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I’m constantly being reminded that the comments section of Tofugu (or any site, for that matter) can really take on a life of its own. My post a few weeks ago about weird ramen took an unexpected turn in the comments as people began to discuss my usage of the word “gaijin.”

Gaijin (外人, short for 外国人), or “foreigner” in Japanese, is a complicated word that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

Some people take the word lightly; when the Tofugu team was in Japan and a roller coaster we were riding unexpectedly malfunctioned, we joked that it was because the ride wasn’t designed to hold the weight of our giant gaijin bodies.

But for some people in Japan, “gaijin” can be a hurtful and alienating word. It can mean refusal of service at businesses, a barrier to entry for housing, or even threats of harassment or violence.

gaijin-crime-file

Photo by w00kie

I thought that I’d reach out to some bloggers living in Japan to see what their thoughts on the word “gaijin” were. I got a lot of great, varied, and nuanced responses.

Many people take no issue with the word and even embrace it to some extent. Lots of websites aimed at expatriates in Japan, like GaijinPot and countless other community sites and blogs, have absolutely no problem with using the word “gaijin.”

Hikosaemon, a man who’s lived and worked in Japan for over a decade, sometimes sees “gaijin” used in inappropriate contexts, but doesn’t believe that there’s necessarily anything wrong with the word itself:

To me, the word “gaijin” is slang for someone who looks like a non-Japanese. Because it is slang, it is not appropriate for formal contexts, but as slang, the appropriateness of its casual use is contextual—99% of the time, I think the way it is used is fine. It is the 1% of used with malice that causes most of the controversy. I do not subscribe to the view that its limited malicious use means the term should be made taboo. The term gets a lot of focus by people new to Japanese culture who become aware of the exclusivity of Japanese social circles and struggle with the feeling of isolation the culture can give new arrivals (just as it gives migrant Japanese within Japan).

The composition of the term as “outsider” and the feeling that this reinforces exclusion heightens sensitivity about the psychology behind the term and its use to many foreigners, as indeed it did myself in my early years in Japan. However, reactions to the term I think tend to show more about the person reacting than any psychology on the part of the speaker. Those with the greatest sensitivity to the term often seem to be bringing their own complexes to the table about perception of race in their home countries, and their own level of adjustment and language ability in Japan. It’s a convenient slang term that I use myself, and generally have no issue with others using unless the usage is in an inappropriate context—which is a problem you can’t fix by changing the word. We will just go from “Bloody gaijin” to “Bloody Gaikoku No Kata”, the term here is not the issue. It reminds me to periodic adjustments of politically correct terms for intellectually disabled people.

Hikosaemon touches on an the important issue of formality; for some, the informal 外人 is inappropriate in certain situations, but the more formal 外国人 or even the honorific 外国の方 are perfectly acceptable.

And while Hikosaemon wasn’t necessarily offended or alienated by the term, he and everybody I talked to recognized that “gaijin” is a word that can have a powerful effect on people.

I was lucky to talk with the Gakuranman who actually did a lengthy write-up about the word a few years back. He also thinks that the formality of the word makes a difference:

The word ‘gaijin’ (literally ‘foreigner’ or ‘outsider’) evokes a multitude of differing responses depending on who you ask. Although for most Japanese people the term is akin to saying ‘gaisha’ (foreign car) or ‘gaika’ (foreign currency) and no harm is meant, the word itself has picked up a lot of baggage over the years through repeated misinterpretation and reinforcement among foreigners who have visited Japan. Expats in Japan are often surprised and offended at being labelled as outsiders, especially if the term is used towards them despite their repeated efforts to assimilate. Some will even go as far as to think it a racist term because of the way it appears to ignore cultural diversity.

Those who have spent the better part of their life living in Japan generally come to accept the word and learn to distinguish between the negative, neutral and positive uses it can have in different contexts. Personally, I think it to be a clumsy expression to use within increasingly multicultural communities and feel it is better off avoided where possible because of the tendency to unwittingly alienate and offend people. If you absolutely must make the distinction between non-Japanese and Japanese when describing somebody in Japanese, use the word in full—‘gaikokujin.’ Otherwise I suggest sticking to personalized information about the individual.

Some people might not get personally get offended at “gaijin,” but are sympathetic to those that are. Eryk from This Japanese Life seems more or less indifferent to the word, but is understanding to those who attach negative connotation to “gaijin.”

Before I talk about the word “gaijin” I should mention that I am white. As a white American guy, my race has never been a liability. When Japanese natives on a train mutter “gaijin” to each other, I’m not offended.

White people have this superpower where we don’t think we’re actually a race, so we can laugh it off when we’re attacked for being white. But our Kryptonite is our corresponding need for victimization. When white, highly educated Americans from wealthy families spend a year abroad and get outraged by some overheard “gaijin” remark, I feel like it’s just the daily opportunity for outrage. I don’t care.

I have never been threatened by the kids with shaved eyebrows and pink tracksuits who call me “gaijin” just loud enough for their friends to hear it. There is no long, complicated history of shame that comes from being a white dude. The word “gaijin” does not register, for me, as a synonym for disgust and contempt.

“Gaijin,” though, is not like the words cast at minorities in English. Some expats seem to think that if they aren’t offended by it, they’re entitled to say mean, dumb things about other people. But there are words that are implicitly attached to threats of violence, words that carry the real resonance of hatred, words that tell a person, deliberately, that you think of them as nothing more than their race, or gender, or sexuality.

Someone reading this might have been traumatized by violence, or threats of violence, tied to being “gaijin.” If that’s happened to you, you have every right to hate that word. For foreigners who come to Japan with a history of oppression, “gaijin” on the lips of the nationalist parades marching through Osaka might be an ugly reminder of that kind of logic. But the word, perhaps stupidly, is nothing I’ve ever been afraid of.

I was happy that Ashley of Surviving in Japan had a bit of a unique perspective on the matter.

In our discussion, Ashley mentioned that her husband is a white American who was born and raised in Japan. It seemed clear to me that his situation influenced her opinion on the split between feeling Japanese and being considered as Japanese.

When I first arrived in Japan, I frequently heard that “gaijin” was a derogatory term—this is how some expats described it, anyway. But they also often referred to themselves as “gaijin” instead of “gaikokujin”. In my experience it’s often used this way in jest, as those of us who are unfamiliar with Japan repeatedly commit faux pas. There’s a steep learning curve to understanding Japan, its people and culture, and it’s difficult to ever truly fit into society. Even some Japanese who don’t meet social expectations are at risk of being ostracized.

I don’t believe “gaijin” in and of itself is derogatory, but it can be used that way. I didn’t experience this much other than kids stopping in their tracks, pointing at me and saying “gaijin!” I suppose one could say it would be equivalent to an American child who points at someone they “think” isn’t American and yelling “foreigner!” It’s rude.

That brings us to the point that anyone who doesn’t “look” Japanese in Japan is typically considered an outsider, which shows an underlying preference that being Japanese means that they have to “look it.” But what if you’re of another Asian ethnicity? What if you’re Japanese-American? Or what if you’re not Japanese at all, but were born and grew up in Japan? Depending on how you were raised, you might grow up feeling like you are “Japanese”, but then are constantly reminded that you won’t ever truly fit in because you don’t “look” the part. Bi-racial children (half-Japanese in particular) may, and often do, face similar obstacles.

So I don’t believe “gaijin” is always an issue, although it is attached to a set of stereotypes (which also vary, depending on your skin color and nationality). The main issue is this pervasive attitude of who can and can’t be truly accepted into society; and in many cases, gaijin can’t.

I would like to note that I’ve met many Japanese people who don’t have or agree with this attitude.

Other people I talked with had a staunchly negative view of the word. Jasmine of Zooming Japan is understanding of some of the contextual uses of “gaijin,” but on the whole feels that the word is very alienating, a constant reminder that complete assimiliation is next to impossible.

For the word “gaijin” it depends on who says it and in what context, but in general I consider it as rather negative.

Even though I know that most Japanese people don’t mean any harm, by using the word “gaijin” they make me feel like an outsider, like someone who doesn’t and will never belong here.

Based on my daily experience here in Japan the word “gaijin” is not equal to “foreigner”, but to “you ≠ we”. I often see that when Japanese people travel abroad and say: “Look! So many gaijin everywhere!”

They don’t even realize that they have become the gaijin for the time being.

That’s why the strongest association I have with the word “gaijin” is “outsider” or “somebody who is different.”

Being different can be something good or bad in the eyes of a Japanese person. For some, foreigners are beautiful, passionate and exotic, others think all foreigners are criminals. Based on that, the word “gaijin” can mean something good or bad.

Most of the time I hear people say “gaijin” and not “gaikokujin” or “gaikoku no kata” which I would prefer because it sounds more polite and doesn’t have such a strong connotation of “outsider”.

In the end it’s not the word itself, but the whole mindset that stands behind it:

If you live in Japan and people stare at you on a daily basis or kids point at you and scream “Gaijin!!!!”, then you will feel awkward.

You are not only different, but you also do not belong there. You are not Japanese. You are only a visitor, a tourist or a short-term resident. You will leave and go back to your own country. The idea that you might have been born in Japan and could be part of the “we” doesn’t even exist. And that’s very sad.

One of the most fascinating things I learned during this discussion was that Japanese use the word “gaijin” even in contexts where they’re the foreigner. And I thought it was especially interesting that not on did Jasmine point this out, but also Leah from The Lobster Dance.

japanese-tourists

Photo by JD Lasica

Like Jasmine, Leah also has quite a strong opinion against “gaijin,” feeling that it’s a limiting, alienating word.

I used to be of the mindset that gaijin could only be used BY foreigners. I even wrote a cooking section of my blog that used to be called “The Gaijin Chef.” Yet in the past few years, I’ve begun to understand betters the social implications of linguistics.

Why does this word make me so uncomfortable now? Part of it is the lack of respect, especially toward people in my generation who were born and raised in Japan but are not ethnically Japanese. They are not foreigners. If your Japanese parents immigrated to the US and raised you there, you would probably consider yourself American or Japanese American, depending on your view of the terminology as it relates to your personal experience. However, a child born to two non-Japanese parents in Japan and who has lived their whole life in Japan will not be considered Japanese. There’s a very strong link between race and nationality in Japan, and one of the ways it is supported is linguistically. Gaijin lumps tourists, immigrants, permanent residents, and citizens all together that appear to be a very limited concept of “foreign,” both in terms of appearance (white, sometimes black) and of experience.

Likewise, part of the reason I hate that word is the cavalier manner it induces when used. For instance, when Japanese people go abroad, they continue to use gaijin to refer to the native population. “There are so many gaijin in America!” No, you are the foreigner in this situation, but the attitude is that “Japanese people can’t be gaijin/foreigners.” I feel that the term just encourages a xenophobic and rude mindset, and getting people to understand why it is linguistically problematic will be a step in the right direction.

As for those who use it to refer to themselves, I think a lot of people go through a phase where they think, “Well, I am an outsider and it doesn’t bother me.” I’m reminded of several incidents in which some acquaintances who did not speak Japanese well claimed that to have never experienced racism in Japan over the course of the 3-6 months they had lived here. In a short period of time, that might be true, and without listening skills, it’s quite easy to miss. But as with sexism, everyday racism is not usually blatant or violent; microaggressions are easier to ignore or excuse, especially by the perpetrators. When you are not The Other, it requires imagination and often experience to even understand a fraction of what it is like to live as The Other. I understand the line of thinking “I’m foreign, so I will use gaijin,” but there’s a lot of cultural baggage associated with the term, and I don’t think we can reclaim it.

I was surprised at the diversity of opinions on “gaijin,” and am grateful to everybody who shared their views on this sometimes divisive and controversial topic. It’s clear from the variety of responses I got that there’s a lot of thoughtful dialogue about this word, and that there’s no one clear position on it from the expat community living in Japan.

What do you think of the word “gaijin?” Please share your story about your experiences in the comments.

  • DAVIDPD

    Fascinating. It really comes down to whether or not you will allow others opinions to affect your being. Many Americans grew up with the adage, “Sticks and stones may brake my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Along the way it seems many of us, forgot that and began to internalize other’s views of us in a more drastic fashion. Should you allow a complete stranger’s opinion of you to affect your life? Maybe, maybe not. Rationally, it seems no, you should not. But most humans are not rational creatures. We are emotional. For many, it is feelings that guide us through life. And for those who are sensitive to others’ opinions, it is a much harder struggle to relearn that school yard rhyme.

  • Brad Garrett

    Excellent article!

  • Brad Garrett

    Ah, I have always believed “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” is a terrible way to think. Words hurt the most, much more than sticks and stones, because words have meaning.

  • DAVIDPD

    And that is exactly the point I was making in my comment. Humans are emotional creatures. Like the article said, most Japanese do not mean to offend with using “gaijin” it’s the people that hear it the assign it as an insult or pejorative.

