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  • Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 7: Sequel to “Gaijin” as a racist word

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on September 2nd, 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
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    THE CASE FOR “GAIJIN” AS A RACIST WORD: THE SEQUEL

    LET’S COME CLEAN ON “GAIJIN”
    JUST BE CAUSE Column Seven for the Japan Times
    By Arudou Debito
    Published September 2, 2008 as “The ‘gaijin’ debate: Arudou responds”
    Courtesy http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20080902ad.html
    DRAFT THIRTEEN, version as submitted to Japan Times editor

    Last month’s column (JBC August 5) was on the word “gaijin”. I made the case that it is a racist word, one that reinforces an “us-and-them” rubric towards foreigners and their children in Japan.

    It generated a lot of debate. Good. Thanks for your time.

    Now let’s devote 700 more words to some issues raised.

    Regarding the arguments about intent, i.e. “People use the word gaijin, but don’t mean it in a derogatory way”. The root issue here is, “Who decides whether a word is bad?” Is it the speaker using the word, or the person being addressed by it?

    If usage and intent become the speaker’s prerogative, then speakers get too much plausible deniability. For example: Punch somebody in the arm. If he cries, “That hurts!” then say, “But I don’t mean to hurt you.”

    So if you don’t give priority to the listener’s feelings, you give the speakers with genuine malice (however few) an excuse and a cloaking device. If the person you target doesn’t like being called something, just say you didn’t mean it in a bad way, and hey presto! You’re off the hook.

    This logic has long been disavowed. In Japan, the debate on “ijime”, bullying in Japanese schools, favors the person being targeted. The person feels hurt, that’s enough. So stoppit.

    Ditto for the word gaijin. People like me who have lived here for many years, even assimilated to the point of taking citizenship, don’t want to be called “gaijin” anymore. We can be forgiven for taking umbrage, for not wanting to be pushed back into the pigeonhole. Don’t tell us who we are–we’ll decide for ourselves who we are, especially in our own country, thanks. So stoppit.

    Now for the more controversial claim: my linking “gaijin” with “n*gg*r”. Although I was not equating their histories, I was drawing attention to their common effect–stripping societies of diversity.

    “N*gg*r”, for example, has deprived an entire continent of its diaspora. I love faces; I have gazed at many notable African-Americans and wondered about their origins. Is Michael Clarke Duncan a Nuban? Do Gary Coleman’s ancestors hail from the Ituri? How about the laser gaze of Samuel L. Jackson, the timeworn features of Morgan Freeman, the quizzical countenance of Whoopi Goldberg? Where did their ancestors come from? Chances are even they aren’t sure. That’s why Alex Haley had to go all the way to The Gambia to track down his Kunta Kinte roots.

    The “non-n*gg*rs” are more fortunate. They got to keep closer ties to their past–even got hyphens: Italian-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Japanese-Americans, etc. But Black people in the US just became “African-Americans”–a continent, not an ethnicity. Thanks to generations of being called “n*gg*r”.

    “Gaijin” has the same effect, only more pronounced. Not only do we foreign-looking residents have no hope of hyphenation, we are relegated to a much bigger “continent” (i.e. anyone who doesn’t look Japanese–the vast majority of the world). Again, this kind of rhetoric, however unconscious or unintended, forever divides our public into “insider and outsider” with no twain.

    I for one want the hyphen. I’m a Japanese. An American-Japanese, an Amerika-kei Nihonjin. After years of outsiderdom, I want my Japanese status acknowledged. But I don’t want my roots denied either. Being called essentially “foreign-Japanese” would lack something, so why not acknowledge, even celebrate, our diversity?

    Words like gaijin don’t allow for that. They are relics of a simplistic time, when people argued with a straight face that Japan was monocultural and monoethnic. Untrue–there’s enough scholarly research debunking that; even our government this year formally recognized Hokkaido’s aboriginal Ainu as an indigenous people.

    Moreover, as more non-Japanese reside here, marry, procreate, and bring the best of their societies into the amalgam, change is inevitable. Why force us to deny an essential part of our identity by outsidering us on a daily basis? Intentional or not, that’s what the word gaijin does.

    The ace in the hole in this debate: I’m not the only one here advocating “gaijin”‘s obsolescence. Japan’s media has reached the same conclusion and officially declared it a word unfit for broadcast. Don’t agree with me? Talk to the TV.

    So if you really must draw attention to somebody’s roots, and you can’t hyphenate or tell their nationality or ethnicity, it’s better to use “gaikokujin”. It’s a different rubric. At least there are ways to stop being one.

    Arudou Debito is co-author of Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan.
    730 words
    ENDS

    REFERENTIAL LINK:

    Debito.org Poll (August 20-31): Do you think the word “gaijin” should be avoided (in favor of other words, like, say, gaikokujin)?

    72 Responses to “Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 7: Sequel to “Gaijin” as a racist word”

    1. Matthew Klaus Says:

      “People like me who have lived here for many years, even assimilated to the point of taking citizenship, don’t want to be called “gaijin” anymore. We can be forgiven for taking umbrage, for not wanting to be pushed back into the pigeonhole. Don’t tell us who we are–we’ll decide for ourselves who we are, especially in our own country…”

      Thank you for standing up and saying this. Now if only more people will follow your example Japan might actually change / evolve. I’ll be adopting this myself and teaching others who, seemingly, have no problem with the G-word.

    2. Jerry Billows Says:

      Speaking of “enough scholarly research debunking [Japan's monoethnic society],” Anthropologist Tom Gill at Sophia University reviewed John Lie’s Multiethnic Japan for the peer-reviewed journal Monumenta Nipponica and found it seriously lacking in both logic and evidence:

      Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 56, No. 4 (Winter, 2001), pp. 574-577
      http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/3096685.pdf

      Here’s the concluding paragraph. Gill makes a thought-provoking point:

      “Simplistic argumentation mars the book throughout. The degree of foreign influence during various periods of Japanese history is exaggerated irresponsibly; the bleeding corpse of nihonjinron is trampled on at length, often by reference to low-grade books by travel writers and journalists; and the presence of a number of foreigners in the worlds of sports and entertainment is taken to prove that these fields are multiethnic, with no discussion of the overwhelming majority of ethnic Japanese heroes in these fields. This last failing is characteristic: throughout the book there is virtually no quantitative data. Finally, the book assumes throughout that Japanese society consists of a massive, uniform, ethnic majority that has persistently trampled on a substantial, uniform, ethnic minority. Distinctions between the varying experiences of different minorities are swept away. In his conclusion, Lie warns us to ‘beware of people who draw social boundaries and declare people on one side of the line to be typologically distinct from those on the other’ (p. 182). Alas, he is guilty of this misdeed himself: in his exaggerated depiction of this allegedly multiethnic society, he has created a new kind of nihonjinron: only this time we have two caricatured groups of people instead of one.”

    3. Peter Payne Says:

      My two yen:

      You’re a true American: you want to be a victim. Personally, I think the word “gaijin” nearly always refers to white foreigners, meaning Americans and Europeans and other “privileged” types who, nearly always, get a good deal of “positive” discrimination (i.e., more girls, more gifts pushed into your hands by obasans, more opportunity to do more interesting things, more freedom from the rules everyone else has to follow) mixed in with a little of the bad stuff. We — meaning anyone who has ever taught English for 5000 yen an hour — we have about as much in common with African Americans in terms of being a class of greatly abused and disenfranchised people as the JET program has to the Peace Corps. If you’re going to feel for anyone, feel for people who have words like “acchi no hito” used on them, meaning third world foreigners like Sri Lankans (excepting Wiki-san) working in a factory, who are not generally included in the sometimes annoying but never truly offensive term “gaijin.” They are the ones who really get the shaft, no chance to marry a pretty Japanese woman like you or I did, to own land or sometimes slip and say “we Japanese” like you or I have surely done. And amazingly, they’re as invisible to us as they are to Japanese people, who don’t even think about them unless they happen to get on a train with several of them at once.

      You and I have it great in Japan. Most first-world foreigners have it better than they expect, often better than they deserve depending on their own expectations and preparations made before coming here. You are a famous author, and I’m a distinguished business owner with 200,000 readers, and both of us are able to help inspire at least a few others to come to Japan and (hopefully) find something worthwhile here. How about the Brazilians in Oizumi Machi, near me, who weren’t able to continue their Carnival festival because it freaked out too many of the locals? That’s a lot worse than being called “gaijin” by some blue collar worker at a yatai as he buys you a frigging drink.

      My name is Peter Payne, and I approve of this message.

    4. KokuRyu Says:

      You should just drop then entire N****R discussion and move on. The entire Whoopi Goldberg, Morgan Freeman, Gary Coleman (?) paragraph above is inappropriate and condescending, and really distracts from the quality of what you are trying to say. Good grief, Debito, you can do better than this.

    5. Andrew Smallacombe Says:

      Debito, your excelent first article contained one major flaw: it drew comparisons between “Nigger” and “Gaijin”.
      Such a comparison is like one between Hitler and Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Pinochet, etc. presented to a Euro/Amer-centric audience: The other guy is essentially let off the hook because he is “not as bad as” Hitler.
      I still feel that had you compared “Gaijin” to “Jap”, you might have fared better. Both are contractions. Both are immediately relevant to the Japanese who make up about 50% of the Japan Times readership, as well as to possibility of raising the issue of burden of proof – Please explain why “Gaijin” isn’t offensive, but “Jap” is. And “my dictionary says so” is not sufficient.
      Let’s face it. The word is a label, used as an excuse for not having to know or having to care. In my time I’ve been called “Michael”, Jason” and “Gaijin” (no, none of these are my name) by people who couldn’t be bothered to find out or remember what my actual name is. Much like if I started labelling people “Jap 1″ and “Jap 2″ for convenience.
      People used the offensiveness of “Nigger” as a smokescreen to cover the real issue. “Gaijin” is offensive. Period.

    6. Carl Says:

      “The person feels hurt, that’s enough. So stoppit. Ditto for the word gaijin.”

      Thing is, though, not everyone feels hurt by the word “gaijin.” In all my time in Japan (several years) I was called “gaijin” many times by many people in many different situations and I never thought of it as anything more than a mere annoyance or, sometimes, not even that. Same thing with “老外” (the closest approximation to “gaijin” in Chinese, I guess) now that I live in China. In your case, of course, it would be stupid to use the word “gaijin” as you are a Japanese, but that’s a different matter altogether.

      Another thing: I still think that “gaijin” and “nigger” are totally different. Again, as I said, the fact that we can write “gaijin” but feel the need to write “n*gg*r” demonstrates that the two are not the same level of offensiveness. If they were then why not self-censor in both cases?

    7. Carl Says:

      PS- but thanks for a thought-provoking debate.

    8. Neath Oum Says:

      Response to your two most recent articles and various statements on this blog:

      Being called “gaijin” is “factually” incorrect?

      Regarding the term “gaijin,” I would have to say there are some very large and unsupported assumptions and logical flaws you make regarding the word “gaijin”.

      In your scenario where you use yourself as an example, you state that it is “factually” incorrect to call you a “gaijin” because you:

      1) Graduated from top tier schools
      2) Lived in Japan for more than two decades
      3) Are fluent in Japanese
      4) Have Japanese citizenship

    9. Pete McCosker Says:

      It is a very difficult topic but I agree with you when it comes to deciding the use of the word `gaijin`. It is most important to respect the feelings of the person whom you are speaking to. Correct me if I am wrong but I believe that as an Australian, Japanese, American, Italian or wherever you are from, respecting one another as human beings is important. I personally do not mind the word `gaijin` although I have not gone to the links that Debito has to obtain citizenship so it would obviously affect him differently. Japanese people need to learn to respect other peoples feelings, no matter who they are or where they have come from. Just respecting the feelings of people who they believe are Japanese does not work.

    10. max Says:

      Being European and white it gets quite subjective to judge the use of “gaijin” in Japan. Besides I had the priviledge to be married with a Japanese woman so again a clash of interests;
      I would like to note only one fact:
      in our family I am still often referred by my wife’s parents as “gaijin” (maybe because my name is difficult to pronunciate or so on) while my European parents, who are not certainly the most emancipated and avanced people in the word, they never use “Asian” or “Jap” but learnt my wife’s name.

      A part of any social speculation, I think this is an example of how mischievously deep-rooted is the word “gaijin” in Japanese society compared with the rest of the world.
      regards
      max

      –I find it hard to believe that “Max” (makkusu — it’s even part of the name of one of Japan’s largest supermarket chains) is that hard to pronounce... :)

    11. debito Says:

      FEEDBACK FROM CYBERSPACE. DEBITO

      Well, thank goodness someone finally took the time to seriously
      address the issue of the word “gaijin”. I am sick, sick, sick of
      the argument that there`s nothing wrong with it.

