Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Gaijin...urrrrg! I despise that word

Contrary to many simple minded non-Japanese, that word does not simply mean foreigner. Gaikokujin is a respectable word for foreigner. Gaijin is often preceded by the word baka, or idiot. The word is at least slightly derogatrory and you won't hear someone who is trying to be polite to you call you a gaijin.

Until very recently, the word was only used when referring to people of European descent. (Many Japanese view us with favor and deference compared to how they view non-whites. That in itself is quite disgusting). Now, it is supposedly being used for all races and nationalities---at least that is what some of the English language newspapers say. (Often these papers serve as explainers and apologists for unpleasant Japanese realities to gullible foreigners).

One interesting thing is that when I was in college in the US, most Japanese there would refer to Americans in general as gaijin. Now if that bigoted word means foreigner, why the hell were foreigners (Japanese) in America calling American citizens foreigners?

Gaijin literally means outside person. Traditionally, and even today, to be outside the group is very uncomfortable for most Japanese. In fact, ostracism used to be a severe punishment in old Japan and still serves that purpose today. The outsider in the American way of thinking has been viewed as an attraction, often someone fighting for good. That wasn't and isn't the Japanese point of view. So the next time someone calls you a gaijin, put an end to it fast. I do. And for goodness sake, if you are a foreigner don't run around calling yourself a gaijin. If you insist on doing so, place the aforementioned baka in front of it. It will then describe you better.


  1. Anonymous8:01 AM

    Just found your blog (looks great), going through some archives, so a very belated comment to start ...

    If in doubt as to how derogatrory the term "gaijin" really is, next time you're outside Japan and you see a group of Japanese tourists, get as close as possible to them when they're all huddled together, feign suprise/cover your mouth/giggle and say as loudly as possible "ah, gaijin da" - they won't be amused !

    I also referred to my other half as "gaijin"
    from time-to-time when she was living in my about a sense of humour failure.

    Do unto others...

  2. Thanks.

    Yea, I have dreamed of doing that.

    I loved hearing Japanese in college calling American citizens "gaijin" in our own country. Apologists of all nationalities excuse this as innocent. It was not always used innocently then, and it ain't now.

    But I have about given up, as there is nothing we can do about it. Most non-Japanese accept and use it, let alone Japanese.