Conversation 3/28/10: Tell me something I don’t know…

This conversation took place with a Japanese friend at a cafe in Yokohama:

Me: …I thought it was a very interesting article! What do you think?

Yoko: Of what?

Me: His argument that both Gaikokujin and Gaijin essentially mean the same thing: Not so much foreigner, but not-Japanese.

Yoko: You think so?

Me: Well, yeah, actually, I agree totally.

Yoko: Why?

Me: Let me give you an example. I had an experience recently. I was in Hawaii, in Waikiki, and I overheard two Japanese guys talking about a party they’d gone to the night before. Both agreed that the party was ok but would have been better if there were less Japanese there and more Gaijin. It rubbed me the wrong way, being referred to as a foreigner in my own country. Hell, I’d taken the vacation to get away from that for a spell. So I took issue with it, and told them as much.

Yoko: Really? What did you say to them?

Me: I told them that this is America, and that they were the foreigners, not us!

Yoko: That was rude!

Me: A little, I guess, but I guess I am a little sensitive about that kind of thing, for obvious reasons. But, no more rude than they were. Presuming if they spoke in Japanese none of the Americans sitting in their vicinity would understand they were calling us foreigners.

Yoko: But, if you feel that Gaijin means not Japanese then why did you say anything?

Me: I hadn’t really thought it through until I read that article; which was after the fact. And even if I had, the way Japanese were behaving in Waikiki, I was already pissed anyway.

Yoko: How were they acting?

Me: Like they owned the place! Like they were in some Japanese resort, not guest in a foreign country, in my country. I feel like if I can be on my best behavior in their country they can certainly be on theirs in mine!

Yoko: I see. (Sad expression on her face)

Me: What? Was I wrong?

Yoko: ….

Me: Seriously! They were behaving the way many Japanese do in Japan. I mean, in Japan I have to accept the excuse that Japanese are not used to foreigners so they are shy around me, to put it nicely, but if you go to foreign country that excuse because invalid.

Yoko: I see…

Me: And I think I  know the reason why.

Yoko: Why?

Me: Because, some Japanese don’t even know Hawaii is America! Maybe they think it’s Japan.

Yoko: That’s ridiculous!

Me: Seriously, Yoko. I ask my students…and this has happened many times…I ask them, have you ever been to the US? And they say no, but they’ve been to Hawaii! Hawaii is America, I say. And they get this look like…”Oh yeah, that’s right.”

Yoko: You don’t understand Japanese people…

Me: Tell me something I don’t know…(said sarcastically)

Yoko: Eeee?

Me: Nothing. Listen, I don’t claim to understand Japanese. I don’t even understand Americans, sometimes.

Yoko: Of course we know Hawaii is in America. We’re just being humble.

Me: Humble??? You mean ignorant!

Yoko: …

Me: I mean, come on, if a Japanese person on vacation, say, in NY, asked me had  I ever been to Japan and I answered, “No, but I’ve been to Okinawa,” would they think I was being humble or that I was an ignorant American?

Yoko: But, you’re not Japanese.

Me: I don’t get it.

Yoko: America, the mainland, is…expensive to visit. Plus, you have to know some English to get around. Hawaii is cheap to visit, and you don’t need much English.

Me: Ok…

Yoko: So, if we say we’ve gone to the US, then that’s just like boasting that we have money and we can speak English. We are humble so we don’t say such things.

Me: But, like you said, I’m not Japanese. And, presumably, I don’t know the rules of humble etiquette. So, why, at the risk of appearing painfully ignorant with no benefit, would Japanese be humble with me?

Yoko: Habit.

Me: I see…

Yoko: I don’t think you do. Because you are Gaijin. (Smiles) I mean, gaikokujin.


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38 Responses to “Conversation 3/28/10: Tell me something I don’t know…”

  1. March 29, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    One other interesting aspect to the whole discussion about the true meaning of the word “gaijin” — I was talking with my Japanese teacher about this the other day and was surprised when she told me that, to her, “gaijin” only refers to foreigners who are Western. If she met a foreigner with Asian features, say a person who is Chinese, Korean, Filipino, etc, she would not think of them as “gaijin”. So maybe it means non-Japanese but also non-Asian.