      In Dr. James Banks` multicultural education class at UW, we learned
      that there are some terms that can only be used by their targets.
      The “n” word is one, and I would argue that “the `g` word” is
      another.

      A long time ago I promised myself that I would say something when
      confronted with this offensive term. For years I`ve politely
      interrupted Japanese people when they used it with me to explain
      that I don`t like that word and that they should find another. I
      usually got one of 2 reactions- embarrassment (the `oops, I knew
      that` kind) or interested acceptance (“oh, yes, I can see that”).

      I`ve always thought it funny (OK, during Stage 3 culture shock I
      found it offensive as hell…) how I`d go into a restaurant or get
      on a train and suddenly the conversation of people nearby would
      change to something about foreigners, English, overseas…”you know,
      my cousin lived in America for a year”, or “Yuki is having such
      trouble learning English”. I figured that since those conversations
      wouldn`t have happened if I weren`t there, it was ok to politely
      interrupt them, too, if I heard “gaijin” this and “gaijin” that.
      Maybe this was rude of me, but I bet it gave a few people something
      new to think about.

      I`ve been living in the US, but am back for a month; last Saturday
      on the shuttle bus to Ikea, I was watching the Ikea intro video,
      which ends with a non-Japanese woman speaking Japanese. The 2
      college-aged guys in front of me said, “it must be dubbed. Gaijin
      don`t speak Japanese like that” and snickered about a few made-up
      examples of “foreign” Japanese. I guess I`m not as patient as I
      used to be, because I told them to shut up. Later, in the checkout
      line I was behind 2 women who were wondering where to pick up an
      Ikea catalogue. One of them looked to the head of the checkout line
      and said, “the cashier`s a gaijin; we can`t ask here” and went to
      another line.

      Still, when we think nothing`s going to change, we can think back to
      15 years or so ago, when “gaijin” was routinely heard on TV news
      programs rather than just on the comedy shows. Someone, somewhere,
      decided it wasn`t polite. Good for them.

      And good for you, Debito, for writing a much-needed article, even
      though you must have known that it would subject you to a hail of
      criticism.

    12. Joe Jones Says:

      I am a gaijin, I will always be a gaijin, I am proud of being a gaijin, and I am happy to fight for the rights of gaijin who are oppressed in Japanese society (of which class I am not a member).

      I don’t mind being called a gaijin. The word “gaijin” shows no more inherent disrespect than the word “gaikokujin.” I do mind being disrespected because I am a gaijin, but that is a completely different issue from the mere use of the word, and one which I expect will wane over time as more gaijin take on more prominent roles in Japanese society.

      Attacking language is a waste of time when there are much greater injustices happening all around us.

    13. Tony D Says:

      Excellent article. Especially impressed with “At least there are ways to stop being one.”, fantastic way to wrap it up.

      One thing I notice is a lot of people saying “but they don’t mean it rudely” and the like. But they haven’t stopped to think why they say what they say. I’m glad there are others who are willing to go “…but why?” to society. Just because we do and say things doesn’t always mean we should, and looking at those things can teach us a lot more about ourselves and those we’re dealing with than we could possibly imagine.

      I can’t really comment on “the ‘n’ word” issue, as a non-American the only experience I have with the use of that word has been through the media (especially with rap music, etc).

    14. Matthew Says:

      Peter—I am a little taken aback that you said “You’re a true American: you want to be a victim.”
      Do you really think this constitutes a true American—seeking victimhood?

      I actually have read a lot of what you have written and usually find it to be insightful but do you really feel this way?

      I understand that the word gaijin doesn’t really bother you. Well–it bothers me. Why? Simply because it is a term lacking in respect. Any Japanese person can use this term as a way to disrespect me and my contributions to Japan. By saying gaijin–i am reduced and disrespected. I am obviously (by appearance) not from Japan and so I have no problem being called a gaikokujin–this is true. I am a person from another country.

      But I am not an outsider. And to call me that demeans my person and my 14 years of contribution to this society. I have earned more respect than that. And you have too.

      matthew

    15. John C Says:

      I have decided to enter this debate cause, well a lot is being said for both points.
      I am a Brit,a limey as the Yanks would/ and do often call me. But I call them sepos so we are equal.
      In Australia a WOG refers to italian decent, but in the UK means a “n”
      The word “Gaijin” is only an abbriviation, it means “an outsider” I was always taught.

      Where I am from in the north of the UK anyone who was not born in that town is an outsider and will always be refered to as such until they have lived there for about 40 years. when I moved to the south of England I became a “northern bastard” or a heathen, when I returned north I was called a “southern pansey”.
      If someone calls me a “gaijin” I will simply say “yes, I am British”.
      I take much more offense at being constantly called “amerika-jin”, this will result in my reply of “Are you Chinese?” if they become annoyed I will tell them thats how I feel cause, to use a cool phrase, “I! AM! BRITISH!!” ( but I don’t kick the down a well) do not assume based on skin colour.

      I take great offense at the word nigger being compared to the word gaijin.
      The “n” word (sorry I do find it offensive to even write it, so I will pussy foot around and use “n”) has a univesal negative meaning.
      If you take offense at the word Gaijin take that person to court, take anyone who uses it to court, sue them. make the thing public, but when doing this also remember that it will become an us and them issue.
      Personally I will take the word gaijin and embrace it as the fact that my roots are not Japanese. I will teach my kids to proudly say “Yes, I am part Gaijin” I will make the word gaijin a positive word.

      I have lived in Japan since I was 18 years old, I came here on my own to see the country. I fell in love with this strange often racist, often 3rd world place and stayed.
      I spent 9 years in North England, 9 years in south England and 14 years in Japan… where am I from, what are my roots? all my adult life has been in Japan. I am not Japanese and never even thought of becoming Japanese (changing nationality) I am quite happy to be me.
      Lets, instead of making this a negative word, we make it a positive word. English has thousands of cases of adopting a word, so does Japanese.
      Lets adopt this word with our own meaning, a proud and positive meaning.

    16. PnetQ Says:

      Before responding to your sequel, I would like to express my opinion on the term “gaijin.” I have already written some of these in my previous comments. I think I’ve made progress a little. Please allow me to be repetitive.

      (1) What “Gaijin” Means
      “Gaijin 外人”:
      People without Japanese citizenship among whom the Japanese assume there is a certain set of common attributes.

      “Gaikokujin 外国人”:
      People without Japanese citizenship. This term in itself has no ethnical implications. Thus similar to “foreigner.”

      In other words, the term “gaijin” is a combination of foreign citizenship and quasi-ethnicity. The intensity of ethnic elements “gaijin” brings about varies case by case. Very often its substantial meaning becomes close to “gaikokujin.”

      Because the Japanese society is not explicit about the distinction between nationality and ethnicity, if someone has Japanese citizenship, the person wouldn’t be counted as “gaijin,” regardless of his/her ethnicity.

      Many people criticize the term “gaijin”, saying that it is untenable because it is impossible to find a common attribute among such a wide variety of peoples. However, that the term “gaijin” can theoretically cover all the peoples across the world doesn’t necessarily mean that it always does so. Actually it varies context by context according to the Japanese people’s awareness. I think the present-day “gaijin,” without any particular context, means almost same as “Oubeijin (欧米人)” (Europeans and Americans) due to Japanese modern history.

      As time goes by, and the presence of other groups of people increases, the coverage and notion of “gaijin” get modified, enhanced and altered. When it gets to cover all the peoples in the world, “gaijin” becomes almost same as “gaikokujin.” On the other hand, stereotype phrases from old usage, such as “gaijin mitaini se ga takai” (to be tall like a gaijin) remain in use, and hold back the term in the old context. In a sense, ethnic elements in “gaijin” may be vestiges of the old context.

      (2) The Usage Which Should be Stopped
      I think the Japanese should stop using the term “gaijin” in Type 1 and 2 of its usage. (See below.)

      The characteristic of the term “gaijin”, in comparison to other terms such as “Gaikokujin,” “Oubeijin,” “Amerikajin (アメリカ人)” (American) and “hakujin (白人)” (Caucasian), is that it can be, and very often is, combined with “san,” a suffix of politeness. The other terms cannot, at least in usual usage. I don’t know why this difference is brought about. I suppose the preconceived attributes which “gaijin” has taken on make people regard it more familiar than other rather conceptual terms.

      “Gaijin-san” sounds very natural to the Japanese, and appears in daily conversations often. Only in this form of “gaijin-san”, the term “gaijin” can be used in Type 1 and 2. It must be noted that Type 1 is one of the characteristics of the Japanese language which you don’t find in European languages. In Japanese, second person pronouns such as “anata” and “kimi” are seldom used in conversations unless it is on very familiar terms. Instead, terms denoting the status of addressee such as “sensei (先生)” (teacher), “shacho (社長)” (president) or “okyaku-san (お客さん)” (customer) are used. The term “gaijin” functions in the same way. I suspect this may be one of the reasons why lots of foreign people feel disturbed when they find the term “gaijin-san” popping up in daily conversations.

      I propose Type 1 and 2 of the term “gaijin” should be stopped because, by these usages, the Japanese are imposing on foreign people a point of view which is only meaningful among themselves. I’m talking about that dichotomy of Japanese and Non-Japanese which the readers here criticize. I don’t think it is necessarily wrong for the Japanese to feel an issue of whether someone or something is Japanese or not is more important to them than an issue of whether someone or something is American or not. I think when an American person demands to be called “Amerikajin,” not “gaijin”, he is saying exactly the same thing. The Japanese haven’t realized why this can be offensive because they harbor no ill intentions with the term “gaijin.” Thus they keep imposing to foreign people a label which should have been kept only among themselves.

      While a foreign resident’s stay in Japan is still short yet, there may be many occasions where he/she has to deal with his/her status as a foreigner. During this period, it may not be so annoying to be called “gaijin.” However, as their life in Japan continues, and their status as a foreigner becomes less important in their lives, the annoyance will increase.

      Here is a point to my fellow Japanese: Stop using “gaijin” in Type 1 and 2 because we don’t need it. As I have written above, second person pronouns are avoided in conversations in Japanese. On top, there are many occasions where even substitutes for second pronouns such as “okyau-san” cannot be found. When two strangers who happen to meet on the street have to talk, there is no way for them to refer to the other person. They can keep talking effortlessly without referring to the other. The Japanese can do it when talking to another Japanese. Why not do it to a foreign person. There is no need to use “gaijin.” (I was reminded of this point by a response from one of the readers to my previous comment. Many thanks)

      (3) The Usage Which Should be Tolerated
      I think the term “gaijin” in Type 3, 4 and 5 of its usage (See below.) should be tolerated because: 1) The term “gaijin” is used effectively and meaningfully. 2) It has no derogatory meaning. 3) In this context, nothing is being imposed on foreign people. There are many arguments against the Japanese’ too much emphasis on “us and them” dichotomy and the Japanese “uniqueness.” Having admitted most of them, still I’m not persuaded that the Japanese language should strike out the term “gaijin” from its dictionary. When you observe the present state of the Japanese society fair-mindedly, it must be acknowledged that the term and notion of “gaijin” has a justifiable role to play. I think the Japanese are short-sighted if they don’t realize inappropriateness of imposing “gaijin” on foreign people by calling them so in conversations. However, if foreign people insist that the term “gaijin” is a racist word, and should not be used in any context, with or without involvement of Non-Japanese, I’m afraid it is a kind of short-sightedness on their side.

      (4) Five Types of the Usage of “Gaijin
      I classified the usage of “gaijin” into five Types, and add example sentences. I would like the readers to examine them yourselves, and find if they are derogatory or not. I hope you find them not. (I propose the Japanese should stop Type 1 and 2, anyway.) .

      Type 1: Reference to the Addressee/s
      ex.1)
      “Gaijin-san wa dochira ni osumai desuka?”
      (“May I ask you where you live?)

      Type 2: Independent Utterance to Call Attention
      ex.2)
      “Gaijin-san !”
      (“Excuse me !”)

      Type 3: Reference to the Third Person/s
      ex.3)
      “Kinou no gaijin-san wa gakusei-san desuka?”
      (“Is that Foreign guy who came yesterday a student?”)

      Type 4: As a Modifier
      ex.4)
      “Sakkino gaijin no okyaku-san kara denwa desuyo.”
      (“A call to you, from the foreign customer we had just now.”)