  • Sheena

    This article sounds like the problem is more the attitude of Japanese culture towards people who look different than the word itself. Gaijin may translate to outsider, but there are probably other words that if you look closely are very rude. (in any language) But they’re used in a neutral way and nobody minds, because it’s become normal and the negative attitude behind them has vanished over time.
    Plus, with this word you have a very special problem: People don’t like to be categorized. They don’t want to be reduced to one factor of themselves may it be their skincolour, citizenship, religion, sexuality etc. Even if they chose that part of themselves (i.e. religion) and are fine to talk about themselves as Muslim/Christian/Jew/Bhuddist/… they feel reduced to that one component if others use it to describe them. Because it’s not the only “thing” that makes them, they want to be seen as a diverse individual, not one in a group. And they may fear, that reducing them to this one thing may create wrong conclusions about them. For example you know someone is Christian so you may think he is opposed to gay marriage, but in fact he is fine with it.

  • Jen

    I have lived in Japan for about 5 years now, but I’ve never really had the word used towards me in a negative way (or if I have, I’ve blocked it out of my memory! Or chosen to give people the benefit of the doubt after half hearing something they were saying.) The thing that bothers me about the use of it is is not when people talk to me, but when people use it to talk about non-Japanese in general. For example, I saw a thing on twitter which one of the Japanese people I was following retweeted which was comparing the way that Japanese, Chinese and “Gaijin” reacted to different things (apparently Chinese and “Gaijin” are scared of earthquakes which Japanese are fine with, Japanese and “Gaijin” are scared of smog which Chinese are fine with, and Japanese and Chinese are scared of guns which “Gaijin” are fine with – There are soooo many problems with this, haha.), when it was clear that the use of gaijin didn’t refer to all non-Japanese (because otherwise why would Chinese be a different option?!) but a very small group of people. It’s annoying and stupid when you hear people talk about “Gaijin” and they basically mean white Americans. It would be much less problematic if people didn’t just lump everyone under the same heading. I also find it weird that people seem to seperate out “Gaijin” Chinese and Korean people – we’re either all in the same group, or everyone should be referred to by their country of origin or something (although again, this could be problematic. There probably isn’t really an ideal solution, but it would help if people stopped being so ignorant).

    I’ve only really seen ignorance when people use the word “gaijin”, but I have seen a LOT of casual/not so casual racism towards Chinese people in Japan – I used to live in an area with a large Chinese population and people would regularly ask me if it was scary living there, which is ridiculous. I’ve heard some pretty nasty stuff aimed at Korean people as well.

  • Scott Lavigne

    This picture seems relevant. Took it around shin-okubo station in 2010.

  • Yuki

    Nice article. I’m personally indifferent to the word gaijin, since i don’t even look like the people of where i was born and raised (Asian race but born and raised in Ireland my whole life). But I’m totally westernized from my clothes, accent, behavior etc, which makes me somewhat “gaijin-like” in Asia, especially since i can only speak English (and a bit of Japanese). But I guess calling someone in english a “foreigner” or an “outsider” sounds a bit derogatory, so I think people who take offense to the word gaijin place it in the same category as these words. It’s different from calling someone “British” or “Irish”, which I think is the better way to refer to people instead of foreigner or gaijin.

  • YP

    It’s a great article. It’s very clear to see that there are a lot of different opinions on the exact feelings the word ‘gaijin’ invokes. The only thing I would like to add to it, is that the problem with the word gaijin lies more with the people who get offended by it than with the people who use it (Japanese or foreign). Of course some people do use it to offend and if you are offended by this then that is completely normal. To me though, it seems that a lot of the people who get offended by the usage of this word, is simple because it reminds them that they are outsiders and they’ve never had to deal with that before. Especially not in the sometimes blatant way the Japanese remind them, e.g. when you’re walking down the street and someone says ‘oh, gaijin!’. Obviously that’s not something you want to hear and it can seem very rude, especially because the Japanese will use gaijin over the more polite gaikokujin in such situations. However, the fact that you feel offended in this situation seems ridiculous to me. It is not meant to offend and it is definitely not the same as when you are in America or another country that has a very multicultural society and someone says ‘hey, a foreigner’. The thing you have to remember when you look at Japan is that, the number of foreigners is still very low in Japan. There are still many people who have never seen a foreigner in their entire life. So you can’t possibly compare America and Japan in this situation. It is rude in America to say that someone is a foreigner, because you don’t know that. They could be, but he/she could also be an American. In Japan however it is very easy to see who is on the ‘inside’ and who is on the ‘outside’. Now I understand that this can be seen as rude and that you might be hurt by the fact that they will always identify you as different no matter how good you’re Japanese is and how well you are assimilated, but that’s the way it is now. Over twenty years, it might be an entirely different situation, who knows. Also there are the exeptions, people who are non-Japanese, but have been born and raised in Japan. Yes, you may feel especially hurt by this word and the way that you are still seen as an outsider, but this goes for everyone who is a minority in any country. If you are in the minority people might treat you different, some people don’t and some people do, that’s just how it goes. I personally, feel really annoyed when people complain about the word, because they feel that they don’t want to be reminded that they are foreign or think it’s meant in a malicious way when it’s not. Yes, you can be offended by the word, but by doing that you only prove that you’re not willing to put yourself in their shoes and see the intent behind the words. Now, if it has been used in a negative way towards you, then I’m sorry and this is not meant for you.

  • linguarum

    Same thing with the English “foreign,” too. As many of the commenters mentioned, in today’s world, it’s all so mixed up that it’s difficult to say who’s a foreigner, and where. For that reason, Ted Turner mandated that CNN begin using the word “international” instead of “foreign,” with a $100 fine for any staffer caught using the term “foreign.”

    http://books.google.com/books?id=O8bQBgj2znwC&pg=PT144&lpg=PT144&dq=foreign+international+pejorative+turner&source=bl&ots=wVDdjIQMgC&sig=7dGXZmI-P9rp_w2qM8MVe2WVt_8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Lz6mUcCuIcaWqAG9-oDQAg&ved=0CDQQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=foreign%20pejorative&f=false

  • rei

    Personally, I’m still quite unsure as to how I view the word ‘gaijin’. When I was first exposed to the word and Japanese culture, I took to the word negatively because, as mentioned, I felt that it isolated non-Japanese and eliminated any possibility of assimilation. But now, while I still have that feeling to some extent (in specific cases), I understand that this is not usually the case. Generally, the Japanese do not use this word negatively to discriminate, but to make the distinction between ‘us’ (the Japanese and those who are assimilated in Japan/Japanese culture) and ‘them’ (those who look different, are not of Japanese descent and are not familiar).

    Rather than people having problems with Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, or people who physically look different to the Japanese, the more prominent racial problems and ignorance seems to be directed at the differing Asian races residing in Japan; the Koreans, the Chinese, the half-Japanese people, etc. Generally, most Japanese, while wary of foreigners, mostly due to a lack of exposure, are kind, interested and curious about others, especially those in the younger generations! And it drastically helps if you are able to communicate in Japanese! Rather than viewing you as just an outsider who is not from Japan, they begin to view you as one of them.

    That’s not to say that there isn’t discrimination against foreigners in Japan (in most reported cases it tends to be within companies, housing, etc…), of course there is, but the usage of the word ‘gaijin’ doesn’t usually stem from wanting to make people feel alienated, it’s because to them that’s what you are. The problem from using this word comes with lumping every single person who looks different as a foreigner, because in the cases of a permanent resident or someone who is a Zainichi (a word which means Japanese of foreign descent that ALSO carries some negative connotations), this is not the case.

    In a rebuttal to the last opinion, my experience of Japanese people abroad has never been that they’ve called the native people ‘gaijin’ but themselves. They recognise that they are the minority in another country and thus call themselves ‘foreigners’ using the term as such. Of course, just as everything varies from person to person, that does not mean that my experiences will be the same for others.

    Lastly, I think what Gakuranman and Eryk from This Japanese Life stated rings true; ‘gaijin’ is a clumsy word and is way too vague in a place that is becoming increasingly multicultural, and the meaning that you bring to the word (unless it’s pretty clear that it’s being used with negative connotations) is what you will take from it. I believe that they should come up with a better term to distinguish those who are permanent residents, Zainichi and so on, because it doesn’t apply to them so lumping them in that category makes no sense. I also believe that if the word is not being with bad intentions then the need for offence taken to it should be nil. But that’s just me.

    Sorry for the essay ;)

  • http://www.survivingnjapan.com/ Ashley

    I want to clarify that I’m not offended when kids do or say things like that — I’ve worked with kids for many years and that is just how they are. However, their actions are sometimes indicative of the deeper feelings and attitudes held by their parents and society in general. My main point was that we can’t assume that someone is a foreigner simply by looking at them. In Japan there is a belief that to be Japanese is also to “look” Japanese, but what does that mean exactly? Especially when you consider other ethnic groups that are Japanese and have been on Japan’s islands for a long time. Or like I said, what about someone who is half-Japanese, for example, but what if people consistently look at them and think “gaijin”, because they don’t know any better? It’s not usually malicious intent, but I think it can, and often does, fall under “subliminal” racism. Biases towards stereotypes we’ve been raised to know/believe. That’s what I think is the problem, not just saying “a foreigner”.

    “If you are in the minority people might treat you different, some people don’t and some people do, that’s just how it goes” — this is what I mean by these types of biases and beliefs. It may be how the world is, but that doesn’t make it right.

  • YP

    No, it’s not and I never said it was okay. But like you said that’s how the world is. Now of course it can be very painful or hard to deal with when this has never happened to you before, but if you want to live in Japan, this is just something you will have to deal with. You said that your main point was that ” we can’t assume that someone is a foreigner simply by looking at them.” I agree and disagree with you on that. In America you really can’t, because all kinds of ethinicities can and do make up the ‘American people’. In Japan however, only 1,5% is not ethincally Japanese. Most of these are Chinese and Korean. If we take them out we are left with a very small number of people who are put in the catergory ‘gaijin’. Yes, it is unfair of the Japanese to lump these people together, and make them (Chinese and Koreans included) feel like an outsider and non-Japanese even if they have completely assimilated themselves within the culture, speak perfect Japanese or perhaps are even born there or have are half-Japanese. Yes, these are “biases towards stereotypes we’ve been raised to know/believe”, but I find it unfair for anyone to complain about the word gaijin in this context, because this happens to minorities all over the world. I get annoyed, because people who go to Japan and experience this, always complain about how Japan is racist in some way or another, while completely ignoring the fact that this type of racism can be found anywhere even their own home-country. Is is worse in Japan? Maybe, but then it is only fair that you take into acount the fact that their exposure to people who look different is far less than you or I. So, for them the concept of looking like the people who have the same background as you, speak the same language as you and who are ‘like’ you is very real. The concept that all Japanese are the same in everything (including looks) and that, that is what makes you a ‘real Japanese person’ is very real. You and I, however, know and realise that someone who doesn’t look the same way as you can still be American, Spanish etc, because we have had much more exposure. I personally believe (and I am not forcing anyone to agree with me) that it is unfair to say that the word gaijin should not be used on the basis that it makes people feel like an outsider. Yes, I do think the use of the word should change and I think it will, but it will take time and more exposure in Japan to other types of ‘real Japanese’, like half-Japanese or people who have made Japan their permanent home. I don’t mean to say that you can’t be offended by the word, that is your own opinion and you should stick to it, if that is how you really feel :) I just wanted to let people know that there is also another side to the story, that is sometimes left out.

  • http://www.survivingnjapan.com/ Ashley

    Yes, it is something to deal with if you live in Japan, but how does that make something acceptable? It sounds as if you’re saying, “it’s ok to be racist, because you were just raised that way and that’s all you know.” I think most of us are racist (sexist/ageist/etc.) in some way or another, often subconsciously, simply because of our backgrounds, but does that make it ok? Yes, it’s reality, but is it right? I don’t really think it is. That’s why I said the issue is more of the attitude–an accepted societal attitude, that is the problem. And I don’t think I, or those who think this, are ignoring what happens in our country. I’m well-aware of issues in the United States and I don’t look it at us vs. them. I also don’t think anyone is complaining–I’m not. Some people do complain, but they tend to complain about everything they hate about Japan and how things don’t work out in their favor, etc. There are populations in Okinawa and Hokkaido that are different ethnically. And then, is it possible to tell who is Japanese, or Korean, or Chinese? Or another Asian ethnicity? We don’t know that based on appearance alone. We might not even know based on the language they’re speaking, if they are fluent in a language other than their native language.

    I don’t know, I’ve just seen this attitude in the US as well, where there are a variety of ethnic groups, but you still often see those populations grouped together in separation. I was raised in a primarily white community, and I saw an attitude of hostility, even if not outright, but of suspicion, or just stupid ignorant comments from within (usually towards Hispanics, who were a minority in that area then but not so much now). And in a global world with our technology today, there aren’t really excuses to “not be exposed” in your words.

    Again, I never said that most people are being intentionally this way, as I feel it is the same even in the States–some people are, of course, but it is usually buried in our subconscious and can come out in our actions. I do think most people mean well, and even in Japan, I felt that the majority were like that, and some even knew and noticed when their fellow citizens were acting like this. Most people I knew in Japan were kind and open, though. But the deeper you go, the more you might notice.

