakenly left behind his or her bag in a restaurant because there’s no way she can catch his or her attention? I’m with you insofar as it may be easier for her to do so by calling out “gaijin” but, then we’ve just come back to what’s best/easiest for her. If that’s the case, then why even consider foreigners feelings at all, when we can just reduce it to a case of what’s easiest for Japanese people. In my experience, a simple call of “sumimasen, okyakusan!” is enough to turn most people’s heads and acheive the desired result.

      Once again, thanks for posting your thoughts and I appreciate your contribution as a native Japanese.

    35. A Humble Gaikoku no Kata Says:

      A lot of interesting arguments here. I just wanted to bring up something that apparently no one else has – the word gaikoku no kata. 外国の方. It just soooounds so nice. And it only gets used for me in a few situations.

      1) When I am a customer and I am buying an expensive product or service (a business suit, for example)
      2) When I am with my Japanese girlfriend and we are at a store (expensive or not)
      3) When someone who knows I speak Japanese and is not a friend of mine wants to talk about me or other non-Japanese persons

      The reason I mention it is because everyone keeps going on about how 外人 is so very natural and necessary and expedient. Yet when someone really wants to be nice to me (because they want my favor or my money), they don’t use it. Does anybody find it slightly curious that 外人 and even 外国人 would be avoided in favor of the ultra-polite 外国の方? Obviously, even if you consider 外人 to not be racist or offensive, perhaps you could accept that it isn’t the most polite thing to say?

      Also, 外人 really does hold a very negative meaning. Just as others have mentioned, my Japanese friends are very confused and put off if called 外人 while overseas. Equally, my closest Japanese acquitances (my host mother and my girlfriend), do not equate me to 外人. I once called myself a 外人 in front of my host mother and she got very visibly upset. She told me very quickly, “You’re NOT a 外人. You’re my son!” Lesson learned. As for my girlfriend, she says I’m “half-Japanese”. The point? If these Japanese people do not want to be called 外人, or if they don’t want to use that word to describe me because they deeply care about me, then it just might be a negative term.

      As for the very verbose PnetQ:

      “Ah! Gaijin da!” (Wow! A foreigner!)

      He calls out to his mates. A group of kids gathers around him, all gazing at you, and saying aloud

      “Gaijin da! Gaijin da!”

      I’m not suggesting Japanese children tend to behave like this. ”

      No, they don’t, but it sure does happen a lot ;). But I think it’s more common (at least for Caucasians) to get the wonderful “ハーロ!” from the bravest kid in the group. Of course, being harassed with your native language is a whole different topic.

      And for any non-Japanese throwing “Jap” around like it’s alright to do so, grow up. You remind me of a joke –

      A:How does every racist joke start?
      B:How?
      A:*looks to the left, then the right*

      Would you call a Japanese person a “Jap” to their face? As has already been stated, being racist does not excuse racism. The existence of racism elsewhere does not excuse racism here. Imagine someone saying “Well, they commited genocide in the Americas, so who cares if we do it now?” All evils become acceptable under that (il)logic.

      Last thought – even words that don’t appear to be hateful at all can be offensive to those being labeled. Case in point: Kanaka Ma’oli. In the English language, they’re called “Hawaiians”. But that is not what they call themselves, in their language. They’re kanaka ma’oli. So you can call me 外人 all day and tell me it’s alright and it shouldn’t offend me in anyway. But you cannot dictate to me what I want to be called. Japanese or not.

      I’m with Debito. Don’t call me 外人.

    36. TJJ Says:

      PnetQ

      Just one more quick comment.

      You said: “Second, what I had then with the term “gaijin” was a simple dichotomy of the Japanese and the foreigners plus certain untenable attributes attached to them. But it was only a starting point. If I had been serious about the idea, I would have tried to get more specific. Is it wrong to have such a vague notion? I don’t think so.”

      – well, it seems to me that you have a dichotomy set up in your mind which allows you to make a fundamental distinction between on the one hand Japanese, and on the other hand every single other person on the planet. I understand that it’s the way you have been taught to think, and if you think that’s a reasonable dichotomy to make, then fair enough. But do you really think it’s possible that people from every country and ethnic group in the whole world (except Japan) share some similar trait with regard to showing their faces on the internet, that the Japanese don’t share? Even if you later refine your original premise, do you think that your original premise is a logical starting point?

      “Think about the term “Asia.” Sometimes I wonder what the term, with that wide coverage of areas, could really mean. But I use the term often, and it works. These terms have their proper roles to play in the vocabulary.”

      – “Asia” is a geographical reference. Like Europe, the Americas etc., so it is useful in that respect as defining a region of the globe. I think you’ll find that, in English at least, it’s only ever used as a very general reference. If you turn it into the adjective, “Asian”, for me at least it becomes a word of barely any usefulness, and I can’t recall the last time I ever used it. If someone told me they liked “asian” food, I’d have to ask them for clarification of what kind of food they were talking about. I think the world is realising this gradually, and you see the word being used less and less these days.

    37. PnetQ Says:

      TJJ

      Thank you for your response to my comment. With your questions posed to me, I’ve had my understanding advanced a bit further.

      The core problem is that the Japanese and the Non-Japanese see differently the term “gaijin” and the notion it brings about.