    • March 29, 2010 at 5:48 pm

      Thanks Gail! I think there’s definitely something to that…


  2. 3 WC
    March 29, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Surely you don’t expect racism to make sense? It doesn’t make sense anywhere else, and it doesn’t make sense in Japan.

    And going to a country and wishing there were fewer natives there? That’s rather daft. I know he meant at a certain party, but seriously… I wouldn’t expect to find a nightclub in Tokyo that had only Americans. Why expect a Japan-only club in America?

    I think it’s because you’re right: They don’t think of it as America. They think of it as Japan’s vacation spot.

    • March 30, 2010 at 1:16 am

      WC, silly me, ne.
      But actually it makes sense why weaker or ignorant minds would succomb to racism, doesn’t it? They spend their lives believing what they’re told and what they see on TV and movies. They find it increasingly difficult to believe that even though the stereotypes about their own group are mostly false, they are prepared to believe that all of the stereotypes about other groups are accurate. Stupid, yes, but I can see how it works. And it makes sense.
      But from fairly intelligent people? That I don’t get. And, aside from there being some sinister purpose, like the triangle trade (molasses, rum, slaves) during the good old days, I probably won’t ever get it. Guess that’s my weakness: Believing that nobody is evil or hopeless, no group, as a whole, is doomed. I mean I used to think white people were hopelessly racist and doomed to die in their own iniquity. i was raised thinking that way. ideas passed from century to century, from generation to generation of African Americans…a warning not to trust, not to get too close to, not to turn your back-not even for a secod-on white people. But, guess what…lol I turned my back and look Grandma: I’m still here.
      Some of my best friends are white LOL
      And if I can, against my own grandmother’s wishes,turn my back on white people, who’ve done my people, including grandma,harm for centuries, then I can certainly keep myself open to Japanese who’ve done me nor my ancestors any harm whatsoever (except in WWII)
      Thanks for the shout WC

  3. March 29, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    Just to check, was this round the wrong way?

    “… been better if there were less Japanese there and more Gaijin.”

    or were they unhappy about having too many Japanese at the party?

    • March 30, 2010 at 12:56 am

      Nope, Chris, it’s right. They wanted to meet foreign girls not Japanese girls. You should check out the link to the Waikiki piece I wrote. Thanks for the shout!! Loco

    • 7 WC
      March 30, 2010 at 1:01 am

      Haha. Then I sound terribly ignorant above. 😀

    • March 30, 2010 at 9:06 am

      Thanks Loco, just wanted to check before I commented :).

      To be honest, I can maybe understand their feeling about going abroad and yet having too many of their own kind getting into the mix. When I’m touring, I generally don’t want to run into hordes of fellow foreigners. Parts of Kyoto feel like I may as well be in London, and while this diversity is normally appreciated, when I’m trying to feel the atmosphere of an ancient temple it kind of goes against that. Also, I sometimes like to get away the usual sights, made famous in Lonely Planet etc. and finding a beautiful location where I’m the only foreigner (or even the only one!) makes me feel good!

      Her explanation about being humble does have a ring of truth to me. I actually feel like she has gone further to try to explain a cultural difference than a lot of Japanese would so maybe you can be proud of your student :).

    • March 30, 2010 at 9:20 am

      Hey Chris! Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t have a problem with the guys wanting to party with Americans, I had a problem with them wanting to party with “gaijin” when they were the gaijin in waikiki.
      And yoko is my friend, not my student, and I am very proud and fortunate to have a friend who can shine so much light on the culture here. She constantly helps me understand so much. I’m indebted to her.
      Thanks again for the shout

  4. 10
    March 30, 2010 at 12:45 am

    ”if you feel that Gaijin means not Japanese then why did you say anything?”

    Gaijin has multiple meanings depending on the context.

    Most broadly it is a foreigner.
    But probably most frequently it refers to people who look “whites” or “black” as someone above noticed. (People assume for instance that they are able to tell if someone is Chinese by the way s/he speaks etc..)
    And the word is used relative to speakers or the place where the word is uttered.
    That is why the guys in Hawaii understand what you were talking about;in one sense, in the sense that the word refers to “white” or “black” they were right, but in another sense, since they were not in Japan, they understood it was they who were gaijin.

