The Japan Times Community Page on the JBC “Gaijin Debate”, part two.


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Hi Blog. The JUST BE CAUSE Columns I wrote these past two months on the word “Gaijin” have inspired a lot of debate. Again, good. Thanks everybody. Here’s another salvo from The Community Page yesterday. I’ll have a Part Three on this issue out in The Japan Times on October 7, talking about how the strict “insider-outsider” system here (of which “Gaijin” is but a subset of) also affects Japanese, and hurts Japanese society as a whole. Thanks for reading and commenting. And I love the illustration below.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Readers get last word on ‘gaijin’ tag 

The Japan Times Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008

News photo

The Community Page received another large batch of e-mails in response to Debito Arudou’s followup Sept. 2 (Sept. 3 in some areas) Just Be Cause column on the use of the word “gaijin.” Following is a selection of the responses.

Don’t live in denial like U.S.

Here in America, we hear about the word “gaijin,” but its significance is not clear to us. However, when your writer connects it to the N-word . . . well, that is, as Frank Baum would say, “a horse of a different color” — we get the impact immediately.

Hence, as an African-hyphen-American, and one that has living relatives of three other ethnicities, I say, “Well done.” I hope your Japanese readers will not live in denial like their American counterparts. Slavery has now been dead some 200 years and its cousin, segregation, over 40. But the stench from both of them lingers like unventilated raw sewage.

I am hoping to live and work in Japan one day. I hope to find a land far more tolerant than the one in which I now reside.

A distant but regular reader

Can’t defuse this bombshell

“Once a ‘gaijin,’ always a ‘gaijin’ ” definitely raised some eyebrows. That said, I’m going to comment on one particular aspect — the N-word (I’m going to actually spell the word out, so don’t be too shocked when you see it). In full disclosure, I’m a black American.

OK, so the use of “nigger” and “gaijin” to Mr. Debito Arudou seem to be one and the same. I have to disagree. The reality is that “nigger” is a far more loaded word than “gaijin” will ever hope to be, and that is societal fact. Anyone can joke with “gaijin” — Americans, Europeans, Africans, even other Asians. The term can be defused quite easily. Of course we can also infuse the word with hatred and xenophobic overtones. That said, I think it is used largely in the defused sense.

Now, go to east Los Angeles or Southside Chicago and try using “nigger” jokingly — see what kind of response you get. Go to the Deep South, and say the word in whatever crowd — you might become “strange fruit” overnight.

People talk about defusing the word, but it never seems to stick. You simply can’t defuse that kind of bombshell. History has given “nigger” a weight to bear and it must be respected. Hip-hop and rap artists from the United States have talked about “owning” the word, and yet it still causes uproar throughout the community.

The word is heavier than any one person, or group of people, can bear. It takes a certain sensitivity, cultural understanding, and a host of other variables that I can’t even describe before being able to say, “Let’s approach the word.” If you can say that about “gaijin” then I stand corrected. But somehow I doubt it.

The article by Mr. Debito Arudou definitely raises some issues with regards to Japan and how Japanese people deal with foreigners, all of which need to be tackled by Japanese and gaijin alike, but to equate the use of “gaijin” to “nigger” is, as another respondent said, “hyperbolic,” and, I would say, 180 degrees off target.

Wayne Malcolm, Akita City

Both bad, but one’s worse

From the Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary’s “gaijin” entry: “a foreigner in Japan.” From the N-word’s entry: “. . .now ranks as perhaps the most offensive and inflammatory racial slur in English.”

No one alive today who has been called the N-word has ever been beaten as a slave in a state-supported system. No one alive today who has been called the G-word has ever been beaten, nor stolen from their homelands in a state-sponsored system of oppression.

That being said, let’s take a look at the definition of “discriminate”: “recognize or perceive the difference.” Right there is the rub: It denotes a difference between “this kind of people” and “that kind of people.” As such, it has no place in the polite lexicon.

Another important point of the modern discussion of the N- vs. G-words is, in my opinion, the fact that their roots are almost exactly the same. The French word for “black” has been mispronounced by Americans for years, leading to the commonly vulgar “n—er,” or the modern,”embraced” term “n—a.” It is a mispronunciation of a word. Similarly, the shortening of “gaikokujin” could be looked at as a mispronunciation, albeit of a native word. In short, “you people aren’t worth my time” is the subtext; “I’ll just call you all this” is the action.

One word has its roots in slavery (and mispronounced French), the other has its roots in wanting to save time when discriminating against others. One’s worse, but they’re both pretty bad.

As a student of Japanese, I also understand that often words are “shortened,” such as “rajiokase” for “radio/cassette player.” However, each of our languages is rich enough to use positive terms to describe everyone, even if we must point out our differences in these descriptions.

I hope we can move forward to a more positive, kindhearted world by no longer relying on such catch-all terms for “us” and “them.”

Michael Giaimo, El Cerrito, Calif.

You don’t speak for us

With all due respect, Mr. Arudou, your assertion that there is any sort of comparison between the word used to address the slaves and children and grandchildren of your former compatriots and “gaijin” are strained and, at best, ill-informed.

Your stated desired outcome is to have your Japanese status acknowledged. And what would that look like? At a social event, would a recent acquaintance mistakenly call you Taro Arudou instead of Debito? The nation of Japan has issued you your passport, you have your health care card, and you are entitled to all the benefits the nation offers. Clearly the state has given you what you want. What is it you want from me and from the readers of this newspaper, then?

I appreciate that you play at fighting the good fight, but in this instance, sir, you have seriously offended me. Because, let’s face it, you don’t speak for the “n—ers” living in Japan. When you make such lazy comparisons, you’re not a champion of the rights of the Filipina sex workers that are brutalized here in Okinawa. You’re not the defender of the Chinese or third-generation Koreans that still aren’t Japanese. You’ve simply appropriated a term whose mere presence in this debate serves only to sell advertising space on the (Japan Times) Web site and does not further the prospects of the people you claim to be defending.

You want to champion the rights of newcomers to Japan, but what we need, Mr. Arudou, are not your ham-fisted and ugly similes; we need words that can nourish the imagination of the reader — words that speak to every human being’s basic need to be a part of a community predicated on mutual benefit. In your own, American tradition we can look to the poet Robert Frost for the kinds of words we need. In his poem “The Mending Wall,” we read that good fences make good neighbors. It is in these supposed boundaries — our cultural differences, which at once seem to cut us off from each other — that we find the very source of our mutual strength. That we are different and the inheritors of rich cultural traditions mean that we are better able to meet and surpass the needs of our communities, because within these vast repositories of cultural knowledge we find the stories of those who have been as bridges between cultures and communities.

Paul Boshears, Uruma City, Okinawa

Glad Arudou is out there

Since he is a controversial figure, I imagine Debito Arudou’s latest piece has produced more disagreement than agreement. I want to be onboard as saying that I think his point about differentiating different types of Japanese people with a “hyphenated term” (e.g., “Amerika-kei Nihonjin”) is a well-received one, at least by this reader.

Until a term exists which allows those who do not obviously appear to be Japanese to be referred to as Japanese citizens, a mentality that accepts that you can look “non-Japanese” but still be Japanese will not develop. The language has to be present first in order to give citizens a way in which to express a way of thinking which is currently alien to them. If they start to hear the hyphenated terms on television or read them in newspapers, a new pattern of thinking will develop.

While I don’t always agree with everything Debito Arudou says, I’m very glad that he’s out there saying it. He’s the first bona fide activist for foreigners in Japan and as such he sometimes is extreme because it’s the only way he can shake people’s thinking and wake them up to the problems in Japan. Activists who are attempting to get equal rights have always been criticized for bucking the status quo by people who are sufficiently satisfied that they would rather passively accept inequality and prejudicial treatment than “rock the boat.” They’re also often treated as objects of hate or scorn by the very people they’re laboring to help.

I applaud The Japan Times for giving him a platform from which to speak and hope that it will continue to give him a more public and widely read voice.

Shari Custer, Tokyo

Gaijin, and proud of it

Those of us who are “gaijins” don’t all agree with the opinion of Mr. Arudou. The word “gaijin” is not the same as the English word “n–ger” in meaning, and there is no common effect on diversity.

Gaijin is a Japanese word meaning “foreigner” or “outsider.” The word is composed of “gai” (“outside”) and “jin” (“person”), so the word can be translated literally as “outside (foreign) person.” The word can refer to nationality, race or ethnicity.

The word “gaijin” does not have the same effect as “n–ger,” and nor will it ever. Mr. Arudou may be a Japanese in the legal sense, but neither Mr. Arudou nor I will ever be true Japanese. To be a true Japanese you must be born and raised as a Japanese. Anyone else is just not genuinely Japanese, regardless of what your passport says.

I’m sorry, Mr. Arudou, but you do not think like a Japanese and, judging by your writings, you will never assimilate into the Japanese way of life. You are like so many other Americans, who want everyone to change and accept you instead of you changing and accepting them.

Let’s all agree that “gaijin” is just a word. Making it into a bad word is just wrong. I am a gaijin and damn proud to be one, and the Japanese accept me for what I am, not what I want to be called.