      With my examples, I tried to make the readers understand that the term “gaijin” can be used neutrally or positively. (teenage girl’s admiration; foreigners’ contributions in modern history; intimacy implied by “san”) You agree with me on the importance of the context in which the term is used, but still seem to hold the term “gaijin” as negative. Your expression, “prima facie neutrality” suggests that.

      TJJ Says:
      “1. The idea that “gaijin” is a word that can be used among Japanese, in private, but not around gaijin is a little creepy.”

      I understand what you mean. However, if you are convinced that the term doesn’t have a negative meaning, I don’t think you have to feel that way.

      TJJ Says:
      “2. I’m still not convinced by the example you gave of the waitress needing to use “gaijin” in order to chase down some customer … I’m with you insofar as it may be easier for her to do so by calling out “gaijin” but, then we’ve just come back to what’s best/easiest for her. If that’s the case, then why even consider foreigners feelings at all, when we can just reduce it to a case of what’s easiest for Japanese people.”

      First, I agree with your point that this situation is unlikely. Calling “okyaku-san” would be enough to catch the customer’s attention. I’ve concocted this example to make it necessary to call to someone “gaijin-san” on the ground that the source of offensiveness is irrelevance, so if it is really necessary to use the term, it would stop being offensive. However, as is seen in the quoted passage above, you seem to be disturbed to be called “gaijin-san,” even when you acknowledge the term was necessary for the waitress. That means, I think, you see the term “gaijin-san” negatively.

      Therefore, I’ve come to another conclusion. I modify my previous thesis. In every (not “almost every”) case where the term “gaijin” is used to address Non-Japanese, the term is understood as offensive. The Japanese should stop addressing them by “gaijin” altogether, with or without “san.”

      I’m OK with this conclusion, but this leaves the other examples unresolved where Non-Japanese are not directly involved. You are not necessarily explicit about these, but according to what you say in question 1, you seem to feel offended by these too. I still hold my opinion that they are not meant to be offensive. I’ve already shown you examples. I can’t think of any other way to convince you.

      This is all I can say for sure at this point.

      Now I am speculating why the Non-Japanese are so unwaveringly convinced that the term “gaijin” is a derogatory word. Obviously, the ways the term has been thrown at them would be the most decisive factor. I’d like you to understand the term can also be used harmlessly, but I’m afraid I’ve found few listeners so far.

      I agree, to a large extent, on the criticisms of the blanket dichotomy of “gaijin,” and too much emphasis on the “differences.” However, I don’t think we should push these arguments too far. In the end it is a matter of balance. Even notions with a blanket application can be used usefully if we know how they work. Too much emphasis on the “sameness” is also wrong.

      Now I’d like to be more specific in terms of who the “Non-Japanese” are. This topic was started by Debito’s column in the Japan Times, and now is being discussed in this site. Although the majority of the Japan Times subscribers would be Japanese, English speakers would share a larger portion among the active readers who responded to the column. This site is evidently a community of people from English speaking countries who live, lived, or are going to live, in Japan. Therefore, as far as what is discussed here is concerned, this is the English speaking world’s view point. I hope this inference can give a different angle to this issue.

      There are two keywords. First: “Mother Tongue Influence.” Although we have been discussing the Japanese term “gaijin,” I suspect you often see it through the English term “foreigner” No one can be free from the influence of his/her mother tongue. When we find two words with overlapping meanings and functions in two languages, the speakers of each language tend to assume the word in the foreign language has exactly the same meanings and functions as the one in their own language. Moreover, in most cases, people are not aware of their assumptions.

      Therefore, it would be useful to examine the differences between “gaijin” and “foreigner.” The most easily found difference may be that “gaijin,” when combined with “san,” is used to address a person/persons while “foreigner” is not. This is one of the reasons that “gaijin” has been carelessly used in daily conversations. I have already decided this usage should be stopped.

      Now let’s move on to the second keyword: “Immigration Experience.” Most English speaking countries are countries of immigrants: US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. (Please allow me to put aside the issue of native peoples.) Britain is a bit different, but it also has a large number of immigrants from its former empire. They have been accepting immigrants for more than 200 years, and it is still an ongoing process. It may be possible to say that in the mindsets of the peoples of these countries is imbedded a notion that there are lots of people outside who want to come to their countries, and once arrived, seek citizenship to stay for life.

      Members of these countries are immigrants themselves, or descendants of immigrants. They share as a member of their family and the society as a whole the experiences endured by immigrants. To start a life in a new country from scratch as an immigrant is an onerous job. Citizenship is not necessarily obtained soon. Without it, their positions in the society remain vulnerable. In such a society, to sate someone is a foreigner would have been regarded as an abrasive act of pointing out the person’s vulnerability This sensitivity about the term “foreigner” must have formed part of the English language and been inherited generation after generation.