    But notice it is rarely if ever used in the sense of “outsider”, or “nigger” as some people allege.
    I for one have never heard of someone use in that sense. I’ve never heard of someone describing a Japanese as a gaijin, which should happen if it also means an outsider.
    (Henna gaijin and monster gaijin are another story. Notice you have to put adjective to say that the gaijin is weird:in this sense, gaijin is a neutral word .)

    As for gaijin treated as gaijin forever mentioned in another article you linked, I sympathize.
    That happens in the U.S. to the people who look “Chinese” and more often than not being Koreans and Japanese does not matter, and they are often asked where they are from.
    I am not saying that since it happens in the U.S. it is a plausible practice.
    But I think it has to do with a history of the immigrants in question and their rate of population in the society.
    My hypothesis is that the longer the foreign looking immigrants live in the society and the more people like them live and the more they integrate into society, the less they are asked where they are from, the less they are treated as foreigners.
    Of course that does not mean raising awareness is not important, though.

    “Me: Seriously! They were behaving the way many Japanese do in Japan.”

    I can’t say for sure because I didn’t witness what was happening.
    But it is understandable.
    They see lots of Japanese tourists in Hawaii, and hotelier and shop owners knows how to treat Japanese tourists. so they feel relaxed and act as if they were in Japan.
    They have mixed feelings. Since they came to Hawaii, they wanted to meet and speak with more Americans, but they have foreign language complex; they want to speak English but they know their English sucks.

    a bit off the topic.

    Hoteliers rated Japanese travelers the best


    • March 30, 2010 at 12:54 am

      Sora! hisashiburi dane!! Thank you so much for your feedback. I appreciate it very much!
      Loco (-.

  5. 12 kanjiwarrior
    March 30, 2010 at 2:09 am

    So much I want to say, because this topic annoys me a lot, but I also want to try to remain calm. To me “gaijin” feels like they are saying “those foreigners” something that would be offensive where I’m from, but we are overly sensitive in America I guess.

    Especially with what Gail is saying above, they mostly use it to refer to westerners not other Asians. To the Japanese we are “them” and “those people”, their society is so homogeneous they don’t see anything wrong with it.

    However if I’ve learned one thing from your blog, it’s that 1 person can’t change the Japanese mind, hopefully over time we all will though. They need to start letting more foreigners in at some point as they have a large older population that is going to die and not enough young people coming up to replace them.

    • March 30, 2010 at 9:28 am

      Hey K-warrior, you learn from my blog? Poor guy! lol. Just joking. That’s a pretty cool thing to say. Thanks a lot. (-;

  6. March 30, 2010 at 8:23 am

    If you’re interested, I held a large debate on the topic a little while ago:


    • March 30, 2010 at 9:22 am

      Thanks Mike!

  7. 16 Brewski_McChug
    March 30, 2010 at 9:36 am

    The difference:
    Gaijin is derogatory.
    You are an アメリカ人.

  8. 17 Kevin
    March 30, 2010 at 10:23 am

    I’ve had this debate many times. Internally, with the J-wife (while living here and abroad), co-workers, etc.

    My conclusion is that to be Japanese is a very exclusive club, one that can only be entered by birth and blood right. 99 times out of 100 the locals use “gaijin/gaikokujin” without any ill will and without meaning any harm. It just means not part of the club.

    As your friend Yoko says: “You don’t understand Japanese people”

    Wait until someone calls you 「ウチの外人」 – then you know your close. I also ask then to define that 「ウチ」

    Really love the blog Loco!

    • 18
      March 30, 2010 at 6:05 pm

      Interesting point.

      The criteria for being Japanese are another story.
      Legally Japanese are people who have Japanese citizenship.
      Practically Japanese are people who look and speak and act like most of Japanese, where the concept of “most of Japanese” varies depending on how the speaker take them,methinks.
      Since “white” and “black” are new are rare as Japanese, they are assumed to be non-Japanese.

