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JP 02: Foreigners-Gaijin外人 (Gaikokujin外国人)

Gaijin is Japanese for ‘foreigner’. And so is gaikokujin. Some people believe that being called a gaijin is an insult. There’s a diverse set of perspectives when it comes to whether the word ‘gaijin’ is derogatory or not. Certainly, using gaikokujin is seen as more polite, although the meaning is essentially the same. In this show, we talk about our experiences, the relative position of foreigners in Japan, and the culture and practices of our adopted country.

Quick Notes from the Show

  • gai + koku + jin = outside + island + people
  • Karamoon’s Japanese teacher said to use ‘gaikokujin’ because the abbreviation ‘gaijin’ is derogatory
  • however…
  • it’s part of a wider issue
  • English-speaking Westerners tend to judge that those who are not are using oppressive language
  • language is too complicated for that
  • in a Japanese pub, a guy may call the waitress the word for ‘young daughter’ – that doesn’t mean his intention is to oppress her
  • in lots of Asian countries, the word for older woman is ‘grandmother’ or ‘auntie’
  • it’s not as clear cut as we may think
  • in American English, it’s clear that ‘n—-r’ is not a word you should be saying
  • those people who have been called that word with a derogatory intent get to use it or not as they wish
  • AfricanAmericans are the only ones with the right to use it
  • The people who are being derided have a certain moral right to take those words and use them as they wish
  • in any case, it’s understood (Ed: except by right wing nutjobs) that it’s not a good word
  • re: gaijin, of course, has been used in a derogatory way, but in general, it’s just a word for foreigner
  • even if you use gaikokujin, you’re still seen as an outsider because of the way Japanese culture handles the concepts of ‘outsider’ and ‘insider’
  • almost everyone here is Japanese – even though it doesn’t feel that way to either of us because of our lifestyle
  • when we think ‘foreigner’ we think Westerner, but that’s a fallacy, as most of the foreign people in Japan are from other parts of Asia
  • to us, we’re louder about our opinions
  • Japanese people may say that we don’t understand because we’re not Japanese
  • foreigners occasionally do shocking things here
  • people wanted to touch their national fish at Tsukiji, which is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world
  • don’t screw around with expensive fish
  • there are lots of things that Japanese people generally would not do
  • it’s just hard to comprehend how racially uniform Japan is, especially Tokyo
  • Alex Kerr again
  • small town America is like small town Japan: there are people who don’t even have passports
  • haven’t even visited the state next door
  • UK country pubs? same thing if I’m an unknown
  • the Welsh pub language offensive
  • Cockney is meant to be misunderstood by foreigners
  • in Tokyo, the whole city navigation is like that
  • if I’m with my Japanese friends/colleagues, I’ll say gaijin
  • if I’m with strangers, I’ll say gaikokujin
  • I am an outsider and I revel in it
  • ‘we are the Japanese’ (ware ware nihonjin) plus empathy for foreigners – how much does it happen here?
  • Japanese friends travel overseas, see how people who aren’t local are treated
  • It makes them think…
  • Then again, local government office here, workers can be so helpful to Westerners, but not very helpful to Asian people
  • they’re being told off for not speaking Japanese: a double, triple standard
  • ‘anti-gaijin’ usually means anti Chinese and Korean
  • the gaijin card (alien registration card)
  • finally I’ve become an alien
  • resenting having to carry a card at all
  • they’re just trying to bring them in in England
  • very hesitant about registering people: slippery slope to Nazism
  • drinking age in America: you show ID to get into a bar
  • constitutional law
  • when am I most aware of not being Japanese
  • remember to take my gaijin card with me: if I’m in an accident or something
  • I stopped carrying my passport around only recently: kept hearing about the police stopping people, perhaps in backlash against America’s immigration insanity
  • there is so much that annoys me more than those two words – they don’t really bother me
  • it does seem to bother some very vocal people
  • we’re a minority of a minority, remember
  • will Westerners ever start coming back? (Ed. perhaps not with Japan falling down the economic ladder under China)
  • the 3K jobs*: dirty, dangerous, hard – in Japan, there’s been a need for foreigners to do these jobs
  • in English and America, same thing happens
  • harder for immigrants in Japan to fall through the social safety net
  • recent law that you have to have national health care to get your visa
  • Japanese society loses out because of their attitude towards immigrants
  • honor it in the breach and say ‘gaikokujin’ if you aren’t used to being in Japan
  • there are the onsens that say ‘no gaijin’ because of fear that foreigners will act up
  • the tattoo problem
  • so you’re an onsen owner who doesn’t allow people with tattoos, a foreigner comes in with a tattoo, what then?
  • imagine if there wasn’t a blanket ban?
  • discrimination is easy to understand in America
  • what does it mean for people in Japan?
  • if I owned an onsen (a public bathing center) I wouldn’t want yakuza either.
  • on the other hand, since I’m American, if American people who have tattoos show up at my onsen, I’d be able to sense who to let in or not. that’s not fair either – (Ed: people are innocent until proven guilty – or not)
  • it’s…complicated.

*“3K” stands for kitsui (difficult), kitanai (dirty) and kiken (dangerous). As in the US and Britain, foreign workers take on jobs in areas like construction, and factory work, when the native people of the country prefer less physically taxing jobs.

Terri records the show on her iPhone3G
Tom Toeda of fti studio mixes the show.
image credit: Gwydion M. Williams
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Next show theme?
Danson-johi: ‘respect for the male, contempt for the female’ – it will be a 3- part show.

This week’s show:


5 Responses to “JP 02: Foreigners-Gaijin外人 (Gaikokujin外国人)”

  1. [...] ear. Anyway, here is a casual conversation of foreigners (gaijin or gaikokujin) from Japan Podcast (notes and audio). Share [...]

  2. takaaki says:

    Onsen is more than a public bathing center, but a spring.

    My apartment prohibits tattoos, even sticker tattoos. I think the notices should say “No yakuza” instead of “No one with tattoo”. Gaijin, especially, westerners, can’t be Yakuza.

  3. Terri says:

    Hi takaaki…I see what you mean about the definition of an onsen.

    Wow, your apartment! I’ve never heard of that as a restriction…

    Yes! I completely agree that saying ‘no yakuza’ is a more targeted and fair way to handle this: do you know of places that have notices that are that clear? perhaps shop owners don’t want to specifically name the yakuza because they may hurt them…which is a shame.

  4. Hancho Man says:

    Nice how your attitude is not to make fun of Japan. I really dislike the immature and arrogant attitude of many blogs and podcasts. Also, a good point about yakuza, but how exactly should a shop owner determine if someone is yakuza? BTW, I think the guys on the Japanofiles Podcast discussed this at some length last year in an episode.

  5. Terri says:

    Hancho Man, thanks for that – I’m American, with all of our insanity, I have no right to make serious fun of anybody!

    thanks for the Japanofiles note, will check them out!

  6. Sam says:

    Hiya, just found your site and am downloading some of your episodes. The download link seems to be broken for this one. Is there anything that can be done. Cheers.