Query to Debito.org readers: Items for next Poll (Oct 1)


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Hi Blog.  I have a query for you.  

I’m designing our next Debito.org poll (due out Oct 1), thanks to a suggestion this afternoon from a commenter.  Regarding problematic words…

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? Please leave a suggestion in the comments section below.  We have six days. Thanks very much for your assistance!  Debito

17 comments on “Query to Debito.org readers: Items for next Poll (Oct 1)

  • Andrew Smallacombe says:

    Don’t forget “Chon”. I don’t buy the story that “baka-chon” was a mis-rendering or mispronunciation of “vacation (camera)”. Plus I have seen it used as an abusive term on the internet.

  • > Regarding problematic words…

    Words are not problematic; the way people use them may be.

    > Shina

    Not very common anymore.
    I occasionally come across it in early 20th century texts.
    I can not recall any objectional usage, but I am aware that some Chinese object to the word. Don’t forget that the Japan borrowed the word from India many centuries ago.
    (A well known usage is in 12-13th century 『今昔物語』; 日本古典文学大系 volume 23, page 67)

    > Sankokujin

    Assuming that you mean 三国人, then it is read sanGokujin.

    > Shintai Shougaisha

    Doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the words.

    All in all, “I don’t find any of these words offensive”. However, I do find it odd and unnecessary to specifically label people with such terms in the first place. Not on the list are “white”, “American” etc. which are equally unnecessary.

    –Thanks for the feedback, and for the correct reading of 三国人. Sorry.

    Tokyo Gov Ishihara is famous for using Shina and Sangokujin in his public speeches, all since 2000…

  • I Dislike the terms, Gaijin, Gaikokujin, Haafu, I always respond Im human, Just like you. Some people I know really dislike being asked or assumed as being American, even your from Canada, the UK etc…or when you Ask something in Japanese and get answered in English assuming all non-Japanese speak English.

  • As a suggestion… why not include words that are INTENDED to cause hurt?
    – 黒ん坊,
    – バカちょん、- 鮮人(ask a Korean if they find this offensive)
    – お釜

    I would argue that 4 of the words you chose could be taken either way, depending on how sensitive the listener is, and the tone of the speaker (namely, gaijin, gaikokujin, haafu and shintai shogaisha)

    However, well done for pointing out “シナ” and “三国人” although I have a feeling this may well be lost on many people.

    –Thanks for the suggestions. However, the three words you suggest are basically not used anymore because people know they cause hurt. The issue is whether people are aware that some words IN COMMON USE (Ishihara gave a new lease of life on Shina and Sankokujin, alas) are potentially hurtful, and this poll (however slanted based upon the readership of Debito.org) will help determine whether others think they are. Anyway, thanks again for the suggestions. Debito

  • Debito,

    We have already seen what has been brought about by your comparison of “gaijin” to the N-word. Your readers have been distracted from the real issue of whether and how the term “gaijin” is wrong.

    Why can’t we try to finish our discussion on “gaijin,” then move on to another issue. Have you lost in your interest in the term “gaijin”? Are you distracting your readers on purpose?

    I’m afraid you are acting counterproductively to your cause.

    (BTY, you made the same mistake. 三国人 is “sanGokujin.”)

    –Sigh. I think we can divide the readership into two categories. One that assumes I’m trying to work in earnest towards the common good. And the other side which assumes I’m in it to do harm, including “distract the readers on purpose” — when in fact I’m even trying to avoid potentially shortsighted polls by running a rough draft by everyone first. Worse yet, those people spoiling for a fight like this don’t even read my comments when I capitulate on my mistakes (including 三国人). This is yet another reason why I find it hard to discuss things with them — they aren’t giving any benefit of the doubt, or even listening.

  • whats with this gimmicky polls??
    debito.org is a great blog and doesnt need these polls to get readers.
    no need to start copying other blogs and going downmarket..

    –Sorry. Polls are not meant to be a gimmick. More a way to gauge the readership. I’m seriously curious about the results of the polls I pose.