      But not all of of non-Japanese citizens are gaijin.
      People would hesitate to call Sadaharu O, Akiko Wada gajin.
      O does not have Japanese citizenship but speaks and acts just like most of Japanese, O has got People’s Honour Award(国民栄誉賞).
      Wada’s nationality is unknown (according to wiki),but Wada’s parent are Koreans. She has got several prizes from Japanese music community.
      In view of how they look, talk, act, they are Japanese and that’s been my perception.

      So being gajin is not someone who didn’t enter by birth and blood right.

      Beckii Cruel is an interesting case.

      Legally she chose Japanese citizenship.
      She does look different, so someone who does not know her would assume she is non-Japanese, but considering how she speaks and acts and how she was brought up, most people would hesitate to call her gaijin.
      But most likely people who know her would not think of her in view of nationality. She is just ベッキー.
      And practically this holds true for any non-Japanese; People who knows the person don’t look at him/her in view of nationality.
      (And as I said on another comment, my hypothesis is that the assumption that her type of physical appearance is non-Japanese will change mainly as the Japanese population of her type increases.)

      There are some essencialists who assume there is Japanese-ness or Japanese soul or something like that.

      Some people say Jero, a “black” singer, is gajin but he has Japanese soul. Likewise some people like to describe some “white” or “black” person as someone who has Japanese soul, meaning that they have traditional virtues Japanese hold in high esteem.

      Sometimes some people say ‘Yappari, gaijin nandayo” or something like that even toward a gaijin who speaks and acts just like Japanese and who know Japan more than most of Japanese when s/he disagree with them on a specific point. In most of the cases like that, I think either they are essencialists of some type or they are mean.

      “Wait until someone calls you 「ウチの外人」 – then you know your close. ”

      Exactly. you are close to the speaker when s/he call you ウチの外人:the speaker has no malice intention in mind but is perhaps trying to show some friendship as well as trying to produce a bit of smiles among the audience.

      “I also ask then to define that 「ウチ」”
      There is no definite fixed line between uchi and soto, methinks.It depends on how you feel close to him/her (perhaps, relative to soto).

      Is it a bit like “we””us”, perhaps?

  9. March 30, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    KanjiWarrior wrote:

    [However if I’ve learned one thing from your blog, it’s that 1 person can’t change the Japanese mind, hopefully over time we all will though. They need to start letting more foreigners in at some point as they have a large older population that is going to die and not enough young people coming up to replace them].[end]

    Hopefully over time you won’t change anything. Let’s not turn Japan into another dumping ground for foreign indigents. Keeping Japan like it has been is far better than what it shouldn’t be! Just be a “gaijin” and leave at that. And they shouldn’t allow more foreigners in the country, they should be restricting them. Just read my piece on The Great Divide

  10. 20 poopypants
    March 30, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Wow, so much to say here, but I will try to keep it short. *CAUTION VENOM AHEAD, IF YOU DONT LIKE IT, DONT READ WHAT I WRITE*

    First off, as a point of my love hate relationship with this country and its people, i think 1 person can change the japanese mind. it happened in 1945. twice. ;). But in all seriousness, i dont think people are really seeing the bigger picture here. japan will never, i repeat, never accept us as just people, we are always and forever going to be the “barbarians” and the “outsiders.” i have personally witnessed my friend being called a barbarian by a japanese bloke here. what would drive someone to refer to another person as a barbarian when there were no barbaric actions being performed at the time? ignorance. this country will never allow people who are not japanese to even vote (this means you naturalize or you just cant), etc. they claim its due to their constitution, but look at all the shit that is being stirred up by the current govt for wanting to allow permanent resident foreigners the right to vote (only locally!). im sorry, but countries where immigration is common often allow dual citizenship, which japan currently does not. loco hit it on the head when he said this nation is full of the most gullible people on earth. hell, most of em think that sushi originates from japan (hint, it doesnt…point it out to all your friends, they will love you ;)). Now, i really wonder if its due to the way the education system works here that causes this. I mean they are forced never to question anything and they are forced to believe whatever someone else tells them because the other person must know more than they do if they are talking about it. quite stupid. i like the analogy that somebody mentioned above saying that its like a party that is impossible to get into without being born into the party.