      Type 5: As a General Term
      ex.5)
      “Nihon ni iru gaijin-san wa Nihongo ga umai desu ne.”
      ex,6)
      “Nihon ni iru gaijin wa Nihongo ga umai ne.” (less polite)
      (“Foreign people in Japan are good at Japanese, aren’t they?”)

      (5) Responses to Debito’s Points
      Now, I would like to respond to the points Debito made in his sequel.

      Debito Says:
      I made the case that (the word “gaijin”) is a racist word, one that reinforces an “us-and-them” rubric towards foreigners and their children in Japan.

      I don’t think the first and second halves of your case are not necessarily same things. If the first one, “a racist word,” exists, the second will inevitably ensue. However, I don’t think every possible cause of the second should be described as “racist.” Do you mean it?

      I think in order for a word to be held as “racist”:
      1) The word should be being used, in a proper usage, as an intentional ethnic slur.
      2) And, if that is the case, the word should not be used in any context whatsoever, with or without the intention of users.

      I think neither of them can be applied to “gaijin.” I have written my case in detail above.

      Debito Says:
      ““Who decides whether a word is bad?” Is it the speaker using the word, or the person being addressed by it?
      If usage and intent become the speaker’s prerogative, then speakers get too much plausible deniability. …
      So if you don’t give priority to the listener’s feelings, you give the speakers with genuine malice (however few) an excuse and a cloaking device.”

      Neither the speaker nor the listener has the prerogative to decide. It is the shared understanding among the community of the language users to decide the meaning of a word. Without the respect to the shared understanding, language won’t function.

      Debiti Says:
      “In Japan, the debate on “ijime”, bullying in Japanese schools, favors the person being targeted. The person feels hurt, that’s enough.”

      In “ijime” cases, there were real victims. Those who unintentionally hurt the victims have responsibility for their lack of compassionate empathy at least. For the cases involving “victims,” I have proposed the Japanese stop using the word “gaijin,” although the reasoning is different from yours. However, by accusing the term as “racist,” you are demanding a blanket banning, including cases where no “victims” were involved. That’s unacceptable.

      Debito Says:
      “People like me who have lived here for many years, even assimilated to the point of taking citizenship, don’t want to be called “gaijin” anymore.”

      As I have written in my first comment to your original column and also in the opinion above, I am definitely against calling people like you “gaijin.” It must be made clear. However, the problem of people like you being called “gaijin” and the problem of the foreign people being called “gaijin” should be dealt with separately, however closely they are related. I’m afraid you are confusing your argument.

      Debito Says:
      “I’m a Japanese. An American-Japanese, an Amerika-kei Nihonjin. After years of outsiderdom, I want my Japanese status acknowledged. But I don’t want my roots denied either.”

      In this, I sincerely support you. That is what I have been wanting to the Japanese society to embrace. I just want you to be patient. Probably you know more than I do. Well, this society needs your contribution. Then, on some of what you do and say, I may disagree, like this time.

      Debito Says:
      I’m not the only one here advocating “gaijin”’s obsolescence. Japan’s media has reached the same conclusion and officially declared it a word unfit for broadcast.

      As I have repeatedly stated, it is the context that matters. That the TV stations ousted the term only means that the term was decided to be unfit in the context of broadcasting. Basically, the term “gaijin” is clearly spoken language. With or without such censorship, “gaijin” is not going to be used in broadcasting very often. This reason is not enough to deprive people of the term “gaijin” in their conversations.

      Debito Says:
      “So if you really must draw attention to somebody’s roots, and you can’t hyphenate or tell their nationality or ethnicity, it’s better to use “gaikokujin”.”

      If you are proposing that “gaijin” be used in my Type 3, 4 and 5, it would be possible. In many cases, they would be interchangeable. But the resulting sentences wouldn’t be same, not necessarily for the better. Personally, I prefer “gaijin” to “gaikokujin” in many cases. With the term “gaikokujin,” which is explicit about foreign citizenship, I feel as if I were alienating the person.

      Lastly, concerning the hotly-debated comparison of “gaijin” to N-word, I would like to add one thing. If your targeted audience is the Japanese, this comparison will work against what you want to achieve. Most Japanese, myself included, know nothing about N-word. They think they have nothing to do with it. With this word inserted in your argument on “gaijin,” they will lose their interest in your argument, and decide it is nonsense. I recommend you drop this.

    17. Alexander Says:

      I wish to God you’d drop the comparisons with “nigger” Debito, it doesn’t work no matter how hard you try to force it and it just distracts from other decent points. Please let it go.

    18. Dave Says:

      I think we should get rid of the English word “foreigner”, because of its exclusionary and offensive connotations.

    19. Lawrence Says:

      I agree with Peter Payne. You have a victim mentality. Or maybe you’re just promoting this whole “controversy” to further your own aim of becoming rich or famous or whatever.

    20. randomcommenter Says:

      So if the onus falls on the listener, and I, as the listener, am not bothered by gaijin, that means it’s no longer offensive? Or, rather, that the word is only offensive based on the listener? So for you, it’s offensive, for me, it’s not offensive, and we’re both right?

      That actually seems reasonable. Not “the word in itself is horrible and offensive!”, which is what I took away from the first article, but “the word is offensive to some, and not offensive to others. So if you want a word to express ‘foreigner’, then you should probably pick something like ‘gaikokujin’, which is offensive to almost nobody”? As much as I disagreed with your first article, this second one makes more sense (if, in fact, what you were trying to say was “the word gaijin is not, in itself, offensive, but many folks find it to be so, so don’t use it”. If you are still trying to say that the word is offensive, period, then you accidentally argued against yourself.)

      However, “People like me who have lived here for many years, even assimilated to the point of taking citizenship, don’t want to be called “gaijin” anymore.” That’s an absolute statement. There are some of us who have lived here for many years and don’t care. Don’t speak for everyone until you’ve actually asked everyone. What you meant was “Some / many people like me who have lived here for many years, even assimilated to the point of taking citizenship, don’t want to be called “gaijin” anymore.”

    21. HO Says:

      Debito: “Regarding the arguments about intent, i.e. “People use the word gaijin, but don’t mean it in a derogatory way”. The root issue here is, “Who decides whether a word is bad?” Is it the speaker using the word, or the person being addressed by it?”

      It seems you conclude that the word “gaijin” should be banned regardless of its meaning, since an addressee feels bad.

      I am still interested in whether the word has derogatory meaning. Many people here say, “gaijin is a pejorative word”, without giving any evidence. I have read your argument that the word meant “outsider” in the Tale of Heike written about 1000 years ago, but I believe it has no connection to modern usage of the word. I checked a couple of Japanese dictionaries and found none says it is pejorative. Does anyone have a piece of evidence?

      This reminds me of the word gay. They once said “Don’t call me homo sexual. Call me gay.” even if the word “homo sexual” did not have negative meaning. Now, my dictionary says “gay” is pejorative if used as in “gay as pink ink.”

      Respecting addressees’ feeling is noble, but if their feeling is based on misunderstandings, the result may be messy.

    22. Zurui Says:

      A very interesting debate! I’ve been lurking but I think that I need to weigh in and speak not only for myself but for others that have emailed me from Black Tokyo (BT). I will hopefully post one of my infamous long responses on BT before the end of the week (I will make sure to track back here).

      My brother-in-law taught his Japanese daughters to refer to “unknown” foreigners as gaikokujin if they are unsure of the nationality. My just about 90 year old grandmother-in-law uses gaikokujin but sometimes slips up and says gaijin. I give her a pass due to age and generation. I figure that if she can make an effort, others in Japan can also. I believe that all my Japanese relatives and friends (and I have many from my time spent (18-years total) in Japan [beginning in 1981] understands the difference between gaijin and kuronbo (nigger) and probably would not use the later.

      I have been called gaijin in Japan but the term that I normally get called in kokujin. Usually (almost immediately) I correct the speaker and have them refer to me by name, title, or nationality. If referring to folks in my native country, I tell the speaker to use American. I further give a quick lesson on diversity which leads to the offender wishing that the word gaijin was never sprayed my way.

      I do not like the word gaijin. Using it is taking the easy way out and does nothing but foster a type of racism. I am sure that some of the readers here have heard “gaijin” used in a derogatory manner. It sort of like a person saying, “those damn (fill in the nationality)” when you’re pissed off that someone has taken “your” job, moved to “your” country, one of “them” starting banging “your” precious daughter, or whatever else earns “those…”

      Politicians like Ishihara can break gaijin down and instead use sankokujin to slam the point home. The drunk dude in the shotengai that used his face to catch the force of my friends foot probably knows that he should never use the word “kuronbo” in an attempt to piss off some random “buraku” guy. Now he probably knows that gaijin (commonly used for caucasians) is safe and may not get a rise from those of the darker persuasion. Many Japanese my age that I meet at an izakaya or soul bar use “brotha” when referring to me and other “black men” from America.

      My wife got a close and personal observation of how gaijin is used in business. We visited a realtor to lease an apartment or a house. The agent made calls to numerous owners and most said no deal in renting to gaijin. Some homeowners would rent to gaijin if my wife (a.k.a. Japanese, safe, and a link to the parents if something went wrong) signed. I said NO to that! However, ONE homeowner said OK to rent to gaijin. The homeowner posed a question to the realtor. My wife and I did not hear the question but the realtor’s body language and his response to the question seemed like someone dropped a nuke on my wife. “Anooooooo kokujin desu!” Ahhh, he’s black! Not American, not just gaijin, but kokujin! My wife was frickin’ livid!

      The agent spend another 30 or so seconds on the phone, hung up and proceeded to apologize for not being able to find us an apartment. Another agent walks in, recognizes me from TV commercials and print ads and proceeds to get an update from his partner. The second agent calls the last homeowner, explains that he can vouch for me and states that I am an American with over a decade in Japan. He also told the homeowner that I was a talento (ching, money, call the Fuji TV or TBS if something goes wrong). The owner agreed to rent and my wife refused to have me give drop even one yen. In the end, we found a GREAT person to rent from and I sent many of my “non-Japanese” friends to my realtor.

      Well, I warned you about my long posts but remember, there are “gaijin” out there that still stand by the lie that Japanese are clueless when it comes to racial matters. I always tell them to try the “Guess who’s coming to dinner” test. This works especially well if a Japanese daughter is involved.

      The bottom line for me is that gaijin does not carry the same meaning, meanness or historical message as the N word. And, the N word by definition does not equate to Blacks, Africans, African Americans and other “dark” people by default! That is why Paul Mooney said that if you quickly say the N word three times, your teeth will turner whiter.

      Again, good debate. Now if only people would be as passionate about housing discrimination.

    23. Zurui Says:

      I forgot the fail safe way to understanding the difference between “gaijin” and “nigger” for those in Japan.

      Find a group of African-American men (US military, random dudes working on the local economy, other) and ask: “Are there a lot of gaijin around here?”

      Wait for a response.

      Then ask: “Are there usually a lot of niggers around here?”

      Wait for a response.

      If the response is the same, case closed!

    24. HO Says:

      Zurui, so you are such an expert of Japanese language as to teach Japanese lessons to a 90 year old native speaker. And everybody around you should not use the word ‘gaijin’ just because you do not like it?

      Would you give me an expert’s view? What is the politically correct Japanese translation by your definition of the word “a black person”, as you do not accept “kokujin”? (Dont tell me “brotha” is a Japanese word.) I agree with you that the use of “kuronbo” is offensive, but if you keep eliminating Japanese words that mean a black person, you end up with no word for black.

    25. randomcommenter Says:

      You don’t really have to be an expert in a language to correct a native speaker, you just have to know that one item you’re correcting. I work with a non-native English speaker whose English is good but not perfect, but if he told a 90 year old native English speaker “don’t call black people ‘coloreds’”, I wouldn’t think “Hey, your English isn’t good enough to make that correction”.

      Also, I don’t see anywhere where he says that he doesn’t accept “kokujin” as politically correct. He’s attacking it being used where it’s totally needless. That’s a big, huge difference. Like the word “Jewish”. Is that politically incorrect? No. But if you’re Jewish, would you be offended if your realtor was talking to a prospective landlord and says “Yes, I have a Jewish gentleman here who would like to rent your apartment”? Probably. Not because “Jewish” is a bad word, but because what the fuck does that have to do with renting an apartment??

    26. HO Says:

      The old lady used the word “gaijin”, because she was certain it carries no negative meaning. Actually, majority of the native speakers of Japanese agree that “gaijin” is not pejorative. Yet, you say Japanese should not use the word.