  • Debito,

    In case you count me as “those people spoiling for a fight,” let me say all I want is truth, not a fight. Truth is something we all share. Discussion is collaboration to reach it.

    In case you are suggesting that I “don’t even read” your comments, let me say I have read your articles and comments, and all the comments from the readers on this issue as carefully as possible.

    Sorry for my fault-finding. I didn’t mean to offend you.

    But my criticism of you is not there. Read my comment.

    –Not offended. Just trying to make clear to people like you why I’m not going to waste time on people like you. Anyone with a budget on their life time and a thorough experience of the personality types out there in this sort of debate arena will eventually reach that conclusion.

  • Yawn. Stop polling foreigners about their misinterpretations of Japanese words. Start polling native Japanese speakers about their usage of the terms and if they “feel” (as a function of usage) the word is negative or not.

    Most of your readers can’t “feel” the Japanese language, they’re only applying their interpretations against the background of their native language, and the results are skewed.

    Here’s the problem right here:
    “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?”

    –You make it seem as if NJ have no business talking about the language that affects them in this society. Sorry, can’t agree, as I argued before regarding who has priority in this debate — speaker or listener. Just saying that NJ automatically misinterpret just because they aren’t native speakers (even though there are plenty who are) is to me facile and inappropriately dismissive.

  • That’s a straw man and you’re well aware of it. I’m suggesting that the debate has gone on for a very long time and it’s just more of the same. It’s always how the foreigners perceive the term. What would really help the issue is if foreigners could understand a little bit more about how the word is used. The word in itself is not derogatory.

    Here, I have a suggestion for one of the poll options: NJ. I feel that “NJ” unfairly, “relegate[s foreigners] to a much bigger ‘continent’,” and in the form of an acronym at that!

  • a confused reader says:

    Mumei said (September 24th, 2008 at 10:42 pm)

    > Sankokujin
    Assuming that you mean 三国人, then it is read sanGokujin.

    Debito replied: Thanks for the feedback, and for the correct reading of 三国人. Sorry.

    Debito said (in reply to GordonM (September 24th, 2008 at 11:07 pm):
    Ishihara gave a new lease of life on Shina and Sankokujin, alas

    PnetQ said (September 25th, 2008 at 12:19 am ):
    BTY, you made the same mistake. 三国人 is “sanGokujin.”

    Debito replied: Sigh. I think we can divide the readership into two categories. One that assumes I’m trying to work in earnest towards the common good. And the other side which assumes I’m in it to do harm, including “distract the readers on purpose”. . . . . . Worse yet, those people spoiling for a fight like this don’t even read my comments when I capitulate on my mistakes (including 三国人). This is yet another reason why I find it hard to discuss things with them — they aren’t giving any benefit of the doubt, or even listening.

    end of quotes

    My comment: yes, Debito, you aplogized for the mistaken spelling (which was a not very significant, and easily-made mistake, in my opinion it was no big deal), but then you carelessly misspelled it again in a later posting, which PnetQ calmly pointed out. Perhaps it was unnecessary of PnetQ to mention that but for you to accuse him/her of not even reading your comments and to be spoiling for a fight is a bit much.

    More importantly, I must take exception to your gross generalization dividing the readership into two categories. I for one do not feel that I fall into either. I also wonder how you reach that conclusion? Have you made that judegement based on the posts sent in by people who may or may not represent the opinions of the majority of your readers? I would think there may be many reading who never or seldom post. I have been reading various things on your websites for some years now but this is only my second posting and the first was sent quite recently.

    I realize this is a tangent straying from your attempt to construct a poll. But I think it is a distraction that could have been avoided by more careful reading, and more civility, on your part.

    And now back to the poll making.

    BTW Shina is sometimes seen on ramen shop signs: Shina Soba –> Chinese Noodles –> Ramen.

    –Thanks for ultimately getting back on topic.

