Results of our fourth poll: Do you think the word “gaijin” should be avoided (in favor of other words, like, say, gaikokujin)?


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

[poll id=”6″ type=”result”]

COMMENT: I followed this poll in particular with interest, given my August 5, 2008 Japan Times column on this issue and the heavy debate in August over it.

One thing I tried to do in this poll was 1) make options that everyone could answer, no exception, and 2) make them “bounded”, i.e. mutually exclusive so that people could only vote for one.

(What I mean:  A Japan Times poll on the subject, in contrast, doesn’t do that as well:

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

For example, you could choose all of questions one, two, and three if you felt, “Yes, I am offended, I prefer ‘gaikokujin’, but it depends on who is saying it and how.”  Not mutually exclusive.)

I also tried to show a clearer spectrum from top to bottom–avoid under all circumstances, it depends, don’t avoid, not sure.

The result was still that most people (but not an absolute majority) thought the word “gaijin” should be avoided, due to unwelcome connotations.  Perhaps par for the course for types of readers.

It was an interesting poll to follow in real time.  For the first few days, the first choice, “Yes”, had an absolute majority of over 50%.  But as more voted, the “maybe, if derisive” and “no” responses whittled that down.  I was surprised at how few chose “maybe, depends on listener”.  Also interesting was how almost everyone had a clear opinion–almost nobody was neutral or unknowledgeable about the subject. 

Again, as disclaimers keep pointing out, this is hardly anything scientifically “significant”–just a survey of readers who wished to vote.  Still, ten days and 358 respondents later, it’s a pretty good number.  Let’s see if we can keep the numbers growing in future polls with interesting questions.

Next poll: Let’s try something less controversial.  Just got back from the US (coastal California), where the sun sets around 8PM or later most summer days.  Loved it.  And wish Japan would do the same (especially since Hokkaido is on the far east of our time zone, and we get sunrises at 4AM or so in June).  So what do you think about instituting Summer Time (DST) in Japan?  

Arudou Debito

6 comments on “Results of our fourth poll: Do you think the word “gaijin” should be avoided (in favor of other words, like, say, gaikokujin)?

  • It is almost an article of faith among Japanese that their culture is unique, not in the way that all cultures are unique, but uniquely unique, ultimately different from all others, the source of unique Japanese sensibilities and therefore safe from intellectual probes by outsiders.

    Japanese are constantly persuaded of the specialness of their nation in their schools and corporations and through the media and speeches by functionaries, whenever an opportunity arises for comparisons with the outside world.

    I think using the word “gaijin” only adds to that feeling of uniqueness, but I don’t think the Japanese will be changing anytime soon.

    So discuss all you want but the fact of the matter is at the end of the day if you’re a foreigner you are not “unique” and still just a gaijin.

  • Societies evolve over time, and not usually in a short time. Japanese today are more open, egalitarian, and fair minded than those of a generation or two before them. Hence, it is important to draw attention to the shortcomings that exist in society. This is the only way that change will occur.

  • Debito,

    I like your guts and your perseverance in the work that you are doing, but what’s the matter with you that the work Gaijin bothers you so much?

    I got dear friends and strangers calling me gaijin for many years, and I knew they didn’t mean anything bad, but now thanks to you I get concerned about it.
    Worst of all now that I told them about it they all try not to use it, even though (they told me) they didn’t make anything out of it.

    Comparing it with the N word is totally inappropriate. Tell me, are you comparing what the black people in America went thru with what we are going thru in Japan?

    Come on, look at you, you are doing speeches all over Japan. If people are coming to hear you, it is evident that they think of you more than “just a gaijin”

    If you talk about racial discrimination I advise you to take a look at the United States where people are discriminated based upon their IQ level, or should I say, when someone makes a mistake, screw him/her all the way you legally can.
    The elderly and the less fortunate are treated like trash and the least fortunate ends up on skid row.

    But we are called gaijin, oh yeah that will ruin my life.


  • I am totally against summer time. If fades the curtains and confuses cows at milking time.

    –Yes, and at least one of these arguments has actually been made in public…!

  • Sorry Debito, you’ll always be a gaijin. You’re a naturalized citizen, i.e., not a citizen by nature. You’re a person who came from outside, thus “gaijin”. You’re never going to be accepted by everyone. The best you can hope for is to fit in. That true for whatever country you’re in and whoever you are. In your case, you’ve taken Japanese citizenship, but instead of trying to fit in to that society you’re trying to change it. And unfortunately for other gaijin, you’re reinforcing the idea of gaijin as troublemakers who come into Japan.

  • I had an interesting ‘gaijin’ experience today. I went to a high school open day and during the prospective parent explanation lecture, the woman giving the lecture looked at me, stopped, and said:

    “Oh, gaijin-san ga kimashita. Doko kara kimashita ka?”

    I bit my tongue and said I was from the UK. I’m pretty sure there was no malice involved at all, but I do get annoyed when people say things like that at inappropriate times, like during a lecture to dozens of prospective parents. I thought about talking to her afterwards, then I thought about writing her a letter, but eventually settled for having a word with the principal (who was standing at the side during the lecture) later on during the day.

    After making conversation for a bit, I brought up the fact that “gaijin-san ga kimashita’ had been said. Immediately, without any prompting from me, he said “Yes, I noticed that, and I thought it was kind of rude.” I then explained that I was sure there was no ill-intent involved, but it did make me feel uncomfortable and that I was there as a prospective parent, not some random white guy. After all, you wouldn’t stop in the middle of your lecture and say: “oh, a fat lady. How much do you weigh?”

    He agreed it was inappropriate, promised to be more careful in the future, and thanked me for bringing the matter to his attention. I was quite happy with how it all turned out.

    I also realised where I stand on the whole ‘gaijin’ as a word issue. I don’t think it is the equivalent of ‘nigger’. I think it is more like ‘fat’, in that it is descriptive, can be offensive if used to someone’s face or in the wrong situation, but can also be useful in other situations. I still prefer ‘hakujin’ if someone needs to describe me, but as long as they don’t use it to my face I don’t have such a big problem with gaijin I guess.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>