      I think the old lady stopped using “gaijin” just because she understood that Zurui does not like people around him to use the word and she wants to be nice to him. But at the same time, I bet, she feels the case vindicates the false but wide spread notion in Japan that blacks are egocentric and do not admit facts if the facts are against their agenda.

      Most of Japanese think this whole gaijin thing is a false accusation, and may start disrespecting foreigners because of it.

      –You’re starting to tread on very presumptive, even dangerous ground here, HO, when you say, “majority of the native speakers of Japanese agree that “gaijin” is not pejorative” (what’s your evidence?), and “the false but wide spread notion in Japan that blacks are egocentric and do not admit facts if the facts are against their agenda” (what’s your evidence again, and when did you start speaking on behalf of all Japanese?).

      I will let this comment through, but will delete if Zurui finds it offensive.

    27. TJJ Says:

      HO,

      If you read back to what he said, I don’t think Zurui was saying that he was correcting his grandmother’s language. He said he gave her a (free) pass, specifically because of her age.

    28. zurui Says:

      HO: Zurui, so you are such an expert of Japanese language as to teach Japanese lessons to a 90 year old native speaker. And everybody around you should not use the word ‘gaijin’ just because you do not like it?”

      I do not like the word if someone knows my nationality, name or title and uses gaijin to refer to me. I consider it rude! My obaachan does not use it when I am around out of respect. I teach people older than me on a daily basis so there is no shame in my game.

      HO: Would you give me an expert’s view? What is the politically correct Japanese translation by your definition of the word “a black person”, as you do not accept “kokujin”? (Dont tell me “brotha” is a Japanese word.) I agree with you that the use of “kuronbo” is offensive, but if you keep eliminating Japanese words that mean a black person, you end up with no word for black.

      ZURUI: “Anooooooo kokujin desu!” Ahhh, he’s black! Not American, not just gaijin, but kokujin! My wife was frickin’ livid!

      My wife was pissed off because gaijin was fine but “kokujin” was not in. The color of my skin prevented me from receiving an apartment. I ran into the same problem in Osaka. I got around it by registering a Japanese name and not showing my face until the day I needed to pick up my keys!

      I do not know how long you have resided in Japan but if you do not know the distinction made in the use of gaijin or kokujin, you will continue to miss the point. Brotha is used and understood by younger Japanese (e.g., those that like urban culture, manga, language) and the oyajis (those in my age group) that dealt with the military during the Vietnam War, the era of disco, life abroad, other. Brotha is used like many other loan (katakana) words in Japan. As I stated before if you know my or another persons name, why is there the need to define me (us) as Black vice American? I could understand if it was used to compare something or in a study.

      Kokujin is not derogatory and is used in such terms as kokujin-ongaku (black music). Some PC folks in Japan have referred to me as Africa-kei Amerikajin. Many (usually non-Blacks in my experience) will say that Black is not a country so it is incorrect to refer to people from the continent of Africa as black. Black is not a nationality, it is an experience. An experience that American-Africans and African-Americans encounter on a daily basis. When referring to nationality I am American. If you need some census data, the one-drop rule, would have me fall into the Black, African, non-Hispanic category unless the Obama rule is used against me.

      Randomcommenter: Super duper ditto on your comment!

      @ Debito: No offense taken but you know I thrive on ASSumptions from others!

      @ HO: My grandmom-in-law respects me as a person. I have zero problems with my in-laws and actually when I visit the numerous relatives across Japan it turns into a Q & A session. MOST Japanese that I have met bombard me with questions, especially if they have never met a “kokujin” before. I am usually the first one to fight BS ads and imagery in the media. I usually work in the shadows because of my profession but I get things done in Japan and in America. Since I have the opportunity to force (if necessary) change, I may seem egocentric but what US Marine, interrogator, intelligence analyst, national security affairs analyst, or dude with an afro isn’t?

      In the end, although I will provide an explanation, it is not about what you think but about me being selfish and fighting for what “I” believe in!

      Thanks for the comments! BTW, feel free to post on Black Tokyo if you want additional feedback.

    29. Philip Says:

      Hello,

      This is the first time for me to post here. I find this discussion interesting. Gaijin–purely my opinion as a white American/Japanese mix–isn’t a racist word. I agree that some people will take offense, and gaikokujin should be used.

      I strongly disagree that it could every be compared with such an offensive word such as the n-word. It could be compared with Oriental being used for Asians. Which is considered offensive, quote (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Oriental):
      Usage Note: Asian is now strongly preferred in place of Oriental for persons native to Asia or descended from an Asian people. The usual objection to Oriental—meaning “eastern”—is that it identifies Asian countries and peoples in terms of their location relative to Europe. However, this objection is not generally made of other Eurocentric terms such as Near and Middle Eastern. The real problem with Oriental is more likely its connotations stemming from an earlier era when Europeans viewed the regions east of the Mediterranean as exotic lands full of romance and intrigue, the home of despotic empires and inscrutable customs. At the least these associations can give Oriental a dated feel, and as a noun in contemporary contexts (as in the first Oriental to be elected from the district) it is now widely taken to be offensive. However, Oriental should not be thought of as an ethnic slur to be avoided in all situations. As with Asiatic, its use other than as an ethnonym, in phrases such as Oriental cuisine or Oriental medicine, is not usually considered objectionable.

      In the same sense, gaikokujin should be strongly preferred over gaijin for a person that is native to a place outside of Japan or decedents of that place. In the case of the n-word, black person or African-American (if American) is ALWAYS preferred over the n-word. If any non-black says the n-word in any context, (this is total speculation but) a vast majority of black people would find it offensive.

      Just my 2 sen.

    30. TJJ Says:

      Philip

      Just 2 sen? That’s mighty niggardly of you!

      Sorry couldn’t resist.

    31. Bill Says:

      Let’s counterpunch Debito!

      To all those non-native residents of Japan who, like me, take no offense at the term gaijin, let’s go Debito one better. I propose that we actively promote the use of the term gaijin. And, to reinforce the idea that we don’t mind making appropriate distinctions, let’s take every opportunity to point out to our Japanese hosts not only the gaijin in their midst, but also the essentially gaijin “things” that surround us all.

      For example, make sure to note that every time a Japanese consumes a hamburger, enjoys a French meal or even a bowl of ramen, they are in fact partaking of gaijin food. Beer, wine, coke and coffee? Gaijin beverages. Baseball? A gaijin sport. Suits and dresses? Gaijin attire. Buddhism? A gaijin religion. Kanji? Somewhat modified but, still, fundamentally a gaijin system of communication.

      Look around, the examples are endless. Let’s call a spade a spade. Unlike Debito, don’t be afraid to distinguish between native and non-native. It’ll make life so much easier.

    32. Fred Says:

      How anybody possibly be offended by being called gaijin? David, you seem like a guy that dont like Japanese society and the people of Japan, or rather, their customs. If you keep being so offended by living there, why dont you go back to america and stay there?

      Your whole argumententations about so many things in general, but this thing in particular, is just absolutely wrong and it discusts me that any gaijin would go out in public they way you do and drag down the public image of gaijins in Japan by acting like you own the place and trying to tell the Japanese what to do.

      Political correctness, in any form, is never a good thing. Im from Sweden, and here it has gone so far that we have, for example:

      -special discriminatory rules for public recreation facilities so that muslims can swim and excersize in private from the dhimmis (the rest of the countrys population). They have also made sure that the muslim women have no right of accessing the facilities that the men can enjoy. This in the name of “anti-discrimination” and “integration”.
      -media actively supresses any information about foreigners that commit crimes like assault and rape, and actively fuels news about the few times native swedes commit violent crimes.
      -the government, acting on behalf on the PC lobbyists, have stopped keeping records on ethnicity in any sort of criminal content. Even though, for example, Somali men are notorious for chewing narcotic substance “khat”, which is illegal in our country, the government now actively try to hide the numbers and claim that it is a sudden newfound interest in certain drugs among native swedes that have dragged up the numbers.
      -allowed halal meat, even though we used to have very strict rules for sedating and slaughtering animals in a humane fashion.

      and so on, and so on. My country is taking huge steps backwards on pretty much every major field of the welfare and safe atmosphere it used to be so famous for, all in the name of political correctness. This has led to a massive surge for the nationalist parties, which spells lots of trouble for the immigrants residing here that DONT cause any trouble and DONT demand being treated specially because of, imagined or real, religious, political or ethnic reasons (the asian community especially).

      What Im trying to say is that you should start loving Japan for what it is. Nobody likes a whiner. Youre not Japanese and never will be, so get used to it or go back to where you belong.

    33. Matthew Says:

      Hi Fred–you got problems with Sweden–talk to them. Two different worlds.

      “Nobody likes a whiner. Youre not Japanese and never will be, so get used to it or go back to where you belong.”

      I am loving this—what an arrogant prick you are.

      Your simplistic take on the reality of life in japan makes me almost cry. Have you lived in Japan for more than 10years? Have you bought a house? Have you had children? have you buried parents and grandparents? If no–then fuck you! You dare to tell us who have done these things to “go back to where we belong”!!! I want to smack you in the face for such bullshit.

      I hope to meet you one day and you can say “Nobody likes a whiner. Youre not Japanese and never will be, so get used to it or go back to where you belong.” to my face. I really really want to have that experience.

      matthew

      Oh I forgot—-fuck you!

    34. randomcommenter Says:

      “If you keep being so offended by living there, why dont you go back to america and stay there?”

      Perhaps he’s even more offended being in America? I complain about Japan a lot, but I stay, because even though it’s full of stuff I dislike, America is even MORE full.

    35. Neath Oum Says:

      Just because you are personally offended by the use of the word “gaijin” doesn’t mean the word itself is racist. Also, there is a difference between being a Japanese citizen and a Japanese individual. To me, you are not Japanese since you were not born or raised in Japan. I’m going to continue using the word “gaijin” as it part of my right to free speech. If you don’t like it, as many law professors would say, avert your eyes or cover your ears. I’m going to call people “gaijin” just as I am one…if you don’t like it, too bad for you. It is my personal liberty to speak as I wish.

      If I ever meet you, and call you a “gaijin”, does that make me racist?

      Side note, your efforts to get rid of the word “gaijin” doesn’t seem like an effort to fight for your rights, but an attempt to rob others of personal liberties. So I will continue to “get in (your) way”

      To everyone who says you are tired of being called “gaijin”, do people who use the word have to change their speaking habits because you yourselves are offended? You might as well ask everyone to stop using profanity and censor that as well.

      Neath Oum

    36. matthew Says:

      To me the word is not about racism–although there is a legitimate argument to be made on that front. It is about respect.

      Japanese has a word for people from other countries—gaikokujin—it is a fine word and I have no problems with it.

      So if you call me gaijin–it just shows that you have no respect for me. I dont know about you, but i dont tolerate disrespect.

    37. PnetQ Says:

      Neath

      Thank you for speaking for those Japanese who use the term “gaijin” without any bad intentions.

      It is long since the Japanese noticed the term has been made an issue among foreign people in Japan. Some Japanese may choose not to use it because they don’t want to offend others. Yet they don’t know why it is offensive, or believe it is based on misunderstanding on the side of foreign people. Some Japanese may feel insulted, being denied their intentions, and dictated how to use their language.

      However, it is an undeniable fact that many foreign people in Japan have been offended to various degrees by the term. Even those who say they don’t care being called “gaijin” admit a sense of annoyance once in a while. I think unless the Japanese really understand why the term can be offensive to foreign people, and also unless foreign people really understand how it can be used meaningfully and without any negative connotations among the Japanese, this term won’t stop being an issue.

      We may be able to classify the cases where foreign people are offended by the term “gaijin” in two: bad behavior and dysfunctional communication. Having read all the comments posted by the readers since this topic started being discussed in this site, I am appalled that many Japanese are acting inconsiderately, lacking sense of respect to others. Something must be done about this.

      I have already argued about dysfunctional communication in my previous comment although I didn’t use this term. The idea is that the term “gaijin” is necessary to the Japanese to express their perception of reality, but the perception is only from the Japanese point of view. It cannot be shared with foreign people. Therefore, calling to and describing foreign people by “gaijin” in conversations involving them amounts to imposing on foreign people a point of view which is meaningless to them.

      Neath, you say you find no problem being called “gaijin” by Japanese people close to you. I’m glad to hear that. You share the point of view with them. In old days, those who learned Japanese were interested in Japan as such. As a result, they assumed the Japanese point of view. Probably they may not have found a problem with the term “gaijin.”