Denny Pollard, San Francisco

Equality of censorship

Thanks for both of these columns, which I fully identify with. I agree that “gaijin” is a painful word, and the fact that the word engages debate proves it.

I have one comment, though. If you write “n–ger,” why not use “g–jin”? Let’s find some “katakana” transcription. If someone could start the trend, this has to be you, Debito! This may bring awareness about the deeply unpleasant undertones.

Michel Vidal-Naquet, Tokyo

No one said Japan was easy

Poor Debito Arudou, arguing the cause of foreigners in Japan about the term “gaijin.” Every generation of long-term residents in Japan has faced the insular nature of “us versus them” living in Japan. I did during my 8 1/2 years in Japan (1985-92).

Some of us choose to feel slighted by the word and make mountains out of mole hills, trying in futility to change Japanese thinking by writing books and verbose essays in English, appealing to those of a similar mind set, while others choose to get on with their lives and recognize that you can’t be accepted by all those in Japanese society. It is far easier to make peace with yourself and the close circle of friends and family that you have than it is to tear apart the psychology of the Japanese group and individual identity.

People who live in Japan for a long period of time do gradually lose sight of the reality in their home countries as well, on how immigrants are often treated at home.

There are some good and negative points to all countries. Some people might be a bit more accepting of immigrants than others when they have taken the time to learn the language. There are a quite a few Westerners who have become legal Japanese citizens, even local politicians. The fact is, if you who have chosen to live in Japan but cannot come to grips with the fact that you are not going to be considered “Japanese” even if you naturalize, then maybe it is better for you to move on before this becomes a psychosis.

No one ever said that living in Japan would be easy. You would probably find the insularity in some other Asian countries like China and Korea even more disconcerting, carrying that chip on your shoulder all the time.

Kerry M. Berger, Bangkok

Chip on your shoulder

Racial and ethnic prejudice is present globally, not just in Japan. My parents were Americans of Japanese ancestry. Dad served in the segregated U.S. Army during World War II in Italy fighting Germans. He couldn’t get a job in America because “japs” weren’t hired. He served in 442nd RCT/100th Battalion, themost decorated unit in the history of the U.S. Army.

If you don’t like living in Japan, move. People like you walk around with a chip on your shoulder.

Norman Matsumura, Tucson, Ariz.

‘Sorry, gaijin’

People in the US use the term “foreigner” to describe people not from America in pretty much the same way Japanese use “gaijin” to describe people not from Japan. Some people use that term to hurt others. Some people are hurt by it. But if there are a handful of foreigners in the U.S. who feel offended by its usage, does that mean that it is suddenly a bad word?

About 99 percent of the citizens of Japan would say that Mr. A. does not look like a native of this country. If that is a priority for him, I would recommend moving to the U.S. or Canada. I have immense respect for the fact that Mr. A became a Japanese, but it is silly to think that just by becoming Japanese suddenly 125 million native Japanese citizens will start to think of a white person as a Japanese. How would the average Japanese know that Mr. A. (a) has citizenship here and (b) is of “American descent” and therefore should be addressed as “amerika-kei nihonjin” instead of “gaijin,” which applies to the vast majority of white people here?

Even the suggestion that gaijin are stripped of their ancestral identity in the way Africans were when they were forcibly taken from their homes and sent to America is an enormous affront to peoples who lost their ancestral identity in the process, least of all due to language. It is particularly absurd to think that happens to gaijin who freely emigrate to Japan. Quite the contrary. No one seems to forget the ancestry of Korean-Japanese (who often did not freely emigrate), and I am often asked, “Are you German? American?” Japanese are sensitive to these distinctions despite the label. In any event, how is “gaijin” any more culture-erasing than “gaikokujin”?

Regarding the broadcasters, using the more formal “gaikokujin” keeps things nice and diplomatic, and awkward. I would encourage anyone who considers Japanese broadcasters to be the moral standard for this fine country to watch a little late night TV (any night, any station). Is this the moral compass of the Japanese people? Sorry ace, try looking somewhere else.

No matter how much I adapt to Japanese ways, I’ll always be a gaijin here, and the better I understand this the more easily I will be able to live in my adopted country. When I hear a noisy foreigner complaining about how things here should be more like they are back home, all I really can say is, “Sorry, gaijin.”

JG, Zushi, Kanagawa Pref.

When natives are the outsiders

I for one don’t think “gaijin” is as bad a term as people make it out to be. For instance, what about Americans calling their native peoples “Indian?” We are not Indian, and yet we are referred to as such. Why?

Indians are outsiders (from another country) — who does that mean the natives are?

I know Columbus thought he landed in/near India, but that was in the 1400s. I think some people take the term “gaijin” too seriously.

Eledore Massis, Long Branch, N.J.

Like trying to grasp water

As a 31-year resident of Japan, it seems to me that the intonation of the speaker who utters this word matters a great deal, as does the situation in which its use takes place. It still irritates me to hear “gaijin,” but then language is a living thing, so attempts to control it are largely futile — it’s rather like trying to grasp water.

Jeff Jones, Tokyo

Singled out, lumped together

Just wanted to say thanks for a stellar read. I’ve spent the better part of the last six months trying to tie words with emotions on what it’s like to be singled out, then lumped together, all at the hand of one little word.

Would love to see more of this debate continuing in the future.

Zach P, Okayama

Author is discriminating

I like how the author complains of discrimination when his article does the exact same thing back to the Japanese. He makes broad generalizations about how Japanese perceive foreigners, with absolutely no evidence to back his obviously biased observations. In addition,his comparison to term “n–ger” is ludicrous considering all the perks and opportunities foreigners often enjoy in Japan. My heart breaks for poor, suffering foreigners such as Howard Stringer, the CEO of Sony. And by the way, if you don’t have to guts to print the full word, you shouldn’t put it in your article.

My experience living as a foreigner in Japan has always been pleasant, and I have found that Japanese people, while often not very knowledgeable of other cultures, are genuinely interested in hearing about other countries, and the U.S. in particular. So I wonder what the author’s complaint is? Is it the often unfair career advantages foreigners enjoy here or the extra attention and curiosity you receive as someone who looks different? In either case, I can imagine things far worse to complain about.

And I wonder what the author’s position is on the large number of ethnic Koreans who were born in Japan and are virtually indistinguishable from ethnic Japanese? Or how he feels about labeling foreigners as “aliens” in the U.S., and its strict immigration policies.

If anything, an article highlighting the very real problem of prostitution and exploitation of foreign women would have been far more informative and worthy of attention. But I hardly think Debito has much to personally complain about in that regard. Overall, this was a very poorly thought-out article with the same biases and prejudices it complains about. I give it a -1 on a 1-to-10 scale.

Tae Kim, Seattle

Be known as the best gaijin

I always like to read what Debito Arudou has to say. The word “gaijin” may seem strange or misused.

Despite the fact I was born here, I’ve heard it all my life. If you are called by a name all your life it becomes your identity. It would feel strange to change what I’m called mid-stream.

Even a funny name on a good person changes the feeling of the name to a good name for that person. I don’t worry about it at all. Just be known as the best “gaijin” with a Japanese passport around. Enjoy life, know who you are, people who really know you will know you for who you really are. No worries.

Loyd, Kobe

‘Gaijin-san’ proves point

I always try to avoid using the word “gaijin,” but it’s not because I think the word may sound more offensive than “gaikokujin” or other terms that are used to refer to non-Japanese people. I just do so because it would be preferable to call them Americans, Russians, Brazilians, etc, if possible.

Whatever historical study suggests, “gaijin” has no more a negative implication than “gaikokujin.” In fact, some Japanese use the term “gaijin-san” to make it sound polite. This single fact shows that “gaijin” has no discriminatory connotation.

Satoru Yoshikura, Tokyo

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37 comments on “The Japan Times Community Page on the JBC “Gaijin Debate”, part two.

  • i noticed that most of the comments that did not mind the word gaijin were from Non-japanese that didnt even live in as a foreignor that lives in japan on a daily basis i hate the word gaijin because i have to hear this insensitive word on a daily basis..and it is a very negative word that is used to sterotype and classify people, similar to the word BURAKUMIN, which is the japanese minority underclass..

  • The “defect” of the word Gaijin.

    I don’t find this word in itself insultating,
    but it depends much on the context where it is used, how and by whom.
    I got hurt only a few times by its use, but the majority of the times
    it was just used innocently. So I’m not against it at all costs.

    The thing that I find a bit irritating is that this word is ONLY
    used to describe NOT Japanese. To be more clear, try to use the word
    “gaijin” on a Japanese when abroad. They will get utterly confused.
    Some Japanese seem to find it a bit offensive (lol).
    But it indicates “somebody from outside”.