      Japan lacks such immigration experiences as those in the English Speaking world. Although Japan has sent out in modern history a large number of peasants who sought farmlands abroad, say Hawaii, California or Brazil, the experiences of those Japanese as immigrants in foreign countries haven’t been shared in the Japanese society. The organized large-scale emigrations have ceased to exist for long,

      On the other hand, in contrast to this rather little understanding of immigration, for many Japanese, to go abroad, and live there for a certain period, has been remained the object of admiration. Since the beginning of Meiji era, Japan made every effort to catch up with the powerful western countries. Various people went abroad to study; politicians, bureaucrats, academics, students, businessmen, artists and sons and daughters of rich families. They were chosen ones. Some of them chose to stay there for life, but most of them returned to Japan and contributed to the society by what they learned abroad. They played leading figures in their own fields. Therefore, the experience of “going abroad,” which was not immigration because they meant to return, was regarded in prestige. Even now if a Japanese employee relates to his colleagues some anecdotes while he was stationed abroad, he will soon find eager listeners.

      Logically speaking, a “foreigner” or “gaijin,” is now “living abroad” from his/her point of view. Therefore, with the mindset I described above, it would be natural for the Japanese to hold “gaijin” in prestige. It is quite possible that the Japanese just mean to be nice and amiable when they call or describe Non-Japanese “gaijin.” They are mentioning an admirable attribute. While doing so, because of lack of the immigration experience in their society, the Japanese don’t understand how uncomfortable Non-Japanese, or English speaking people at least if I stick to my speculation, may feel by the term “gaijin.”

      On the other hand, Non-Japanese – English speaking people – have brought with the term “foreigner” the sensitivity derived from the immigration experience. When faced with “gaijin” they flinch in the same way the term “foreigner” caused them in their own backgrounds although technically speaking the majority of them may not be immigrants seeking citizenship.

      I think this is one of the aspects of the problem about the term “gaijin.”

      The notion of “the sensitivity derived from the immigration experience” is purely a result of speculation. I’d be glad if you, and the readers, could correct me. As to the Japanese side of this analysis, I feel it is rather tenable although I admit I didn’t consult any history books.

      Lastly

      TJJ

      I read your comment on Aug. 29. Actually, I don’t want to get into this dichotomy thing. I find it rather irrelevant to the issue of the term “gaijin”

      I think the process of conceptualization is inevitably dichotomy. When you say “notion A,” the other element of the dichotomy “notion Non-A” is inevitably there in your mind. It doesn’t matter whether you fashion a name for it or not. “Good “ and “ bad”. “Right” and “wrong”. These are dichotomies where the two elements are equally named and used. In many other cases, we don’t name elements of dichotomy equally. We don’t see them as dichotomy. They are, actually

      You seem to be comfortable with an assumption that there may be certain common quality among 2 % of the world population, but adamantly against having a notion which covers 98 %. But when you say something about the 2 %, you are defining the 98 % in one stroke.

      The real question is not whether something is dichotomy, but how we handle the dichotomy. I admit that the notion “gaijin,” and the term itself, have been, and still are being abused. I’m sick of the arguments on the “unique Japanese,” either by Japanese or by Non-Japanese. You seem to assume that by using “Non-Japanese,” we can protect us from misled understanding, while “gaijin” inevitably crowds the speaker’s mind and prevent him from seeing the real world. I don’t think so. “Non-Japanese” can also be misused. “Gaijin” can be used correctly. Logic and language are different things.

      The reason that I tend to start my analysis with “the Japanese” is that I think I know them well enough to make an argument. Also, I am aware that I know little about “Non-Japanese” or “gaijin.” I know that much.

      I hope we are saying the same thing in essence.

      Well, thank you again, TJJ. You pushed my back in this direction.

    38. sendaiben Says:

      One other point against ‘gaijin’ or ‘gaikokujin’ to describe someone non-Japanese (for example, you are talking about the man over there, which one, the foreign one).

      I much prefer ‘hakujin’ in this situation. It is factual and descriptive, and has no other nuances (of belonging or nationality). I don’t see a need for ‘gaijin’ as an adjective.

    39. TJJ Says:

      PnetQ

      “Obviously, the ways the term has been thrown at them would be the most decisive factor.”

      You are quite correct. I’ve had 11 years in Japan to ponder this issue, so I don’t think I’m being hasty in any of my conclusions. There have been a few times I’ve been (literally) spat at/on in Japan and in all cases the people involved threw the term “gaijin” at me. So I can’t help but associate it with some negative connotation, at least for some people.

      Anyway I don’t want you to think that I believe most Japanese people feel this way. I understand that there is a spectrum of ideology in all communities, and most people wouldn’t be so offensive. There are crazy people everywhere, but measure for measure I tend to think Japanese people conduct themselves with greater dignity and politeness than most other people.

      I like to hear from Japanese people like you who have experience living abroad because we share the experience of being an “other” in a different land. That’s why I value your comments. I will reflect more on what you have said.

    40. PnetQ Says:

      A Humble Gaikoku no Kata

      I appreciate the new angles you’ve brought to the discussion. First, let me sort out what is being discussed here, from my point of view.

      Debito’s contention is that:

      1) The Japanese should not call the Non-Japanese “gaijin”
      2) The term “gaijin” is an epithet, a racist word.

      I agree on the first point, but disagree on the second. Let me explain this distinction in detail.

      The usage of “gaijin” is classified into three types.

      Type 1: Reference to the addressee/s
      “Gaijin-san wa dochira no kuni kara irashitandesuka?”
      「外人さんは どちらの国から いらしたんですか?」
      “Which country do you come from?”