    I can certainly say i agree with you loco about the whole “gaijin” thing while they were in hawaii. and it astounds me to speak to so many people that dont think hawaii is america. i have used the same “well then okinawa isnt japan” argument before but its like trying to teach a retard quantum physics. it will just never happen. I have also corrected people many times, explaining to them that referring to people as foreigners in english is very alienating and that i personally do not tend to use the word because of that.

    its quite funny that someone mentioned the language complex thing because they forgot the other side of the coin. japanese people have a superiority complex about their own language and they assume that any person of western descent could not possibly learn their language as it is impossibly complex by their standards. right. sorry, i have studied japanese for the same amount of time they have studied english in school (roughly 10 years) and i have no problems, speaking, reading or writing. yet, no matter how many years i live here (only 2 more to go thank god) i will always be talked down to because they assume that my feeble brain could not comprehend their language. even though english has more vowels and consonants than japanese. english has 24 vowels, japanese has 5, english has 26 consonants, japanese has 19. our vocabulary tends to have much more descriptive words in it (ask them what the difference between a rat and a mouse is…they wont be able to answer it), etc. i have many times asked the few japanese friends i have why they think that people are afraid to approach me at school, and the response i most often get….”they dont speak english.” save for the english classes at my school, everything is done in japanese, why the fuck would that even be a factor? again you see the superiority complex shining through.

    now, there are times when this gullibility and flat out ignorance works in our favor. we have numerous examples of this, some can be downright hilarious while others are borderline insulting….ugh, i am rambling at this point. too many thoughts in my head.


    • 21
      March 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm

      “japan will never, i repeat, never accept us as just people”


      Rather Japan will never, I repeat, never accept someone like you as a friend.

  11. 22 kanjiwarrior
    March 30, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Yes, thanks for the reply to my comment, I hadn’t considered that regarding immigration. I hope, however that someday we can strike a delicate balance of more understanding while still preserving the culture of Japan. If the term gaijin is found offensive by some, and as many have said it’s not meant that way, then I’m sure if more Japanese people understood that foreigners found it offensive they wouldn’t mind substituting a region specific word instead (amerikajin/igirisujin/etc) instead.

    It’s human nature to want to be accepted by those around you, people will always struggle to have those around them not view them as alien, even if they are. (especially in their own country, as Loco points out in his blog post)

    You can’t ignore the problem of declining birthrates in Japan either, the population is set for a rapid decline over the next 100 years or so. Simply having more children will no longer fix the problem. Immigration is a touchy issue in just about every country though, and you are right it’s not good to just let in a lot of people potentially poor that might need to be cared for (even if only partially) by the state. I disagree however with the point in your blog about how people shouldn’t expect to be treated equally, I might be ignorant but I can’t see any reason why people should be treated differently under the law simply because of their ethnic origin (assuming they are a naturalized citizen/natural born citizen).

    Sorry for the long and OT comment Loco 😉

    • 23
      March 30, 2010 at 6:39 pm

      ” then I’m sure if more Japanese people understood that foreigners found it offensive they wouldn’t mind substituting a region specific word instead (amerikajin/igirisujin/etc) instead.”

      I agree.

      But the point is that Japanese people want to know in which case it is offensive and why.

      Some people talk as if the word “gajin” were inherently offensive, but that sounds quite unreasonable to the Japanese, at least to me.
      It is like some Japanese people “finding” the word “Japanese” offensive because there are many cases where the word is used to treat the Japanese as “the other”.

      Note also that it is often the case that people use gaijin/gaikokujin when they cannot tell if s/he is American or British just as people use Asian when they can’t tell Chinese from Japanese.

    • 24 WC
      March 30, 2010 at 6:45 pm

      “But the point is that Japanese people want to know in which case it is offensive and why.”

      Ahh, that’s easy. Just like “Jap” is only offensive because it was used as a slur, “gaijin” is offensive because it was used as a slur.

      It’s really just that simple. There’s nothing -wrong- with either term if you ignore history. It’s only when you bring in past usage of the word that it becomes offensive.

      I used to use “Jap” as short for “Japanese” all the time on the net, but so many (non-Japanese!) people took offense that I now use JP instead. In my head, it’s no different at all and neither is a slur. But that doesn’t matter to some people.