      However, this is not the case with many foreign people living in Japan now. They choose to live in Japan and want to be part of the society, with their own identities and viewpoints retained. Seen from this aspect, this issue is not about the sameness, but acknowledging the different points of view resulting in language between the Japanese and foreign people.

      Now, here is a very important point to you, Neath.

      Your understanding of the term “gaijin” is wrong. People like Debito, those who have Japanese citizenship but are not ethnically Japanese, should not, and cannot, be regarded as “gaijin.”

      You seem to be trying to make a clear distinction between citizenship and ethnicity by saying “there is a difference between being a Japanese citizen and a Japanese individual.” That is a very important point which the Japanese society hasn’t started to tackle yet. As I have written in my previous comment, the notion of “gaijin” is a combination of foreign citizenship and quasi-ethnicity. If a person has Japanese citizenship, he/she is not a “gaijin.”

      The remaining problem is that the notion of “Japanese” is also a combination of citizenship and ethnicity. Debito wants to be identified as American-Japanese. I agree on this. Then what am I to be called? Japanese-Japanese? We don’t have an appropriate term yet. For the moment, though, it must be made clear. People like Debito shouldn’t be called “gaijin” by the Japanese, or by foreign people either.

      Neath, I appreciate your commitment to the Japanese society. Thank you again for defending innocent Japanese speakers and the term “gaijin.”

      The term “gaijin” is NOT A RACIST WORD!

      Matthew

      I agree with you in the sense that it is about respect.

      To be honest, it is difficult for me to understand why foreign people hear the term “gaijin” as often as the readers testify here. Surely, many Japanese are not acting in the way I deem decent.

      I don’t think the situation will be improved much if we replace “gaijin” with “gaikokujin.” If Japanese people keep calling a foreign person “gaikokujin” in spite of the fact they know his/her name, title or nationality, I think it constitutes disrespect.
      I don’t know if you agree with my argument that the term “gaijin” can be justifiably used among the Japanese. However, I hope if the Japanese understand my proposal, and use the term accordingly, the chances of your hearing “gaijin,” and “gaikokujin”, will be reduced considerably.

    38. Neath Oum Says:

      If you don’t like being called gaijin then avert your eyes or cover your ears. No one is forcing you to listen to me. I should not be forced to give up my right to speak freely just because you feel disrespected. Everyone has the right to free speech (it is a law). The price of living in a democratic country is that you will hear and see things that you don’t like due to people having different ideas. If you don’t like that other people have different ideas, then perhaps you chose to live in the wrong country.

      I could just as easily say that you saying “F–ck you” or other forms of profanity is disrespectful to anyone who can see it or is within ear shot, no matter who you say it to. Am I asking you to change your speaking habits?

      Tolerate disrespect? You saying that everyone who uses the word gaijin is racist in my eyes is even more disrespectful. To me, you saying that I can’t call people gaijin means you are robbing me of my personal liberties. Who is the villian now?

      I don’t owe you any respect to begin with. I especially don’t owe you any now since according to you I’m racist despite the fact that to me the word gaijin is not racist at all. Heaven forbid I have my own definition for the word and use it as I see fit. My former homestay family, my significant other, and my friends call me gaijin. I call myself a gaijin, and I call everyone who wasn’t born or raised in Japan gaijin. I see no racism in it. Because you feel disrespected, should any of us be forced to give up our personal freedoms?

    39. Neath Oum Says:

      Reponse to Matthew,

      Please consider the following:
      1) I will exercise my right to free speech and use the term gaijin as I wish
      2) You feel disrespected by the term gaijin and will no tolerate its use

      Add these two together:
      You will no tolerate other people exercising their right to free speech.

      That sounds alot like what a dictator would say. Should I and others ask for your permission on what words we can and cannot use? If it bothers you so much, then perhaps you chose the wrong country to live in. If you don’t like people exercising their right to speak freely, then perhaps a country where the right speak freely is suppressed would better suit you?

      Whether you feel disrespected or not is irrelevant. It is my right to speak and use whatever words I wish.

      I don’t owe you any respect to begin with. I am going to continue to use the word gaijin. If you don’t like it, then unfortunately for you, my right to speak freely is protected under Japanese law.

      Others don’t feel disrespect at the being called gaijin, including me. Should I or anyone else be robbed of our civil rights and liberties just because you feel disrespected?

      Banning the word gaijin seems more like an attempt by you to force your ideas of what is right and wrong onto other people.

      –Your arguments are starting to repeat themselves. Please make new ones or combine your responses to individuals in one post.

    40. JJ Says:

      I am half American and half Japanese. I’ve been called a nigger and I have been called a gaijin. They are not the same. Nothing I can say can explain the feeling of being called a nigger. Even when I think about being called one, it is very unsettling and fills me with mixed emotions of pain and anger. For me, Gaijin, like most words depends on the context. It can be good, neutral or bad. So at least to me, the words are no where near the same.

      As far as gaijin being a “bad” word or “good” word. From what I can gather from reading all the comments and talking to people that I know, it seems to depend on whether the person being called a Gaijin finds it offensive. To me, not so offensive but I have had the experience of being discriminated in much worse ways, so maybe that is why the word has less or no effect on me. But I praise you in this battle because even if 25%-50% of the non-Japanese (when I say non-Japanese I mean ethically/genetically, which is going into another argument) find the word offensive that is a convincing enough argument to say the word is offensive.

      I guess, just thinking out loud.

    41. Fred Says:

      “Hi Fred–you got problems with Sweden–talk to them. Two different worlds.”

      Denineatly. And what Im trying to say is Id like to keep it that way. I dont want Japan to go down the same drain my country has.

      “Your simplistic take on the reality of life in japan makes me almost cry. Have you lived in Japan for more than 10years? Have you bought a house? Have you had children? have you buried parents and grandparents? If no–then fuck you! You dare to tell us who have done these things to “go back to where we belong”!!! I want to smack you in the face for such bullshit.”

      I, like any one foreigner in Japan, has of course been subject to alternative treatment. But I recognize the Japanese peoples right to treat me differently if they choose to. And if you dont like, or accept that that is part of living in Japan, then get out and try and find someplace else to live (somwhere you can feel like you belong, somewhere you dont have to wake up pissed off every morning at your fellow man). Whining is just going to contribute to MORE negative feelings and MORE alternative treatment for gaijins. Its defineatly NOT going to change the way people treat you positively. If you all want respect, then start by looking at how we gaijins must appear from a Japanese perspective, and start trying to change their negative image by changing YOUR OWN behaviour and other GAJINS behaviour rather than trying to force the Japanese to change theirs. What possible right do you have to do that? And ask yourself, how would you like it if a bunch of Japanese moved into wherever youre from and started demanding all sorts of special treatment from the locals?

      Recognize the fact that Japan doesnt work or want to work the same way western countries do on alot of fields, and that that is a good thing. Expecting a certain standard of treatment, or anything else for that matter, just because Japanese people get a certain degree of it in the west, is SO western and sort of imperialistic. It implies that you can come somewhere and know better than the people that live there how to live their lives. Who are you to tell them? You think that because youve had kids in Japan and lived there for a hundred years, that you know more about Japan than the rest of us and that you certainly wouldnt make the numerous “beginners mistakes” that other gaijins do coming into Japan. But really your still the same old western imperialist coming somewhere and trying to opress people and tell them what to do.

      Please stop doing that, because we who recognize true diversity and other peoples right to their own national psyche and culture will suffer from it (and note that Im saying this to YOU, not the Japanese public).

    42. matthew Says:

      Well–where to begin. You (Fred and Neath Oum) have superimposed your opinions on what I said without understanding what i said.

      #1–Free speech—you are welcome to all the free speech you want. And you are right I have no choice but to hear it or avert my ears. But lets follow your point–I guess I will start referring to my neighbors and friends as Japs. No worries it is free speech . Hey Jap–it is hot today isnt it? Hey Jap–did you watch the Giants game? Hey Jap–who are you going to vote for? Hey Jap– did you see the latest sumo match? Or what about Nip–it is really only a shortened version of Nipponjin. Hey Nip–hows that new car? Hey Nip–did you buy a new TV? Hey Nip–why didnt you separate your plastics and glass?
      No worries baby–free speech.

      Yeah–Free speech rules!

      #2 Western Imperialism—I am not trying to “oppress” people and tell them what to do. Gaijin has a negative context–even for japanese people. Just ask any Japanese person this question—” If you went to a foreign country and someone called you gaijin–how would you feel?” Their answers will not be in the enjoyment spectrum.

      I (and many others) are not asking for special treatment—hell-we have lived here long enough WITHOUT special treatment—we arent even ASKING for people to change their vocabulary. We are just trying to raise the awareness that words mean things. And when you call me gaijin—you are demeaning and disrespecting me.

      I will state again—gaijin means outsider—hell look at the kanji–this isnt some kind of shortened word like remocon–this is a distinctly different word. And those who play that it is ok to be called an outsider after years and years of living and working and going through all the trials of life in a country are full of it. It is the height of disrespect . I am NOT an outsider. I am–truthfully from another county and so can rightfully be called a gaikokujin–but I am not an outsider—by the fact that I have lived in this country, buried family in this country, raised children in this country and contributed to this country in countless and immeasurable ways.

      I am imposing no imperialism, I am standing up for my rights to be acknowledged and respected as a member of this society.

      Why you two cannot see this is beyond me.

    43. DR Says:

      Do people actually call you guys “gaijin” so many times? Don’t they use your name? If they know you and call you gaijin, that is pretty rude.
      “Hey gaijin, it is hot today, isn’t it?” sounds pretty rude, but replacing “gaijin” with “gaikokujin” would not solve the problem.
      I think it depends on the context. In what way do the Japanese call you guys “gaijin”?

      If they don’t know you, they can refer to you like this:

      Achira no gaijin no kata (That gaijin over there) …….Bad
      Achira no gaikokujin no kata (That gaikokujin over there) …….Still Bad
      Achira no aoi shatsu o kiteiru kata (That gentleman/lady with a blue shirt)……Good

      What do you think? Any more suggestions? I bet Japanese people would love this kind of stuff. They just don’t know how to be polite to NJ.

    44. matthew Says:

      The post i was referring to stated that they could call me gaijin and if I did not like it i should just avert my ears. By that logic there is nothing wrong with my using Nip and Jap. I exploded in hyperbole to illustrate the shallowness of such an argument. And I am afraid you have got it wrong. Gaijin means outsider. Debito even explained the origins of the word in his first post. And really think about it. How/why would a country that was isolated and closed for much of its history even develop such a word. It was developed to refer to those outside of the group.

      Think about the history and the physical conditions of Japan. 500 years ago few people traveled around Japan. People living in Aomori had little or no knowledge of any other people or place in Japan. On the strange occasion that a visitor from another part arrived, they would certainly look at that person with suspicion and In the past people from Kyushu might have used to to describe people who arrived from Honshu or vice versa. Not a fellow “Japanese” but an outsider.

      Those of us who have made this country our home are not outside the group. That is my point. Call us canadianjin, or francejin, or gaikokujin–if you dont know our origins. But stop calling us outsiders. We are not. And yes, i do tell the people around me that they can call me by my name, nationality, or gaikokujin. And I have had discussions with many many japanese people about the nuances and use of gaijin. It is a term that shows a lack of respect.

    45. PnetQ Says:

      Matthew,

      Born and raised in Japan, I don’t mind if you call me “Jap” or “Nip,” as long as you don’t mean it derogatorily. However, if I were your neighbor, and you kept speaking to me in all your example situations, “Hey, Japanese,” I would still start wondering why this guy speaks to me this way. I think this is what is happening to you. The problem is not in the term “gaijin” itself, but in that it is appearing in inappropriate places too often. Generally speaking, if it’s among neighbors who recognize each other, but don’t know their names, words referring to the addressee are not going to be used. If it’s among friends, their names must be no doubt the most natural and preferable choice. The term “gaijin” has no place in these situations.

      All your examples are translated into Japanese sentences with “gaijin-san.” “Gaijin,” without “san,” can never be used in these situations. I think the existence of “gaijin-san” tends to make the Japanese careless about its usage. While I reckon it is strange if your friends call to you “gaijin-san,” your neighbors who don’t know your name may find it an appropriate word to speak to you. They have no derogatory meaning in the term. “San” may not be especially polite, but is polite enough among neighbors. Thus they don’t understand how this term can be offensive to you. The Japanese should realize this. I’m afraid, though, to claim the term “gaijin” is a racist word is not the best way to persuade them out of it.