    In 2008 I think that in an advanced country,
    more than the word “gaijin” in itself,
    the general mentality should “evolve”.
    Japan is a part of the world, even if somebody still seems
    to ignore this fact…
    I wonder what use are internet, travelling, modern communication for ?
    None maybe. Humanity is strange………

  • Racial and ethnic prejudice is present globally, not just in Japan. My parents were Americans of Japanese ancestry. Dad served in the segregated U.S. Army during World War II in Italy fighting Germans. He couldn’t get a job in America because “japs” weren’t hired. He served in 442nd RCT/100th Battalion, themost decorated unit in the history of the U.S. Army.

    If you don’t like living in Japan, move. People like you walk around with a chip on your shoulder.
    Norman Matsumoto seems to be the one with a chip on his shoulder. His letter boils down to “My daddy suffered discrimination, so you should as well.”
    And where exactly can Debido move to? Last time I looked, going off-world was not an option. Or does Norman not understand that this is the only world we have, and that we are all connected, so fighting injustice here is to fight it everywhere?
    As to the other correspondents who argue “adapt or die”, does that mean they would embrace South Africa in the 1980s, or slavery in the 1800s? The whole point of injustice is to confront and overcome it. Not to capitulate and run away. Anyone with a sense of justice knows this.

  • Andrew Smallacome says:

    “In fact, some Japanese use the term “gaijin-san” to make it sound polite. This single fact shows that “gaijin” has no discriminatory connotation.”

    The same way that “kisama” 貴様 has no negative connotation? Or if I say “Hey, nigger!” to my one of my African American workmates (worth noting that this is how she addresses the other one) but mean no malice, then the word is not offensive?

  • Can I nominate the horrible “Haafu” for the next campaign against offensive and discriminatory Japanese words? This one particularly sticks in my craw, and should have been outlawed long ago when its English equivalents gratefully faded out of polite use.

    I had the wonderful experience yesterday of an ojiisan riding past me taking my child for a walk, when he stops and says “ah – gaijin no kodomo da! are! chigau haafu no kodomo da!”

    I tried to politely explain that my child is not a “haafu” (neither parent is Japanese, but he is obviously Eurasian) and that I particularly disliked the word “haafu” because it implied that he was only “half” a person. Ojiisan looked very confused and pedaled off. I am sure his intention was perfectly innocent, but we really need some consciousness raising that these words can be offensive.

    –Alright. I’ll devote the next poll (due out Oct 1) to words that are still in common use. Here’s how I’ve phrased the question so far:

    “Terms describing people in any language can be controversial. In your opinion, which one, if any, of these words still in common use do you think are offensive and should be obsolesced out over time?”

    It’ll be a poll where people can choose multiple answers, and the answers so far I’ve come up with are:

    Gaijin, Gaikokujin, Haafu, Shina, Sankokujin, Shintai Shougaisha, I don’t find any of these words offensive, Can’t answer.

    Any other options people feel I should include? We have six days. Debito

  • my japanese wife just told me that the new trend word in japan to describe kids of dual races is not HAAFU, but now its called (MIX) debito you better ad this new insulting word to your survey..this so called new word is in all the maternity magazines to describe the HAAFU model,,it seems that this insulting word is the new trendy word..where i cme from we used to call a MUT DOG a MIX, so im very upset about this new word..

  • “I have one comment, though. If you write “n–ger,” why not use ‘g–jin’”?

    Exactly what I’ve been saying the whole time! The self-censorship we feel we should impose on one word and not the other proves they are not the same! Nigger is far worse than gaijin.

  • A Man In Japan says:

    Hey Carl,

    You are just totally wrong I just dont know how to begin to tell you. I dont see how nigger(yes, I WILL spell it out as no one has a problem spelling out the word “gaijin”) is worse than the word gaijin. If I were to know you and saw you on a regular basis around Japan, and just called you “gaijin” EVERY time I wanted to communicate with you, how do you think you would feel? I would know EXACTLY how you would feel after only 5 minutes of being in each others presence.

    Why dont we try it out right now? GaijinCarl? So now you will be called GaijinCarl by me any time I want to talk to you. GaijinCarl says that “nigger” is worse than “gaijin” So now that he doesn’t mind be called GaijinCarl, maybe GaijinCarl wouldn’t mind if everyone else who visits this website and any random visitors “just relax” and call him GaijinCarl? Do you actually live in Japan? GaijinCarl? Or are you just looking in from the outside, GaijinCarl?

    Well I do hope you stick around GaijinCarl, as Im sure we could ALL learn something from someone such as your self.

  • God, A Man in Japan, could you be anymore childish?

    No, I don’t live in Japan, I live in China. However, I DID live in Japan for quite a while and was called “gaijin” several times in many different social settings. Now, in China, I’m called “big nose” and “yellow hair” quite often, which I find to be a bit more personally offensive than “gaijin.”

    Face the facts, alright? Gaijin is COMPLETELY different from “nigger.” The histories, the usage, the meanings behind the two words. “Gaijin” can be said in a variety of contexts, “nigger” cannot. Someone in another comment mentioned how conversation grinds to a halt when someone says “nigger” but it doesn’t when someone says “gaijin,” there’s some proof right there of the difference in potential offensiveness of the two. Someone screaming “HEY YOU STUPID GAIJIN ROUND EYE!!!” is totally different from waiting for change at the supermarket and the checkout girl thanking the “gaijin-san” for his patience. Now try replacing “gaijin” with “nigger” in those two instances. Point made.

    Seems like quite a few of the people who responded to Debito-san’s article agree with me, as well. “Nigger” is one of the most maligned words in the English language, the offensiveness of which is doubted by no one. “Gaijin,” on the other hand, is of such ambiguous offensiveness that we need to write newspaper articles about it!

    Please grow up, A Man in Japan.

  • I don’t think the term/word gaijin is offensive. However, it just reflects the static myopic view that Japanese have for anything “outside”, it is not Japanese. So, there is Japanese and everything else.

    To call an Iranian, Lebanese, a British, Colombian, Brazilian, Indian, Australian, Malaysian, French et al all, the same, gaijin, who are all clearly very different, is just a very sad reflection of themselves. Either the language is not sufficiently flexible to allow the use of another word or there is no desire to use another word; which would come down to knowledge and education.

    English invents new words all the time for each new and varied situation. If the Japanese language is not flexible, then it must be the native speaker using said language must recognise that such people as listed above, are different. If they still do not recognise their differences, then the days of shutting up shop for 300 years from foreigners may have ended, but the mentality hasn’t.

    In western countries even if such words are deemed offense or derogatory, the word at least recognises their ethnic back ground.

    Gajin says nothing other than….not Japanese. Well that accounts for some 98% of the remaining population of the world! So, to describe some 98% of the entire world comes under one banner…gaijin. That in itself speaks volumes…

    Companies like Toyota, Honda etc survive and prosper not because of the local market, which is in negative growth, but because of their market share overseas. A car sold in japan has a different spec to one sold all over the world, such as in US or UK for example. So the car is altered owing to each individual market. If private companies can recognise difference and change and adapt to varying countries requirements, why not the “establishment” and its own view of its position in the world and hence the populations “mentality” along with it…the word gaijin is irrelevant. It is the mentally and language structure behind it that matters…

  • John K makes some good points. I should go on record and say that I don’t NOT find “gaijin” to be offensive in certain situations…it certainly can be used in an offensive way and certain individuals may or may not feel offended by it, which is their own choice. I, however, just do not feel that “gaijin” is in any way near the same level of offensiveness of “nigger,” my main “beef,” as it were, with this series of columns was the comparison between “gaijin” and “nigger.” Having been on the receiving end of “gaijin” several times, I just can’t fathom how it would have the same impact as “nigger,” which carries with it the weight of all the historical injustices wrought upon black folk, particularly in America (and I was born in the deep South, BTW. Alabama, the “Heart of Dixie”). “Nigger” is a term of dehumanization, “gaijin,” I think, at worst, is a term of disrespect, and ONLY WHEN USED FOR THE PURPOSES OF DELIBERATELY DISESPECTING SOMEONE. We can’t say the same about “nigger,” however. The two are not the same.

  • I hear my child described as “haafu” all the time, from all types of Japanese people including the very well educated and internationally-minded (those who have lived abroad, etc.). I have so far never heard the term, “mix”.

    I tell people that such a child has the benefit of parents from two different nationalities, two cultures, two languages, and two different families with different traditions. Therefore if anything I’d call the child “double”, and not “haafu”. But really I’d be most content to have them considered just children.

  • A Man In Japan says:

    GaijinCarl you are the one who needs to “grow up” The way you felt when you read my comment is exactly the way we feel when we get called “gaijin” all the time. I refuse to let anyone talk to me about “nigger” being worse than “gaijin” because if you are serious about equal on this issue then it’s YOU who needs to FACE THE FACTS. You say that “nigger” is worse than “gaijin” so to me what you are saying is that only black people are only allowed to get offended. There you are people, theres your whole world right in front of you. White people have no say in the world of racism, according to this persons logic.