    It’s not the word, basically, which is what I said–it’s the attitude and the beliefs.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Wow, I didn’t now that Ted Turner did that. That’s not really what I’d expect from CNN.

  • Mescale

    One thing I think you need to understand clearly is that just because people think a certain way doesn’t mean its because they are bad or racist. Its because they don’t know any different, they’re just different.

    If you decide to judge a person by your own rules, because they don’t act in a way you feel is appropriate to you, because they don’t give you respect you want, or because deep down you’re certain they are the very prime evil, you are essentially doing what you are accusing Japanese people doing when they call someone a gaijin.

    You are thinking they are X because they are different, just as you accuse Japanese people of being racist or xenophobic by thinking you are gaijin because you are different e.g. not Japanese.

    If they are marginalising you as just someone ‘other’ by calling you gaijin, you are marginalising them by considering them a ‘gaijin caller’. So certain that they are using the word to belittle you, you are using their use of the word to belittle them.

    Japanese people use Japanese Ideas, Japanese Language, and Japanese Culture and Japanese Society, have a Japanese World View, and Japanese Values, because they are Japanese. If you have a problem with them acting like that, acting like a Japanese person, its called racism.

    You have your own words, your own language your own culture and your own society, your own world view, your own values because you are you. And so you are applying those when you think Japanese people using the word gaijin are X, just as Japanese people are using theirs when they use the word gaijin.

    Who exactly is right and wrong?

    The answer is both and neither. The fact is that people are just different, they think different and talk different, they have different ideas. But they are all also very similar, so much so that minor differences become magnified, and become big issues to each other. But the great thing is that you both have these same stupid little problems that get blown out of all proportion. You guys are so alike.

    Understanding Japanese people is about understanding more than just their language, its about understanding the culture, the society their view point, their world view, and their values, and respecting them, not necessarily agreeing with them, but respecting that as people they have their rights to be who they want to be and think what they think, and you have no more right to police their thoughts or actions than they have to police your thoughts or actions.

    Japanese people think a certain way, its different to how some people think, its similar to other people. Wrong and right are grey areas, who is to say whats wrong and right?

    Now we have the ancient struggle, who is right and wrong, well the guy who kills the other guy right? The winner is right. So Americans choose who is right and wrong, I mean otherwise they’ll nuke the hell out of Japan again, AMIRITE? AMIRITE? You Japanese bitches better not be calling us no GAIJINS no more, COS THATS RACIST AND WE’LL NUKE THE HELL OUT OF YOU, WE’RE RIGHT, OUR IDEAS ARE BETTER THAN YOURS, OUR IDEAS ARE RIGHTER THAN YOURS BECAUSE WE WILL KILL YOU MORE THAN YOU WILL KILL US.

    That is moral superiority right there, you tell them, how dare they be different to you, how dare they think different, talk different or look different. Their very existence is a mockery of freedom liberty and fruit of the loom. You use that word, that filthy word again, and we’ll smite you HEATHENS, INFIDELS.

    Why is this even a topic?

    This is alio-amphibi-repto-ornithopterology 101 guys, get with the program.

  • Mescale

    Who are you to judge a person, who are you to say your way of thinking is right?

    Japanese people think their way of thinking is right, they think their judgment of a person being a gaijin is right.

    And you’re saying they are wrong.

    So if their way of thinking and judging is wrong, why is your way of thinking and judging people right?

    All you are saying is you don’t like the way Japanese people are, because they don’t fit to your ideas, your requirements.

    Am I the only person who feels that expecting a whole country to meet your requirements is not only wrong but really fool hardy?

    You think Japanese people would be better your way, maybe more like you?

    Then what’s the point of having Japanese people, whats the point of being interested in their culture, their individuality, their differences?

  • http://www.survivingnjapan.com/ Ashley

    I’m surprised you took it that way; I’m honestly not sure where you got all of that… I don’t, and never have, expected Japanese people to be like me, or think like me, or anything. In fact, I constantly change myself. I don’t think I am ever finished changing, or learning or growing. I don’t think beliefs are always black and white. I don’t think my perspectives are the whole story–in fact I try to see ALL sides. You are assuming I don’t without knowing me or clarifying anything with me.
    I feel as though trying to attempt this in such a short blurb was probably a bit ambitious. We are all affected by our backgrounds, upbringing, and experiences. That is how our views are formed.

    This ultimately isn’t about Japan, is what I’ve been trying to say. It is about all people, all over the world. It is about societal attitudes and beliefs and what we, as groups, accept as true or not true. We all are, in some way, as I said, racist, or sexist, or ageist, or whatever. I think most of us are well-intentioned, but we just don’t know about other cultures, peoples, etc. BUT, I don’t that means we get a “free pass” to act ignorant. Nor do I think it means we should walk around being offended by everything.

    I never went to Japan expecting anything except changes within myself, and that’s what happened.

    Honestly, the answers I’ve given over-simplify the issues at hand for the sake of brevity.

    But it does sound like you’ve met or know people who have gone somewhere and expect that places to conform to their ideals. I’ve seen it often myself in Japan, and it is sad, but I don’t think it’s the majority.

  • YP

    First of all, thank you Mescale, I feel the same way. Also Ashley, I never said it was okay for them to treat people differently, it isn’t anywhere in the world, but the fact that they do, can’t be held to the same standards that you are used to at home. Now, what I feel is the biggest problem and it’s these people I really don’t like when they complain about the word gaijin or rasicm in Japan in general, are people who have never experienced rasicm. These people usually complain the hardest when they are being treated differently in Japan, because of their looks etc. It’s unfair, yes. But there are a lot of people all over the world who are being treated unfairly and I don’t see people complaining about how it should change in America etc towards these people, people only complain about how the attitude in Japan should change and that is what is ultimately not fair. You can’t hope to change another country, when your own home-country can’t live up to the same standard you want Japan to have. Also I am not targeting this towards you, but everyone from around the world. Better yourself (and your own country), before you even think about complaining about someone else (another country).

  • Afoofoo

    Well, what do you want them to call you? Japanese? Just chill.

  • http://www.survivingnjapan.com/ Ashley

    All right then, so what would you say to Japanese people who agree with the viewpoints I’ve been mentioning? And why do you assume that some of us (who don’t complain but merely present issues) aren’t already doing things in our home countries and trying to help reduce ignorance, in ourselves and others?

  • YP

    So, are you saying that the Japanese think that they do get this “free pass” to act ignorant?

  • http://www.survivingnjapan.com/ Ashley

    That is not what I said. I put free pass in quotations as that what Mescale seemed to be saying. I don’t think most of us are aware of how we are ignorant unless we are intentional about finding out.

  • YP

    Ashley, you say ” And why do you assume that some of us (who don’t complain but merely present issues) aren’t already doing things in our home countries and trying to help reduce ignorance, in ourselves and others?” And yet I said “Now, what I feel is the biggest problem and it’s these people I really don’t like when they COMPLAIN about the word gaijin or rasicm in Japan in general”. So, I don’t mean people who present issues. People who present issues, should exist, or else we would have never gotten rid of the whole idea that everyone who wasn’t white, was a barbarian and thus a lower lifeform. So, I don’t have a problem with people who present issues. But there is a difference between presenting an issue that is occuring and saying that people who don’t see you as Japanese because you are in fact not Japanese make you specifically feel like an outsider. THAT is a complaint. And I have already said that I agree that things need to change in Japan, but you can’t expect it to happen overnight. So, therefor, to me it does not help to COMPLAIN about the situtation, raising issues however, I have no problem with, as I have said before.

  • YP

    Alright, I was just trying to make sure, please don’t think I meant it in a bad way. I was a bit confused :)

  • http://www.survivingnjapan.com/ Ashley

    I didn’t think mentioning something like that, a valid issue for many people, not myself, was a complaint.

  • Mescale

    I got all of that from what you said and what other people have said, and what people generally think.

    Do you think about how you think?

    Do you think about why you think like you think?

    Do you ever think about whether the way you think is the right way to think?

    No, you don’t.

    Just as many Japanese people don’t think about how they think, about why they think like they think, or whether the way they think is right.

    From your point of view you have decided that Japanese people are thinking wrong.

    Its not a wrong way to think, its the way many people think, but the point is its the same way Japanese people think, because generally they don’t think about what they think, why they think it, or if what they think is right or wrong.

    Because no one does, its weird right.

    But if you want to talk about whats right and wrong, how do you define those things?

    My Way? My Ideas?

    If you think that way, other people do as well. Who is right, Who is wrong?

    This isn’t about Japanese people, or Americans, its really about philosophy, and who the crap cares about that right?

    In the end, people don’t care about that, they don’t care about rational ways to think.

    They care about what they think.

    Japanese people think some people are gaijins, you think thats wrong.

    You want Japanese people to re-think about how they think about things, but you don’t want to think about the way you think about things.

    Maybe you aren’t even aware about the way you think about things, or maybe you aren’t even aware that you think about things, just like there are Japanese people who aren’t aren’t aware about the way they think about things, or that they even think about things.

    Its a ridiculous situation where you are accusing the japanese people of doing exactly what you are accusing them of doing to you to them.

    Its an ouroborian situation that can’t be solved unless someone decides to break the deadlock somehow, violence perhaps, or understanding.

    Otherwise you only have left, just misunderstanding.

  • http://www.survivingnjapan.com/ Ashley

    And do you think you’re not doing what you have said? By assuming what we are all like by what we’ve written in 300 words or a simple reply in the comments?

  • Aoyama

    So for clarification, if a person who is half-Japanese, but looks foreign, is being treated like an “gaijin” even though they never stepped foot outside of Japan says something about how they are being treated, would that be a complaint? Or say the people who are not Japanese but have lived their whole life in Japan, who will only be recognized as a “gaijin” in Japan by the government and the general public. Are they allowed to say anything to try to bring up the issue or would that just be complaining?

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    I take offence to being called a “gaijin caller caller”. We have a long and proud history of calling people who call people things things.

  • YP

    No, of course not. You can raise the issue by stating that it’s not right to treat someone like a foreigner based on their looks. However, if you start looking at your situation in particular it is a complaint. You can say that other people are dealing with the same issue, but what they go through, or feel because of this issue, is personal. Not everyone feel like an outsider, not everyone cares. Thus you are comlaining.

  • Mescale

    I’m not basing it on what people have said here.

    I am basing it on hundreds of years of philosphy from ancient greek through to modern day, on years of my own experience, on my knowledge of other people’s thinking, on logic.

    I don’t have to read anything people have written here to make my comments correct, and I frequently don’t, if I did that i’d probably get emotionally involved in an argument about someone saying I was mean or smelly or something.

    What I am saying is part of philosophy which has been tailored to meet what is being said here.

    I haven’t said you are wrong have I?

    I have asked you whether you are right, whether you have the right to choose what is right and wrong, whether you have the right to judge other people?

    I asked those questions because you were asking those same questions about other people.

    I held up a mirror to yourself and reflected your own words back.

    Your answers are irrelevant because you will think whatever you want to think. Whatever I say you will do what you will do because you are you.

    And whatever you do will not be right or wrong. Its just what you do, and what you do and what you think will be what you do and what you think.

    Maybe I could agree that somethings you think are right, or some things are wrong, maybe I could judge you.

    You think I have judged you, or said you are wrong, because I haven’t said you were right, these things are not the same.

    When I write its to provoke, maybe to provoke thought, or maybe to not provoke thought to provoke thought in others.

    Whether people are right or wrong only matters if you want to have sex with them. In which case they are always right.

    If you don’t want to have sex with them, who cares?

  • Aoyama

    Great Article! While this may be a non-issue for some people, they are foreigners living in Japan to whom this is a big deal, especially when the stereotypes associated with their “foreignness,” leads to discrimination or sometimes outright racism. We don’t know how many “gaijin” in Japan are treated this way, but it is something to be aware of.

    While I might not agree with all of the points made by the people quoted in the article, I do think it offers a broad perspective of how the word “gaijin” is viewed and should hopefully lead to a broader dialogue not only of our own ignorance and stereotypes of Japanese culture and its people, but also about how to have discussions with our Japanese friends about the stereotypes they may have of foreigners whether they be good or bad.

  • Mescale

    Oh you do do you?

    Well I take offense at you taking offense,

    we have a word for you.

    It’s a gaijin caller caller offense taker taker.

    taker taker that gaijin caller caller offense taker taker.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Oh, well, I’m fine with that.

  • Haikugirl

    An interesting topic! Personally I have no problem with the word when used in an informal context. Of course, it can have negative connotations, and I’ve certainly heard it used in such a way that it could be considered very rude or derogatory, but never towards myself. it’s a word I would use to refer to myself and my friends when among non-Japanese people who have experience of living in Japan. In fact, I work with people who have lived in Japan and many of us use the word simply to refer to ourselves. I do know of a few people who won’t use it because they find it offensive though – and that’#s their choice of course.