      You say you have no problem with “gaikokujin.” I think it is because “gaijin,” a colloquial word, is by far more often used in conversations, and heard to you than “gaikokujin.” I suppose there are many cases where both “gaijin” and “gaikokujin” are being used, and neither of them is appropriate. If a Japanese who knows you nationality refers to you as “gaijin” or “gaikokujin,” it constitutes disrespect. Thus both words can become offensive for the same reason.

      Matthew Says:
      “Just ask any Japanese person this question — ” If you went to a foreign country and someone called you gaijin, — how would you feel?” Their answers will not be in the enjoyment spectrum.”

      As you suggest, the Japanese are very likely to be disturbed by being called “gaijin” while overseas. However I don’t think it is because the term “gaijin” has derogatory or negative meanings. I have written my analysis in my comment, #45 in another page with the following link.
      http://www.debito.org/?p=1875
      I’d be glad if you could read it. (It is not an excessively long piece like my other comments.)

    46. Fred Says:

      “#1–Free speech—you are welcome to all the free speech you want. And you are right I have no choice but to hear it or avert my ears. But lets follow your point–I guess I will start referring to my neighbors and friends as Japs. No worries it is free speech . Hey Jap–it is hot today isnt it? Hey Jap–did you watch the Giants game? Hey Jap–who are you going to vote for? Hey Jap– did you see the latest sumo match? Or what about Nip–it is really only a shortened version of Nipponjin. Hey Nip–hows that new car? Hey Nip–did you buy a new TV? Hey Nip–why didnt you separate your plastics and glass?
      No worries baby–free speech.

      Yeah–Free speech rules!”

      1. Like others have already mentioned, the polls that have been made show that a majority of the gaijins dont mind being called gaijins. Thats where the argument that it is the recipient who decides what is offensive and what is not fails, because obviously the majority of recipients dont find it offensive at all.
      2. Japanese that use the word gaijin never or extremely rarely use it to actively make you offended. Just look at the politeness in a sentece from a person, for example someone who is in a serviceposition to you. A sentence can, without being contradictory, sarcastic or ironic at all (but instead sincere) contain both honorifics like sashiagemasu, itadakimasu, kudasaimasu, go- this and o-that AND the word gaijin. So then how can it be some kind of derogatory term?
      3. That leads me to the conclusion that words like “nip”, “gook” and so on are quite different because they are 1. offending to the recipients and 2. being said by senders who intentionally want to offend the recipients.

      “#2 Western Imperialism—I am not trying to “oppress” people and tell them what to do. Gaijin has a negative context–even for japanese people. Just ask any Japanese person this question—” If you went to a foreign country and someone called you gaijin–how would you feel?” Their answers will not be in the enjoyment spectrum.

      I (and many others) are not asking for special treatment—hell-we have lived here long enough WITHOUT special treatment—we arent even ASKING for people to change their vocabulary. We are just trying to raise the awareness that words mean things. And when you call me gaijin—you are demeaning and disrespecting me.”

      I just dont see how it is NOT very western, very imperialistic and very AMERICAN to come somewhere and dictate new rules because you know better. Thats what this comes down to. You dont care if the british gaijins or german gaijins dont mind being called gaijins, because YOURE offended and thats all that seem to matter. And how is it NOT asking for special treatment when the Japanese actually DO use intentionally offensive and disregarding words for blacks, chinese and so on? White gajins are way better off being called simply gaijins, but still youre not satisfied and yes, you ARE asking for special treatment. You claim to just want to raise awareness about that “words mean things”, but isnt the end result you expect from that conclusion about Japanese laying down the use of the word gaijin? Yes it is. And if so, how is that NOT trying to actively impose new “rules” about in what ways the Japanese have a right to their own language, national psyche, mentality and culture? I think that the Japanese public would find it way more offensive that youre trying to impose these new rules on to them than you ever will be offended from being called gaijin.

      Another very un-Japanese thing you do is to glorify your “immeasureable contributions” to Japanese society, something a Japanese person would probably never do.

      Last, Id like to wrap this up with my opinion about what the word actually means and what I think of the words usage. There is large disagreement whether the word even means “outsider” in the english language sense of the word “outsider”. I, like Philip, think it does not, since it not used that way in any other context in which one would like to describe someone being an outsider.

      Also, most Japanese dont use the word gaijin all the time because at times its quite impractical, and it wouldnt make any sense to replace it with gaikokujin in lots of sentences because they would still sound weird. You wouldnt have a random Japanese person walking up to you in the street and ask “Hey gaijin/gaikokujin! What time is it?” now would you? Instead, they would use the normal “Excuse me, do you have the time? Thankyou”.

      The conclusion is that no matter what word you try and force people to use, even the words you would rather be called could still be used in a disrespectful and demeaning way if thats what the speaker would want to do. So actually the whole debate is quite pointless.

    47. DR Says:

      Matthew’s claim is like, “Alien means extraterrestrial monster. I am not a monster.”

      500 years ago, Portuguese and Spaniards were called “nan-ban-jin” (southern barbarians).

      Which do you prefer? Monster, barbarian, or outside person? Your choice.

      In Japanese, outsider is yosomono. This word surely has malicious connotations.

      Matthew doesn’t seem to know much about Japan.

    48. matthew Says:

      Fred–your right. The debate is becoming pointless. Agree to disagree about the word gaijin–fine by me. You have no problems with it –then go your merry way. I do have problems with it and when i encounter it I will point out to people my concerns. As PnetQ says the incidents of gaijin are rather limited and, personally, have declined a lot since i first came here.

      And dont misquote me. I never said my “immeasureable contributions”.

    49. Behan Says:

      Fred, Debito is not a gajiin and therefore he shouldn’t be called a gaijin. People are making the decision that he is a ‘gaijin’ based on the color of his skin.

    50. DR Says:

      Behan Says:
      Fred, Debito is not a gajiin and therefore he shouldn’t be called a gaijin. People are making the decision that he is a ‘gaijin’ based on the color of his skin.

      But who actually calls him ‘gaijin’ in real world? His students? Colleagues? Neighbors? Strangers? Friends?
      I don’t think people call you guys gaijin.

    51. matthew Says:

      DR–are you arguing that gaijin doesnt mean outsider?

      Is this really going to slide into an “I know more about Japan than you” debate?

    52. PnetQ Says:

      I would like to sum up what I have been arguing so far, and add a bit more.

      (1) Both the Japanese and Foreign People Need to Know Each Other’s Point of View
      It would be fair to say the readers are divided into two groups, those who think the term “gaijin” itself has a negative meaning and those who think it is the context that makes the word a problem. The corollary is: there are two sides in the discussion, those who argue “gaijin” shouldn’t be used under any circumstances vs. those who think there may be occasions where it is used permissibly.

      I have been arguing the term “gaijin” shouldn’t be used in conversations involving foreign people, but can be permissibly used among the Japanese themselves. I’m not promoting whispering bad words behind the back of foreign people. My reasoning is that the term in itself is not a negative term, but doesn’t make sense to foreign people. On the other hand, it can be used effectively enough among the Japanese in the present state of the Japanese society.

      This problem is not about governmental procedures or business practices. It cannot be resolved by new legislation or a change in regulations. Unless the Japanese realize what the problem with the term “gaijin” is, they wouldn’t change their speaking habits. When they realize it, though, it is not only about the term “gaijin.” They will have learned how to see the world through different points of view from their own. I’m afraid, though, if foreign people fail to understand what the Japanese have in mind, the Japanese would also fail to see how the term “gaijin” can be offensive to foreign people.

      (2) “Gaijin” and “Outsider”
      Some readers argue the term “gaijin” means “outsider.” True, the term, when analyzed by the smallest units of meaning, can be divided into “gai (outside)” and “jin (person).” It would be good news for foreign language learners, if such an analysis can determine the meaning of word. Unfortunately, language doesn’t work that way. The present-day “gaijin” doesn’t mean “outsider.” As Philip (#43) says, “(g)aijin is about race, ethnicity and nationality.” I have also explained the meaning in my comment (#16).

      Refuting the argument that “gaijin” is a contraction of “gaikokujin,” Debito explained us, in his first Japan Times column on this topic, the historic meanings of “gaijin,” but he didn’t necessarily negated the possibility of the modern meaning being added to the term. Although he cited two historic definitions of the term from “Kojien” — 1 “nakama igai no hito” (person who you don’t keep company with); 2 “tekishi subeki na hito” (prospective enemy) — he failed to mention the third definition in the dictionary: 3 “gaikokujin” (foreigner).

      “Kojien” is a comprehensive dictionary. It contains many historic words and definitions which appear in classic literature but out of use now. The problem is “Kojien” doesn’t indicate whether a word, or a definition, is still in use or not. As a native Japanese speaker, I can assure you, I have never seen the term “gaijin being used with the definitions 1 and 2 in the present-day Japanese. As to the difference between “gaijin” and “gaikokujin,” I am of the opinion that these two words have overlapping meanings but different roles in the present-day vocabulary. For the explanations in detail, please read my comments #16 in this page, and #34(6) in another page with the following link
      http://www.debito.org/?p=1875

      (3) Why the Japanese Say “Gaijin” Is a Bad Word
      A considerable number of the readers report their experiences in which it was revealed the Japanese saw the term “gaijin” negatively. I think I can explain why some, or many, Japanese think and say “gaijin” is a bad word, preferring “gaikokujin.”

      “Gaijin” is a colloquial word. “Gaikokujin” is a formal word. Colloquial words are not necessarily bad words, but the scales of politeness and formalness overlap in many cases. So people tend to think “gaikokujin” is the more polite and better word.

      “Gaikokujin” is a rather abstract concept. “Gaijin” is more like a real person. It is often used with “san,” in the same way as people’s names. “Gaikokujin” is not going to be combined with “san” in any usages. When the Japanese compare “gaijin” and “gaikokujin,” they are likely to feel that “gaijin” without “san” lacks politeness. For this reason, they may prefer “gaikokujin.”

      Many Japanese already know foreign people are disturbed with the term “gaijin.” Most of them don’t understand why foreign people are offended, but choose to refrain from using this term. They say “gaijin” is a bad word because it may offend others.

      Also there are simple-minded people. They say they were taught “gaijin” was a bad word in school. Period. I’m afraid they don’t know, and are not interested in, why “gaijin” can be offensive to foreign people either.

      (4) Gaijin Is Not a Racist Word.
      Until I started to read the comments in this discussion, I thought the offensiveness derived from bad behavior, irrelevance and overuse. Now I think I have come to understand there is more subtle defects in communication behind this problem. I propose the Japanese to stop using the term “gaijin,” and “gaikokujin” as well when they speak to foreign people.

      However, having come to such a conclusion, I am now all the more convinced that the term “gaijin” is not a derogatory term. To call it a “racist word” is a wrong accusation. I have written my analyses and proposals in my previous comments:
      #34, #38, #41, #45, in another page with the following link,
      http://www.debito.org/?p=1875
      #16, #37 in this page.
      I’d be glad if you could spare time to read them and give some thought to them. (My argument has changed a bit as I was writing them)

    53. DR Says:

      Matthew,

      Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. I support your claim that Japanese should not use gaijin, like “Hey gaijin, what’s up!” They should use your name.
      But “gaijin means outsider” is just misunderstanding. It did so 1000 years ago, but not anymore. You can’t simply find any examples of gaijin=outsider usage.
      Yosomono=outsider
      Gaijin=foreigner (not legal)
      Gaikokujin=Alien (legal term)

    54. Behan Says:

      DR,

      I have been referred to as a gaijin many times. And I have heard the word used in my presence even more times.

    55. Behan Says:

      Opinions are divided on what ‘gaijin’ means and if it is rude or not, but many tiems when I hear it used it sounds like the speakers are including a negative meaning in it.
      This is just my feeling or intuition but that’s the way I take it.

    56. debito Says:

      –FEEDBACK FROM A FRIEND IN AMERICA. DEBITO

      I attended a party last week and I overheard a woman use the “G” word. Before my wife could respond to the woman, I stated that it was rude to use “gaijin” seeing that she was in America, on a US military installation, married to an American, in a house full of Japanese women married to US military officers, and had a son that was either Japanese or gaijin according to her.