    For the record, I approve comments in bunches, and not necessarily in the order they’re received. The time they came in (not the time they’re approved) is the one listed on the time clock everyone sees. It just so happened that the comment with the sangokujin correction (where I apologized for the error) was the last comment approved in that bunch. (There is no way you could know this, but for the record, here is the explanation.) Which meant that all the other comments with my original error were already visible in public. I could have gone back and corrected them with “sanGokujin”, but then I would have been accused of altering the record after the fact by the fight-spoilers. I can do nothing right by them.

    The reason I wrote off whoever poses as PnetQ as a fight-spoiler with is because it wasn’t a simple sangokujin correction from him or her (which I can live with). It was the accusation that I was trying to mislead the readership, “distracting them on purpose”. When in fact this post is precisely to involve them in a poll before it goes up. The presumption that I’m out to do more harm than good even in cases as clear-cut as these turn me off. And I reach my conclusions on a case-by-case basis. Confused Reader, I know nothing about you except what you post, but if you make blanket accusations about my character like this in future I won’t engage in discussion with you either. You haven’t yet, hence this answer.

    Getting back on topic myself: “East China Sea” is rendered as “Higashi Shina Kai” on my 2007 Touring Mapple down near Kagoshima. Point: Shina is in common use.

  • Tony in Saitama says:

    I think this would work better if you included words that are not generally deemed offensive, then used them in a context which is,
    and went through a grey scale from words that are considered acceptable up to the ones that are not.

    For example,

    obachan -> baba -> kusobaba
    ojichan -> jiji -> kusojiji
    Where would you draw the line if this was used against you?

    (As an example, my in laws are quite happy to be called “jiji” and “baba” by their grandchildren, presumably they are not aware of any negative connotation.)

    Or as an a example of context, use;
    in reference to Aso Taro considering it a culture Japan should be proud of,

    then use it again with the name
    Miyazaki Tsutomu, and see how many people are offended in that case.

    That way, people would realise that context IS important, and even if the speaker doesn’t intend offence, it can be taken on the receiving side.
    That, I believe, is the crux of the argument.

    In that regard, I think your comparison of gaijin to ni__er is 98% wrong as regards the intent of the speaker, but this is of course subjective in every sense. I can only judge based on my own experience, as can everyone else.
    (The corollary to this, of course, makes your argument 98% correct as regards the reception of the listener, in a wonderful duality of logic that can only be properly discussed when we are both drinking from the same pitcher of beer, and as a result makes your argument unwinnable even if you are right (because it is a matter of conception rather than fact). If you want to gain any ground on this issue, you are going to have to push it from a different angle. Not “This is how it is.” but ” This is how people see it.”)
    It has been an eternally used rebuttal on your site and elsewhere that “I have never faced this kind of discrimination so you must be imagining it!” This misconception is the first hurdle you must overcome.

    Apologies if this came across as a lecture, butI want you to get it right.
    And sleep encroaches…

    Keep up the good fight.

  • Alex: if A uses a word which B finds offensive, the usual polite course of action is for A to refrain from using that word, *at the very least* in the presence of B.

    This has already happened in the Japanese mainstream media.

  • Michael Weidner says:

    Wow…..talk about stirring the pot!

    It seems that there is a lot of conflict on this issue and I think that the following should be pointed out:

    “Gaijin” is not fit for broadcast on Television. If the censors (who tend to be the deciders in terms of public decency in almost all countries) decide that a word shouldn’t be used, then I think it is safe to say that the word isn’t decent. The same can be said of certain other offensive words that aren’t allowed on American or Canadian television (F***, etc). If you follow that analogy, that would put “Gaijin” at least on the same level as those other words, and that should stand for something.

    Also, a point to all you people out there slagging Debito, I have this to say: This is his personal blog. What he decides to write on it is HIS business and HIS perogative. If you don’t like what he has to say, then you can always go somewhere else. Don’t forget, he maintains this site at his OWN cost using his TIME and MONEY to provide everything on this site for you to read. He could charge a subscription for this, but he doesn’t. It’s free. Don’tget me wrong; I’m not saying that he shouldn’t be accountable for what he writes or says. He does need to be accountable. However, he is only human and can only do soo much. Maybe try to keep that in mind before you nick-pick every misplaced semi-colon or period.

