Is the term “gaijin” offensive?
‘Gaijin’ is just an abbreviation of the word ‘gaikokujin’ and when people use it, they don’t mean to cause any offense. On the contrary, you’ll often hear people say ‘Gaijin-san’ – the ‘san’ being added as a way of showing respect. Remember that Japanese people don’t use the word ‘anata’ (you) for strangers, but rather tend to use some identifying characteristic instead. A middle-aged woman might be called ‘obasan’ and the guy from NTT is ‘NTT-san’. And, well, you’re ‘gaijin-san’. Even if it’s not the most politically correct word in the world, it basically means “non-Japanese”, and that’s what we are. What’s all the fuss about? Yes – The word ‘gaijin’ means ‘outsider’ and it’s not an abbreviation of ‘gaikokujin’: they’re separate words. ‘Gaijin’ is almost never used in the Japanese media, because it’s condescending and discriminatory; indeed, when newscasters or politicians have used it in the past, they’ve had to make public apologies. And it’s just bizarre to hear Japanese people abroad referring to the locals as ‘gaijin’. People who use the word a lot are clearly seeing you first and foremost as ‘non-Japanese’, rather than as an ‘American’ or ‘teacher’ or ‘Joe Smith’. Maybe your grandma doesn’t mean any harm when she calls someone a ‘darkie’, but it’s still offensive. Japanzine Says – So, is ‘gaijin’ an abbreviation or not? As it turns out, ‘gaijin’ and ‘gaikokujin’ have completely separate etymologies. ‘Gaijin’ evolved from the word ‘guwaijin’, which existed before the coming of foreigners to Japan, and meant someone who was from another place or was somehow different from the group to which you belong. Wouldn’t it be better to refer to non-Japanese as ‘Americans’ or ‘Koreans’ instead of ‘gaijin’ or ‘gaikokujin’? If someone absolutely has to lump all non-Japanese in together, though, ‘gaikokujin’ is definitely the preferable term.
So… what do you think?