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Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2004

THE ZEIT GIST

Gaijin: good or bad?

Readers respond to Cai Evans' and Melanie Burton's articles on Japan's labeling of 'gaijin'

 (See original story)

Near criminal

As a Japan vet, I say "Yes" to both good and bad connotations. More important than terminology, though, is the actual treatment of non-Japanese regarding important employment issues. What happens on a near daily basis is often criminal.

Although, originally Perry and those who followed were called "ketojin," so there has been some progress made. -- Gregg

Foreign devils

I am married to a Japanese citizen and my wife and I find it offensive when people use "gaijin."

A manager at a job interview was talking to my wife in Japanese and used the word, at which point my wife asked him if he took offense at the word "Jap" or "Burakumin." He said that he did because Jap was a word used in World War II and deemed racist.

Asked why it was OK to use gaijin but not OK to use Jap his answer was "They are foreign devils that have invaded Japan take Japanese jobs and marry Japanese women." I plan to take Japanese citizenship, but will always be a gaijin or a foreign devil. -- Nick

Do us a favor

If the Japanese want to be called "Japanese" the world obliges. If someone calls them "Asian" the Japanese person or persons politely remind the speaker that they are "Japanese" in one way or another.

The word "gaijin" can and does cause offense. For this reason alone, I feel that Japan should oblige foreign residents and visitors by referring to them by nationality, or simply "gaikokujin."

I hope that the Asians will oblige us in this trivial matter. -- Craig

Gaijin preference

I fully concur with Mr Cai Evans and his favorable view of the word "gaijin." I too would much rather be a gaijin than a sheep shagger -- or Welsh for that matter. -- Davy

Need for education

I think more internationally minded people do not like the term gaijin, simply because the meaning behind the term is not automatically understood and can cause misunderstandings.

We should try to teach those who use the term as an abbreviation that it can be misunderstood and should not be used at all. Those who do have a negative opinion of visitors and foreign residents in Japan probably won't change, though they're usually just exposing some worrying self-esteem issues and are just plain ignorant. -- Dana

Self-deprecation

I have made two trips to Japan in the past year from the U.S. The only time I heard the term gaijin was when I used it. -- Rean

Get used to it

Being a gaijin is something that takes some getting used to. In any society there are minorities and it is never an easy situation to be in. One only has to look at the problems facing Aborigines in Australia and African Americans or American Indians in the U.S. to know that it's tough to be different. The way that a group is known by the majority (be it Negro, brave or gaijin) is often not complimentary.

Yet the fact remains that, at least in Japan, gaijin are such a tiny minority that any attempt to avoid the term is pretty much doomed. Some gaijin do become Japanese citizens but they are by far the exception. I have many Japanese friends, some of who call me gaijin and some who don't. When they do, they use it to refer to foreigners in Japan (obviously) where, let's face it, gaijin are gaijin -- outsiders. -- Jonathan

Gaijin go home

I don't think all of us mean anything bad when we call a foreigner gaijin. But there is no other word to call foreigners, so what can we do? I try not to use the word because i have heard foreigners don't like it. But these people are making too big a deal out of it, sounds like.

I envy gaijin when they get away with violating rules because they are foreigners and don't speak Japanese, but we cannot get away.

I heard some gaijin do not conversate with us in English unless we pay money. How whacked is that? How should you feel if you want to become a friend of an English-speaking person, but he/she only talks to you in English if you pay them $30-50 an hour for a conversation? They can make easy money so it makes sense why these people never want to go home. I think Melanie Burton is a paranoid and she should go home! -- D

Turning the tables

Last summer, I was back home on vacation and was dining with some friends. The table next to ours was occupied by some Japanese tourists.

One of my friends decided to approach the table and asked "are you gaijin?" Suddenly there was an ear-splitting cry of "naaaaniiiiiii!!!!!!!!!" from the group and one of their group threw a 750ml bottle of beer at my friend.

