Sunday, 14 February 2010

The Word "Gaijin" and What Gaijin Think About It.


Below is a thread that nicely got going on Facebook all about a Japanese teacher that refuses to use the word "gaikokujin" to refer to "foreigners". Anyway, the background is all in there. I apologise for the personal abuse, that was me.

Hey guys, thought I would get your opinion on something that came up recently. Feel free to ignore this message!

Anyway, recently Satomi has had a bit of a debate with one of the teachers at her school about the words 'gaijin' and 'gaikokojin'. The teacher refuses to use 'gaikokojin' when referring to foreigners but won't explain herself. Satomi thinks that using 'gaijin' is really rude for a teacher (especially since this woman is a Japanese teacher whose students are all foreigners). She wants to know your opinions about the use of these words. Do you have any? Please feel free to send me a direct message if you don't want to share with others.

My personal opinion is that if an 'educated' person consciously decides to use the term 'gaijin' then they are being disrespectful and that they know it.


All Japanese know that the word Gaijin is the impolite word. She is definitely being disrespectful!


you're spot on, educated or not. tell her she should be more thankful to the foreigners she teaches for giving her a job. A nice heaping helping of whoop-ass would do her some good.


I don't think that there is any impoliteness in the words themselves. It depends more on how they use it and on if you decide to take offense when someone uses the word. I call myself gaijin all the time and if someone else calls me a gaijin then that's ok. A problem may arise however, if the person refers to you as gaijin as a replacement for your name in a derogatory tone.

I'd be interested to here this teacher's reasoning though.


ps, David Aldwinckle is an ass-hat and should be ignored.


She is holding the position as a professional teacher so whatever her preference is to refer to foreigners is should be set aside for the sake of professionalism in the classroom. Some Japanese people may occassionally use the word "Jap" to refer to themselves, but we certainly wouldn`t use that word in the classroom. Perhaps she needs a course on politcal politeness.


I don't care if someone calls me gaijin unless they are being obviously malicious. It's hard to believe she is unaware that "gaijin" is recognized as a derogatory term and if she refuses to explain herself then I can only see that as wrong because if there is no malicious intent then why not say what you're on about.


Who the fuck is David Perrywinckle?


That woman should explain herself. As far as me and Mako can see her using gaijin is just lazy. It's another example of them modifying words, shortening things to the point where it no longer resembles the original. It should start with 外国の人 which would be the most formal, then going to 外国人 then 外人. She might not be trying to be rude on purpose but she at least needs to justify her position.


The interesting thing about this whole debate is that foreigners are trying to use their ideas of language to pigeon-hole a word that Japanese people use. It's like putting square pegs into round holes. In Japanese there isn't such a strong stigma attached to derogatory language. In Japanese language there are levels of politeness but no real words that BY THEMSELVES are derogatory. Just because a word is polite doesn't mean that there must be an equally unpolite word like we have in English. English speakers by historical nature are artists with profanity whereas in Japan the absence of language means way more.

The entire field of language pragmatics exists because of this very kind of problem. When you start translating language word for word you're just gonna end up with a mess of culturally actuated bruised egos.


Far more interesting than this apologist academic spiel is that no Japanese person has commented on this thread, and this brother of Clarke drinks at the totally gay tap room and watches dumb videos by %&$!!!.


Just to give a little background about how this came up.

Satomi is doing a Japanese language teacher training program right now in X. .Her and several of her classmates are dating or are married to foreigners. The teacher in question used the term 'gaijin' so many times, and in such a way that those students in the class with some kind of connection to foreigners began to feel uncomfortable with the way the teacher was using the term. At the end of one of their second lesson one of the students complained to the administration that she felt the teacher was being disrespectful by speaking like that. The next class, the teacher didn't mention the word once... until the last few minutes when she told the students that their homework was to look up the words 'racist' and 'gaijin' in the dictionary. She hasn't explained why she prefers to use one phrase over the other... which Satomi thought was rather strange. That's why she wanted to know all of our opinions about the use of the word...


Thanks TT, I was wondering when the personal attacks for no apparent reason would start. Thumbs up!

btw, I don't drink at the taproom and %&$!!! is my student.


Well, should be an interesting homework assignment for the students to find the Japanese translation for "racist" I imagine it would be just as hard as finding a Japanese word for "sexual harassment". In anycase I imagine things will all be solved once the students present the teacher with the definition of `racist` and the teacher can learn that it encompasses using non PC terms regardless of her intent or opinion of the use of the word. As Ray explained earlier the order in which foreigners should be refered to should apply especially considering the situation (professional teacher teaching in a classroom environment). However she decides to conduct herself outside of work his her personal choice. I can`t even imagine if teachers in Canada were aloud to use loose terms to refer to foreigners living in Canada. There would be a riot.


I don't think anyone here was saying that the term Gaijin is derogatory. I myself said it was recognized as derogatory and that is where all the reactions are coming from. The teacher's behavior after the complaint is evidence that she is aware of the effect of this word.


who the fuck is %&$!!! ?


No, no, no Dango, your ruining it for everyone. Don`t you see this is a chance for all of us to argue and say all those things we`ve all wanted to say to each other, break up year long friendships, and then make facebook groups against each other. Man!!! Why do you always have to be damn diplomatic?!! Yeah, there... I said it. And....sometimes you are just unbiased. How the hell is anyone supposed to argue with you, huh?! Huh?! Let`s have it out!!

No Japanese have been invited to make a comment on this thread hence the lack of Japanese participation.

I think in this case the teacher is using the word a little too much and probably doesn't realize that what she is doing is being quite offensive. If she does realize and it is intended, then she is being xenophobic rather than racist. Xenophobia, like most dicrimination is a representation of fear or pissedoffness. On the flip-side she may know quite a lot of gaijin who say they are gaijin and may think she is being cool by using it a lot.. who knows. A lot of us here in Japan enjoy our gaijin status and the privileges and/or lack of responsibilities it brings, if we abuse this we deserve what we get.

I don't mind being referred to as gaijin and would refer to myself as a gaijin, as I think most of us would do. However, if the word is used too often and is sneered at me, I will take offence and confront the person. Unless they are right wing or Yakuza. The interesting thing is that in Japan, any non-japanese are referred to as gaijin which if anything is lazy and uncreative. Surely they could be a little more personal about it. In the UK we are a lot better at offending people from other countries and have a long list of specific monikers we use to refer to dodgy foreigners.

Perhaps the teacher has met some bad gaijin who have made her anti-gaijin. Unfortunately a lot of gaijin in Japan don't behave themselves particularly well and let the side down so I think the Japanese should create a new insult especially for those people. How about ウアンカーズ?


Thanks for the kind words Bella. Let's start a facebook group.


Hey BK!  Thanks for your comment.  I've actually sent the same message to quite a few of my Japanese friends in a different thread but haven't got any replies.

It seems what it all comes down to is intent (which unfortunately is a rather difficult thing to assess).  To me the interesting thing is that the way it was being used in the classroom was making some of the students uncomfortable and this speak volumes about her intent (at least perceived).

Maybe there should be terms that are more specific... I recently had a rather interesting 'debate' with someone over the use of the word Paki who stated that since he wasn't a racist it was ok for him to use the word.  Undeniably, the historic use of the word is derogatory.  Using the term Jap is quite similar I think.  Unfortunately, I have no idea about the use in the past regarding 'gaijin'.

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