    When I hear other people call someone a “foreigner” the very FIRST thing that goes off in my head is my bullshit detector. I have never, NEVER in my life come across someone who calls people “foreigners” to not think of them selves of being “better” than them. I know someone in my family who calls people “foreigners” every time they see someone coming from another country in my home town, when I used to live there. And yes, I DO think of them as thinking of being high and mighty. I can not describe in words how I feel when someone who is talking in english over here frigging calls me a “foreigner” like at Hello Work, and also when me and my wife walk down the street and when a group of two or more people walk by us and start talking about “gaijin”

    GaijinCarl if you want to seen as equal then YOU need to come to terms that black people are not the only ones who get offended by certain words.

  • “White people have no say in the world of racism, according to this persons logic.”

    Don’t put words in my mouth, alright? I suugest you go back and re-read what I said. I didn’t say that “gaijin” wasn’t offensive at all…I said it’s offensive to some people in some situations, whereas “nigger” is always offensive to everyone in nearly every situation. Also, don’t act like you’re the only one who has ever been called “gaijin,” alright? Don’t act like you’re the only one who has ever been pointed out on the street while walking with his native wife, alright? I’ve been called “gaijin” a million times in a million different settings and sometimes I was offended and sometimes I wasn’t. When people were purposefully being rude, I was offended. When they were just referring to me a “foreigner” (which you and I both are, so just live with it) I wasn’t upset. You have the right to feel however you want, but you don’t have the right to be an idiot about it. even sells a shirt that says “kiss me, i’m gaijin.” I wonder what would happen if they made one that said “kiss me, i’m a nigger.” POINT MADE YET AGAIN.

    But, be my guest, buddy: if you want to do some first hand research into the dehumanizing connotation of the the word “nigger” vs the word “gaijin” then go ahead. Go to Shibuya and call a white guy “gaijin.” The go down to Watts, Compton, Chicago’s south side, or Washington DC and see what kind of reaction you get when you call someone “nigger.” Just make sure you’re wearing a cup. Or a bullet-proof vest.

    I never thought I’d see a user who was stupider than Big B. Guess I was wrong.

    –This is going beyond the point of the blog entry and becoming a cat fight. One more reply from A Man in Japan and we’ll wrap this up.

  • A Man in Japan

    I agree with you about the feeling you get when the words ‘gaijin’ or ‘foreigner’ are used. More often than getting called a ‘gaijin’ I hear people using the term in my presence and can’t help but feel they first saw me and then started using the word, even if they are not talking about me.
    I can’t place my finger on exactly what about it that bothers me so much but I do feel like you do that I, and other non-Japanese here, are being looked down upon. It’s like we are being pigeon-holed as inferior beings. It’s as if that’s all we are, a ‘gaijin’.
    I have lived in Japan for over sixteen years now and want to think of myself as an immigrant here, Japan being my new home even if I only have permanent residency and not citizenship. But many people here treat you like you just stepped off an airplane at Narita and expect you to get back on soon.
    Just my two cents.

  • Behan

    “…It’s like we are being pigeon-holed as inferior beings….”

    Only if you let yourself be taken in by this emotion. The Q is, do you feel inferior? Personally i do not feel inferior or superior to anyone. As such, i just think that it is very sad reflection that a Japanese person wishes to use an antiquated word and connotation in a modern 21st century developed country. Their bad, not mine…

  • “No one alive today who has been called the N-word has ever been beaten as a slave in a state-supported system. No one alive today who has been called the G-word has ever been beaten, nor stolen from their homelands in a state-sponsored system of oppression.”

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but aren’t there still Koreans and Chinese who were brought here during the war that are still alive?

    –And then there’s human trafficking under Japan’s Entertainer Visa system, if you really want to get technical…

  • Are “Koreans and Chinese who were brought here during the war” also called “gaijin” in Japan?
    I know that technically they could be “gaijin”, but I don’t think anybody calls them so in real life.
    Correct me if I am wrong.

  • DRI

    I don’t know if anyone calls zainichi Koreans or Chinese ‘gaijin’ but they are definitely not considered to be Japanese by a lot of Japanese people.

  • A Man In Japan says:

    Deal with it GaijinCarl, Im never ever, ever, EVER gonna let YOU convince me that “nigger” is worse than “gaijin” just frigging deal with it. “Also, don’t act like you’re the only one who has ever been called “gaijin,” alright?” I NEVER said that I was! Don’t YOU put words into MY mouth! I hate guilt trippers like you, I’ve played that game a million frigging times man. Just don’t you fucking try that with ME!! You are trying to make it out that I was the only one getting called “gaijin”, when I NEVER even said anything like that in my life! Everyone gets called “gaijin” over here, are you that stupid to think that I DIDN’T realise that??

    What Im stressing out here, is that, I don’t see why all of us should be called “gaijin” all the time! Is that too much for your damn brain to handle?? Since your so damn clever, then why don’t you explain to everyone the reason WHY everyone needs to point out the fact we are foreigners? Behan is totally right when he said “I agree with you about the feeling you get when the words ‘gaijin’ or ‘foreigner’ are used. More often than getting called a ‘gaijin’ I hear people using the term in my presence and can’t help but feel they first saw me and then started using the word, even if they are not talking about me.” I can’t understand how it couldn’t be any more simple? He is explaining the feeling that EVERYONE not just ME goes through!

    Is that clear enough for you GaijinCarl? Will I need to retype everything, highlight it, change the font size to, what? 25? Set it to bold and change the colour to red?? Too many people like you trying to walk all over people just trying to stick up for them selves. For god sakes if it bothers you that much to see people sticking up for them selves then it just must be another day getting pissed off then, huh? Im never gonna let anyone like you talk down to me and start lecturing on to me what way I “should be feeling” Your NEVER gonna be able to do such a thing! You can’t control what way people take things “buddy” so give it up. I don’t even know why Im bothering with people like you but I must, to make a point!

    So remember GaijinCarl, don’t go around trying to tell people how to “take things” because your NEVER GONNA DO IT! NOT IN A MILLION YEARS!! And YOU are going to have to “deal with” about how OTHER people can get offended by such words just like people get offended by “nigger”

    And debito, Im not attacking you but I don’t feel this should be seen as a cat fight…? Im not going to let anyone try and guilt trip me into magically just “converting” and just see things HIS way. If we are going to be seen as criminals and being denied services just because we are looked upon as “foreigners” well I don’t know how anyone else wouldn’t think that to be a cause of alarm? But GaijinCarl doesn’t seem to accept this “little fact” and if anyone else can’t see why I was arguing with him, well, I just don’t know…

    –No I can see why you’re arguing with him. I just don’t see how it’s relating to the original blog entry anymore. That’s why I said “cat fight”, because it just seems to be between the two of you at this point. So that’s enough from both of you. Take it offblog.

  • CatWhoWalksThroughWalls99 says:

    As an American living in Japan for 7 years now, I find the word ‘gaijin’, much the same as Japanese attitudes to being a ‘gaijin’, rather dehumanizing. Many of the folks who mentioned the stress and humiliation of hearing the word day in and day out, over years and years, hit the nail on the head.

    I would love, for once, to sit down in a public place in Japan and not have everyone in my immediate vicinity start chatting about me (and ‘gaijin’ in general) as if I were not there. I do a lot of writing on my laptop at restaurants and cafes (three or four times a week, for three or four hour stretches) and it’s incredible how insensitive Japanese people can be when they see me. I am a quiet guy, I don’t make a lot of noise, I don’t eat like a horse and I don’t make an ass out of myself in public – in other words, I consider myself rather unassuming.

    As soon as I sit down, however, the chatting begins: ‘Ah, my friend married a gaijin’ or ‘I want to learn English to talk to gaijin!’ or ‘My son is studying English and not doing well’ or ‘Gaijin are so hairy’ or ‘I want to find a gaijin like him’ or ‘There are so many gaijin in Japan now’ or the all-time classic (about me) ‘We can talk about him – he’s a gaijin – he doesn’t understand us!’… those are the NICE ones I hear… I’ll spare you the ruder ones. I write for three of four hours at a time, so I just tell myself it’ll stop when these people leave, but as soon as they do, someone else sits down and the chatting invariably begins again. Anyone that thinks all they need to listen for is the word ‘gaijin’ is sorely mistaken.

    For those of you who HONESTLY speak Japanese, do an experiment. Sit down in a restaurant or cafe, alone, and listen to the chatting around you. Wait there for a while, until those customers sitting next to you leave, and the next customers sit down. Don’t let on that you speak a word of Japanese. Order in English. Listen carefully. They’re talking about YOU, my ‘gaijin’ friend… trust me.

    I have another experiment for you. Get one or two Japanese friends, ask them to remain totally silent, and then enter a restaurant and try to order for all of them. Watch as the waiter or waitress ignores you and refers all questions to your friends. Watch as you wave your hands and struggle to get the waiter or waitresses attention even as you tell them, in perfect Japanese, that yes, you can speak the language. Don’t be rude… be polite. Watch as they won’t meet your eyes. I’ve DONE this. Watch as, even with YOUR OWN FOOD, they refer all questions about special sauces and what not to your FRIENDS.

    (As a bonus, get a couple CHINESE friends who speak NO JAPANESE and see what happens… I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised when your Chinese friends answer in Chinese and you are STILL ignored! Whoo hoo!)