      The woman and a few of her friends started apologizing. One woman stated that she meant to use the word American. I then asked her what kind of American since three of the American husbands in the backyard were Japanese-American. Silence. My wife laughed and told the lady that someday she will learn that it everyone who is not Japanese is not considered an outsider. I ended the conversation by saying: “In “my” country, YOU are the gaijin.” The woman immediately responded, “I’m Japanese.” Her husband walked in and said: “And you may be divorced, if you keep that gaijin shit up!”
      ENDS

    57. DR Says:

      Behan,

      Sorry to hear that somebody used gaijin offensively to you.
      Do you remember what they said? Or at least can you guess what they said?
      Let’s collect examples so that we can correct the Japanese. Like I said before, they don’t even know how to avoid using gaijin. In Debito’s other articles, you can find many cases that people put up Japanese Only signs just because they didn’t know what else to do. Debito taught them what they could do and they corrected the signs and thanked him. So I think we can do the same thing.

    58. Philip Says:

      DEBITO: Regarding the arguments about intent, i.e. “People use the word gaijin, but don’t mean it in a derogatory way”. The root issue here is, “Who decides whether a word is bad?” Is it the speaker using the word, or the person being addressed by it?

      ME: If the word is not generally know for being offensive, it’s generally speaker. If he or she uses it in a bad way with intent to hurt, it is not good. If the person being addressed by it finds it offensive when the person using it doesn’t mean to hurt at all, the person being addressed should inform him or her. It could be ignorance, miscommunication, or just cultural differences.

      DEBITO: If usage and intent become the speaker’s prerogative, then speakers get too much plausible deniability. For example: Punch somebody in the arm. If he cries, “That hurts!” then say, “But I don’t mean to hurt you.”

      So if you don’t give priority to the listener’s feelings, you give the speakers with genuine malice (however few) an excuse and a cloaking device. If the person you target doesn’t like being called something, just say you didn’t mean it in a bad way, and hey presto! You’re off the hook.

      ME: It’s not the word itself that makes it bad. You know when it’s used for genuine malice. (Tone of voice, the way it’s being said, facial expression, etc) Why label it racist when it obviously isn’t?

      DEBITO: This logic has long been disavowed. In Japan, the debate on “ijime”, bullying in Japanese schools, favors the person being targeted. The person feels hurt, that’s enough. So stoppit.

      Ditto for the word gaijin. People like me who have lived here for many years, even assimilated to the point of taking citizenship, don’t want to be called “gaijin” anymore. We can be forgiven for taking umbrage, for not wanting to be pushed back into the pigeonhole. Don’t tell us who we are–we’ll decide for ourselves who we are, especially in our own country, thanks. So stoppit.

      ME: So we have label a word racist because a very very small percentage of ethnically non-Japanese Japanese citizenship holders find this word factually wrong, therefore racist. Do you asked every one that I looks ethnically Japanese whether they are have Japanese citizenship before labeling them Japanese? I think not. Do you actually feel bullied when the word gaijin is spoken?

      DEBITO: Now for the more controversial claim: my linking “gaijin” with “n*gg*r”. Although I was not equating their histories, I was drawing attention to their common effect–stripping societies of diversity.

      “N*gg*r”, for example, has deprived an entire continent of its diaspora. I love faces; I have gazed at many notable African-Americans and wondered about their origins. Is Michael Clarke Duncan a Nuban? Do Gary Coleman’s ancestors hail from the Ituri? How about the laser gaze of Samuel L. Jackson, the timeworn features of Morgan Freeman, the quizzical countenance of Whoopi Goldberg? Where did their ancestors come from? Chances are even they aren’t sure. That’s why Alex Haley had to go all the way to The Gambia to track down his Kunta Kinte roots.

      The “non-n*gg*rs” are more fortunate. They got to keep closer ties to their past–even got hyphens: Italian-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Japanese-Americans, etc. But Black people in the US just became “African-Americans”–a continent, not an ethnicity. Thanks to generations of being called “n*gg*r”.

      ME: You should have compared it with the term African then. Like most racist words, wasn’t the word it self, it was how it was used. The n-word just came from negro meaning black. But they called the slaves the n-word. If you compare something with the n-word, you must factor that in. The n-word is never used in a non-offensive way (except maybe when a black person says it).

      DEBITO:“Gaijin” has the same effect, only more pronounced. Not only do we foreign-looking residents have no hope of hyphenation, we are relegated to a much bigger “continent” (i.e. anyone who doesn’t look Japanese–the vast majority of the world). Again, this kind of rhetoric, however unconscious or unintended, forever divides our public into “insider and outsider” with no twain.

      I for one want the hyphen. I’m a Japanese. An American-Japanese, an Amerika-kei Nihonjin. After years of outsiderdom, I want my Japanese status acknowledged. But I don’t want my roots denied either. Being called essentially “foreign-Japanese” would lack something, so why not acknowledge, even celebrate, our diversity?

      ME: How does a person who doesn’t know you know you are a Japanese when probably about 99.99999% of all Japanese citizenship holders are ethnically Japanese or look Japanese (Korean and Chinese)? Oh you like the hyphen? Well what are your roots as an American? If you were German, technically you’d have to be called German-American-Japanese to be accurate. A doitu-kei amerika-kei nihonjin. You have a very unique situation. Gaijin doesn’t work for you.

      DEBITO: Words like gaijin don’t allow for that. They are relics of a simplistic time, when people argued with a straight face that Japan was monocultural and monoethnic. Untrue–there’s enough scholarly research debunking that; even our government this year formally recognized Hokkaido’s aboriginal Ainu as an indigenous people.

      Moreover, as more non-Japanese reside here, marry, procreate, and bring the best of their societies into the amalgam, change is inevitable. Why force us to deny an essential part of our identity by outsidering us on a daily basis? Intentional or not, that’s what the word gaijin does.

      The ace in the hole in this debate: I’m not the only one here advocating “gaijin”’s obsolescence. Japan’s media has reached the same conclusion and officially declared it a word unfit for broadcast. Don’t agree with me? Talk to the TV.

      ME: Quote http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%94%BE%E9%80%81%E7%A6%81%E6%AD%A2%E7%94%A8%E8%AA%9E:外人
      外国人の略称として個人的な会話では日常茶飯事使われているが、公場では「グループ外、縁もゆかりも無い人」が原義とされている。その代わりに、「外国人」や「(国家)人」を使っている。ただし、日本語が話せる外国人タレントが自分のことを指して「外人」と言うような場合には、カットされずにそのまま放送される場合がある。
      Gaijin: Even though it is an everyday occurrence that people use it to mean foreigner (gaikokujin), in an official setting, the original meaning is “person outside the group or person without affinity”, so “gaikokujin” or “(name of country)-jin” is used instead. However, if a foreign talent who can speak Japanese says “gaijin” when he refers to himself, it is normally not censored.

      There are many other words that are hosokinshi for he sake of political correctness, such as スチュワーデス (stewardess) and 看護婦 (nurse), that are used on a daily basis.

      DEBITO: So if you really must draw attention to somebody’s roots, and you can’t hyphenate or tell their nationality or ethnicity, it’s better to use “gaikokujin”. It’s a different rubric. At least there are ways to stop being one.

      ME: Okay I agree. It’s better to be on the safe side and use gaikokujin because some people take offense. Let’s all used frick because some people are offended by fuck.

    59. Philip Says:

      “The woman and a few of her friends started apologizing. ”

      Wasn’t that enough?

    60. PnetQ Says:

      Debito

      Some points about the anecdote from your friend in US.

      I think the Japanese lady at the party should have said “American” instead of “gaijin.” I don’t necessarily take her word “rude,” but it was at least careless, ignorant and inappropriate. In that sense, I agree with your friend.

      However, then he takes what seems to me to be an excessive step, asking her “what kind of American.” You must have noticed an irony here. According to his logic, you have to answer him what kind of American you mean when you say you are “American-Japanese.” This is good evidence that we tend to lack appropriate terms to deal with the nationality-ethnicity matter in many countries. It is not only in Japan.

      After this, the story gets rather distasteful to me. By saying “In ‘my’ country, YOU are the gaijin,” he is being intentionally rude to her while she may have been unintentionally rude. Judging from her last reply, she doesn’t seem to have understood what he meant. It is very likely that she wasn’t able to follow the logic in the conversation. Also her English may not have been good enough. I’m afraid it somewhat smacks of looking down on her, if not the Japanese.

      My interpretation may be wrong. Your friend may have been just joking, making it clear by the tone of his voice. Written down like this, distastefulness remains, though. This email must have been written with rather limited readership in mind. With a narrow circle of readers or audience, people tend to be loose in many regards. That’s human nature. I think leniency can be allowed to some degree. May such leniency be granted once in a whole to Japanese people who are saying “gaijin” audible enough and unintentionally rude to you.

      Lastly, when seen as material for our discussion, this anecdote serves as a proof of my case. It is unthinkable that the Japanese lady, married to an American, at a party attended by many Americans and their Japanese wives, used the term “gaijin” with a derogatory meaning. Contrary, she seems to be the opposite type who uses the term “gaijin” with a clearly positive meaning. I’m not saying her use of the term was good. No. She should grow out of this. However, this episode stands as the proof of my case that the term “gaijin” can be used with a positive meaning by the Japanese.

      –Positive or negative (which we cannot say definitively, since we can’t get inside the speaker’s head here), we can say that based upon the conversation it’s clearly being used by the speaker to exclude anyone not “Japanese” no matter what, since she would not include herself as a “gaijin” (despite being a foreigner) by claiming her Japanese status.

    61. PnetQ Says:

      Philip

      Generally speaking, I agree with your entire argument. Let me point out one thing.

      The explanation of the term “外人 (gaijin)” you quoted from the Japanese Wikipedia contains misinformation.

      Philip Quoted:
      “外人 (gaijin):
      公の場では「グループ外、縁もゆかりも無い人」が原義とされている
      (In an official setting, the original meaning is “person outside the group or person without affinity”)”

      The quoted part may imply that “gaijin” can be used with the original meanings of “person outside the group or person without affinity” in an official setting in the present-day Japanese language, but it is wrong. These definitions are historic ones which are out of use now. The present-day “gaijin has a very close meaning to “gaikokujin (foreigner),” but they are not exactly the same.

      As you have explained in your previous comment which Debito seems to have deleted, “(g)aijin is about race, ethnicity and nationality.” Also please read my previous comment #16 for the meaning of “gaijin”.

      –For the record, I deleted the comment after fair warning that it was misquoting a poll. The poster is welcome to resubmit the comment sans reference to the poll, as I said in that warning.

    62. Behan Says:

      DR Says:
      September 12th, 2008 at 6:09 pm
      Behan,

      Sorry to hear that somebody used gaijin offensively to you.
      Do you remember what they said? Or at least can you guess what they said?
      Let’s collect examples so that we can correct the Japanese. Like I said before, they don’t even know how to avoid using gaijin. In Debito’s other articles, you can find many cases that people put up Japanese Only signs just because they didn’t know what else to do. Debito taught them what they could do and they corrected the signs and thanked him. So I think we can do the same thing.
      ———————————————–
      You have a pretty condescending attitude. Why do you assume I would have to guess what they said?

      Oh, that’s right, I have a different amount of melanin so I couldn’t understand them.

      People didn’t know what else to do? They had no choice but to be racist?

    63. DR Says:

      Behan,

      I didn’t assume anything. I wrote “Do you remember what they said?” as well. But now I assume you didn’t understand anything but gaijin, because you couldn’t provide us anything specific. That’s why you are upset.

      Now I know that you just wanna whine and call people racist. You don’t even want to solve the problem, because problems are what you are looking for. I think you should read Debito’s articles more carefully.

      And don’t blame your intelligence on melanin.

    64. PnetQ Says:

      Behan Says:
      “Why do you assume I would have to guess what they said?”

      I don’t need any examples from you to determine whether the “gaijin” spoken to you was offensive or not. If you felt it that way, it must have been offensive. You may be wrong if you are talking about a case where you happened to overhear someone utter “gaijin” on the street. You can tell when a word is spoken directly to you with a derogatory meaning, though. You don’t even need knowledge of the language in question.

      The point that I want you to understand is:
      That a word can be used in an offensive way doesn’t necessarily mean that the word in itself is offensive. There may be many cases in which the word is used with a non-offensive meaning. On the other hand, even a usually harmless word can be used to offend others.

      It may be that all your experiences of the term “gaijin” were offensive to you. I have been trying to make the readers understand that is not all that the term has. I have explained how “gaijin” is used with example sentences in my previous comments. Please read them.