      Type 2: Reference to a specific person/s
      “Kinou kita gaijin-san wa gakusei-san desu ka?
      「昨日 来た 外人さんは 学生さん ですか?」
      “Is that foreign guy who came yesterday a student?”

      Type 3: As a General term
      “Nihon ni iru gaijin-san wa Nihon-go ga umai desu ne.”
      「日本に いる 外人さんは 日本語が うまい ですね。」
      “Foreign people in Japan are very good at Japanese, aren’t they?

      I agree with Debito in the sense that the Japanese should stop Type 1. However, it is apparent that Debito means Type 2 and 3 should also be stopped, by his contention, “gaijin” as a racist word. On this, I disagree.

      I don’t think Type 1 should be stopped because the term “gaijin” is a racist word. My reason for it is based on “impoliteness.” I think it is irrelevant in conversations whether the person addressed is a “gaijin” or not. Irrelevance brings about impoliteness. (For the details of my theory, see “3) Refrain from Using ‘Gaijin'” in my August 28th comment). Your topic, “gaikoku no kata (外国の方),” has helped me in this regard.

      A Humble Gaikoku no Kata Says:

      “I just wanted to bring up something that apparently no one else has – the word gaikoku no kata. 外国の方. It just soooounds so nice. And it only gets used for me in a few situations.

      1) When I am a customer and I am buying an expensive product or service (a business suit, for example)
      2) When I am with my Japanese girlfriend and we are at a store (expensive or not)
      3) When someone who knows I speak Japanese and is not a friend of mine wants to talk about me or other non-Japanese persons

      … (W)hen someone really wants to be nice to me (because they want my favor or my money), they don’t use (外人). Does anybody find it slightly curious that 外人 and even 外国人 would be avoided in favor of the ultra-polite 外国の方? Obviously, even if you consider 外人 to not be racist or offensive, perhaps you could accept that it isn’t the most polite thing to say?”

      It seems that you are talking about Type 1 in your example 1 and 2, and Type 2 and 3 in your example 3.

      In Type 1 situations, “gaikokujin (外国人)” or “gaijin (外人)” will never be used. Practically speaking, “gaijin-san (外人さん)” is the only one possible choice. But “gaikoku no kata (外国の方)” may also be used, if rather rarely I suppose if a speaker who has a habit of speaking to a Non-Japanese person by “gaijin-san,” wants to be very polite, he/she will use “gaikoku no kata” as an alternative. This usage sounds a bit unnatural to me, but it is probable

      In Type 2 and 3 situations, “Gaikoku no kata” is used by speakers keen on politeness. Probably more women than men will use it. Another alternative is “gaikoku no hito (外国の人)” which is more polite than “gaijin-san” but less than “gaikoku no kata.” Yes, “gaikoku no kata” is a very polite expression. Your observation is correct.

      However, the politeness deficiency in “gaijin-san” derives from “san” rather than “gaijin.” The politeness level of speech is sometimes problematic. Think about the pair of “okyaku-san” and “okyaku-sama.” Expensive restaurants will no doubt require the workers to use “okyaku-sama” Men at noodle stands will have no problem with “okyaku-san.” Waitresses at Cafes may find “okyaku-san” not polite enough, but “okyaku-sama” excessively polite.

      Personally, I think the politeness level of “gaijin-san” is same as “okyaku-san.” That said, as I have written above, I have already decided the Japanese should stop using “gaijin-san” in Type 1. By the same token, I won’t use “gaikoku no kata” either.

      Next, I would like to think about your experiences you draw on to get your conclusion that the term gaijin is a negative term. I’m reluctant to lecture you on how to interpret the things which I know nothing but what you wrote here. However, it is about how to understand a Japanese word, which I don’t take lightly. I put my interpretations here. I’d be glad if you could give though to them.

      A Humble Gaikoku no Kata Says:

      “Also, 外人 really does hold a very negative meaning. Just as others have mentioned, my Japanese friends are very confused and put off if called 外人 while overseas.”

      I’m afraid this issue, a Japanese being called “gaijin” while overseas, is a rather complicated matter. Please allow me to put it off for later consideration.

      A Humble Gaikoku no Kata Says:

      “Equally, my closest Japanese acquaintances (my host mother and my girlfriend), do not equate me to 外人. I once called myself a 外人 in front of my host mother and she got very visibly upset. She told me very quickly, “You’re NOT a 外人. You’re my son!” Lesson learned.”

      I think your host mother is very earnest in her role as “host mother.” This is a host family program, isn’t it? She is your mother and you are her son. The whole idea of the program is to accept foreign people into Japanese families as their member, and let them experience Japanese culture. To treat you as a family member means to regard you as Japanese. For the program, and your host mother, there would be no room of your being Non-Japanese. I think this is what she meant. I think even if you had said you were American for example, she would have been upset likewise. I guess so.

      A Humble Gaikoku no Kata Says:

      “As for my girlfriend, she says I’m “half-Japanese”. The point? If these Japanese people … don’t want to use (外人) to describe me because they deeply care about me, then it just might be a negative term.

