Gaijin talk

    Keywords: Culture & History

From gaijin diaries:

  • Evand: My understanding is that gaijin is a somewhat rude shortening of gaikokujin. Perhaps we should use that instead?
  • Sebastian Good point, we don't want to offend anyone. My rationale for the title was that foreigners often call themselves "gaijin" - somewhat tongue in cheek. (Gaikokujin (外国人) means literally "outside country person", and leaving out the country might sound like "alien".) - Benjamin or anyone else who lives as a guest in Japan: what do you think?
  • Benjamin:Well, I didn't know that 'gaijin' is just a shortcut, but anyways, I think it's alright to use it - well, actually I feel quite like a barbarian here :-)
  • kokiri Gaijin is now so ubiquitous that it's lost any real sense of rudeness, whereas gaikokujin sounds a bit straight to my ears in all but the most formal of occasions
  • DJ Long time ago, when I was in Tokyo, I had been referred to as Gaijin-San by a very kind Japanese (a stranger I dared to address in the street while trying to find a particular ryo-kan) who was asking info on my behalf at the telephone... That sounded deliciously funny to me: a barbarian-gentleman??!?
  • Karl Knechtel It's the Romans' fault, as I understand it, that we have the notion of "barbarians" (outsiders) being uncivilized. As I recall it from my Latin class, the root of the word actually originates from the Roman perception of those outside the Empire: that they spoke in an incomprehensible, utterly primitive way that sounded to them like mutterings of "bar, bar".
DJ: For the precision (I'm Roman, both as birth right and in name - (Fulvio Romano Pietro Savagnone is my complete name) - and hoping not to go too OT: what Karl says above is correct for the ethimology, but the inventors of the word (and of its negative (?) feel) were the Greeks: "Bárbaros", stuttering, and by extension foreigner (that is not able to express himself). The Romans just picked the word ("Barbarum") much later.
I wouldn't want to start a fuss on racism, but I could understand Greeks and Romans when they attached a certain feel of lack of civilisation to a word that just meant "foreigner"...

HolIgor: In most slavic languages the name for Germans is a derivative of the world "deaf" (Nimets, Nemec, Niemets etc), a person who cannot speak. But I did not hear any complains from the Germans. Such things happen historically and should be considered as historical anecdotes.

Sebastian: Well, this is an interesting story about how nations have their way of restoring their pride. The story we were told has to do with prisoners. Back in the dark age, it used to be the custom that the Russian dukes exchanged POWs for ransom. (Strangely, it didn't mention what happened to the POWs the Germans took, if there were any.) Until one day the Tsar issued an ukaz to retain the craftsmen who had skills necessary for the country and settle them in a suburb of Moscow. Since they didn't understand Russian, they became known as the people who не уметь. I always wondered what the word for Germans was before that ... -- 2003-09-11

Tamsin: It's one thing being called "Gaijin-san" by a friendly Japanese person, but I suppose it's understandable to be annoyed if people mutter "gaijin!" quietly behind your back or are otherwise clearly talking about you and not to you (as in Will Ferguson's Hokkaido Highway Blues). On neither of the occasions I have visited Japan did I hear anybody refer to me in a derogatory way as a gaijin; the word was only ever used as a friendly address. And the only people who looked at me as though I came from a different planet were little children, and they do that the world over, don't they? In my experience Japan gives foreigners a much warmer welcome than do many countries, including my own, and if being called a "gaijin" is the worst one might have to face, then that's to Japan's credit, ne?

Andrew Grant: I have seen Japanese-English dictionaries / phrasebooks where "gaijin" is translated as "foreigner" without comment and "gaikokujin" is either not given at all or just given as an alternative with no implication that this is to be preferred. I think that if "gaijin" was ever considered at all rude it isn't any more. The social acceptability of words changes over time in all languages.

kokiri IIRC a rugby team by the name of the Tokyo Gaijin got in trouble with the local rugby authorities a couple of years ago.The powers that be took the view that the name was racist because it made japanese feel unwelcome to join the team. This despite the fact that about half the team were japanese, anyway. I think that the process of a minority taking a word of abuse and making it it's own is not limited to Gaijin.

Gaijin talk last edited by Dieter on November 18, 2008 - 16:38
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