Shakaijin – 3 possible translations for a controversial word

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Have you ever heard of Shakaijin? At the japanese languageas in other languages around the world, there are words that carry a meaning that can be considered offensive for many people. In Japanese society it is essential to treat others with respect and, therefore, politeness in the use of language is something that is usually very widespread and taught. The wrong use of a word considered offensive in some contexts can generate discomfort among the interlocutors.

Shakaijin (社会人, しゃかいじん), for example, is one of the many words in the Japanese language (and there is no exact equivalent in English) that carry within them some controversies cultural, although this understanding may vary from person to person.

In this article, we will get to know the meaning, some possible translations and the controversies surrounding the use of this term within the Japanese social context.

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Shakaijin – Meaning and translation

Are the Japanese polite or fake?

In general, we can deduce the meaning of a word by analyzing the kanji that compose it, the context in which it is used and the translations found in the most diverse languages (such as English and Portuguese). Based on this principle, we have that the term “Shakaijin” is composed of three kanji, which are: 社 (しゃ, sha), which carries the meaning of “society”, “company” or “company”;会 (かい, kai), which is present in the verb 会う (あう, au) which means “to meet someone” or “to meet” and predominantly carries this sense of “meeting” and “meeting”; and finally 人 (ひと, hito) which means “person”.

 Shakaijin - shakaijin – 3 possible translations for a controversial word

On the other hand, instead of analyzing each kanji in isolation, we have to remember that “shakai” (社会, shakai) alone means “society”, and therefore, by joining the kanji for person (人, ひと, hito) we would thus have a general idea of the meaning of the word, that is, something close to “society person”. In this sense, the translation of the word “shakaijin” is very common, with three translations being very common, in particular: “person of society”, “member of society” or “working adult”.

Cultural context and controversy

THE controversy behind this word is the fact that it usually designates only adult people who are working at some job. Therefore, students (学生, がくせい, gakusei), unemployed and housewives are not considered “shakaijin”. In this sense, students and people who do not have a steady job would end up outside the group composed of “members of society”, which generates a lot of controversy in relation to this term.

The term ends up indirectly indicating that only those who become adults and enter society as a workforce are recognized as first-class citizens, relegating other individuals.

Recently, on social networks such as twitter and Quora the discussion about this word came to the fore, with several users expressing their displeasure and expressing opinions on the issue.

Even if we consider the Japanese cultural context, with some Confucian influence in its provinces, the rapid economic growth of the post-second world war and the issue of “work addiction” that affects a large number of wage earners (サラリーマン, sarariiman), we can infer that the historical, cultural, social and religious roots have been the crucial factors for this type of mentality.

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"taboo" words

There are other controversial words in the Japanese language. Generally, the vocabulary related to the physically, mentally disabled and sex workers often generate heated debates and even public apologies on television shows. It is always important to make sure if a certain word is common or if it is frowned upon by people.

To refer to the physically handicapped, for example, the expression 身体の不自由な方 (からだのふじゆうなかた, karada no fujiyuu na kata) is used, which literally means something like “Subjects without bodily freedom” , that is, a more delicate and appropriate way to refer to the physically handicapped.

There are several other examples of sensitive vocabulary and forbidden terms in the Japanese language. To better understand the issue, take a look at the articles below:

Japan's Social Taboos – Two Forbidden Words – Suki Desu (

Kurombo, Racist Term In Japanese – Suki Desu (


Finally, we recommend that you read our cultural articles, as the Japanese language is directly related to the customs of society.

We recommend reading this article in English on “shakaijin” as a more in-depth complement on this topic: (44) Becoming Shakaijin: Working-Class Reproduction in Japan | James Roberson –

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