    None of the above comments and situations are bad in and of themselves… but try it everyday, day in and day out. My guess is that, like me, the effect is that you will feel dehumanized. I don’t feel like a person anymore. I feel like I am behind a glass wall… If I walk into a video store and tell them I can’t find a movie and ask for help… I get stared at because my Japanese is so good. If I go into a restaurant and ask for a menu in English, I get stared at. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

    I’ve had THREE incidents where, in the darkness of night, a Japanese person has approached me (thinking I’m Japanese) and asked me the location of a station or a restaurant. Know what happens when I move into the light and they see that I’m a ‘gaijin’? They run away! After the first two times where this happened, I made a point to chase down the third guy and tell him where the damn station was, then explained to him that I lived in the area, and that, by the way, just because my face is not the same color or shape as his, it doesn’t mean I can’t speak Japanese and it doesn’t mean I’m an idiot.

    I don’t know if the word ‘gaijin’ is bad – I just don’t know. But ‘gaijin’ is the tip of a very large iceberg of stereotypes that is, unfortunately, afloat in Japan. Hearing it everyday, day in and day out, over seven years, makes me feel like, as an ‘outsider’, I’m not equal to a Japanese and I never will be.

    That iceberg begins with those ridiculous ‘icebreaker’ questions… ‘You can use chopsticks?!’ or ‘You like takoyaki?!’ or ‘Can you eat natto?!’ They seem so friendly on the surface, but the next time you meet a black guy for the first time, ask him if he plays basketball or listens to rap music? Then ask him how many times he gets asked stupid-ass questions like that from people that aren’t black who are trying to be ‘friendly’ with him. I wonder what he will say.

    The iceberg ends with major political figures making dumb-ass statements about foreigners rioting after earthquakes. What more can I say about that?

    So, ‘gaijin’?

    After so many years of having the same old experiences, though, I’m starting to feel the humiliation of that iceberg constantly poking me. Isn’t that what ‘bad words’ are all about? Poking people? Stinging them? Making them feel less than human? If we can’t get Japanese to understand that a word makes people feel bad, how can we ever make the Japanese understand their ATTITUDES are even more hurtful?


    PS… Next time a black/yellow/purple/green man/woman complains about racism in the US, tell them to get out of the country and watch his reaction. You’ll be lucky not to get a punch in the nose. So long as they’re not harming anyone else, I believe people have the right to live anywhere they want without suffering the ignorant stereotypes of others.

  • The post from CatWhoWalks reminds me of a time when my (Japanese) wife and I were dining at a densely packed restaurant and two women sat down at the next table. After looking at us, one of them started telling her friend in an indiscreet voice about some American guy (evidently she’d spent some time in the US) who was crazy about her, and who wouldn’t give up when she kept rejecting the poor loser. Then she enlightened her friend about how those relationships and marriages with gaijin never work out. I can understand Japanese but was trying to tune them out, though I had a vague idea what they were talking about. My wife, on the other hand, was catching it all and later told me how offended she was. She said it was obvious the woman was going on like that because of seeing us, and it seemed she wanted to be heard. I tried to brush it off, telling my dear wife that the woman was probably just envious of how happy we looked, and are, together.

    Having said that, the above situation was an exception. I don’t experience anything like that from most Japanese, so ascribed it to some people being jerks while others are decent here, just like anywhere else. But I live in Tokyo, where there is nothing unusual about seeing foreigners. I suspect it is different in other parts of Japan.

    What I HAVE experienced all too often, though (even here in Tokyo), is the scenario of the waiter/waitress ignoring me and talking only to my wife or Japanese colleague/friend even if I make a point to speak directly to them in Japanese. Sometimes I will ask a question, and they will answer to my wife. This is indeed annoying, and for a while I was tempted at times to very sternly point out that I am not a potted plant. But, alas, I actually kind of got used to it and half the time now I just ignore the person while they talk to my wife. I suppose this is my way of avoiding stress. When I’m alone, on the other hand, and they have to acknowledge me to take my order, it’s nearly always fine.

    Sorry if I strayed off topic here, because this was not about the word “gaijin”. But some of the recent posts seemed to transition to the broader topic of perceptions of foreigners here, which I find more interesting than focusing on a particular word.


  • CatWhoWalksThroughWalls99,

    Sounds like substituting “gaijin” to “gaikokujin” will not solve the problem. Why don’t you (and all of you who doesn’t like “the ignorant stereotypes of others”) write to the Japanese language newspapers. Japanese people don’t know what you are talking about and writing here or in Japan Times in English doesn’t help at all. Even if all NJ agree that ‘gaijin’ is racist or Japanese people are stereotype holders, it does NOTHING. Let Japanese people know. I contacted NHK and asked about the gaijin issue, and they had no idea about the issue discussed here and in Japan Times. Write in Japanese and send it to the Japanese media.

  • thecatwhowalksthroughwalls99 says:

    Hello Ken and DRI,

    Thank you both for your replies to my post. I figured, after two weeks since the original posting, no one would be reading this thread but it’s nice to see SOMEONE read what I wrote!

    Ken, I sympathize with the ‘incident’ with your lady. Over my seven years here, I have countless similar stories along similar lines. I hate going on a date with a girl, hoping to take her out and show her a good time, and have all of that undercut by embarrassing stereotypes! I commend you for being able to tune it out in order to preserve your sanity. I, unfortunately, am not able to do the same, and usually end up lecturing (as politely as possible) those that upset me. I think it’s good that you pointed out that there are just as many nice folks as jerks here – just like everywhere else. You’re absolutely right, and it’s important to remember. For every person that sits down next to me and starts chatting about ‘gaijin’, there are a dozen other people in the restaurant who didn’t blink twice at me – one bad apple ruins the bunch. I am aware that there are differences between the country and the city, but having lived in Tokyo for my entire time in Japan, I would disagree that the problem in uncommon here. People that think Tokyo is a truly ‘international’ city with a population used to the presence of foreigners have probably never lived in Los Angeles or the Great Granddaddy of All Melting Pots, New York City.

    DRI, I did not mean to imply by my post that I did NOT try to contact Japanese media over this kind of thing (as a matter of fact I WORKED at a major Japanese TV network for several years). It’s just that I saw fit to comment on the comments of others, hoping that they may glean something from my experiences. You are absolutely right that our words fall on deaf ears if we insulate ourselves within the ‘bubble’ of English speakers in Japan. If every Japanese-speaking ‘gaijin’ wrote a letter to the media, we’d hear (a little) more about this in the news.

    In an attempt to swing this discussion back to the ‘g’ word, I would like to apologize for not making my previous analogy clear. I had intended to link the word to stereotyping by metaphorically linking it to the tip of an iceberg. It may seem harmless on the surface, but you wouldn’t want to hit it with your boat. And if you did, you’d be likely to uncover a bunch of nasty issues beneath the surface.

    Again, is the word a acceptable or not? I know how it makes me feel, but am I just getting my panties in a bunch? Well, as Ken was kind of alluding to in his reply to my post, a discussion of the ‘g’ word at least gets people talking about the status of foreigners in Japan, which can only be a good thing for EVERYONE. In a post above, John K makes a point that I tend to side with – use of the word by the society is rather ‘myopic’. In a way, it limits Japanese to a viewpoint that can only cripple them in the long run. This is, of course, only my opinion, and I am certainly not implying that other countries do not have ‘crippling’ issues to deal with. But basically, I find that a failure to deal with, or fear of, outside influences on a personal and/or societal level often leads to a rather unhealthy isolation.

    But how is the ‘g’ word significant? Why is any word, or language significant and how does it reflect on society? Let’s take a look at three words (that use the same kanji) in Japanese…

    First, we have 変わる. Okay, ‘kawaru’, meaning to change. No problems there. Next up, let’s look at 変な, the word ‘henna’, which means strange. Okay, so far we have ‘strange’ and ‘change’ written with the same kanji. Hmmm… Well, let’s now look at 大変, or ‘taihen’, the word for hardship. So, when we add the kanji for ‘big’ to ‘strange’ or ‘change’ we get ‘hardship’. Hmmm… are we equating changing to strange to hardship? What does this say about Japanese society? Nothing? Everything? If I were Dan Brown, I could write a schlocky novel and title it ‘The Kanji Code’! I’m embarrassed by my rather simplistic analysis (my apologies to any real linguists out there), but I think language plays a BIG part in people’s perceptions. I don’t mean to imply AT ALL that my interpretation is anywhere close to the truth, but it’s fun to think about, isn’t it? The Japanese language is full of stuff like this, not good, not bad, but simply interesting. I love looking for connections, which is why I enjoy the language so much, I guess.

    How does language color our perceptions? Does it? At a certain point, does it all just become a sound to us, or chicken scratch on a page? Or is there something more? Can is influence us? Who knows! But don’t you all just love to think about it?

  • Dear CatWhoWalks… Just FYI I am in fact from New York. But thanks for providing an example of the hazards of stereotyping. 😉

    Anyway, different people have different experiences and I was just referring to my own. But as I admitted, I’ve come to tune out the distasteful behaviors that might otherwise cause me stress (perhaps taking a lesson from the Japanese, there). If I spent time looking and listening closely for things to take offense at, I’m pretty sure I’d find more of them.

