Gaijin (外人?, [ɡaid͡ʑiɴ]) ("outside person") is a Japanese word for foreigners and non-Japanese. The word is composed of two kanji: gai (外?, "outside") and jin (人?, "person"). Similarly composed words that refer to foreign things include gaikoku (外国?, "foreign country") and gaisha (外車?, "foreign car"). The word can refer to nationality, race, or ethnicity, concepts generally conflated in Japan.
Some feel the word has come to have a negative or pejorative connotation, while other observers maintain it is neutral or even positive. Gaikokujin (外国人 "foreign-country person"?) is a more neutral and somewhat more formal term widely used in the Japanese government and in media.
Etymology and history
The word gaijin can be traced in writing to the 13th-century Heike Monogatari:
Here, gaijin refers to outsiders and potential enemies. Another early reference is in Renri Hishō (c. 1349) by Nijō Yoshimoto, where it is used to refer to a Japanese person who is a stranger, not a friend. The Noh play, Kurama tengu has a scene where a servant objects to the appearance of a traveling monk:
- A gaijin doesn't belong here, where children from the Genji and Heike families are playing.
Here, gaijin also means an outsider or unfamiliar person.
The word gaikokujin (外国人) is composed of gaikoku (foreign country) and jin (person). The Meiji government (1868–1912) introduced and popularized the term, which came to replace ijin, ikokujin and ihōjin. As the Empire of Japan extended to Korea and to Taiwan, the term naikokujin ("inside country people") came to refer to nationals of other imperial territories. While other terms fell out of use after World War II, gaikokujin remained the official term for non-Japanese people. Some hold that the modern gaijin is a contraction of gaikokujin.
While all forms of the word mean "foreigner" or "outsider", in practice gaikokujin and gaijin are commonly used to refer to racially non-Japanese groups, principally Caucasians. However the term is also sometimes applied to ethnic Japanese born and raised in other countries. Gaijin is also commonly used within Japanese events such as baseball (there is a limit to non-Japanese players in NPB) and professional wrestling to collectively refer to the visiting performers from the west who will frequently tour the country.
Japanese speakers commonly refer to non-Japanese people as gaijin even while they are overseas. Also, people of Japanese descent native to other countries (especially those countries with large Japanese communities) might also call non-descendants gaijin, as a counterpart to nikkei.
Historically, some usage of the word "gaijin" referred respectfully to the prestige and wealth of Caucasians or the power of western businesses. This interpretation of the term as positive or neutral in tone continues for some. However, though the term may be used without negative intent by many Japanese speakers, it is seen as derogatory by some and reflective of exclusionary attitudes.
"While the term itself has no derogatory meaning, it emphasizes the exclusiveness of Japanese attitude and has therefore picked up pejorative connotations that many Westerners resent." Mayumi Itoh (1995)
Now that gaijin has become somewhat politically incorrect, it is common to refer to non-Japanese as gaikokujin. Nanette Gottlieb, Professor of Japanese Studies at the School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland, suggests that the term has become controversial and is avoided now by most Japanese television broadcasters. The uncontroversial, if slightly formal gaikokujin, is commonly used instead.
Gaijin appears frequently in Western literature and pop culture. It forms the title of such novels as Marc Olden's Gaijin (New York: Arbor House, 1986), James Melville's Go gently, gaijin (New York : St. Martin's Press, 1986), James Kirkup's Gaijin on the Ginza (London: Chester Springs, 1991) and James Clavell's Gai-Jin (New York: Delacorte Press, 1993), as well as a song by Nick Lowe. It is the title of feature films such as Tizuka Yamazaki's Gaijin - Os Caminhos da Liberdade (1980) and Gaijin - Ama-me Como Sou (2005), as well as animation shorts such as Fumi Inoue's Gaijin (2003).
Foreign residents in Japan
|Look up gaijin in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Look up gaikokujin in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- List of terms for ethnic exogroups
- Japanese abbreviated and contracted words
- Sonnō jōi
- The 13th-century pronunciation of the characters 外人 is debated; it may have been kotobito (ことびと), udokihito (うどきひと) or gwaijin (ぐわいじん). The spelling gaijin is used here for continuity.
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- Kitahara, Michio (1989). Children of the Sun: the Japanese and the Outside World. Sandgate, Folkestone, England: Paul Norbury Publications. pp. 117, 516."For example, gaijin literally means a "person from outside", namely a foreigner, and that means "Caucasian"." Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; name "kitihara" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
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がいじん【外人】① 仲間以外の人。疎遠の人。連理秘抄「外人など上手多からむ座にては」② 敵視すべきな人。平家一「外人もなき所に兵具をととのへ」
- (Japanese) 鞍馬天狗, Ohtsuki Noh Theatre.
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- Gottlieb, Nanette (2005). "Language and Society in Japan". Cambridge University Press: 117–8. ISBN 978-0-521-53284-6. "Gaikokujin is uncontroversial and simply means a person who does not hold Japanese citizenship; it is the more common contracted version that has been the subject of irritated complaint: people may be pointed at by children and have the word gaijin either shouted or whispered though this is much less common in Japan today than it was thirty years ago. At a deeper level, though, it is the connotation of exclusion and oddity that irks, particularly when the term is combined with the adjective hen na to mean 'peculiar foreigner,' a term once often heard on Japanese television shows. The term gaijin itself is included these days by most broadcasters on their list of terms best avoided."
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- Meredith Stuart, Paul (1987). Nihonsense. Tokyo: The Japan Times, Ltd. pp. 3–5."Not all foreigners are gaijin to Japanese and quite a few natives of Japan are gaijin. There is a logic to this mess, but it is hardly logical. It is true that 'American' (Amerikajin) is a synonym for gaijin for many Japanese. At one time, at least when the U.S. auto industry was undisputed leader of world autodom, the term connoted awe and respect."
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