Is gaijin harmless? Some people don't seem to think so. -- Tanz

No comparison

Melanie Burton is making a big mistake comparing Japan with Australia. Australia and America are completely different from other countries (including Japan) in that they are populated almost entirely by foreigners.

Of course the Australians and Americans don't think of newly arrived non-Australians/Americans as foreigners -- they are foreigners themselves.

Give either Australia or the U.S. a few hundred years with no immigration, and you will have another Japan, with all new immigrants thought of as foreigners. -- K

No good meaning

I take issue with the word gaijin only because when this word is used, it is never in a positive light.

In America, educated people do not call Japanese people "Japs" -- itself an abbreviation. We call them Japanese. -- Michael

A rude awakening

Within a year of being in Japan I realized that when people were acting rudely toward me, they used the word gaijin. However, when people were being respectful toward me they used gaikokujin.

Soon it was easy to understand another's feelings toward me simply by how they addressed me. A former student of mine told me that her grandfather had always told her that the word gaijin was unacceptable, and equal to foreigners calling Japanese "Nips" or "Japs." He fought in WWII and said any categorizing of people simply because of race was degrading. She said she had never forgotten that and herself found the word gaijin offensive. -- Shauna

No nice way

Few words for non-nationals are sympathetic. What about foreigner, etranger, extranjero, Auslander or buitenlander? None of these seem to be designed to make you feel close to the hosts of the country you reside in. I have been all of these plus some more, but it never bothered me. -- Jan

Hemmed in

I personally think the term gaijin when used to describe only non-Japanese is derogatory and people (Japanese and non-Japanese) should avoid using it. As Melanie Burton argues, it lumps all non-Japanese into a separate group from Japanese and emphasizes the fact that non-Japanese are different and therefore do not and probably cannot have any understanding of anything Japanese.

That attitude in itself isolates non-Japanese. I'll accept the term gaijin from complete strangers because by that definition I can call them the same. You should see the look on the Japanese person's face when they are called gaijin. -- Adam

Outsider truth

In relation to being a gaijin, I tend to agree with Cai Evans. In my opinion, the whole idea of foreigners as a so-called outside group is probably true in modern Japan. I mean I know of third-generation Japanese-born Koreans who still refer to themselves as Koreans even though they have never actually been to Korea.

I think the Japanese actually like the fact that we are different -- it gives them something fresh outside the square of their daily life.

I don't mind being labeled a gaijin, because . . . I am. -- Chris

A changing society

Gaijin represents Japan's losing battle to preserve its race, changing with the influx of foreigners and international marriages.

Does a traditionalist grandpa still call his mixed granddaughter gaijin because she looks different? I don't think so. -- B

The homogeneity myth

Cai Evans' says that "Japan is famously one of the most ethnically homogenous nations on Earth." While the myth of Japanese ethnic homogeneity is pervasive both here and overseas, it is a myth.

The notion of Japan as a homogeneous country sharing one ethnicity, one culture, and even one class, really took hold after WWII, to solidify the nation-state. Before the end of the war, it was hard to claim Japan was homogeneous when it was a colonial power with non-Japanese colonial subjects flowing into the country. And how do Okinawans fit into this notion of homogeneity? Or Korean Japanese? Ainu? Burakumin? Nikkeijin? -- Robert

I am an outsider!

I do not live overseas, but I have visited many different countries for many years and can only come to one conclusion -- we need to get over our selves. Whether I am visiting Japan, Mexico, Egypt or Tennessee, I am an outsider. I don't speak the language, I don't know the best places to go for breakfast, and I stumble through local customs and behaviors, smiling and scratching my head to indicate that, while I may be a foreigner, I'm a harmless one.

If I am in Tokyo, the fact is I am an alien, and the moment I get all offended at that is the moment I really ought to just go home and stay there. -- Erica

The easy option

As a six-year resident, I do not feel particularly offended with the tag gaijin, and sometimes I think it is easier to be a gaijin rather than go unrecognized and mistaken as a Japanese (I am of Asian appearance) with expectations that you as a gaijin cannot fulfil. -- T

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