      You may not have much interest in the distinction between “the Word itself” and “the Context.” You may be satisfied if the term “gaijin” stops popping up around you. However, pleas have in mind that if you keep saying “the term ‘gaijin’ is a racist word, so stop using it,” you are embarrassing, and insulting as well, many Japanese who harbor no harm to foreign people.

      I’m not saying there is nothing to blame the Japanese regarding the term “gaijin.” Contrary, I’m now convinced that too many Japanese have been senseless and ill-mannered in their usage of the term so far. Since this site seems to have only a limited number of Japanese readers, I haven’t elaborated on my ideas as to how to change their speaking habits in my comments. I have mentioned some of them. I’d be glad if you could read them too.

    65. Behan Says:

      I just wanted to add, DR, that nowhere in my posts did I call anyone ‘racist’.

      Any again, about my melanin. I was talking about how people see you skin color and make decisions about whether or not you can speak Japanese.

      In the first post you imply that I might not understand what people are saying and in the second you imply that I am not intelligent.

      The first is arrogant and the second is rude.

      Please think before posting.

      –I think this two-way conversation is getting off the issues now. Please wrap it up, you two.

    66. Philip Says:

      By the way, do we even know if 外人(gaijin) in old text used to mean “outsider” or “enemy” was pronounced がいじん (gaijin)? 外人 may have been pronounced そとびと(Sotobito) at that time, no? I’m don’t really know about these things so just asking.

      –Er, you really didn’t read my essays on this subject, did you? Pronunciation (as in guwaijin) was mentioned in my first one. You really should do research before commenting.

    67. Philip Says:

      I did read it. I guess it missed the part where it said that Gaijin was pronounced Guwaijin. Actually I missed it again. Oh now I get it. Gaijin is the contemporary rendering of Guwaijin, and Guwaijin means ‘outsider’. Such an important part shouldn’t be hidden between parenthesis.

      So let me get this straight: Gaijin = Guwaijin; Guwaijin = Outsider; Outsider = Enemy. Therefore, Gaijin = Enemy. Sounds like you have a very good sense of logic.

      But Gaijin pronounced Gaijin was never used to mean outsider/enemy, am I getting this correct? Couldn’t it have been a completely different word all together? Just like 十分(じゅうぶん)(meaning “enough”) and 十分(じゅっぷん)(meaning “10 minutes”); and Gaijin is pronounced Gaijin because it’s a contraction of Gaikokujin that has nothing to do with Guwaijin?

      I could be totally wrong, though. It’d be nice if a scholar on this subject would answer.

      Like you said, let’s use gaikokujin. However, Japanese people who use gaijin aren’t racist. Careless? Maybe. Ignorant? Possibly. Insensitive? Could be. Racist? No. And I think pretty much everyone is in agreement on that. Are you?

      If you want change, not have a bunch gaijin think every Japanese saying “gaijin” is racist, then you should just write an article in Japanese.

      –You provide a good case for sending people back to school to relearn reading comprehension… You’ve already misquoted a poll, and refused to correct your statement even after warning and deletion. Keep putting words in people’s mouths and you won’t be welcome here to participate in discussion.

    68. Jay Says:

      I have read this blog since it started, but have not commented until now. As an American-Japanese like Debito (actually I became a Japanese citizen this month!), I would like to share my view on this hot topic.

      As I don’t look Japanese at all, being referred to as gaijin/gaijin-san/gaikokujin, or being treated differently is a daily occurrence for me. Of course I knew what I was getting myself into when I applied for Japanese citizenship, and understood that I would probably always be treated somewhat differently here no matter how hard I tried to fit in.

      Before I was a Japanese citizen, I used to take great offense at being called “gaijin”, and did not try to hide my feelings of anger, trying to explain why “gaijin” is such a discriminatory word. Looking at the literal meaning/history of the word, no matter whatever Nihonjinron theories you use to excuse it, “gaijin” is still discriminatory, which is why the news media always uses the word “gaikokujin” and not “gaijin.”

      Now there has been a lot of heated debate on this site about the relationship of “gaijin” to other racial epithets like “nigger,” but honestly I think that post number 5 by Andrew Smallacombe sums up the problem perfectly.

      “People used the offensiveness of “Nigger” as a smokescreen to cover the real issue. “Gaijin” is offensive. Period.”

      I have to say I still agree with this in principle. However, recently my thinking has changed somewhat, and I’ve come to think that the words gaijin/gaijin-san/gaikokujin/gaikoku no hito/gaikoku no kata etc. are all equally offensive, not so much for any literal meaning such as “outside (country) person” or “a person who should be viewed as an enemy”, but because they rob all non-Japanese looking people of their identity and label them as a single homogenous group.

      In any case, I’ve made a choice not to let people calling me “gaijin” make me angry and ruin my day. But I believe I have a responsibility to help Japan become a multi-cultural society, and do my best to help end racial discrimination, especially for my child (born and raised in Japan but doesn’t look Japanese), who I don’t want to go through what I’ve had to go through.

      So when Japanese people ask me the standard questions like, “Can gaijin/gaikokujin use chopsticks?” “Do you gaijin/gaikokujin eat natto?” I generally try to respond politely, “Actually I am Japanese so I’m not really sure about other countries, but I have never heard of this country of “Gai”. Can you please tell me where this country called “Gai” is?” It usually takes a while for the point to come home, but then they usually understand the dangers of labeling the majority of the world’s population as a single group.

      By the way, I decided to become a Japanese citizen after reading Debito’s experience on this site, so I should express my gratitude for all the great information about the actual naturalization process…it definitely helped prepare me for the long grueling process of dealing with the Ministry of Justice (especially when most of the bureaucrats here have never dealt with a Westerner trying to naturalize)!

      –Congratulations on naturalizing! Join us at FRANCA.

    69. PnetQ Says:

      Philip

      I’m not a scholar, but I can answer.

      The change in the pronunciation of “外人” from “guaijin (ぐわいじん)” to “gaijin (がいじん)” has nothing to do with the changes in the meanings of the term. The form “guaijin” was a result of the Japanese’ effort to transcribe Chinese pronunciation of the kanji (Chinese characters) by the Japanese letters, kana. It may have been literally pronounced then. The form “guaijin” was fixed and had been used despite the change in pronunciation which took place somewhere in history.

      It was only after the World War II that the writing system of the Japanese language was changed to directly correspond to real pronunciations. Now we have “gaijin” and pronounce it so. There are many Chinese characters whose pronunciations have changed from “kuai,” “kua,” and “gua” to “kai,” “ka,” and “ga.” However, these changes are not regarded as related to changes in their meanings.

      (BTW, your argument on the term “Oriental” was informative. I’m thankful for that.)

      Debito

      I agree with you in that Philip should have been more careful when he read your articles. However, you are professional as a writer. You shouldn’t miss his point.

      Philip Says:
      ” … Japanese people who use gaijin aren’t racist. Careless? Maybe. Ignorant? Possibly. Insensitive? Could be. Racist? No. And I think pretty much everyone is in agreement on that. Are you?”

      I have been arguing the same thing. You may point out his assertion that “pretty much everyone is in agreement on that” lacks the proof. Does it really matter to you? I’m afraid not.

      When Philip says “Japanese people who use gaijin aren’t racist,” he must mean that the Japanese don’t mean to be offensive when they use the word. I agree on that. Let me quote the definitions of “racism” and “racist” from the Macquarie Dictionary.

      “racism
      noun 1. the belief that human races have distinctive characteristics which determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate others.
      2. offensive or aggressive behaviour to members of another race or people stemming from such a belief.
      3. a policy or system of government and society based upon such a belief. Also, racialism.
      –racist, noun, adjective”

      Judging from the above definitions, I think it is quite fair to assume that being racist involves being intentionally offensive.

      Your argument has remained equivocal so far regarding the criteria for being “a racist word.” Let’s see what you have said.

      In your first Japan Times column (Aug. 5, 2008),

      Debito Says:
      “Gaijin is not merely a word. It is an epithet. About the billions of people who are not Japanese. It makes attributions to them that go beyond nationality.”

      “Japan’s proportion of the world’s population is a little under 2%. In the gaijin binary worldview, you either are a Japanese or you’re not-an “ichi-ro” or a “ze-ro”.”

      “The word is even used overseas by traveling/resident Japanese to describe non-Japanese, or rather, “foreigners in their own country”.”

      I agree on these points except for the term “epithet” in the first point. As I have explained in my comments: 1) “Gaijin” is a combination of foreign citizenship and quasi-ethnicity. 2) It divides the world into the Japanese and the Non-Japanese. 3) In the usual usage, “gaijin” is always used from the Japanese point of view, so the Japanese staying overseas don’t see themselves as “gaijin.”

      However, these things don’t mean that the Japanese are racist in the above mentioned meaning. With the notion of “gaijin,” the Japanese don’t assume their superiority over other people based on their race. They are not acting discriminatory against other people. They don’t mean to be offensive at all.

      In your Japan Times sequel (Sep. 2, 2008),

      Debito Says:
      “Regarding the arguments about intent, … if you don’t give priority to the listener’s feelings, you give the speakers with genuine malice (however few) an excuse and a cloaking device.”

      “Now for the more controversial claim: my linking “gaijin” with “n*gg*r”. Although I was not equating their histories, I was drawing attention to their common effect-stripping societies of diversity.”

      In your comment to my comment (#60),

      Debito Says:
      “Positive or negative (which we cannot say definitively, since we can’t get inside the speaker’s head here), we can say that based upon the conversation it’s clearly being used by the speaker to exclude anyone not “Japanese” no matter what, since she would not include herself as a “gaijin” (despite being a foreigner) by claiming her Japanese status.”

      Now, with these points, I think we can see more clearly what you mean by saying “a racist word.”

      You say it is the listener that decides the meaning of a word. You also say we can’t say definitively the intention of the speaker, since we can’t get inside the speaker’s head. Even with such an offensive word as the N-word, your attention is put upon its too wide categorization. You seem to have no interest in the speaker’s intention. This is why I said above that Philip’s assertion wouldn’t matter to you.

      The speaker’s intention being disregarded, I have no other way but to conclude that you are accusing the term “gaijin” as a racist word simply because it means the “us and them” dichotomy. I can’t agree on such an argument.

      That the Japanese have a notion which divides the world into “us and them” doesn’t necessarily mean that they are excluding others based on the notion. It is about how the Japanese see the world, and in itself a result of history. As the Japanese society changes, the notion will change. But at the present state of the Japanese society, it is still valid and alive. To have such a notion as a result of history is nothing to be blamed.

      Having reviewed your argument, I think your usage of the term “racist” in your two columns is unusual and misleading. When your readers read your claim that the term “gaijin” is a “racist word,” most of them will believe that the Japanese are saying “gaijin” with an offensive meaning. To promote such an incorrect understanding of the Japanese language among the foreign people in Japan is not the way to resolve this problem. I think this is what Philip means when he writes “if you want change, not have a bunch gaijin think every Japanese saying “gaijin” is racist.” I cannot more agree with him.

      Debito, you are an influential figure. Please do justice to you stature and your readers.

    70. DR Says:

      Jay,

      “Looking at the literal meaning/history of the word, no matter whatever Nihonjinron theories you use to excuse it, “gaijin” is still discriminatory, which is why the news media always uses the word “gaikokujin” and not “gaijin.”

      So is it OK for English speakers to use “foreigner” or “alien”? Why? I think “alien” has a terrible meaning. Nonetheless, it is used on TV.

      Why do some NJ call themselves gaijin?
      Check the following site “for gaijins by gaijins”
      http://www.stippy.com/

      These guys DO love calling themselves gaijin. You should tell them to stop that.

    71. Philip Says:

      Debito: You provide a good case for sending people back to school to relearn reading comprehension… You’ve already misquoted a poll, and refused to correct your statement even after warning and deletion. Keep putting words in people’s mouths and you won’t be welcome here to participate in discussion.

      Your comments are really childish. Maybe I lack reading comprehension; but that’s not what we are discussing is it? Your argument is “gaijin” is a racist word. I said no and provided reasons why. Then you basically say that I’m stupid, a lier, and banned from discussion. Is that a fair argument for a debate?

      Why don’t you answer the one question I asked: Do you still think gaijin is a racist word?

      For a word to be racist, doesn’t it have to refer to a certain race? It doesn’t! Therefore it’s not racist.
      And people that use it don’t automatically become racists. If you still believe it’s racist, do you still believe it should be compared to the n-word, arguably the most racist word?

    72. Is Gaijin a Racist Word or are N*ggers Over Reacting? | Black Tokyo | First in Urban Japan Says:

      […] You can read the rest of the article and numerous comments here. […]

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