    As for “gaijin”, the word used to bother me more than it does now. I try to focus on the context and in the vast majority of cases find no ill intent (and the converse, sometimes people bearing ill will may do so without uttering this word). But I don’t use it myself (I use gaikokujin), in order to at least set a positive example. I can’t control the behavior of others, but I can control my own.

  • Shiro Ishii says:

    The Cat has identified the real problem behind quibbles over “what word to use” to refer to perceived “race” or “ethnicity”; it’s not the word per se, it’s the attitude that lies beneath it. In *this* regard, “gaijin” (which in practice best translates as “whitey”) is indeed analogous to “nigger”.

    In the US, well-meaning people suffer anguish over whether to use “person of color”, “African-American”, “black”, and so forth (“colored” and “Negro” having formerly been considered polite but no longer). That no term seems acceptable for any length of time shows that the problem is not in the words per se.

    The problem, of course, is in what attitude is perceived by the person using the term and by the person of whom it is used. The real question is, “Is “race” the thing you should be identifying this person with in this situation?” Unless it’s statistical susceptibility to sickle-cell anemia or something, it usually isn’t.

    As for how to deal with being the target of “race” words, this touches on fundamental aspects of personal identity. The question you have to ask yourself is whether other people get to identify you without knowing you as an individual, on the basis of things such as parentage or appearance. If you let the most ignorant or malicious people you encounter define you, you’re going to have a rough life.

    “You don’t get to tell me who I am!” seems to be Debito’s motivation, and even if I don’t always agree with his single-mindedness or tactics, that original concept is correct and healthy. When to shrug off or pity the ignorance of others, and when to stand up and say, “That’s not me”, or “Not in my name”, is up to individual judgement and priorities.

    May I offer my own suggestion with regard to words to use? Since “gaikokujin” is a legal word in Japan to refer to people who do not possess Japanese nationality, but since that fact has no rightful power to define anyone’s personal identity or how they should be treated by others, how about we simply say, “gaikokujin to sareru mono/hito/kata”?

    This means, “person designated/treated/singled out as an alien”, which is a statement of fact. Where people take things from there is up to them.

  • @CatWhoWalks: It’s weird… I really don’t know how you and I are different, but I have quite different experience from you… Going out for lunch with my Japanese co-workers, I’ve never had waiters talk to them instead of me… Just the other day, I got into a taxi with a (Japanese) co-worker, and as soon as it was established that I was the one who knew where I was going, I was the one who the taxi driver talked to. I’ve been asked for directions numerous times — both while on foot and while waiting at a red light on my motorcycle — and each time the person has thanked me and taken my directions. Not saying that it doesn’t happen to you, of course, just wondering what it is that is different about our situations. Maybe it’s that I live in Tokyo where people are more used to dealing with foreigners? Maybe it’s that I’ve only been here for just over 4 years and things have gotten better? Hell, I very rarely even get asked about my natto-eating abilities. Nobody says a word when I am out and about in my neighbourhood wearing my jimbei, or when I show up at the gym using a furoshiki to hold my gym clothes in.

  • At every opportunity i describe myself as “English”, (igirisujin), never as gaikokujin, or gaijin. This differentiates me from the remaining 98% of the world, which gaijin applies to!

    If the English, or Americans or Germans, or any other Western country, called Japanese, Chinese, I’m sure there would be an uproar….but why not. To the average Westerner, their main characteristics are the same, small in stature, black hair, almond shaped eyes, eat lots of rice, use chop sticks to eat and a language that is incomprehensible to us. So why would a Japanese person be offended being called Chinese by an American or any other Westener, for example? Since the corollorary is precisely what the Japanese do with any Westerner (or others) by calling them gaijin.

    As I noted above, it is an antiquated word, for antiquated society. If a Japanese person does not like being referred to as Chinese, they must ask themselves why? Then they should appraise how they use the word gaijin to everyone that is not Japanese, juxtaposed against their annoyance being called Chinese by somone who is not Japanese.

    May be then the penny will drop. Call us what we are, not what we are not.

  • John K,

    For your information, I am Japanese, but I’m not offended when called Chinese. For the moment, I’m staying in Australia. There are quite a few Chinese people in my neighborhood, but no Japanese except for me. Accordingly, everyone thinks of me as, or ask me if I am, Chinese. I have no problem whatsoever with that.

    The other day, I found a small card stuck to a shirt which I brought home from a laundry shop which is run by Chinese. On the card was written “亜洲老頭 (Asian old guy)” I wasn’t offended at all by being clumped into such a vague category as “Asian,” but was a bit indignant at the “old.”

    I’m afraid it would be quite a different matter from mine if you try to call a Japanese in Japan “Chinese.” He/she wouldn’t be necessarily offended, but certainly be puzzled why you think so. It would be something similar to calling someone in Britain “American.”

    As for your argument, I partly agree with you, and partly not. I have already written too many comments on this issue to repeat them here. I would just like to refer you to them. To sum up, there are a lot of things for the Japanese to improve in terms of how they interact with foreign people. At the same time, foreign people in Japan, English guys included, are not without some things to learn in terms of how the Japanese may have different ways to see things from theirs, and they are not necessarily something to blame. I’d be glad if you had time to read them.

    My previous comments are posted in as
    #34, #38, #41and #45 in the following link,
    #16, #37, #45, #52, #64 and #69 in the following link,
    and #3, #17, #20 and #25 in the following link.

  • PnetQ

    From what I read, you are the exception rather than the rule, the fact you see foreigners everyday is evidence of that.

    1) You are outside of Japan, therefore you are no longer in the “majority”. Hence you realise that everyone is different. As such you are now providing a personal opine, as opposed to a generalised statement about those inside Japan, especially those than have never been outside of Japan.
    The story of a card stuck to your T-Shirt is simply a personal anecdote and has no relevance to the issue at hand, ie the perception of being called Chinese, or Korean, or any other Asian “race” inside Japan to a Japanese person, by a foreigner.

    2) Using the term ‘gaijin’ between Japanese inside Japan is, as I have written before, very sad. It is an antiquated term from anitquated times. If you feel that a Japanese person using the word ‘gaijin’ in the 21st century is not an anathema then why are you not wearing your katana, or expecting justice from a sword by falling on it or being paid in bushels of rice, since these are from the same era of the usage of that word. Which are understood.

    However, harping back to ‘those’ days, the Japanese never had a word for bread, as it was not part of their diet then. The word ‘pan’ is used, taken from the Europeans. Why not use a word that says “outside food”, in its equivalent in Japanese? If the concept of a food source that is not indigenous to japan is called what it is, bread, or pan, that there is at least some recognition of a foreign concept. So why stop there? Bread is bread, British is British, German is German etc.

    So, if in ‘those days’ of wielding swords falling on swords and paying everyone in rice etc, a foreign word is used to describe foreign food, why is it that the second largest economy in the world in the 21st century, that depends on ‘foreign trade’ has not made the even slightest advance or link that the word ‘gaijin’ is no longer appropriate and from a time of long long ago?

    You can select endless derogatory words from the past of many ‘western countries, which were being used to describe a person that is ‘native’ by colonials or someone from a ‘distant land’, not native to their own. All, by today’s standards, unacceptable.

    The success of foreign trade depends upon understanding the local market and the fact everyone is different. I gave examples before of a Honda/Nissan/Toyota car, for example, for the US market is different from one from the UK market. the fact that Sony just pulled their latest game, to prevent “offence” to muslims etc, is a very clear sign of ‘understanding’ the world beyond the shores of Japan and its place in it.

    The understand of ‘being different’ is made by successful multinationals, and it has made them successful….so why has this “education” not trickled down to the establishment and hence to the masses…indoctrination is a wonderful way to promote social control!!

    Even today with the Internet and satellite TV…a whole new world is out there….if you feel the word gaijin is acceptable in 21st century modern japan then you obviously have no problem being called a little yellow nip, or any other endless derogatory term, day in day out, by every nation and nationality around the world. Since the Japanese call everyone from every nation around the world that is not from Japan, ie 98% of the world, the same term, is sad and myopic at best! As such, i pity Japans lack of education in advancing socially on the global stage, despite endless decades to ‘redeem’ itself.

  • John K,

    Yes, the anecdote at a laundry shop was just for fun. Forget about it. (It was real, though.)

    (1) Uproar When Called Chinese
    As for your first point, you have made it clear that you are talking about Japanese in Japan being called “Chinese” by foreign people. My case is excluded. Then, actually I can’t understand exactly what cases you are talking about.

    Personally, I have never in my life been called “Chinese” in Japan. Neither have I witnessed any Japanese being called “Chinese.” I don’t think this experience of mine is exceptional. I believe most Japanese don’t have such an experience. As I said in my last comment, it is unlikely. It is like calling someone in Britain “American” or “German.” How can that happen in the first place?