    • March 30, 2010 at 10:20 pm

      But the point is that Japanese people want to know in which case it is offensive and why.”

      Ahh, that’s easy. Just like “Jap” is only offensive because it was used as a slur, “gaijin” is offensive because it was used as a slur.

      When was gaijin used as a slur and to whom?

      Besides the word which used to be racist word does not mean it Is a racist word, unless you think hooligan, for instance, is a racist word.


  12. March 30, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Just wrote a comment but my Opera crashed, boo hiss!

    I am multiracial and as such I have experienced racism first hand in the USA. Topics discussing outsiders, the word “gaijin”, and racism in Japan are always of interest to me as being an “outsider” is something I grew up with.

    The idea of being gaijin (to the Japanese visiting it) in my country of origin does make me raise an eyebrow, but in a rather puzzled way. I don’t know if I would have been offended but can easily see how it would be offensive.

    The odd thing, though, to me anyway, is that I have been able to see two sides of the Japanese people (if we are lumping them into a single unit). On one hand I have traveled through Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo and experienced “when are you going home?” questions (as if we should only be and can only ever be tourists), people who refuse to speak Japanese to me, and outright racism (for lack of a better word).

    And yet, in Shikoku (since 2005 at least) I have yet to experience that at all. Everyone who approaches us assumes we speak perfect Japanese, our local community accepts us and encourages us to be involved (in everything from neighborhood meetings to clean-ups to the PTA), everyone we meet accepts our answer to the question of “where are you from?” (answer: Tokushima), and no one has called us gaijin (to our faces anyway).

    Perhaps it is merely a difference of location or perhaps our ages or that we are a family unit or that we have kids in the schools and sports activities or that we own a house here or that Shikoku is sometimes considered its own country culturally or . . . who knows.

    The varying experiences and opinions does give me hope that maybe the Japanese are not as collective in their thinking as we say and thus may be open to at least understanding different view points (such as why the word “gaijin” can be seen as offensive) even if they never agree with them. But then this brings up the debate of is their collective identity a bad thing or a good thing or something inbetween?

    Great post, as always, Loco. I can 100% see where both you and your friend are coming from.

  13. March 30, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Wow, so much interesting input here! ^^
    First, your conversation with Yoko shows that much background information is needed to fully understand Japanese (the people and the language). Many Japanese-learners think that the language is complicated because of kanji or grammar or whatever, but grammar is very logical and kanji is something that just needs time to learn… Yet, you can learn years and be able to speak fluently but don’t really understand what the Japanese infront of you means. That’s a thing I get frustrated of regularly…
    The gaijin thing then, show’s that it’s difficult for Japanese to switch their perspective. No matter where they are, they are the Japanese, everyone else is something different which is termed gaijin. Might be ignorance for some but only non-awareness for most, I guess. And as your conversation shows again, some ignorance can be explained by background information.
    Something else I’d like to add is that of course some Japanese are able to switch perspectives and see themselves as gaijin when they come to another country. On the other hand, there are people from other countries as well who’ll never be able to regard those of foreign origin as people from their own country even if they got the citizenship and have lived there for many years (or are even born there). Personally, I thought, that this is something that would vanish with the coming generations who are used to mixed cultures living in the same country all claiming the same citizenship, but obviously there are still voices who agitate in a nationalist way. Lately, I got a feeling that these voices get louder, at least in Europe which is very frightening and I ask myself if people willever learn?
    Hm, maybe I got a bit off-topic at the end, but I’m thinking a lot about these things these days ^^°
    Anyways, thanks for sharing your conversation!

  14. March 30, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    We interrupt this program for the following important message:

    When I wrote this post, my focus was on the tidbit I’d learned about Japanese humbleness. Not so much to get into the Gaijin/Gaikokujin debate and ESPECIALLY not to get into racism.
    I’m not sure how it got around to racism, but i want to state for the record: I did not intentionally open up a racial can of worms. I have, purposely, been avoiding the topic, for I find it irritable at best, and un-satisfying at worst. I used to delve into this topic quite a bit back in the early days of Loco in Yokohama (and if you’re interested please have a look in my archives) but if you are readers of my blog then you know I have refrained from broaching it in any significant way for quite a while now.
    Because I was concerned that my blog would become a place where people who feel racially discriminated against would come to air their grievances, and people who feel that racism in Japan is a figment of the imagination to come and belittle and malign those who don’t.