      This phrase, “half-Japanese,” is often used to describe foreign people who have accustomed to and are following Japanese custom and culture which the Japanese think of as peculiar to them. If you prefer rice to bread, eat natto and umeboshi, use chop sticks deftly, wear a yukata, know a lot about Japanese comics and be throwing Japanese interjections timely, you will be called “half-Japanese,” or “Nihon-jin yori Nihon-jin rashii (日本人より日本人らしい)” (more Japanese than the Japanese are). I don’t know what she means by this, but at least this is an adjective often used in such a context. I don’t think you can conclude by this she regard “gaijin” negatively.

      I’m afraid I have to stop here this time. I think I can – or should ? – write one more time. Be watching!

      Sorry, I’m verbose.

    41. aw Says:

      PnetQ,

      Thanks for all your long posts on this-some i agree with but some of it I find to be complete rubbish.

      Youre seriously suggesting that japanese people call people gaijin because they want to be friendly and amiable ??
      also that foreigners only take exception to being called gaijin because they have the immigration experience which japanese dont have?
      there also doesnt seem to be any sense in your postings that someone who does not look japanese could possibly be japanese at all,and that they therefore must be of the other,and can be characterized as such.
      i agree with you that there will be no progress unless the japanese mindset is changed .this being the case,why are you insisting in your right to murmur gaijin to yourself over and over.Why ever would you want to do this?

      ultimately use of language is an indication of a persons thinking/attitude.i cannot accept that you think it fine to use gaijin (a word you know to have negative connotations) between japanese because foreigners are not present..
      only when this word has been put out of use will japan have achieved progress in this area.

    42. KK Says:

      Two interesting tidbits about the word “gaijin” that I experienced recently:

      1) Every year I go to the fireworks display with a local friend of mine and her family. This year, I asked her 6th grade daughter what the name of her English teacher was. The daughter thinks for a moment and asks, “Gaijin no sensei?” The father promptly batted her head and sternly corrected her. “GaiKOKUjin no sensei!”

      So even some Japanese recognize that “gaijin” is perhaps not the best word to be throwing around.

      2) My school uses a textbook called Screenplay: Oral Communication 2. Imagine my surprise when I see on page 110 a passage that starts “Japan once had little room for gaijin…” Besides the fact gaijin is not an English word, the fact that they decided to include it to begin with I found pretty strange.

    43. aw Says:

      pnetq,
      sorry to post again im not trying to attack you honest!

      you say:
      You seem to be comfortable with an assumption that there may be certain common quality among 2 % of the world population, but adamantly against having a notion which covers 98 %. But when you say something about the 2 %, you are defining the 98 % in one stroke.

      no youre not!
      this thinking would explain the sense of us and them in your posts,and illustrates neatly part of the problem with thegaijin word.
      just because 2% of people have something in common doesnt mean that none of the remaining 98% can have that characteristic.furthermore because 2% of people share a trait doesnt mean that the other 98% are all automatically the same as each other.

    44. PnetQ Says:

      A Humble Gaikoku no Kata:

      Here are my answers to the left-over questions.

      A Humble Gaikoku no Kata Says:

      “Also, 外人 really does hold a very negative meaning. Just as others have mentioned, my Japanese friends are very confused and put off if called 外人 while overseas. … If these Japanese people do not want to be called 外人, … then it just might be a negative term.”

      Before looking into the issue of a Japanese being called “gaijin” while overseas, we need to consider conversation happening in Japan between Bill, an American and Taro, a Japanese.

      If Taro refers to Bill as “gaijin,” in spite of the fact that he knows he is speaking to an American, it constitutes disrespect. Therefore it is offensive. It is not offensive because the term “gaijin is racist or negative. It is offensive because labeling Bill, an American, with “gaijin” is sheer misrepresentation of him. The notion of “gaijin” which is equal to Non-Japanese is sometimes significant to the Japanese, but only to the Japanese. Bill wouldn’t care if he is Japanese or not. He is American! As you argued, he has the right to being called “Amirikajin.”

      Now let’s see what will happen when Taro goes abroad, say US. One of the characteristics of the term “gaijin” is that it has been always used from the Japanese point of view. The criterion of “In” and “Out” is always the Japanese. That is the reason why the Japanese tourists in US don’t hesitate to call American people around them “gaijin.” In this sense, “gaijin” is equal to Non-Japanese.

      Until very recently, the Japanese language has been used exclusively by the Japanese. Foreign people who learned Japanese, many of them Japanologists, assumed the Japanese point of view when they used the term “gaijin.” Therefore, this linguistic phenomenon, the criterion of “gaijin” being anchored in the Japaneseness, hasn’t become an issue so far.

      Now Taro and Bill are talking in US in Japanese. If Bill says to Taro
      “Koko dewa kimi ga gaijin da.” (“You are a “gaijin” here.”)
      Taro will understand. However, if Bill goes further, by referring to Taro’s friend who is also Japanese as “kimi no gaijin no tomodachi” (your “gaijin” friend), Taro is not likely to understand. If Bill keeps speaking in this way, using “gaijin” from American point of view, Taro, or any other Japanese, will be extremely confused.

      Another problem is that Bill is showing disrespect to Taro in the same way as Taro referring to Bill as “gaijin” because Bill knows Taro is Japanese. For these reasons, a Japanese, if called “gaijin” while overseas, may be confused and disturbed. It would be a good lesson to the Japanese to learn how calling foreign people in Japan “gaijin” can be offensive. However, this is not because the term “gaijin” in itself has a negative meaning. This is my interpretation.