    Ashley made a very interesting point about ‘looking Japanese’ though. If someone doesn’t ‘look Japanese’ but was born and raised in Japan, does that make them a gaijin or not? Hmm…

  • Sheena

    You know what “racist” means? Thinking that the “race” of someone gives further indication on his or her intelligence, character, and other things which actually aren’t related to ones skincolour, eyeshape or whatever at all. Based on his or her believes a racist also believes that certain people are inferior because of their “race”, and they could also be treated as inferior (because, of course, the racist’s “race” is always the supperior one).
    Racism is hate and increased egoism. Thinking someone is simply different is not racism.
    If someone just thinks you’re a foreigner because you look different and maybe thinks that you’re different in terms of cultural habits or language skills, that is not racism. In a country where 99% of the people who look different actually are foreigners this is a logical conclusion. (No idea about the number.)
    If you see someone with green hair and a leather jacket, you probably call him a punk. You might think he likes loud music, beer and maybe has a tatoo. Chances are high, that that is true. But it could be wrong as well, I wouldn’t blame you. I also wouldn’t blame you if we were friends and you’d call me punk, even if you knew better. I would however blame you, if you used “punk” for namecalling.
    (Oh, don’t feel offendet please, I like punks :) Just as an example.)

  • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

    Great so if you hear the word used in a dignified way (e.g.. at a trade show, etc, or news bulletin), but if you’re on the subway, and a group of dudes is obviously talking about you, snickering, and using this word, yes, they mean it in a derogatory way, and you are entitled to ‘react’. The word itself is a zero, just in various parts of Japan, that word is attached to signs which read, “Sorry, you’re not allowed in here”. That’s the offensive part.

    By the way, the ‘Japanese exclusive circles’? You can just go ahead and look up Confucianism on Wikipedia, because China and Korea have these exact same phenomena (and on Chinese blogs, they debate whether 老外 is a bad word, etc). The only thing exclusive to Japan are the horrifically outdated and Xenophobic signs which say, ‘If you’re white, don’t bother coming in my store/restaurant/bar/swimming pool’ etc.

  • Wulfe

    Being half-Canto/Japanese myself, I can find a parallel with “gaijin” and the Cantonese slang word for foreigner, “gweilo”. The Canto term, originally slightly racist (lit. “ghost guy”, or translated as “foreign devil”), is now commonly used to refer to anyone who is of Caucasian ethnicity. Of course, similar to “gaijin”, few people find it offensive, but in Hong Kong, a city with a large white population, it’s used frequently – embraced almost – by young people, as an affectionate way to call foreigners. In contrary to Leah, IMO we can still reclaim the word.

    I know that it hurts the feelings of people trying to assimilate into any society, but I think foreigners should learn to embrace it, and not take it so seriously. I understand their feelings, though; Japanese people so rarely see foreigners that they tend to say it much more than, say, Hong Kongese. However, it’s also true that you get more attention as a foreigner, both good and bad, than if you were native, and sometimes extra service from hospitable Japanese. Just think that you’re in a special club because of your ethnicity, and don’t be so offended if someone calls a “gaijin”, because they’re just not used to seeing one in person – though be prepared for it if you commit some faux pas, wwww

  • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

    ” It is rude in America to say that someone is a foreigner, because you don’t know that.”

    Actually FYI we haven’t used the word ‘foreigner’ in about a hundred years. The word is obselete. We have immigrants, and we have Chinese/Japanese/Koreans/Asians/French/Europeans, etc etc. But the word, defining someone as being ‘from somewhere else’ is so antiquated and xenophobic it evokes old Western movies from the early 20th century. The word essentially doesn’t exist. If you want to call someone white, call them white. If you want to call them European, call them that. FFS, what is the ‘definition’ of someone who’s non-Japanese? That’s about 6.8 billion people. Get it? We effectively have NOTHING in common, and thus, don’t consider ourselves a group. About the only thing that binds these people is the weird xenophobic treatment they get in Japan.

    PS. Yes. They speak Japanese. Yes, they can hear you. Yes, that’s why they look irritated.

  • http://twitter.com/SactoMan81 Raymond Chuang

    This is not only the only “well-known to foreigners” word from Japanese that is viewed with mixed feelings by the Japanese themselves.

    Remember the word “otaku”? At the time Frederik L. Schodt wrote “Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga” in the middle 1990’s, the concept of “otaku” was viewed very negatively by the Japanese themselves, mostly due to some nasty incidents documented by Schodt in that book. I think that view started to change right around 1999, when stores that catered specifically to otaku culture started to take over the areas dedicated to selling electrical goods such as Akihabara in Tokyo and Nipponbashi in Osaka. Though not viewed completely favorably in 2013 for reasons that likely has been discussed at length on Tofugu.com in the past, at least there is acceptance of that culture given the success of “Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai,” arguably the best-known light novel series of recent years that spawned two anime TV series (one completed and one ongoing). After all, the lead female character from the series, Kirino, is pretty much immersed in otaku culture–in her case, “eroge” visual novel video games.

  • mish

    I’m an Australian-born-Malaysian-Chinese – I’m Australian. But, because of this, when I go to Japan I don’t stick out so much (aside from being fatter than the majority of the Japanese population). And I have no problems with the use of the Gaijin in Japan. But I really, really dislike random people yelling bits of Chinese to me in the street – whether it be “nihao” or “chingchongwa”.

    Why I dislike it.
    – I don’t speak any Chinese.
    – Unless you want to start a conversation, why did you say anything.
    – You don’t speak Chinese (how are we suppose to have a conversation in it)
    – Your train of thought is closest to “oh look, Chinese person, let me show off how learned I am by talking to them in their own language that I can’t even speak”

    So I think I can understand the feelings of the people who feel that Gaijin is a strong insult.

  • Jesse Cadd

    I guess I just expect to feel outside, never quite a full part of the culture. It’s how I was raised as an missionary kid in the Philippines and it constitutes “normal” to me, which is why we continue to live overseas, specifically in Japan. Our year in Germany was awful! We were foreigners, but no one knew until we opened our mouths…it was quite frustrating, for all parties involved. And my time in the US for college and 10 years after was miserable…a constant feeling of not belonging in your “own” culture. But this is a common experience for TCK’s (third culture kids). Some adapt to their home culture, others don’t (that would be my camp) and seek out that “comfortable/normal” feeling of being just on the edges of the culture. So no, I don’t mind the word, but I understand how others would have a more difficult time with it.

  • legendofleo

    The question remains, what is Hashi’s view of the word “gaijin” and will Tofugu continue to use it as it has so far?

  • Kintaro

    I suggest care here – Jasmine and Leah’s experiences are, in my experience, NOT the norm. It seems like they’ve had mostly negative experiences.
    In my 10+ years of travelling to-from Japan, being married to a Japanese woman, and interacting not only with the day-to-day folks I run into there, but My ex-pat friends as well, I have found that I hear the word not so often. And never have I heard it used in a derogatory fashion, only as a descriptor. And then only rarely. I usually range from Tokyo to Osaka, but my in-laws live in Ikeda (About halfway between the two and is a small town), and I’ve travelled to Hiroshima and as far south as Hitoyoshi numerous times. In all this time I’ve had one issue – Two fellas who were clearly drunk ranted at me in a convenience store in the middle of the night for being american and not “fixing” my government.
    I think the negative connotation comes from the culture shock aspect. I see this happen all the time with my students – during our homestays there’s always a few who are astounded that the typical Japanese are just normal workaday schlubs like the rest of us, and that all of Japan is not all anime characters covered in Hello Kitty neon and glitter. These are usually the ones I find are shocked or offended by the use of the term “Gaijin”.

    If any of these points were already covered in the talkback here I appologize – it’s an awful lot to have to read through.

  • George on the Go

    I think it was nailed on the head with the us and them mentality. My friend an American Japanese translator was in the park while three women judged the size of his penis, openly and outl oud. He is white and therefore does not understand naturally. My boss and I shared a taxi and the first thing from the taxi driver was “nihongo jouzu desu ne?” well he has lived here 12 years has a Japanese wife and kid so one would hope so, but at the end of the day he is still a 6ft tall white guy. I was being polite but it’s this sense of otherness which is important to stamp out. Personally I’d rather someone said Gaijin to my face than have it their at home secret. I think Japanese feel a pang of guilt when they/we say it, just as I did when my Japanese friend told her mum she was “yellow”.

  • Stella

    Gaijin… Hmm, I can see it being offensive. But I feel like it’s taken on a new meaning in the foreigners-trying-to-learn-Japanese-via-internet community. It’s just slang. I really don’t care either way.

    Here’s a somewhat relevant story: I used to really hate the term “otaku”. I knew that in Japan, otaku was more of an insult, and I felt like people who called themselves otaku weren’t really, because if they were they’d know what it means. I refused to refer to myself as an otaku because it was a derogatory term. Eventually, though, I started to use it as a joke. Now I just use it all the time, because it’s easier to say “otaku” than “fan of anime/manga/Vocaloid/J-Pop/J-Rock/Japanese things”. Even though it is somewhat of an insult, it’s taken on new meaning outside of Japan, and from what I’ve heard it’s starting to become less rude inside Japan as well. I feel like gaijin is sort of the same way. Even if its roots are questionable, so long as you’re not actually using it with harmful intentions there’s nothing wrong with the word itself.

  • Jay Sanders

    I’ve not had the chance to be called a gaijin yet but I do remember being in Mexico and a kid in a park stopping dead in his tracks, said “gringo!” then ran off. I found it funny. I only find it offensive when people use the wrong label on me. I have a small percent of Cherokee in my lineage, but because I “tan well” I must be Iranian or some other middle eastern heritage. This is usually from the same people who think all Asian countries are the same so I guess I might be expecting too much of their cultural IQ.

  • FoxiBiri

    That’s funny because shin-okubo is basically korea town.

  • http://www.locoinyokohama.com Locohama

    Well, as a black man living in japan for almost a decade now, I have a slightly different perspective. Though I do hear gaijin used in reference to me quite a bit, I hear “buracku” “kokujin” and “black gaijin” just as often. From the Japanese perspective I’ve learned that the idea and image of gaijin is white. Kokujin also incorporates the qualities and atributes of that loaded term, but also adds elements that your garden variety usage of gaijin doesn’t connote.
    Personally I think of the usage of the word gaijin by Japanese similar to the usage of the word “bro” by white people when referring to black people and it has about that much emotional impact. It’s not a slur but it is making it clear that you identify me beyond my basic humanity and have seen fit to categorize me thusly based on whatever criteria you have in your head. Something we all do, or would do, if we werent cognizant of the impact it might have on the recipient. a privalege majorities enjoy everywhere.
    Nice post Tofugu! And great choice of contributors

  • Scott Lavigne

    I know, but there it was.

  • ZXNova

    I’ve actually been wondering about that. How is it like for black people in Japan… I would think that Black people are more rare in Japan than White People, so I really do wonder how they are treated. In a whole general way, of course.

  • FoxiBiri

    The word gaijin is something we have to overcome, and it can be a very tiresome. I was the kind of person who rolled their eyes at people who I felt get a little too offended by any discriminating terminology, but after living in Japan and hearing the word whispered every hundred or so steps… well it was very humbling. No matter who you are it makes you doubt your confidence a little, it’s the reason you sit in your apartment while your tummy growls, or why you’re always wearing headphones when you get to the supermarket. It wears on you, it certainly does. What bugged me the most was just how openly they talk among themselves about the foreigner not even 10 feet away. The thought that they didn’t even consider if I could understand them, that tons of foreigners try and establish themselves and spend years learning the language and fighting to be viewed as educated, passionate, people in Japanese society. It’s just kind of a slap in the face to all those spending each and everyday studying for that kanji test.
    But you know that’s life! It’ll be more or less the same no matter where you go. As long as you venture outside of where people look and act like you, you will be a gaijin, or at least that’s what I told myself. It’s a struggle, but if one can attain an attitude that isn’t bothered by discrimination, if one can lead by example that we can and are in fact not on holiday and contributing to society in important ways, if we can prove to other that we are brave and hardworking, then we can overcome it. I’m not saying let’s all change how Japan thinks or that they are in the wrong, I just think we can use it to our advantage to better our perception of being ignorant to the language around us. Everybody should always try to be the best person they can be :) and we’re not at our best when we’re spiteful are we? Haha, or the perception will be that all gaijin are either ignorant or spiteful xP

  • Flora

    I find that the same people who have a problem with the word “gaijin” are often heavily invested in the concept of “fitting in” and being treated as a “same” in society. I stumbled across a long-forgotten blog post from a Black woman in Japan who pointed something out – most people who live in Japan are white people or in some other way were the majority where they came from. For many who come to Japan, this is their first ever experience being an extreme racial minority (which may explain their reaction to anything they perceive as being exclusionary).

    As a Black American, I have to agree with that sentiment. Being a minority your entire life means that you often become numb to little “microagressions” like that. Essentially, you have to – if I took time out of my day to get offended at every little thing that could be perceived as racist against Blacks, I wouldn’t have time to do anything else.

    Personally, I think “microagressions” and things like that are all complete bollucks. A word only has as much power as you give it. Even if it was used as an insult, why does it have more power over you than any other insult (i.e. fat, stupid, etc.)? Either you let it roll off, or you carry it with you until they all form a chip on your shoulder. No one likes the guy with the chip on his shoulder.

