Something widely discussed among foreigners who live in Japan is the famous gaijin slang [外人] which is nothing but the abbreviation of the word gaikokujin [外国人] which literally means foreigner, or someone who comes from outside the country. In this article I want to examine that word in depth, its meaning and how the Japanese usually use it.
The ideogram [外] means outside or outside, while the ideogram [国] means country, region and state, while the ideogram [人] refers to people. The combination of these 3 ideograms creates the word gaikokujin [外国人] which means foreigner.
Some people are easily offended by hearing the word gaijin. Many believe that the abbreviation of the word gaikokujin sounds quite racist, but in my opinion, this is a very childish view. Is the word gaijin really that bad? Are the Japanese aware of this?
Why does the word gaijin cause so much discussion?
If we are going to examine the meanings of the word gaikokujin [外国人] on sites like jisho, it will provide the meanings foreigner, foreigner, person from outside the country and even alien. What do you mean alien? In reality the word alien in English does not refer only to aliens. And literally aliens are from outside the country, from outside the earth, from outside the galaxy.
The Japanese language, at the same time as many synonyms for the same thing, has several words with different meanings. Just today I got confused when a Japanese woman used the word vacation yasumi [休み] which can also refer only to a day off or a night's sleep.
Therefore, the abbreviation gaijin [外人] that the Japanese use carries a meaning beyond foreign. If we use jisho.org the word gaijin will also point to the English word outsider. This English word means stranger, outsider, intruder, layman and even profane. Only the dictionary itself says that this is an archaic meaning of the word (old, not currently used).
How can the simple removal of the country character [国] cause such a fight? There are several Japanese expressions and words used in formal conversations, magazines, television and media that use the abbreviation gaijin [外人]. Even when they talk about foreign athletes they use gaijinsenshu [外人選手].
Descendants disappointed by not being Japanese
Another great reason why the word gaijin causes so much fighting and hatred is in the community of Japanese descendants who live in Japan. Japanese people often call even people who were born in Japan and are the children of descendants of gaikokujin or gaijin. Even though they look Japanese, they are still called gaijin.
Even if the person using those words has xenophobic intentions, in my opinion, unfortunately, it is normal. In Brazil people call all descendants who have never had any connection with Japan, Asians, Japanese and sometimes even confuse them with Chinese and Koreans. In both Brazil and Japan, this will happen to people of mixed race.
It is worth remembering that mestizos are called ha-fu [ハーフ] which comes from English half. There is also a pun on the word gaijin using the ideograms [害人] where the ideogram [害] means victim, harm, influence of evil and harm.
It is worth remembering that there are not only ethnic issues in the word gaijin [外人]. This Japanese word refers to someone from outside, even a Japanese without any descendants who is born and raised abroad without the molds of Japanese culture can be called a gaijin. Likewise, a non-Japanese man can avoid being called a gaijin if he is fully immersed in Japanese culture and language.
- Brazilian polyglot living in Japan (Example of someone who managed to enter Japanese society, even without descendants);
Words related to abroad [gaikokujin]
Before the Meiji era, the term for foreigner was Ihojin, ikokujin and ijin. These terms are offensive, because ikokujin [異国人] is written with an ideogram [異] which means strange, different, curious, unusual and unique. The funny thing is that in Japan there is the foreigner card [gaikokujin torokusho] that is usually translated as Alien Card.
The ideogram [胡] which literally means barbarian also means foreigner. This ideogram is often used in words as suspicious, dark and questionable. But it is also an innocent kanji used in words like pepper and cucumber. Its origin is related to ethnic groups in China.
Even the word kedoujin [毛唐人] has already been used to refer to Chinese and European barbarians and foreigners. The big problem with this word is in the kanji [毛] which means hair. The Japanese literally called foreigners furry, probably because of the beards of Europeans.
Below we leave a list of words related to the word gaikokujin:
|Imported, foreign (came from abroad)||外来||gairai|
|Foreign currency, foreign money||外貨||gaika|
|Another country, another state, foreign land||他国||takoku|
|Caucasian person, Caucasian||白人||hakujin|
Japanese innocence with the word gaijin
Most Japanese, especially young people, have no idea of the origins of their words or history. For about 98% of the Japanese the word gaijin is nothing but an abbreviation of the word gaikokujin. Abbreviating words is very common in Japan, some examples are in the words pokemon (poketto monsutaa) and kokuren (kokusai rengou).
In the same way that Japanese people call foreign cars gai-sha [外 os], Japanese people will call foreigners gaijin, this is something automatic and normal. Unfortunately many do not understand this and ends up taking it personally. It doesn't matter if the word is positive, negative or neutral, everything will depend on the intention of the speaker.
We are not saying here that the Japanese do not use that word offensively, because it happens in all countries. Even more so in Japan where xenophobia and racism are hidden. Since the Japanese do not usually express what they think. We just want to make it clear that the word gaijin, in itself, it has absolutely nothing.
I believe that just as foreigners are not angry with Americans (the most racist country in the world) because of the word foreign which also means: exotic, alien, alien, alien and barbarian. We should not be irritated by hearing the word gaijin, unless it is accompanied by baka or in an offensive tone.