      A Humble Gaikoku no Kata Says:

      “Last thought – even words that don’t appear to be hateful at all can be offensive to those being labeled. Case in point: Kanaka Ma’oli. In the English language, they’re called “Hawaiians”. But that is not what they call themselves, in their language. They’re kanaka ma’oli. So you can call me 外人 all day and tell me it’s alright and it shouldn’t offend me in anyway. But you cannot dictate to me what I want to be called. Japanese or not.”

      The problem of “Kanaka Ma’oli” being called “Hawaiian” and the problem of foreign people in Japan being called “gaijin” are different things. On the maps printed in Japan, foreign countries are indicated by their proper names, not by “Gaijin.” “Gaijin” is not the name of foreign peoples. It is about how the Japanese see the world. The cause of the problem is that the Japanese have been imposing on foreign people in Japan their point of view. No, I don’t call you “gaijin.” But I may refer to foreign people by “gaijin when I feel it appropriate in my conversations with Japanese and in my thoughts. I don’t think you can dictate how the Japanese, and I, see the world, and express it in language, either.

      Actually I am glad to have people like you in Japan. I hope you enjoy your stay.

      Aw

      I know there are too many occasions where the term “gaijin” is being used in offensive ways, not from my experience, but from the things I’ve read in this site. I’m not going to defend such bad behaviors. I just want to let you know they are not all that the term “gaijin” has. I want to let you know there are many Japanese who use the term in proper usage with good intentions. However, I’ve come to understand that even well-intentioned use of “gaijin” can be offensive. I have revised my opinion and posted it as a response to Debito’s second column on this issue.

      As to dichotomy: You are right. My argument was inaccurate. All I’m saying is that I know the defect of the notion, but I think I can handle it. I often speak to myself “So I’m sick of the Japanese media! The way they act.” quickly followed by “Not that I know the media in other countries.”

    45. A Humble Gaikoku no Kata Says:

      PnetQ says (and says): “I think even if you had said you were American for example, she would have been upset likewise. I guess so.”

      No, she knows I’m an American. Her son-in-law is Swedish. She says that quite happily, actually. “My son-in-law, you know, the Swedish one…” She just doesn’t see me as an “outsider”, regardless of being an American.

      PnetQ continues: “If you prefer rice to bread, eat natto and umeboshi, use chop sticks deftly, wear a yukata, know a lot about Japanese comics and be throwing Japanese interjections timely, you will be called “half-Japanese,” or “Nihon-jin yori Nihon-jin rashii (日本人より日本人らしい)” (more Japanese than the Japanese are).”

      I’m afraid I don’t like natto, eat bread every day, only wear yukata on the occasion I’m at ryokan, don’t know a thing about comics, and probably have made an embarassing amount of mistakes with my Japanese. I think her criteria was more based on my comfort with living here and being able to doing things independently. I enjoy living here and have said so.

      As for other foreigners, she refers to them as “gaikokujin”, or (oddly enough) by the country of their origin. “My Vietnamese friend,” for example.

      PnetQ does me a favor by saying; ““Gaijin” is not the name of foreign peoples. It is about how the Japanese see the world.”

      Aha! Why you’ve just said it! We aren’t all Gaijin 1 and Gaijin 2 from Gaijin-land, that mass of countries outside the Japanese peninsula.

      And I know they’re not the same thing. It’d be hard to find an exact equivalent of the word gaijin, now wouldn’t it? My point was, when that observation about the English word “Hawaiian” was taught to me by a kanaka mao’li, it struck a chord with me. Labels are dangerous things. You can use whatever word you want to refer to me. I can’t control that and I don’t want to. I’m just asking for a little respect towards what I would like to be called. So even in your hypothetical cafe, “okyakusan” would be preferable to “gaijin no okyakusan!” I am a customer, and that’s the important part, right? Being foreign has little to do with forgetting my glasses, bag, or keys (which I often do).

      “Actually I am glad to have people like you in Japan. I hope you enjoy your stay.”

      And then promptly leave when I’m done, I suppose. What an eloquent way to tell someone to go home. Please don’t condescend to me again.

    46. PnetQ Says:

      Humble Gaikoku no Kata

      I’m writing this because I want you in particular to understand the term “gaijin” is not a racist word.

      Debito contends “gaijin” is a racist word. You say you are with Debito, which means you believe “gaijin” is a racist word. Being called racist is a serious accusation even for a word.

      You are doing home stay at a Japanese family. You have sensitivity to understand the significance of the name, “kanaka mao’li.” Probably you will meet, and be acquainted with, many Japanese in future. Therefore, I don’t want you to keep an incorrect understanding of the term which, regrettably, you will hear often.

      The term “gaijin” has been abused, and been thrown at foreign people in offensive ways very often so far, but it doesn’t mean the term in itself is a racist word. I have written my analysis in my other comments: #34, #38, #41, #45 in this page; #16, #37 in another page with the following link.
      http://www.debito.org/?p=1891
      I’d be glad if you had time to read them. (My opinion has changed a bit as I was writing them.)