    I’m not Asian and, until I change my nationality, I’m not Japanese. I don’t expect to be treated as such. I don’t mind the word gaijin because I’m not the same. And, so long I’m being treated as an equal by the people I care about, I don’t care.

  • http://www.locoinyokohama.com Locohama

    peep my blog, loco in Yokohama, or my book. I can’t speak for all black people here. Only for myself. I think each person’s experience here has some elements that are similar but is ultimately determined by the luggage and conscientiousness one comes here with.

  • PostColonialInJapan

    Note that the two women (who probably have experienced sexism and discrimination in their home countries) are against the word – while the white men are ready and willing to excuse Japanese racism. “There is no long, complicated history of shame that comes from being a white dude.” Oh, well, good for you. Yes, this is 100% about the white man in the room. This is 100% about how you, the white male, feels in the situation.

    Uh-huh. Sorry white people. There are MORE people in the world than you, and “gaijin” is used to describe people who AREN’T white males like you. Just because YOU don’t feel a “complicated history of shame”, it doesn’t mean other people don’t. Arguing for the word “gaijin” because you PERSONALLY don’t feel threatened by it is, frankly, dumb. That’s basically white privilege: “I don’t feel threatened by racism because I’m white, so racist slurs are a-ok in my book.”

    I’m with the women: gaijin is an inappropriate word in all situations.

  • PostColonialInJapan

    Right, exactly. The racism in Japan is often not directed at us white folk, but rather the Chinese and Koreans. “Gaijin” is a word that helps fuel that racism. While a white male may not feel threatened by the term, Japanese people did massacre Koreans in the streets of Japan about a hundred years ago after a big earthquake. There IS a history of violence against certain “gaijin” groups in Japan, and I’m sure they feel plenty threatened by the word. As you’ve pointed out, there is often an assumption that crime in Japan comes from Chinese or Korean residents – that’s racist and stupid.

  • Brian Ashcraft

    As others have so eloquently stated, the meaning of “gaijin” depends on the context. Sometimes, it’s harmless. Sometimes, it’s mean. Sometimes, it’s just ignorant. It really depends.

    More worrying than that is, perhaps, what Koreans and Chinese must deal with in Japan. Can you imagine having to hide your last name and identity?

    Many foreigners obviously can’t and don’t, which can be a good thing (Japanese people know right quick who they’re dealing with) or a bad thing (Japanese people think they know who they’re dealing with). The last reason is probably why things can get awkward or uncomfortable for non-Japanese living in Japan…

  • Flora

    Well, he IS a White male. And the question was “how do YOU feel about the word?” Thus, it is about the White man in the room. If they’d asked me, the situation would be about the Black female in the room (and I don’t give a darn about it).

    And they didn’t advocate the word; they said it personally didn’t bother them. The women’s responses weren’t that much different – it personally made them uncomfortable, but they didn’t move to have the word banished like you just did.

  • Patuki

    This for me like so many previous commentators is an interesting topic. I’ve only read this particular article and have yet to find anyone who has tried to mention the historical use of the term when Japan itself used to be broken up into ‘kuni’ or 「国」 meaning ‘country.’ For example, the geographical area known today as Saitama, parts of Tokyo and parts of Kanagawa was historically known as ‘Musashi’, Shizuoka was historically known as ‘Izu’,Miyagi and Fukushima were historically known as ‘Iwaki’ and the list that I’m referring to is from page 1649 of ‘The Kanji Dictionary’ by Mark Spahn and Wolfgang Hadamitzky 1996. What I’m trying to elude to here is that if you ventured outside of your aforementioned ‘kuni’ you were labeled as a ‘gaikokujin no kata’, ‘gaikokujin’ or ‘gaijin.’ It would seem therefore that this term has been around for a while to say the least. So perhaps some of the historical emotions accompanied with this term both good or otherwise has been taken off of the Japanese people and is currently being used to refer to its modern applicants therefore Japanese no longer see themselves as being ‘foreign’  due to the fact that they are all one people today. Sorry, I’m merely basing my comment on what I’ve noticed in my kanji dictionary. Please do correct me if I’ve made a gross assumption. Apologies in advance if what I’ve written is erroneous.

  • LordKyuubey

    Wow, I didn’t imagine this word would cause a great deal of discussion; proves how much I still have to learn about Japan. This slightly resembles the word ‘gringo’ used in Spanish-speaking countries (though it’s LatinAms referring to people from US). I think depending on how you use the word ‘gaijin’ is the reaction you will have. After all, as human beigns we tend to discriminate (always), and it also happens to us as well. Many of us try to embrace and accept a culture so different from ours, but the other side isn’t ready to accept ours (or viceversa). We still have a long a way to go…

  • PostColonialInJapan

    “Am I the only person who feels that expecting a whole country to meet your requirements is not only wrong but really fool hardy?”

    Childish and simplistic understanding of how culture works. Japan has produced Abenomics because they want to be international. They want to compete on the global market and be respected as a global power. They import JETs every year to “internationalize.” They desperately want to be a part of the global community.

    The thing is, the world has certain standards that ALL countries have agreed upon. The UN is the official manifestation of that, but there are other things that large portions of the planet Earth has come to an agreement on – democracy, for example.

    Japan wants to be respected internationally. It is 100% fair and right to ask that Japan live up to international standards. Multi-culturalism isn’t as simple as “they do things their way, we do things our way.” You have to meet in the middle, compromise, accept some general precepts about acceptable behavior. Religion in America is a perfect example: many religions in America believe certain illegal things – polygamy, or refusing to deal with homosexuals, for example. Except that’s illegal, and they can’t do those things. The global community has likewise decided that racism is bad, and if Japan wants to be part of that community, they can’t do those things.

    Bottom line: the Japanese cannot have an openly, blatantly racist society and be respected as a global power without doing something to address it. It is not wrong for us to ask them to live up to international standards.

    My personal take on it is this: if Japan does not like me, kick me out of their country. Revoke my visa, send me home. Until they are willing to do that, I ask them simply to respect my human rights and my dignity as a human being. That includes not being racist to me. I ask only that they be good hosts, as I am being the best guest I can be.

    In other words: It is NOT racist to ask racists to stop being racist.

  • PostColonialInJapan

    That is a fair point.

  • PostColonialInJapan

    “It’s not a slur but it is making it clear that you identify me beyond my
    basic humanity and have seen fit to categorize me thusly based on
    whatever criteria you have in your head.”

    This is exactly how I feel, I agree with you 1000% on this.

    “a privalege majorities enjoy everywhere.”

    I have definitely been thinking lately about “Japanese privilege” and what that means.

  • PostColonialInJapan

    “You have your own words, your own language your own culture and your own
    society, your own world view, your own values because you are you.”

    This does not justify racism. In fact, this is precisely WHY racism is wrong.

    “Who exactly is right and wrong?”

    The world has come to some general agreement about whether or not racism is ok.

    “Why is this even a topic?”

    Why is AKB48 a topic?

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    Wow, so many interesting comments and insights. It was a great idea. I rarely get to see what other expats think about the word “gaijin” or how they feel about it.
    I find Hikosaemon-senpai’s words very convincing. I think he’s right. And probably the longer you stay in Japan, the better you can cope with it. However, I also think there are people who will never get over the feeling of isolation and either they keep struggling or leave Japan.

    Among all the comments I think I can agree the most with Leah’s. This is exactly how I feel as well.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    Haha. Yeah, but only “gaikokujin” who can read Japanese are allowed it seems! ;)

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I second that. You should read Loco’s blog – or even better his book!! ;)

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I did have a lot of good experiences, too, but it’s usually the negative ones that stick – at least for me.

    And I think it also depends on WHERE you live. I bet that people living in a more international community like in Osaka or Tokyo, won’t have such bad experiences. I don’t know about Leah, but I’ve lived solely in the Japanese countryside where they’re not so used to foreigners. I’m not sure if that’s why I had more negative experiences than others, but it could have to do with it.
    I’ve also travelled around a LOT within Japan, so I have a lot of experience how people treat a foreigner when they met him / her for the first time.

    I’ve never had a culture shock, so I don’t think that this is why I carry around a negative connotation of the word.
    I do admit that I might not like a few things that others wouldn’t even care about. For example, I hate being stared at. I just don’t like to be the center of attention, but being a foreigner in Japan it happens to me all the time.
    I also hate it when people scream behind my back: “Hey, you!” (in English)
    How the hell should I know they mean me?? Well, they do as I’m the only foreigner around.
    If people want to talk to me at least they should approach me face-to-face.
    I also hate it when Japanese keep speaking English to me although I speak Japanese with them. English is NOT my native language and it’s neither theirs. It just doesn’t make any sense.

    And I’ve had so many experiences where people keep asking me: どこからいらっしゃいましたか?
    They ask Japanse tourists the same. They want to know where you usually live and if visiting their place was a long journey for you etc.
    When I reply with the name of the city I live in, they ask me again: No, I mean where have you lived BEFORE that?
    And then I reply with the name of the city in Japan I have lived before that.
    Then, they usually get annoyed and ask me: No, I mean WHERE WERE YOU BORN???
    And this really pisses me off. They already conclude that with my looks it’s impossible that I was born in Japan.
    But it’s not! Like some of the commenters here said, there are a lot of people in Japan who were born and raised in Japan, but have non-Japanese parents. One of my previous co-workers was like that, too.

    She speaks Japanese fluently. She spent her whole life in Japan, went to a Japanese kindergarten, a Japanese primary school etc., but she’s blonde, has blue eyes and is big. Her parents are American.
    She struggles so much at times. It just makes me angry.

    I’m glad to hear that a lot of others have positive experiences, though! :)

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I would like to know that, too! ;)

  • Perry Brown

    Also, the guy you directly quoted from in your comment (Eryk) explicitly acknowledged that others from different backgrounds may have good reason to be bothered by the word. I get the feeling that you didn’t even read his contribution that carefully.

  • PostColonialInJapan

    I was at a gym the other day, taking off my shoes so I could go to the bathroom (oh, Japan!).

    I looked at the bathroom – no one was there. I looked down at my feet. I put my feet in my shoes, and looked back at the bathr- OH GOD, an old Japanese man is standing two feet in front of me and practically shouts, “WHAT COUNTRY ARE YOU FROM?!”

    That was two days ago.

  • Japan This!

    One of the things that nobody brought up in the article was the etymology of the word. People seemed to think “gaijin” is slang or that it is just short for “gaikokujin.” But this is not the case. “Gaijin” means “outsider.” When Japan opened up her boarders kicking and screaming in the 1850’s-60’s, foreigners were referred to by all sorts of unsavory terms, notably 南蛮人 “nanbanjin” (southern barbarians) and 異人 “ijin” (foreign devils) and the similar sounding but not so derogatory 異人 “ijin” (different people), as tensions between the Japanese and foreigners thawed, these racist terms came to be replaced with the generic term 外人 “gaijin” (outsiders).
    The word 外国人 “gaikoku-jin” came later and it is a compound word, literally “foreign country” + “person.”

    Well, nobody likes to be called an “outsider” and the US vs THEM dichotomy created by a word like “gaijin” just isn’t good in an increasingly pluralistic world (and yes, cities like Tokyo are evidence that Japan is also becoming pluralistic). The word “gaijin” is actually one of the banned words from broadcast television in Japan. If someone in the public eyes lets the word slip, people go crazy. Just like in America if people start throwing around non-PC terms in the media, the public gets upset about it and demands an apology.

    I think there is a big difference between being called “outsider” and being called “person from a foreign country.” Nobody at the immigration office would dare call you an “outsider” — unless they were pissed off at you and mumbling under their breath, which demonstrates the real power of the word. It’s a slur.

    The problem is a lot of Japanese don’t know it’s a slur. They’ve never been taught that in this homogeneous society. These same people probably don’t know about a lot of PC terminology that have replaced formerly widespread words that have fallen out of favor. They also hear foreigners using the word all the time about themselves so they think it’s OK.

    “Gaikoku-jin” is the better word because IT IS THE CORRECT WORD.

    Jasmine noted that she preferred to be called 外国人 gaikoku-jin or the honorific 外国人の方 gaikoku-jin no kata. I’ll add that if any Japanese accidentally slip up and say 外人 “gaijin” they can sort of smooth it out by adding the honorific suffix さん “san.” At least it adds some semblance of respect and they won’t look like an insensitive asshole.

  • PiripiP

    I’ll just say that I went to a predominately Japanese university outside of Japan (my own country), and I would say that almost all the Japanese called other people ‘gaijin’. Your situation would have been very rare indeed : )

  • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

    Its the name of a business..

  • Japan This!

    What if white people use “bro” to other white people?

    I’m white and I use “bro” for everyone because I feel calling a person “brother” is warm and implies closeness and friendship – like John Lennon’s “universal brotherhood of man” in the song, “Imagine.”

    I never thought it had any negative emotional impact or categorized a person as anything… I feel it does the opposite. It unites us.

  • Tombi

    Great post. I am a New Zealand born Samoan / Niuean, a pianist/musician living in Kanagawa, Hiratsuka shi.