    I want no parts of either.

    I am a writer, a story teller, an essayist, what have you. I am not, by any means, an authority on race relations. I’m just a black man in a Yellow land trying to keep his wits about him.

    That said, I welcome this forum today for the debate is lively and relatively benign (except for you Poopy…your crazy ass (-:) and I actually feel like I’m learning quite a bit about not only what my fellow “people not born in Japan but currently residing here and may continue to do so for some time to come” are thinking but, thanks to Sora-san and some others, what our Japanese brothers and sisters are thinking and feeling as well.

    That is all good to me.

    But, I want to make it clear (to any new visitors) that this is NOT what Loco in Yokohama is primarily about. This blog is primarily a place for me to share my thoughts,feelings and experiences (all of them) about my life here in lovely Locohama, to showcase what little talent I have in hopes that I might be able to make a living off of it in the very near future.

    I urge you to not label this blog as a “race” blog, or a place to vent anger or spew your love for all things Japanese. It most certainly isn’t! I’m not into either.
    Here at Loco in Yokohama, I call it like I see it. I talk the talk and walk the walk…and hopefully with a great deal of style and appeal. (-: I am a writer seeking readers.

    Now we return you to your regularly scheduled program (-:


  15. 29 kanjiwarrior
    March 30, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    “Note also that it is often the case that people use gaijin/gaikokujin when they cannot tell if s/he is American or British just as people use Asian when they can’t tell Chinese from Japanese.”

    @空: Good points, I was thinking about that while I was studying after I posted it. It’s interesting that you mention using the word “Asian” to refer to someone if we “can’t tell Chinese from Japanese”, because in America I have to use Asian it’s not because I’m lazy, if I dared call someone Chinese who was Japanese, or Japanese someone who was Korean, or the other way around they would probably become very upset with me “Oh I guess we all look alike to you?” it wouldn’t be pretty. I’ve actually seen this happen with people of Latino ancestry I’ve worked with being upset with someone assuming they were Mexican when they were from Guatemala or Columbia.

    Maybe the best way to explain it is by saying that National Identity is important to most people, and by referring to someone as a “gaijin” you are stripping that identity from them. We can understand seeing a foreign person and being unable to determine their country of origin, but especially if you know where the person is from but continue to refer to them as a “gaijin”, or in example from Hawaii that Loco posted you refer to them as a “gaijin” in their own country, it presents itself as insensitive and somewhat offensive. Anyway, I do understand from the Japanese point of view, we are foreigners, and we do all look a like (mostly). It will probably remain a continued source of frustration for non-Japanese who visit and live in Japan.

    Sorry loco! I just saw your post ( >_<), this has been an interesting discussion, thanks for your input 空さん!

    • March 30, 2010 at 7:24 pm

      @kanjiwarrior no need to apologize buddy. You are a reader and you know what Loco is about. I was just concerned about new visitors (this post happens to be attracting a lot of attention) who don’t know and might get the wrong idea. Knowhutumsaying?

    • 31 WC
      March 30, 2010 at 7:28 pm

      My apologies. I called it like I saw it without thinking about the ramifications.

    • March 30, 2010 at 7:31 pm

      WC, don’t sweat it. Like i told Kanjiwarrior, you are a regular reader and commentor, and thus have carte blanche to pretty much say what you will. I hope you don’t feel reprimanded in any way.

    • 33 WC
      March 30, 2010 at 7:29 pm

      Grr. That comment somehow ended up in the wrong spot.

    • March 30, 2010 at 7:33 pm

      Wish I could manipulate the position of comments…grrr.
      Or can I? my knowledge about wordpress is so limited…

    • 35
      March 30, 2010 at 10:05 pm

      Thanks kanjiwarrior san

      in America I have to use Asian it’s not because I’m lazy, if I dared call someone Chinese who was Japanese, or Japanese someone who was Korean, or the other way around they would probably become very upset with me”

      I guess some people are like that. I know that a British person who was very upset when he was referred to as an American.