      To sum up:
      1) I propose the Japanese stop calling to foreign people by the term “gaijin.”
      2) I think it is permissible for the Japanese to use the term among themselves to refer to foreign people when their nationalities are not known.

      You say:
      “As for other foreigners, she refers to them as “gaikokujin”, or (oddly enough) by the country of their origin. “My Vietnamese friend,” for example.”

      That is exactly what I mean. I don’t call a foreign person a “gaijin” if his /her nationality is known to me.

      You say:
      “So even in your hypothetical cafe, “okyakusan” would be preferable to “gaijin no okyakusan!” I am a customer, and that’s the important part, right? Being foreign has little to do with forgetting my glasses, bag, or keys (which I often do).”

      I agree.

      I wrote:
      “If it were in a cafe, she wouldn’t have to call you “gaijin-san.” By calling you “okyaku-san,” she can make it clear that she is speaking to you. Therefore calling you “gaijin-san” in the cafe would be unnecessary and impolite.”

      I made the waitress in my hypothetical scene cry “gaijin no lkyaku-san” because I thought the term would stop being offensive when it was really necessary to use it. But I retract the idea. I won’t call foreign people “gaijin-san” in any circumstance.

      As to your host mother, of course, she knows that you are American because she is your host mother. I think my theory is still viable. But I don’t insist on that. It is probable enough that she considers the term “gaijin” negatively. Here is an excerpt from a response to this topic that I want to show you.

      http://www.debito.org/?p=1889
      (#1) Neath Oum Says:
      “My former Japanese host family considered me a part of their family and I felt part of their family despite being called me a “gaijin”. At no times did I feel like the literal translation of the word an “outside person”.”

      From my point of view, even in this case, I think they shouldn’t have called him “gaijin” because they knew his nationality. However, it is also apparent that they didn’t load any negative connotation in the term. Words such as “gaijin” can be used many ways.
      (Neath’s argument is rather extreme and I don’t support him though.)

      I didn’t mean to condescend. If you took it that way, I apologize.

    47. Don Hinkelman Says:

      I think “Japanese” is a pergorative term, and I never say it (except just now–shame on me).

      Let me be a little academic here. In teaching intercultural communication, many writers describe how categories are created in any society to describe groups within a culture. Categories are simplified models which allow us to avoid treating everyone as unique and begin to ascribe tendencies to different ways of behaving. The categories of outsider/insider or Nihonjin/Gaijin are simple dicotomies, but ones sometimes used to exert power and dominance over others. Bullying uses the same process on schoolgrounds–“four eyes”.

      I think it is good to become conscious of the category-making process and then encourage others to critique the assumptions.

      In my classes, I never allow the word “Japanese” to used, and instead require that students use one of the 27 different culture categories that we create of different kinds of people living on these islands. Remember, the nation-state as a social form is only a few hundred years old, and will eventually be replaced. So why assume such an arbitrary term is even useful? Here are a few of the categories we use in class to think our society more multi-culturally.
      – male/female
      – young/middle-age/senior
      – Kansai/Kanto/Kyushu/Hokkaido/…
      – Ainu/Ryukyuu/Wajin…
      – Brazilian-Japanese, Korean-Japanese, Western-Japanese, Chinese-Japanese…
      – Walking people/wheelchair people, hearing people/deaf people, ….

      Each of these cultures (or cultural categories if you prefer) has a different language, different way of dressing, different values, and different communication styles. If I am successful building such a conceptual rainbow around the reality of our society, then the word “Japanese” will be unnecessary.

    48. Shiro Ishii Says:

      Don Hinkelman is quite a bit further “out there” than most of us, but I heartily agree that the terms we use for people imply the nature of our relation to them.

      When there is objective relevance in calling someone “tall” (e.g., he’s about to hit his head on a low door lintel) or “large” (e.g., he’s going to need two seats on the bus), that’s one thing – and most of us recognize that even then, we need to be polite and considerate in referring to these characteristics, since they aren’t ones people have freely chosen for themselves.

      When there isn’t clear objective relevance, descriptors related to physical appearance are indeed the same as schoolyard bullying. Since this type of thing is common in adult society in Japan, many people may erroneously believe that “gaijin” represents a type of abuse “natives” wouldn’t use on one another; they do so all the time. (This is parallel to the mistaken belief that the Imperial Japanese Army only used conquered “comfort women”, and didn’t treat their own comrades’ sisters the same way.)

      PnetQ, after hearing “gaijin” used thousands of times over the Showa and Heisei eras in nearly every conceivable situation between nearly every conceivable combination of speakers, I would apply a statistical rubric. In an overwhelming majority of the cases, it was used, contextually, to mean “whitey (hakujin)”. The argument that you can’t say, “Mister Whitey” in English is specious; you can’t say “Mister Goombah” in English either, but “Ya-san” is a common way of referring to Yakuza in Japanese.

      To attribute, without evidence, nationality, language, customs, food preferences, and so forth on the basis of perceived “race” is indeed racism. “Gaijin”, therefore, is indeed a racist word.

      That being established, let me add the disclaimers. “Nihonjin” is equally a racist word, since it is typically used to attribute, without evidence, all those things I listed, which are not in any way uniform among those who hold Japanese passports or were born and raised here (or any other legal or objective criterion). I love natto, for example; my late father-in-law, who was a “Nihonjin” if anyone ever was, hated it.