    When I first arrived to Japan 6 years ago, I entertained hundreds of people every night at a hotel in Atami, playing in a show band, and solo piano work. I kept this contract for 4 years, and everyday I would always hear the word “gaijin” being used by costumers and work staff in both positive and negative situations.

    The word doesn’t bother me, when I compare it to all the other “strange” customs I’ve noticed after living here for some time.

    ie the blatant remarks on how one might look re weight “you look fat” or “you lost weight.” or how everybody needs to fit into a tiny elevator like a can of sardines, but fail to see the logic in waiting for a few more minutes. etc etc etc

    The culture is unique, and for it to adjust with the western way of thinking isn’t going to happen over night.
    Japanese speak and answer, usually with a simple, clear and most often very honest direct approach. Their “niuances” are different from western thinking.

    As other people have mentioned, I believe it’s all about your own perception.
    If your are the type to be easily offended, you may be over reacting when hearing someone say “gaijin” while looking at you like you’re trash from the abyss. lol Again, it’s your own perception. .
    In some cases, you should have every right to be offended, but in general, I see most Japanese as culturally unaware and ignorant, no fault of their own, just a lack of education in this department, and brain washed from corporate hungry scavengers through media, music, and pachinko.

  • http://twitter.com/SactoMan81 Raymond Chuang

    “Gaikoku-jin” may sound a bit formal by Japanese standards, but it is technically very correct because literally translated, it means “person of a foreign country”–e.g., foreigner. It’s certainly more acceptable–especially the Japanese langauge’s emphasis on politeness–than “gaijin,” which literally translates as “outsider.”

  • PostColonialInJapan

    “Thinking that the “race” of someone gives further indication on his or
    her intelligence, character, and other things which actually aren’t
    related to ones skincolour, eyeshape or whatever at all.”

    Well, by your definition, the Japanese are extremely racist. The most common thing I hear from local people about my job is, “I can’t speak English because I am Japanese.” My own stepson constantly tried to pull that shit on me. “What? I can’t do that because I am Japanese.” Son, this is my god damn house, and you are genetically capable of doing what I asked you to do, despite what people tell you. He has learned to stop doing that, and can now swear fluently in English. (Fuck yes!)

    It is pretty common thought in Japan that your race determines pretty much everything you can do – the IRONY of it is that, while plenty of Japanese (naturally) believe that they are a wonderful race (we all have a right to be proud of our people) many Japanese people will INSIST until they are blue in the face that, because they are Japanese, there is this list of things that they are incapable of doing. Because of their race. (My wife kept telling me during the last Olympics that, naturally, the Japanese are losing: they are so tiny, tiny, tiny. Yes, dear.)

    So, yeah. Racist. Great, glad you agree!

  • Japan This!

    Exactly.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    It is? Hmm.

  • http://twitter.com/SactoMan81 Raymond Chuang

    If you saw my post, for a long time the very word “okaku” was viewed very negatively by the Japanese themselves due to a number of nasty incidents involving people immersed in the otaku culture in the early 1990’s–something that was described in detail in a chapter of Frederik Schodt’s book “Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga.” But as the otaku culture started to become a lot more mainstream–especially with otaku-oriented stores essentially taking over the electrical goods districts of Akihabara in Tokyo and the “Den Den Town” part of Nipponbashi in Osaka from circa 1999 on–the word lost a lot of its negative connotations, though I wouldn’t call it 100% respectable in the eyes of the Japanese themselves.

  • Mike in Korea

    I’m not an expat in Japan, but in Korea. The two share a similar culture, despite some insistence that they’re not. The term for “gaijin” is waygook. When reading this blog, I realized I experienced similar situations. Leah’s entry was if she had been in Korea and not Japan. I suppose what I’m getting at, is that when discussing these terms, we should also compare it to other cultures and their terms. It could perhaps give us better insight into the use of such words in Asia as a whole as well as understanding the roots of these concepts in the collective mind. We can start to see where the dubious concept of race & national identity exists on some fundamental human level.

  • http://www.locoinyokohama.com Locohama

    Bro has evolved. The way you describe it is the way it was used among black people but whites began to use it, this is back in the days btw, derogatorily.. Of course and obviously if you are not using it derogatorily this does not apply to you. Just like those Japanese who use “burazaa” now (katakana for “brother” and there are MANY) may not be using it derogatorily, though they are definitely not using it to mean brotherly love lol

  • PostColonialInJapan

    This is also a fair point. But I stand by my comment. The tone of the first few comments was kind of dismissive. I was responding not just to one of the men, but to all of them, particularly this bit:

    “Those with the greatest sensitivity to the term often seem to be bringing their own complexes to the table about perception of race in their home countries, and their own level of adjustment and language ability in Japan…it reminds me to periodic adjustments of politically correct terms for intellectually disabled people.”

    Really? The intellectually disabled? Gee, erm…how respectful of others’ feelings…

  • Perry Brown

    Yeah, I can agree with you about the dismissiveness. Unfortunately, even when a person acknowledges that an issue exists, they can find it easy to dismiss when it doesn’t affect them directly…

  • http://www.littlegaijin.net/ アナ

    Can you please release a bigger version of the 外人 image so I can use it as my desktop wallpaper??

  • Aya

    You can download the hi-res version of the header here: http://www.tofugu.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/gaijin-2560.jpg :)

  • lostinplace

    I am living in a pretty rural part of Japan and I was surprised that when I went in to do my foreign registration, I got a stamp in my passport that said 外人登録済. Later, when talking with another foreign friend and a Japanese friend about our city calling us 外人 on an official document, my Japanese friend said she was surprised because she’d never heard that 外人 is less polite than 外国人. So, while they may not use the term 外人 at the immigration office, small rural municipalities will stamp it permanently into your passport.

    I just listen to people’s tone of voice. If they don’t seem to mean any harm, then I let it slide. But it is still something I notice and pay attention to.

  • http://www.littlegaijin.net/ アナ

    Oh! Thank you so much!! This really means a lot to me, thank you so much!!

  • http://www.littlegaijin.net/ アナ

    This looks amazing as my desktop wallpaper! Thank you so much again!!

  • PostColonial

    God, I’m sorry, that came out way snarkier than I meant it to be. I apologize.

    I just meant to highlight that, yes, comments about how race determines personal qualities is VERY common in (my life, at least) in Japan. BUT, funnily enough, Japanese people usually direct their race-based negative comments at THEMSELVES. I haven’t figured that out yet. Again, sorry for being a snarky ass.

  • Tokyo_Ben

    Thank you for saying this. The ultra-postmodern tirades above were getting ridiculous. Japan has different cultural values than other nations, but as long as sakoku is off the table, they need to play nice with others. This means protecting the most basic human rights of life, freedom, equality, etc. for both citizens of Japan, visitors, and residents, whatever their race.

  • Tokyo_Ben

    I don’t think you can say categorically that nobody uses the word “foreigner” anymore. It really depends on where you’re from, and in my experience, your level of education. Still, to say the word is wiped out is an exaggeration.

    I agree with you on the latter half of your comment. I once had a student try to use “gaijin” as a category and was asking all kinds of questions about “us”. Well, we’re all different…

  • Owls

    Sorry, would you prefer I pretended to be a victimized white dude?

  • Jacinda

    I lived in Nagoya for 10 months and only experienced one definite moment of racism and it didn’t involve the word gaijin (in fact the gaki wouldn’t even talk to me or look at me, lest of all spar me at a karate gasshuku (training camp). At first I thought it was because I was a girl, or because I was wearing a lower belt colour than him (despite being a black belt in my preferred style) that was until I saw him being helpful and courteous with the other white belt girls.

    Instead the usage I heard of Gaijin was from adorable primary school kids who seemed fascinated by me. I guess it’s like most swear words these days – they don’t offend everyone all the time, but they can be used offensively.

  • America Bob

    Been here quite a while .. definitely gaijin, in the eyes of most, as well as my own. A more realistic article would have just suggested that there are plenty of assholes in Japan who use the word gaijin to put you, your societal value, and in turn your estimated potential all at an obscured measure, something like urine on a snowcone. People are A-holes, It is your job here to OPEN peoples* (damn JP keyboard) eyes, and well, not change a darn thing. Give up and work, gaijin is what we are, plural (not singular) because there is no movement from the local side to want to change that, sleep on it, wake up, and go back to work, because it’s what WE (those who call Japan home) do. Be nice, and enjoy the fact that your sense of humor isn’t merely for the sake of listening to your bosses jokes.

  • PostColonial

    No, thank YOU Tokyo_Ben.

    I honestly have no idea what Mescale is even talking about anymore. I don’t think he realizes that the stuff he’s saying was pretty much figured out and settled a LONG time ago. His whole “who is right and who is wrong?” spiel is especially childish and annoying. Anthropology’s been around over a century; we know full well how to talk about culture, and most mature adults know how to draw a line between impartial criticism of a culture and flat-out emotional tirades against it.

    I think if Mescale had ever had a girlfriend, or been married, he would understand better – I love my wife, but I don’t agree with her every day. She yelled at me last night, and I yelled back. I didn’t stop loving her. I love Japan, but I don’t always agree with it. But I don’t stop loving Japan, even when I’m angry at it. Sometimes it’s healthy to yell a little bit. Sometimes it’s the only way you can admit what’s wrong.

    I’m sorry, Mescale, that you can’t tell the difference between racism, ethnocentrism and healthy discussion.

  • PostColonial

    Thank you, Perry Brown.

  • PostColonial

    Um…no?

    I have no idea what you’re talking about. Are you white? Are you victimized? If not, please don’t pretend to be? Because it would be dumb?

  • Loviatar

    Well, I don’t see the word gaijin as a negative word on its own. Becuse, as a Finnish person, I think I see where it comes from (at least partially). This is because it seems Finns use the word “foreigner” in quite similar way to how the Japanese use the word “gaijin”, as a term describing the persons ethnicity. For a Finn, foreigner simply means non-Finn (aka non-white-as-a-sheet). Whether it has negative or positive meaning depends on the person using it and the situation. A skinhead using the word foreigner with cuss-words added before and after it, obviously uses it in negative way. If a regular, so-called “real” Finn describes a foreign-looking person (even if he had Finnish nationality), he is going to use terms
    that define the “non-white-Finn” as having roots elsewhere. These terms or the Finnish word for foreigner just don’t
    necessarily have any kind of negative or positive tone. Mind you, I DON’T think the “us vs them” separation words like “gaijin” or the Finnish counterpart creates is good, but that is exactly how I use the word “foreigner” myself. If I don’t know the non-Finnish person and / or his nationality, he is foreigner. If I know him, he still is a foreigner (but a foreigner I know). If he has the Finnish nationality, he is foreigner with Finnish nationality. Is this ignorant? Maybe. Is it backwards? Hell yeah! But is it racist?…No, not necessarily. If this is racist, then whole Finland including me is racist, which I don’t think really is the case.

    Where does this kind of separative words come from then? A partial reason at least is a non-multicultural history. That is an aspect Finland and Japan have in common. I saw my first black-person outside TV when I was in high school, and it felt strange. Why was it like that? It’s because most people around me here look exactly like me; pale, a bit pinkish (read: easily sunburn) complexion, high cheekbones and small noses. They behave just as I do: eye-contacts are just short glances at best, and our face is quite emotionless in public. If you haven’t gotten used to people looking and behaving differently around you, it IS scary when some of them do. Someone from a multicultural background won’t probably understand this. Does it make me racist that a group of Ethiopian men standing around on a street corner, creepily staring at me, scares the shit out of me? I’m hoping not, since I try to see people as equal individuals rather than mere ethnic groups. But I’m sure for someone this is terrible bigotry. I apologize is that is the case.

  • PostColonial

    “we should also compare it to other cultures and their terms”

    I think this is absolutely correct. There is no objective measure by which we can judge culture – and no single culture has a monopoly on truth or morality. The only real way to judge a culture is to compare it to others – look at how they are similar, how they are different; look at how they approach similar problems.

    I think one thing that people like Mescale above fail to comprehend is that NO ONE here is saying that Japan is the ONLY country that faces issues with racism and prejudice. We’re just saying that, compared to the other places we’ve been, we feel they could be handling it better. Other countries have figured this out – other countries (my own home of the US, for example) are still wrestling desperately with it – Japan can, too.

  • PostColonial

    “I once had a student try to use “gaijin” as a category and was asking
    all kinds of questions about “us”. Well, we’re all different…”
    My own stepson once said, after I had kissed my wife, “Jesus, gaijin love to kiss in front of people, don’t they?” I explained that, no, actually, in many countries kissing in public is considered extremely rude, and could very well get a person hurt – or killed. In other countries, light kisses could be casual greetings – in fact, if he goes to play soccer in Europe, he’d very likely have to kiss a man at some point.

    “People from MY country are ok with kissing in front of children. However, there are about 200 OTHER countries out there.” He got the point.

  • Toranosuke

    I used to be one of those people who thought little of the word gaijin, and who in fact used it plenty to talk about myself and my compatriots; I suppose I still am, the general feeling being that it all depends on the intention with which it is used.