      But I for one don’t care if, say, an American, takes me for Chinese. We look a like. It is understandable.

      ” Maybe the best way to explain it is by saying that National Identity is important to most people, and by referring to someone as a “gaijin” you are stripping that identity from them.”

      Am I stripping your national identity if I just call you kanjiwarrior-san? and is it offensive?

      I think the point is rather it is offensive for instance when someone keep calling you just gaijin/gaiokujin/Amerika-jin with ill intention even after you tell him/her your name.

      And the context and the intention matter; Take Kevin’s case for instance:” Uchi no gaijin”

      It is imaginable that his wife said it to some people.”uchi no gajin,nazeka,nattou daisuki nanoyone.(for some reason, my husband, my gaijin, loves natto.)
      Most likely there is no ill intention at all..

      Take another example.


      Here is a conversation between Beckii and Wentz.
      From about 3.55 they start talking about a person to marry.
      W nihonjin ga iino?
      is he Japanese?

      B nihonjin ga ii
      Yeah, Japanese.

      watashi gaikokujin san amari kekkon shitai to omowanai mou jibunchi ni irundamon datte
      I don’t want to marry a foreigner so much because I have one already at home.

      W sorya uchi nimo irukedomo
      I have one too.

      B otagai irujan ne mo ii gaikokujin(san)ha
      Yeah, we have a foreinger at home, no need. A foreigner ・・・・

      W Mario mitai nanoga irukedo
      There is one like Mario at home.

      B ahaa,mario mitainano?
       Haha, like Mario?

      uso uchi bluusuwilusu mitainanoga iru.
      Really? there is one like Bruce Willis at my home.

      I guess they are talking about their father but they have absolutely no ill intention in talking about their fathers as foreigners.

      (If the girl should not have preference for Japanese rather than non-Japanese, that is another story.)

      The point is that “gaijin” and “gaikokujin” are neutral words to refer to the group of people just like Chinese, Asian, non-Japanese.Just like other words, it can be used in neutral ways, in a racist way, in a polite way etc if you actually examines the usage in action rather than looking through some misguided theory.

      So if some foreigners feel frustrated at the word, “gaijin”/”gaikokujin”, I think many Japanese wonder what the source of the frustration is.

      Is it because they lump other people together ? But any name for the group lump people together. In one sense I don’t look like a Japanese guy next door but people call us Japanese.
      Is it because they ignore the nationality ? But people use the word, “Asians” “immigrants” ignoring nationality. It is offensive?

      My guess is that it is rather the contexts, accents, intonations and the intention that make the usage offensive.

      I really wonder how you can explain the word itself is not offensive nor racist to some people who feel frustrated, offended, every time “Asians” is used because it ignore the national identity and it lump Asian people who more or less look alike together.

  16. 36 Arie Roos
    March 31, 2010 at 2:02 am

    I think you are right when you say that lots of Japanese don’t even know Hawaii is part of America.

    Last year in June I made a flight from Honolulu to Japan and had to fill in the questionnaire for the swine flu. On the question “Have you been in the USA/Canada/Mexico in the last month” ALL Japanese stated NO and on the question “Have you had contact with somebody who has been to USA/Canada/Mexico in the last month” they also answered NO (at least the ones which forms I saw). pretty hard in Honolulu if you ask me, even for a Japanese.

    And of course you can guess who was asked again by the inspection officer to confirm that he was not in mainland USA, probably only people on the plane that filled in the form correctly 🙂

    I asked later to Japanese at work, and they all mentioned that Hawaii is not the USA. Even while it is, but it almost feels like Japan. With the way most Japanese visit Hawaii – only Honolulu and than mostly Japanese restaurants/shops and miss the places where Americans in general go – that is probably correct, it still does feel like Japan with the large amount of Japanese around, but with a vacation atmosphere.

  17. 37 Cedric Domani
    March 31, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    Meh…I’ve been called worse things than “gaijin” so it doesn’t really mater.

    stop by my page when you get the chance. itwould be an honor and privilege to have you.

    Kurokawa…the black river


    cheers homie


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