      Next disclaimer: no, “gaijin” is not the same in degree or common perception as “nigger”. Debito is absolutely correct that they are the same in *kind*, but he does not claim they are the same in *degree*. My grandmother shocked me as a young person by using “nigger” well after the civil rights movement (which she supported) in the context of old sayings she’d learned as a child. This does not mean either that the word is OK, or that she was a vicious racist. It means she was provincial and backward, which is the best way to describe people who use “gaijin” when speaking Japanese, nearly all of the time.

      As for using “gaijin” in *English*, it becomes much closer to “nigger” in terms of who can use it without offense, and in terms of the question of whether the word is inherently degrading and ought to get a funeral and be buried forever. Debito is on the same side as the NAACP there.

      Final disclaimer: I am a person in whose identification of self neither pigmentation, parentage, or passport has any element at all, so if you try to put any of those on me, that’s you, not me. I identify myself according to my choices and their consequences. It makes life a lot easier most of the time.

    49. PnetQ Says:

      Shiro Ishii,

      Sorry. I didn’t think there would be another new comment in this thread, so I didn’t notice your comment referring to mine.

      Shiro Ishii Says:

      “PnetQ, after hearing “gaijin” used thousands of times over the Showa and Heisei eras in nearly every conceivable situation between nearly every conceivable combination of speakers, I would apply a statistical rubric. In an overwhelming majority of the cases, it was used, contextually, to mean “whitey (hakujin)”. The argument that you can’t say, “Mister Whitey” in English is specious; you can’t say “Mister Goombah” in English either, but “Ya-san” is a common way of referring to Yakuza in Japanese.”

      If you mean to say that the term “gaijin” can be understood in most cases as Caucasians, your observation is correct. However, your assertion is incorrect that the English term “whitey” is the proper translation of “gaijin” and “hakujin.” While the term “whitey” is explicitly indicated as “derogatory” in dictionaries, the Concise Oxford Dictionary for example, the term “gaijin” in itself doesn’t have such a connotation. Neither does the term “hakujin.”

      I don’t think I wrote in my comments that “you can’t say ‘Mister Whitey’ in English.” I do admit that I wrote to the similar effect, though. I think I wrote you can’t say “Mr Foreigner” in English. I also wrote “hakujin” cannot be combined with “san.” Therefore, while “gaijin-san” is a possible choice in the Japanese vocabulary, “hakujin-san” is not.

      To be honest, it is not completely clear to me what you intend to argue by saying that “you can’t say “Mister Goombah” in English either.” I suppose you mean that the English honorific “mister” cannot be combined with terms with bad connotations such as “whitey” or “boombah” to produce a phrase of addressing, whereas the Japanese honorific “san” can be combined with such an awful word as “yakuza” to create “ya-san.” If that is the case, my response is “Yes” and “No.”

      First, the reason for “No.” I didn’t say that you can’t say “Mr Foreigner” in English because the term “foreigner” has a derogatory meaning. I wanted to say that while in Japanese, there are many terms denoting vocations or social statuses which can be used to address others in conversations when combined with “san,” there are few English terms with “Mr” likewise used in conversations. We can say in Japanese “gaijin-san,” “okyaku-san,” “ten’in-san” and “untenshu-san,” but I don’t think you say in English “Mr foreigner,” “Mr customer,” “Mr sales clerk” and “Mr driver.” (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

      Next, the reason for “Yes.” You are correct if you mean to say that the existence of such a term as “ya-san” indicates the honorific “san” doesn’t necessarily guarantee a term to which it is attached is a polite word. “Ossan,” “jiisan” and “baasan” are also regarded as impolite in the standard Japanese. However, it should be emphasized that while almost every Japanese native speaker regard the terms “ossan,” “jiisann,” and “baasan” as impolite, they invariably regard the terms “gaijin-san,” “okyaku-san,” and “ten’in-san” as polite. There can be no mistaking about that. (I say “almost every” because there may be different usages in some dialects.)

      Here is another point that I’d like to ask you.

      Shiro Ishii Says:

      ” … It means she was provincial and backward, which is the best way to describe people who use “gaijin” when speaking Japanese, nearly all of the time.”

      You seem to mean that people who use “gaijin” are provincial and backward. At this, your opinion and mine seem to divert clearly. I have been arguing in my comments that there are cases where the term “gaijin” is permissibly used among the Japanese. I showed example sentences and explained in what situation they are used. To my disappointment, I’ve had only two responses to my examples from the readers.

      I’d be glad if I could hear your opinion. What would you think about the examples in “7e) At a Cafe” in my comment posted as #34 in this thread? Would you think of the “gaijin” in that situation as provincial and backward, thus it shouldn’t be used?

      Other than the points I mentioned above, I don’t necessarily feel urged to refute your arguments although you too seem to be “quite a bit further ‘out there’ than most of us.”

    50. Q5# What does a label mean anyway? « Conference English Kasmer Says:

      […] Q5# What does a label mean anyway? By kasmersensei See the linked documents http://www.debito.org/?p=1891 and http://www.debito.org/?p=1875 […]

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