  • Another word: “shiro” (sic; not “shiroi”), used derogatively to refer to a white person. Most J I know consider it highly offensive, at least equal to the offensiveness of the N word.

  • A Confused Reader says:

    Dear Debito,
    Thank you very much for the explanation of how you approve comments in batches, hence what we readers see are not necessarily in the order that they were written. I will certainly keep that in mind. Am still confused as to why, if you thought the comment by PnetQ (of whom I know nothing) was merely that of a fight spoiler, you did not keep it and your reply (if any) private rather than allowing them to distract from your work at hand? Especially as I know your policy of not posting certain types of comments. Also, I fail to see how anyone could object to the insertions of corrections to former posts along with a note saying that an error was pointed out and corrections were made. If I were you I would go ahead and do that and not pre-judge the reaction you might get. But as you say, it is your blog and you will do as you please with it, which is of course your right.

    No, you know nothing about me and as such I do appreciate your putting my comments up. Since you permit anonymous comments I do not think it necessary for you to know who or what I am, but for the record, I am a citizen of the USA who has been in Japan for more than 3 decades. I have worked for peace and human rights since the early 1960’s. I therefore share many of the same concerns taken up by you and people who comment on your blog. I value accuracy, clarity and civility. I am dismayed by knee-jerk reactions, pre-judgement, and generalizations as they do nothing to further the understanding we so badly need. I do not wish harm to you or anyone else for that matter, nor do I think you mean to cause harm (even if I disagree with some of your opinions or methods).

    And back to the poll again, at first glance I took it to be about words related to ethnicity and nationality, but then I noticed you had included “shintai shougaisha”.
    Would you want to go even further afield to include descriptive words such as “debu” or “busu”?

    The reason I mentioned the use of “Shina” on ramen shops is that discouraging the use of that word gets into a sticky area in such cases in which people are using the word to describe their own products rather than to describe others. Interesting about its use for East China Sea, must drag out my atlas and see what it says.

    BTW, I found it interesting that the Japan Times used “gaijin” in Sunday feature article about foreigners buying real estate in Japan.

    P.S. sorry for the delay, had written a couple of nights ago only to have it all zapped because I had made a typo in my e-mail address . . .

  • The only problem that I have with this poll is that you can purposely affect at least one of the answers: That is “I find none of these words offensive” so that its vote will be very small. That is to say, if you put some really god-awful words in there, you’ll be able to post some statistic like “Only 0.3% of respondents aren’t offended by any racial slurs” or whatever.

    –Yes, point taken. Settings allow multiple responses so even if you vote for four things, it’ll count at the bottom total as one voter. So at the end of polling, divide the total number of votes for each option by the total number of voters, and you’ll see which option got the most individual voters. Anyway, as you say, it’s messy. And I’ll try to interpret the results properly, meaning those who vote “none of the above” will be interpreted as not offended by any of THESE words. Let’s see. Thanks for pointing this out. Debito

  • On the subject of the term Haafu. I didn’t think it was offensive, because when one says someone is haafu, it is supposed to be short for half Japanese/half British or whatever. Most of the Japanese/English couples here in the UK use the term about our own children in a non-derogatory way. However I have know some “haafu” adults who grew up in Japan who have definite negative feelings towards the word as it was associated with their being teased at school.

    One other point is that if a child’s father was, for example, American Japanese (like Debito – I hope saying that is not taken as offensive, what a mine field!) and mother was Japanese (or vice versa of course), calling them haafu might amount to racism. Therefore I guess using the term based only on assumptions is pretty prejudiced and dangerous.

    I suppose, like so many of these words, context and intent is all important – as is whether those listening assume negative intent or positive intent on behalf of the speaker or are light-hearted in nature.

    As for daburu, this is a good thing to say to upset children perhaps, but isn’t it a bit like trying to fight white racism with black racism?

    I remain open to being convinced one way or the other, any thoughts from people with more experience?


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