    The only probable case that I can think of is when you speak to a class consisting of international students, including Japanese and Chinese. In such an occasion, a Japanese student, when mistakenly called “Chinese,” may be surprised and say “No, I’m Japanese” in a bit a raised voice if he/she doesn’t know the class includes Chinese students. However, when the facts are known to them, such a reaction would certainly evaporate.

    Or they may be simply amused by being called Chinese. As I said above, it would be their first experience in their lives. Young guys make the most fun out of such an occasion. They may fall into a noisy disorder. If you are referring to such a reaction among them when you say “an uproar,” I can agree with you. However, you don’t mean it, do you? In the usual English usage, when people make “an uproar,” they must be angry or upset about something. Are the Japanese students in the international class angry? No way. Are they being amused? Probably.

    Other than the case I examined above, I don’t think you can find any occasions where you can reasonably call a Japanese in Japan “Chinese” unless you have a specific reason to do so. Accordingly, the Japanese person who is called “Chinese” would wonder what the reason could be. If you insist on calling a Japanese “Chinese” when the facts are known to you, he/she would definitely be disturbed not by being called “Chinese.” but by your weird intransigence.

    On the other hand, the cases in which foreign people in Japan are called “gaijin” by Japanese are quite different phenomena. Bear in mind that I have already proposed the Japanese stop calling foreign people “gaijin.” However, the Japanese have valid reasons to consider someone as “gaijin.” Exactly for the same reason that the Westerners cannot tell the differences between Japanese, Chinese and Koreans, the Japanese cannot know whether the foreign person is English, American or German. Hence, the term “gaijin.” Although the term may not make sense to you, whether someone is “gaijin” or not matters to the Japanese on a very practical level.

    In short, your attempt to draw a conclusion from the comparison between the foreign people being called “gaijin” and the Japanese being called “Chinese” wouldn’t work. They are two different phenomena. The Japanese won’t be called Chinese in Japan, in the first place. I would be glad if you could tell me what experiences made you possible to make “a generalised statement,” as opposed to “a personal opinion,” on this issue of the Japanese being called “Chinese” in Japan.

    (2) “Gaijin” Used among the Japanese
    I have already admitted that the Japanese have to improve their ways of interacting with the foreign people. I have also come to a conclusion that the Japanese should stop using the term “gaijin” when they speak to them. In these regards, you and I have the same opinion.

    However, I have been also arguing that the term “gaijin” can be permissibly used among the Japanese. You are against it. Before getting down to my case, I would like to remind you about one thing. That is, we are going to argue strictly about the term “gaijin” used among the Japanese. Don’t get confused with “gaijin” spoken to foreign people.

    You say that “a Japanese person using the word ‘gaijin’ in the 21st century” is “an anathema.” Why do you think so? It is apparently because you think the term “gaijin” is a derogatory word.

    John K Says:
    “You can select endless derogatory words from the past of many ‘western countries, which were being used to describe a person that is ‘native’ by colonials or someone from a ‘distant land’, not native to their own. All, by today’s standards, unacceptable.”

    John K Also Says:
    ” … if you feel the word gaijin is acceptable in 21st century modern japan then you obviously have no problem being called a little yellow nip, or any other endless derogatory term, day in day out, by every nation and nationality around the world.”

    The foremost importance to you is that you have to start thinking about the possibility that the term “gaijin” should ever be a non-derogatory word. “Gaijin” is different from the terms that the Western colonialists used to describe “native” people derogatorily. “Gaijin” is nothing to be compared to “a little yellow nip.” It seems to me that you are seeing the term “gaijin” through colored glasses of your own culture. Unless you understand that the term “gaijin” is not a derogatory word, all the other arguments would be meaningless. After considering all the pros and cons, you can always go back to your starting point and say, “Don’t use such a derogatory word.”

    When it comes to the question of whether the term “gaijin” is antiquated or not, I find your opinion more acceptable. As one of the readers said in his/her contribution to this discussion, “gaijin” is much less frequently heard in Japan now than 30 years ago. In future, “gaijin” may be out of use. However, I think the term “gaijin” still has its role to play in the Japanese vocabulary. I don’t predict the term will become obsolete in my lifetime.

    The reason why the Japanese don’t clump various foreign foods into “outside food,” or “gaishoku ? (外食),” is simple. It is because they can see the differences between bread, pasta, pizza and so on.

    You suggest that the Japanese follow the examples of Honda, Nissan and Toyota which have been successful by adapting to various foreign markets. That is exactly what I have wanted to say to you. You need to understand the differences between the Japanese society and your own. When I say “Japan is different,” I’m not implying “Japan as an enigma” or “the mysterious culture.” You can understand the differences if you open up your mind, just as I did since I started to look into this discussion. I think I have learned a lot in this discussion. That is why I have decided that the Japanese shouldn’t use “gaijin” to foreign people although I’m still convinced the term is not a derogatory word. I think you can do it too.

  • PnetQ

    “…As for your first point, you have made it clear that you are talking about Japanese in Japan being called “Chinese” by foreign people….” NO, you are not reading or understanding my words correctly.
    I said “…perception of being called Chinese, or Korean, or any other Asian “race” inside Japan to a Japanese person, by a foreigner..”. You selected Chinese as a focal point for your discussion, I am not. As i made the point above that “..To the average Westerner, their main characteristics are the same, small in stature, black hair, almond shaped eyes, eat lots of rice, use chop sticks to eat and a language that is incomprehensible to us.
    “..i then selected Chinese as an example, you could of course use any others i also gave..Korean, Thai, Taiwanese ad nauseam.

    “…If you insist on calling a Japanese “Chinese” when the facts are known to you, he/she would definitely be disturbed not by being called “Chinese.”but by your weird intransigence…”
    EXACTLY…and that is the point, i have described the corollary that which exists here, yet that has gone over your head. So, why use an antiquated word ‘gaijin’, even when their nationality is known? As I have stated above, i make it very clear i introduce myself as English to people I meet…immediately that person speaks to their friend/acquaintance who’s English is worse than my Japanese and i hear them refer to me as gaijin NOT English…duurrr!!!!

    Why on earth do you assume I am a teacher and then base your arguments around this unfounded deviation???…again another Japanese Trait, assume what you are familiar with…foreigners in Japan must be teaching. I am NOT a teacher.

    “..The reason why the Japanese don’t clump various foreign foods into “outside food,” or “gaishoku ? (外食),” is simple. It is because they can see the differences between bread, pasta, pizza and so on…”
    EXACTLY…so the link between food has been made, but NOT nationalities!! Once a foreigner has been identified, s/he is STILL called a gaijin.

    Hence, if I or anyone else called any Japanese person inside Japan Chinese, or Korean OR ANY OTHER ASAIAN race, (with the qualifiers i gave earlier), you can image their growing annoyance….ask them why…and their reply will be exactly that which is being said to all foreigners in Japan! Clumping 98% of the world as “once race”.

    Call us what we are…not what we are not. Otherwise there is no reason for me not to call a Japanese person, Korean, or Chinese or Thai or whatever….as “all you Asians are the same”….as all foreigners are the same, ergo – gaijin!

    Finally just to clarify, yet again, I haven’t said the word gaijin is derogatory. I think it is a very sad reflection of a modern 21stC developed country, I used the example of many typical poor choice of words from colonial days by conquering Western powers in days gone by, such as the Romans, British, Spanish, which are no longer acceptable today. Socially these countries have ‘grown’ up from their myopic view of the world and their arrogance at being the only race worth recognising.

    I see no advancement here in Japan on this score. You are outside of Japan, so you have no choice but to recognise you are not the majority…period. Japanese in Japan do not, for all the aforementioned reasons.

    “…You need to understand the differences between the Japanese society and your own….”
    That’s where your whole premise falls down. “WE”, foreigners do, but the reverse is not true as you opine. We are exposed and reminded everyday of the differences, day in day out…

  • John K,

    I didn’t mean to make “Chinese” a focal point of my argument. I just used it as an example, following the way you did in your comment, and expected you would understand my rhetoric. Since you seem to not understand it, I would like to change my sentence as follows:

    “You are talking about Japanese in Japan being called ‘Chinese’ or any other Asian ethnic group other than Japanese by foreign people.”

    I hope this is correct enough to you. However, I don’t think this modification affect the viability of my argument to any degree.

    (1) Calling and Referring to Someone by a False Nationality When Nationality Is Known
    In the second paragraph in your last comment, you have made it clear, for the first time, that you are talking about situations where the addressee’s nationality is known to the speaker. I mistook your intention, and thought you were arguing about situations where the nationality is not known. However, I don’t necessarily think it is my fault. The point you have made that the Westerners cannot discern the different ethnicities of Asian people does affect only situations where the nationality of the addressee is not yet known, doesn’t it?

    Anyway, if you are talking about situations where the nationality is already known, I don’t think your opinion and mine are much different. In my previous comments, I have expressed my opinion that when you get to know someone, in order to be respectful to the person, you are expected to remember his/her name, and nationality if necessary. Not doing so, and calling the person “gaijin,” or “gaikokujin,” is tantamount to disrespect, thus should be regarded as offensive.