    My grandparents were Holocaust survivors, so my family, and my father in particular, has always been sensitive to the spectre of anti-Semitism. I’ve heard from various people that I should be offended at being called “a Jew,” rather than being called Jewish, or of the Jewish faith, or whatever. But, you know what, Jews and gentiles alike use the word Jew all the time with no negative meaning intended, and though I’ve never really been called kike, yid, or heeb, words are just words – being called a Jew is not the same as being called a “filthy Jew,” nor is it the same as someone explicitly saying horribly negative things about how the Jews control the media or whatever. In short, it’s all about context, and intention.

    In just the same way, being called a “gaijin” is not the same as being called a “stupid gaijin” or a “filthy gaijin.” Is it connected to a deeper, broader, more insidious and problematic notion of xenophobia and exclusion of the multiethnic? Absolutely. And I have taken ethnic studies seminars, in particular ones on indigenous issues and racism, and I’ve lived in places like Hawaii, where, too, whites are not only the minority, but are considered “foreigners” (or, not “locals”) no matter how long they’ve lived there. So, I’m well aware of the power of discourse, and the problematic conceptions and attitudes underlying the use of the word “gaijin.”

    But, I think that far more important than worrying about the word itself, we should focus on being offended by actual acts of discrimination, and systemic institutional forms of discrimination. I’m more offended by people assuming I don’t speak Japanese, or assuming I’m a tourist, or giving me trouble with this or that administrative procedure. I’m offended that I can’t get a cellphone without having a resident alien card (or whatever it is they’re calling them these days) because of certain ideas that foreigners are going to use them to commit crimes or something. I’m offended at the general discourse that foreigners are the cause of crime. I’m offended at the difficulty of finding an apartment that’s willing to rent to me. I’m offended at the difficulty of opening a bank account. I’m offended that no matter how good my Japanese may be, no matter how long I may live in Japan, no matter how acclimated I may become to the culture, and even if I were to become a Japanese citizen, I might always only be eligible for certain types of jobs (e.g. visiting professor) rather than other types of jobs (e.g. the Japanese equivalent of tenure track full professor). And, indeed, for Zainichi, for whites (or people of other ethnic/racial backgrounds) born and raised in Japan, for those of mixed ethnic background, I think it extremely problematic that people’s assumptions and attitudes, and various systemic things throughout Japanese businesses and institutions, are so focused on a monolithic, ethnically homogenous conception of Japan as a singular “us” that does not and cannot include “them.”

    The word “gaijin” only contains the connotations of all of those attitudes and discriminatory practices if it does so in the mind of the speaker, and/or in the mind of the person(s) being referred to. I have no doubt that discriminatory attitudes are prevalent in Japan, but I’d be very curious to go ask some of my Japanese friends – or random Japanese people on the street – if they consciously think of the word gaijin as meaning “outsider”, as meaning “soto no hito,” or what they think of the meaning and use of the word… Actually, now that I think about it, I feel like RocketNews24 did a post of precisely that sort of thing, interviewing Japanese as to their thoughts on the word. I can’t seem to find that post right now, though…

  • Christian

    外人登録証 is what “alien registration cards” are called all over Japan; it’s not just your (rural) municipality. In this instance, for me it seems more similar to the English “alien” or “registered alien.” Not offensive, just factual.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I can’t say that I’ve personally had enough experience with the word to form a strong opinion, but after this, I will be much more thoughtful about using it in Tofugu articles.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Do you happen to have a link to that long-forgotten blog post? I’d love to read it.

  • Luna Carya

    Reading the bloggers’ opinions on “gaijin”, I found interesting that the females have the strongest negative impressions of that word, while the males remain neutral or base it on context.
    I can’t really say I have an opinion on “gaijin”, as I’ve never been to Japan. My Japanese teacher, who is a blonde, green-eyed Mexican, told me after a trip to Japan that she was even spitted towards while being called “gaijin” or “American” by Japanese older people. If/when she could point out that she wasn’t “American”, those people warmed up a little towards her, and even apologized.
    I’m left with the idea that there are serious problems with some Japanese people about (selective) xenophobia and machismo. I can’t wait to visit Japan, so as to form a stronger opinion for myself.

  • Scott Lavigne

    Yeah, weird right?

  • MIJ

    How different is it to say Chinese gangs or Korean gangs, compared to the way US TV shows say Italian mobster or Mexican gangs? It is a generalization but is it necessarily racist? I am ethnically Chinese, and I do really believe there are a lot of crimes committed by Chinese thieving gangs, and moreover, they tend to be likely to involve murder or heinous acts than those committed by Japanese criminals.

  • http://www.rurousha.blogspot.jp/ Rurousha

    It always strikes me how often people refer to gai(koku)jin’s meaning as “outsider” or “outside person”, as though the word in
    itself labels you and reinforces its negative application.

    Ever wondered about the origin of the English word foreigner? It is derived from the 13th-century word ferren, foreyne “out of doors”; from Old French forain “strange, foreign; outer, external, outdoor; remote, out-of-the-way”; from Medieval Latin foranus “on
    the outside, exterior”; from Latin foris “outside”, literally “out of doors”. The Etymology Dictionary says it replaced the native word fremd, and that the meaning of “not in one’s own land” is first attested in the late 14th century.

    So, whatever the sociolinguistic applications/implications of the word gaijin, whenever you use the word foreigner, you’re also labelling others as “outside people”.

  • Jen

    I’ve never heard anybody make comments about Chinese or Korean gangs, but I have heard lots of general negative comments about Chinese and Korean people. Where did you get the talk about gangs from? Assuming that crimes are coming from gangs is one thing, assuming that anybody of a certain ethnicity is a criminal, or has poor hygiene, bad manners and is an unproductive member of society is another.

  • 21tigermike

    The bottom three characters 取次店.. mean Agency.. It’s an International Travel Agency or Relocation Agency of some sort. *shrug*

  • 21tigermike

    Confucianism. Yup.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I read that, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the agency’s name. If it really is their name like you say, then it’s a very bad choice. Don’t you think so, too? :)

  • Admiral Awesome

    I have no idea what you’re talking about or heard the usage of “bro”. It’s turned into a hip word that people use to meet each other. Just Google “bro” and see the stereotypical model. It’s not a black person, it’s a white person with a polo and his collar popped up with shades and a beer. I’ve never even heard it us negatively. Maybe that was a while back but I doubt anyone uses the term bro as a derogatory term anymore.

  • Flora

    Unfortunately not :( I found a lot of interesting nuggets here or there on Google, but I could never find them again. They were all really old posts (2006 or earlier) & from what looked like abandoned blogs, so they’ve probably been deleted by now.

    If it helps, I found it in the first place by Googling “Black in Japan”.

  • http://www.locoinyokohama.com Locohama

    I forget sometimes that a lot of people on these japan related blogs are not native English speakers. “Evolved” means changed, as in ‘bro’ used to mean one thing, or was used in one way, but now it means and is used in another. And ai saw that college humor video. Hilarious and brilliant bit of satire (-:

  • goodandbadjapan

    There is nothing wrong with the word gaijin in and of itself. It is all down to appropriateness of use. It doesn’t matter that it literally means ‘outside person’. You could look into the etymology of countless words in countless languages and find examples that seem to show otherness, but very often it is not the actual word that causes offence, rather it is the manner in which it is used. If an old Japanese chap tells me I can’t use chopsticks or understand nature or hope to learn his language because I am a ‘gaikokujin’ I will be far more offended than I will be by a chap who tells me he thinks it’s stupid when all ‘gaijin’ are lumped together as one group. The first fellow is using the ‘polite’ word in a foolish manner, the second is using the ‘bad’ word to make a reasonable statement. I know which one I would be more uppity about.

    Of course, there are some words which reach such a level of abhorrence that their use in any context at all is frowned upon, but I think to suggest gaijin has reached that status is, at the very least, premature. Often, the word gaijin is used in inappropriate contexts in Japan, but then again so is gaikokujin and the choice of word doesn’t always make the expressed view more acceptable. Appropriateness and context are key .

  • PostColonial

    MIJ, I’m not talking about organized crime. I agree that the Chinese mafia are a formidable force.

    But I’m talking about scapegoating regular Koreans for regular crimes. Some people I know claim that ALL crime in Japan is rooted in the ethnic Korean community (it’s not).

    As for depravity, open any Japanese newspaper, and you’ll find at least one news story per day about a person murdering a family member, their own children – or a man murdering his girlfriend. In terms of depravity, I personally find little more sickening than what I read. Those crimes are NOT done by some foreign element introduced to Japan from the outside. That’s what Japanese criminals do to other Japanese people.

    I don’t mean to suggest that Japan is a crime-ridden nation – it’s not. It’s very safe, in fact. But it’s not as if being a safe nation makes Japan immune to some pretty fucked up crimes. Crimes committed by Japanese people against Japanese people. When you say, ” they [the Chinese] tend to be likely to involve murder or heinous acts than those committed by Japanese criminals,” I can tell that the myth of Japanese innocence has been spread far and wide. It is a powerful idea here and abroad that the Japanese don’t commit crimes. In fact, the scapegoating of Koreans isn’t even all that insidiously racist – Japanese people just have this underlying feeling that Japanese people don’t commit crimes, so it must be someone else doing it.

    But, no. The most depraved crimes that I’VE read about in this country were not done by foreigners of any kind. I personally see no reason whatsoever to give any credence to the idea that crimes in Japan are done by foreigners, not even the Chinese mafia.

  • Lauren

    What’s funny is that out of all my negative experiences in Japan, none of them have involved the word “gaijin.” Most have simply included people who have decided (for whatever reason) that they don’t like me.

    As others have said, it’s not “外人” vs “外国人” so much as it is the stereotyping and negative implications that often come along with it that are offensive…

    As a rule I don’t like nor use the word 外人, but what bothers me more are the foreigners that use it to categorize themselves into a group where its okay not to know Japanese or have proper social etiquette because after all, we’re gaijin (e.g. “Gaijin Style”). After all the work we’ve gone to to become linguistically and culturally competent, why pigeonhole ourselves?

  • PostColonial

    “Gaijin” is wrong because it is a massive double-standard: foreign ideas? Foreign sports? Foreign items, things, objects? Those absolutely can become fully Japanese, accepted 100% as essential parts of Japanese society. Foreign people? Human beings? We’re “gaijin,” forever and always. “It’s ok for them to point out how foreign you are because you ARE foreign!” Weird, because I’ve NEVER heard a Japanese person marvel at how wonderful and amazing that foreign baseball is – or how great it is to be having foreign food for dinner: curry and rice. No one bothers the ramen cook to find out how he mastered such an exotic foreign cuisine.

    So why do they do it when they see me?

    The problem with “gaijin” isn’t its dictionary definition. It’s the
    two-faced way it’s used. Japan is not just for the Japanese. Japan is
    not a homogenous nation, untouched by foreign ideas. Does anything
    truly, 100% Japanese even exist anymore? Is anything in this land
    untouched by foreign influence? They have no problem adopting baseball as their national sport – but an
    actual American? “Gaijin.” Oh, curry and rice – they can eat that every
    day. But an Indian person? “Gaijin.” Ramen – can’t drink beer without a
    bowl of ramen. A Chinese person? “Gaijin.” Oh, a randoseru. Every kid
    needs a randoseru. An actual Dutch person? “Gaijin.”

    This idea that foreigners can never fully be accepted in Japanese culture is the reason that “gaijin” is not ok. Who ever said that the Japanese have trouble adopting foreign ideas and adapting foreign concepts to their society? When have the Japanese EVER had trouble accepting new, foreign items into their culture? Yet, whenever we talk about being foreign in Japan, people always dismiss it as, “Oh, but you ARE foreign! Of course they point it out! It’s not racist because it’s TRUE.” Huh, weird. Because NO ONE here bothers to point out all the OTHER foreign stuff that they’re buried in. Just the people.

    When you look at the word “gaijin” in the context of how Japanese people interact with foreign objects and foreign foods, you can see that they purposefully single out foreign PEOPLE in a way that they NEVER single out foreign objects. That’s what gives away the fact that “gaijin” IS a racist term specifically reserved to give special treatment to certain types of human being that the Japanese don’t do with ANY OTHER thing in their lives. “Sorry, gaijin. Get out. But leave the blue jeans and the baseball.”

  • 21tigermike

    It’s pretty safe to ‘assume’ that businesses put their names in big bold letters. Is it a stupid name? Of course it is. It’s Japan man. Marketing is weird over there.

  • 21tigermike

    “just listen to people’s tone of voice.” Exactly. As I’ve said before, the word itself is a zero. It’s not until your Chinese/Japanese/Korean language ability picks up that you might hear people use this word in a mocking/hurtful way (eg. on the subway, bus, etc) and you will be very shocked to hear that, in some contexts, the word is an insult. The word it’s fine, the people who use it to mock, or sneer at tourists/visitors.. are the real problem.

  • Woman

    This post just made me think for a moment and realize that…

    I don’t think I’ve never heard a Japanese say “gaijin” in my presence. They always say “gaikokujin”. Even my boyfriend who is as informal as it gets always says gaikokujin and never gaijin. The only people I hear say “gaijin” are …. fellow gaijin!