    I wasn’t explicit in my comments as to whether I think you should refer to someone whose nationality is known to you as “gaijin” without the presence of the person. I don’t think you should. Whether it is with or without the presence of the said person, you should refer to him/her by the nationality that you have learned, not by “gaijin.”

    When it comes to the issue of calling someone who you know is Japanese “Chinese” or any other Asian ethnic group other than Japanese, it is not only inappropriate but also sheer nonsense. It is simply false. I don’t think this type of situation requires much consideration for us to reach an agreed conclusion.

    I think we share the same opinion so far. According to your comment, you have seen many Japanese calling you, or referring to you as, “gaijin” even after you have made it clear that you are English. I would like to express my sincere regret about such insensible behaviors of my fellow Japanese. They really need to get out of that. I’m not defending them. I’m with you in this regard.

    (2) Calling Someone “Gaijin” When Nationality Is Not Known
    My concerns don’t stop there, though. I think we also need to consider whether you should use the term “gaijin” in situations where the nationality of the person at issue is not known to you. First, let us examine situations where you directly call a person whose nationality in not known by the term “gaijin.” You are obviously against it, and I agree with you.

    Although someone may be a “gaijin” from the Japanese’ point of view, the person wouldn’t consider himself/herself as a “gaijin.” As you have pointed out, the term “gaijin” means Non-Japanese. While whether someone is Japanese or not is relevant information to the Japanese in many cases, it is not to the Non-Japanese themselves.

    What I think the Japanese who call foreign people “gaijin” need to understand is that to perceive someone as something is different from calling the person by the term derived from the perception. Calling someone by a certain term is similar to naming the person by the term. You shouldn’t be imposing arbitrarily-chosen names on other people. I think this is what you mean when you say “Call us what we are … not what we are not.” I agree.

    (3) Referring to Someone as “Gaijin” When Nationality Is Not Known
    Now let us move on to another point around which my arguments have been mostly centered. We need to consider situations where a Japanese speaker refers to someone whose nationality is not known as “gaijin” in a conversation which doesn’t involve the person at issue. Typically, this could be a conversation among the Japanese about a stranger who the speaker happens to see somewhere.

    This is what I called in my last comment “‘gaijin’ used among the Japanese.” I would like to call your attention, as I did before, to the point that this is “gaijin” used among the Japanese, not “gaijin” spoken to foreign people. It is very important that you be aware of this distinction.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be against this usage of “gaijin” too. I’m afraid you have failed so far to provide us with enough grounds for your verdict in this respect.

    In this case, the person at issue hasn’t revealed his/her nationality to the speaker. Basically, the speaker wouldn’t be in a position to get to know it. You should accept that exactly for the same reason that the average Westerners cannot discern the differences among various Asian ethnic groups, the average Japanese cannot discern the differences among various Western ethnic groups. It should also be noted that, in this case, upon no foreign people is imposed a false name by calling them so.

    I know you have written in your earlier comment posted on September 26th that you don’t think “the term/word gaijin is offensive.” In your last comment, you say you “haven’t said the word gaijin is derogator,” which I understand means you don’t think the term “gaijin” is derogatory. (Am I correct?). Then we are left with nothing for the reason of your opposition to “gaijin” used among the Japanese but for your assertion that the term is antiquated now.

    Partly I can agree with you on this point. True the term “gaijin” is less frequently used now than before. However, you have pushed your argument too far almost to the point of fallacy when you assert that the term is now “antiquated.” On this, I disagree. As I said before, the term still has its role to play in the Japanese vocabulary. Your contention that the term “gaijin” comes from the times when samurais wore katanas and rice was used as currency is off the mark. The present usage of “gaijin” started long after samurais and rice currency ceased to exist.

    Even if the term “gaijin” is outmoded, I’m afraid your accusation is out of proportion. How can you hold “a Japanese person using the word ‘gaijin'” as “an anathema” simply because he/she uses such an old-fashioned word? Why can you be qualified to call me “a little yellow nip, or any other endless derogatory term,” when I claim that a certain old-fashioned term in the Japanese vocabulary retains its usefulness in the present-day Japan?

    I’m afraid your arguments cannot sustain this strong accusation against the use of the term “gaijin” among the Japanese. If you stand by your rhetoric I cited above, I think you need to provide us with some more clear reasons for that. If you simply mean that the tem “gaijin” is antiquated, which I disagree, you had better moderate your expressions at the least.

    (For the safety, I would like to remind you again that: 1) You and I have agreed that “gaijin” is not a derogatory, or offensive, word. 2) We are arguing about “gaijin” when it is used among the Japanese, not about whether it should be spoken to foreign people, on which we have already agreed.)

    (4) Calling Japanese in Japan “Chinese” for Example
    Now, I would like to turn your attention to another point, that is, the possibility of Japanese in Japan being called “Chinese” or any other Asian ethnic group other than Japanese by foreign people.

    In your last comment, you have made it clear that, by referring to Japanese in Japan called “Chinese” or any other Asian ethnic group other than Japanese by foreign people, you meant to explain how both the non-Japanese and the Japanese are offended when identified by someone who already knows their nationalities with a false nationality. I have already expressed my approval to this argument of yours above.

    The problem is, your comment of October 18th cannot be construed to that effect.

    John K Says:
    “If the English, or Americans or Germans, or any other Western country, called Japanese, Chinese, I’m sure there would be an uproar….but why not. To the average Westerner, their main characteristics are the same, small in stature, black hair, almond shaped eyes, eat lots of rice, use chop sticks to eat and a language that is incomprehensible to us. So why would a Japanese person be offended being called Chinese by an American or any other Westener, for example? Since the corollorary is precisely what the Japanese do with any Westerner (or others) by calling them gaijin.”

    First, in the above paragraph, you are obviously talking about a situation where the nationality of the addressee who is Japanese is not known to the speaker because you say the mistaken calling is due to the indistinguishable characteristics among the Asian people. When the nationality is already known to the speaker, the indistinguishable characteristics can be no excuse.

    Second, even if the nationality is not known to the speaker, it is highly unlikely for a Japanese in Japan to be called “Chinese” or any other Asian ethnic group other than Japanese because they are in Japan. It may be possible if it is about some international setting such as the international class I mentioned in my last comment. However, it is unlikely if you are talking about usual daily life in Japan.

    Nevertheless, in the above-cited paragraph, you seem to be quite confident about your assertion. You say that when Japanese are called “Chinese,” you are sure “there would be an uproar.” While you dismiss my experience in Australia as “a personal opinion,” you uphold your assertion as “a generalised statement.” Therefore, I asked you in my last comment what experiences made you possible to make “a generalised statement” on this issue. You haven’t responded to this question yet.

    Your accusation that I have assumed you are a teacher for an unfounded reason is not fair. I was just trying to fill up the gap in your argument which should have been dealt with by you. I would like you to answer my question instead of accusing me.

    (5) Benefits of Discussion
    Lastly, I would like to add a comment to your last paragraph.

    John K Says:
    “‘WE’, foreigners do (understand the differences), but the reverse is not true as you opine. We are exposed and reminded everyday of the differences, day in day out…”

    You are right. You, foreign people in Japan, are exposed to the cultural differences everyday, so you have by far higher awareness about the existence of the differences than most of the Japanese. However, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your understanding of the differences is correct. It may be that you are interpreting the things around you from your cultural point of view. Hence all the benefits of discussion like this one, right? (^^)

    — Shall we cut through all this already? After several postings and several thousand words, the point is:

    “It’s my language, not yours. I can think and say what I like about the Japanese, because I am Japanese. You can’t, because you aren’t. And you foreigners will never be.”

    After all this tendentious blather, that’s about what it boils down to.

  • I do think the comparison is accurate.

    The word nigger comes from the French word nègre, which ultimately comes from the Spanish word negro. In Brazil, for example, blacks are called negros (niggers). That’s the official non-racist way held by the government and the people. However, calling black people “pretos” (literally, blacks) is racist. Etymology doesn’t matter, so the etymology behind “gaijin” is not a factor. Nigger and preto excluded the blacks in two different countries of their rights, of being the same (as non-niggers/pretos). Gaijin does the same. In Japan and Brazil. Brazilians of Japanese descent call those of non-japanese descent of “gaijins” (even though they are Brazilians living in Brazil), which works non-japanese, even though it means foreigner. In Japan it is the same. It has the same exclusionary and racial (non-japanese) connotations as the word nigger. Thankfully, Westerners never have been made slaves during a Japanese colonial regime. I suspect gaijin would largely be considered as offensive as the word nigger, as the Japanese would surely use a simple word (like foreigner, the same way Europeans used simple words like nigger) to exclude all inferior ones/different ones, the non-japanese.

    History didn’t let the word gaijin to weight as heavily as the word nigger. Let’s keep it that way. Living in Brazil or Japan, we know that Gaijin is gaining more power as world spins. Maybe history someday will consider nigger and gaijin equals. Obviously, I’m not looking forward to this day. That’s why all you do is important, Debito. And that’s why I find your comparison valid.


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