  • http://www.locoinyokohama.com Locohama

    You’re contradicting yourself. First you say you’ve numbed yourself to microagressions and then You say they’re bullocks. I understand the desire to be liked and that could be the reasons you’ve chosen to refer to them as bullocks. No one in their right mind is talking about being treated as a Japanese, id like to think though i could be wrong about that. Personally I’d just like for people to reserve or reduce their presumptions about who I am and what I am capable of, and recognize the truth: they actually know nothing about me. I’m a blank slate they need not fill in without actually talking and getting to know me. But people have this tendency to fill in that blank with tons of misinformation. I think this is the source of the microagressions here and everywhere. And as a writer, I can tell you for a fact, words, and microagressions as well, have power, whether we, ourselves, give it to them or not. Act like you know. What we do have power over is our response to these microagressions. You’ve chosen to call them bullocks. That’s cool. Everybody has to cope somehow and if your way of doing so works for you, more power to you. But let’s not denigrate those who choose to deal with this very serious issue in other ways.

  • http://www.locoinyokohama.com Locohama

    That establishment feeling the need to post such a sign speaks volumes doesn’t it?

  • http://www.locoinyokohama.com Locohama

    Thanks!

  • http://www.japanfinds.com/ Hector Franco

    I can’t really say that it bothers me. I’ve always been something of an outsider in any country I’ve been to including my home country of the United States. Although I feel that certain things like the refusal of entry to a foreigner at an onsen or bar is a little too much, I do feel that Japan is country very far from every being completely assimilated with the outside world. It’s just something I’ve chosen to ignore personally I suppose. Maybe it’ll be different in another 50 years.

  • Gaijin420

    Im a white man with the word Gaijin (in English) tattood on my wrist, and deal with many Japanese people in my day to day work life. ALL of them, have either laughed hysterically or told me they loved it. Now of course I’m sure my take on the word would be differenti if I lived n Japan, but I like to think it can have a positive connotation if embraced.

  • Mescale

    Your view is naive, just because the UN exists, doesn’t mean countries have to abide by it, what will the UN do if they don’t, invade? Just because a law exists doesn’t mean its enforced or respected.

    Japan doesn’t have the greatest record of human rights for its own citizens, let alone foreigners.

    So your solution is to use a utterly toothless organisation known as the UN to enforce your own ideas over other countries.

    It makes no difference whether its your own ideas or ideas of a non-country based independent body, (which just happens to have the same views as your country) you are still trying to force you ideas of what is right onto someone else.

    Really what gives the UN the right to decide on what is right and wrong? Just that more than one country came together to decide some rules.

    Maybe if this is such a big issue you should write to the UN.

    Wahh, wahh, some japs called me a gaijin. Invade their asses.

    Words only have power if you allow them to, the fact that you have imbued gaijin with such fantastical powers is your problem.

    Its pretty selfish to get all uppity about being called a gaijin when there are so many other serious problems in Japan. Get some perspective.

    You have still missed the point, the point is the fact that you are being judgmental here, you are judging the Japanese, just as you are claiming they judge you,

    You are as guilty as them at what you are saying they are guilty of, but here you are trying to take the high ground. And you’re using every damn excuse to say its ok, i’m right, because I say so, the UN says so, my dad could beat up your dad.

    Thats the real problem, the hypocrisy, and the fact you can’t even see it.

    The same reason I give your ideas no importance is the same reason Japanese people give your ideas about ‘gaijin’ no importance, you come along preaching high ideas whilst simultaneous ignoring them when it suits you, your actions undermine your words.

    Why should Japanese people have to do what you say when you can’t do it yourself.

    The old do what I say, not what I do, isn’t compelling.

    You want to really inspire people to become better, then live by your words, act as you say others should. That will show people the truth of your words, the value of your actions.

    Listen to this all Americans (except hashi of course) this is why no one likes you, you are all about liberty freedom and the pursuit of happiness, until it doesn’t suit you, then you’re the cruelest, meanest, nastiest, most unpleasant people imaginable. The only reason people tolerate you is because you have lots of guns, lots of people to shoot them, and you’ve shown the lack of ethics or morality required to use them ruthlessly.
    We’ll (everyone else) pretend to like you, because to not like you means really bad things for us. But ultimately we don’t respect you, and we don’t want to listen to your one sided rhetoric and your selfish ambitions. And we are prideful people that even if you ever did come up with something worthwhile to say, we’d ignore you anyway on principle, because of who you are.

    So every time you get a stick up your lower ileum about some minor thing, then you start demanding we change, to suit your thinking, we’ll most likely do the opposite or resist as much as we can, because you are all nothing but a big bunch of poopy heads, you don’t care about us, about who we are, our history, or feelings, you only care about you.

    And that is why you are a bunch of filthy gaijins.

    Hey we were all thinking it, I’m just saying it.

  • PostColonial

    “So your solution is to use a utterly toothless organisation known as the UN to enforce your own ideas over other countries.”

    No, you moron, my point is that the UN represents some consensus that the world has ALREADY COME TO. We don’t need the UN to enforce it – the mere fact that the UN exists indicates that there is some agreement – if not actual agreement, it indicates that countries are willing to come together and find common ground.

    “Really what gives the UN the right to decide on what is right and wrong?”

    What gives ANYONE the right to decide what is right and wrong? I mentioned the UN simply to point to the fact that there is ALREADY an international body that attempts to find common ground between nations – and Japan is part of it, which means that Japan has indicated, as a country, that it is willing to meet on common ground, change, and grow according to international standards. I never said it was infallible or even the only international body – it’s ONE EXAMPLE of many places that the world has come together to find a moral consensus.

    Wow. You are seriously dumb, aren’t you? You spent ALL THAT TIME ranting about a complete misreading of what I was saying. I gave the UN as ONE EXAMPLE, it wasn’t my whole argument. Wow. Good job.

  • http://buildingmybento.wordpress.com/ BuildingMyBento

    And then there’s this sign I saw outside of a Shenzhen, China bar. A bit anachronistic, as it mentions Koizumi Junichiro and alludes to his Yasukuni visits.

  • http://www.japaneseruleof7.com/ Ken Seeroi

    Boy, what a hornet’s nest. Where do I stick my hand?

    So okay, as a white writer in Japan (or “whiter” as it usually comes out after a few beers), I’ll just add a small point. And then you can all tear it to pieces.

    That is, how much this word bothers you is pretty closely related to how much of a Japanese person you feel you are. Do you speak the language, eat the food, and do all the same things everybody else does? Well, then this word probably doesn’t make you feel too fantastic. After all, who’s really Japanese? ( http://japaneseruleof7.com/whos-really-japanese/ ) You tell me.

    On the other hand, if you’re just hanging out with your gaijin buddies at the local Irish bar speaking English all the time, then you probably don’t sweat it too much. That’s because you’re a gaijin, ya gaijin.

    I’ve generally found that people will treat you any way you let them. If you’re okay with being called a gaijin and treated as such, then go with it. If you don’t like it, don’t stand for it, and tell people why in Japanese. Write a newspaper article in Japanese. Give a speech. Nobody gives you rights. If you want to be treated with equality, take a stand. Das what I think, bro.

  • PostColonial

    You moron, I mentioned the UN as an EXAMPLE of international cooperation. The UN doesn’t NEED to come into Japan and change things: Japan has ALREADY JOINED THE UN and agreed to many of their precepts and policies. I’m not talking about using outside force to change Japan – I’m pointing out that Japan has ALREADY made a declaration that they want to join the international community and, in fact, they already HAVE joined the international community.

    Wow, you are just seriously stupid, aren’t you?

  • HalfNote5

    It stands to reason, regardless of race, religion, creed, nationality or ethnic background that the worst crimes of any country will be perpetrated, by and large, by its own peoples, because a criminal will be a criminal wherever he/she lives. They will not travel abroad for the purpose of doing so. Hence, for example, most crimes in Canada are committed by Canadians, most crimes in Ireland are committed by Irish, most crimes in the USA by Americans, and, of course, most of the crimes in Japan will be committed by Japanese.

  • HalfNote5

    *people

  • Francine Soto

    Personally I find the word a bit offensive. When I was abroad studying, I only had one racist lady keep on referring to be as “gaikin daigakusei” . Every time something wasn’t right in the cafeteria or dorm she would point at me or other foreign students blaming the gaijin. Many times we had nothing to do with the incident. It made me really dislike the use of the term. Where as before I didn’t have much of a problem with it. But I do gotta say it kinda bugs me how in your posts here at tofugu you keep writing things like “baka gaijin” over and over. Some blog writers more than others. But I know you mean it with a light heartedness. :P

  • Aurelas

    LOL I think I might be able to sympathize a bit! I am part Native American, Muskogee to be precise. Unfortunately, I have enough Welsh and English blood to make me have very pale skin and the result is that no one can tell what on earth I am or where I am from. It has become a sort of game for me to see how many odd suggestions people will make. It is always strange to me that people I have never seen feel that they have the right to guess my ethnicity and even tell me that I am wrong, that I must be Philippino or Vietnamese or Jewish or Hawaiian or Egyptian or whatever and that my parents have not told me the truth!

    Most guess that I am Chinese, though, and when I used to be a substitute teacher, there would always be at least one kid who would follow me around saying “Ching chang chong. Tell me what I said,” and then refuse to believe me when I would tell them that I was not of Asian descent and, as far as I knew, they had just said “ching chang chong.” I gave plenty of lectures about racism and stereotypes and was then usually treated to a child pulling his eyes up to a slant and making more random “Chinese” sounds. I would want to just bang my head on the desk.

    The craziest of all was when a lady told me to get back over the border, that I was taking up a good American job. I guess she thought I was the world’s palest illegal immigrant from Mexico? The hilarious thing: she said this as she was ranting and reporting me to my superior as a racist for asking to see her id when she used her credit card (store policy).

  • Kiko Okua

    Korea and Japan have a huge disagreement. After Korea was colonized by Japan, lots of anti-Japanese (on the Korean side) and lots of Anti-Korean sentiment remained as a by product. It’s very sad. I want to go to Korea (as an adoptee) and perhaps Japan, but my parents have always warned me, Japan and Korea might not like me if I like both cultures. Especially since I don’t know the language. If you need evidence, look at Dokdo Island or the prostitution disguised as jobs scandal. Many people in Korea and Japan, when dealing in foreign relations with the other, have many problems as there is a fine line with labeling. I think that labeling is needed for certain things (immigration, passports, etc.), but you have to be very careful with how you label. No one is particularly better than the other. Korea has its own word for foreigner, its romanization being “wehguken” or something like that.

  • shiro

    Don’t worry, regardless of all of the racism against Koreans in Japan (which is very real), most Japanese won’t care that you like both cultures. K-pop is ridiculously popular in Japan for example, and many Japanese casually study Korean, so lots of Japanese and foreigners in Japan enjoy both cultures.

    Besides, it’s not like you’ll be walking around wearing an “I LOVE JAPAN” shirt in Korea, and vice versa, right?

  • Jun

    Gaijin is a Japanese word, so let the Japanese decide whether it’s a derogatory word. People around the world are still using the word ‘Jap’ but the Japanese don’t really care because they don’t give a damn about English. Same for Chinks and other slangs. If you can eliminate the use of these words in your own country then you can tell the Japanese to do the same.

  • Midnight Tea

    I’m generally of the mind that acceptance isn’t given. It isn’t either, it just emerges. And to some degree, no, no outsider can ever fully integrate into Japanese culture. From what I can tell, Japanese culture is very much about shared the experiences from growing up together within it. If you can accept that, though… and show modesty, dignity and maybe even warmth towards people who otherwise marginalize you, then maybe you can help prove that there doesn’t need to be a distinction.

  • Yun Kang

    “For instance, when Japanese people go abroad, they continue to use gaijin to refer to the native population. “There are so many gaijin in America!” ”

    Eh? Never in my life have I encountered Japanese people that have said this, or even thought this way to be honest. Where are you getting your info, because that’s simply not true. If you ask a Japanese in France for example if they consider themselves a gaijin, they will say yes, and probably tell you that “gaikokujin” is a more polite term.

  • ruby

    it doesn’t really bother me, except for one time i went out in Sapporo and heard 「外人だらけ!」 i mean really, だらけ? いっぱいいる would’ve sufficed

  • Topika

    I used to get stared at every morning on my commute to work. Many Japan apologist will say, its nothing more than a curosity, but that annoying generalization quickly wears off. There was a guy who rode my train that was bald, with salaryman shirt and sported a miniskirt, hose with pumps for his lower attire. Umm, well, I guess its a sort of cosplay. But dude never got stared at, and I who sat next to him would be the object of 7 pairs of eyes. I would talk to myself or point at dude then at the staring hitobito and shrug “why”?
    I think its a way to vent or express your frustrations, just like dude who was a public crossdresser. What a weird place.

  • Cali Pellegrini

    I’d love to read a native Japanese-looking Japanese person share his or her views on this topic.