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The characters for Gaikokujin.
The characters for Gaikokujin.

Gaijin (外人? IPA: [ˈgaɪdʑin]) or gaikokujin (外国人?) are Japanese words meaning "foreigner." The words can refer to nationality or ethnicity. The word is often the subject of debate as to its appropriateness, particularly in its shortened form. The word gaikokujin (外国人) is composed of gaikoku (外国, foreign country) and hito/jin (人, person), so the word literally means "foreign person." Gaijin (外人) is a common abbreviation of gaikokujin.


[edit] Etymology and history

The word gaijin is of ancient provenance and can be traced in writing back to Heike Monogatari, written early in the 13th century:

外人もなき所に兵具をとゝのへ [1]
Assembling arms where there are no gaijin

Here, according to Kōjien, gaijin is used to refer to potential spies or people who should be regarded as enemies[2]. Another early reference is in Renri Hishō (連理秘抄, c. 1349) by Nijo Yoshimoto (二条良基), where it is used to refer to a (Japanese) person who is a stranger, not a friend.[2]

The word was initially not applied to foreigners, and historically, the Portuguese, the first Europeans to visit Japan, were known as nanbanjin (南蛮人, "southern barbarians")[3]. When British and Dutch adventurers such as William Adams arrived in Japan fifty years later in the early 17th century, they were usually known as kōmōjin (紅毛人, "red-haired people"), a term still used in the Min Nan (Taiwanese) dialect of Chinese today.

When the Tokugawa shogunate was forced to open Japan to foreign contact, Westerners were commonly referred to as ijin (異人, "different people"), a shortened form of ikokujin (異国人, "different country people") or ihōjin (異邦人, "different motherland people"), terms previously used for Japanese from different feudal (that is, foreign) states.[citation needed] Keto (毛唐), literally meaning "hairy", was (and is) used as a pejorative for Chinese and Westerners.[4]

The word gaikokujin was only introduced and popularized by the Meiji government, and this gradually replaced ijin, ikokujin and ihōjin. As the empire of Japan extended to Korea and Taiwan, the term naikokujin (内国人, "inside country people") was used to refer to nationals of other territories of the Empire.[citation needed] While other terms fell out of use after World War II, gaikokujin remained as the official government term for non-Japanese people.

[edit] Usage

While all forms of the word mean "foreigner," in practice gaikokujin and gaijin are mainly used to refer to non-East Asians, but can also refer to anyone of non-Asian descent. People from China are Chūgokujin (中国人, "Chinese person") or Korea are Kankokujin (韓国人, "South Korean person")—usually referred to by their country of origin.[citation needed] Similar practice can be seen in most countries where the closer the ethnicity (such as Irish in Britain), the more likely it is to use country specific-reference than to use an all-encompassing expression for non-natives.[citation needed] Now that gaijin has become somewhat politically incorrect, it is common to refer to non-East Asian non-Japanese as gaikokujin while more culturally similar Chinese, Taiwanese, and South and North Koreans are referred to as Chugokujin, Taiwanjin, and Kankokujin and (Kita) Chosenjin, respectively.[citation needed]

I was born a gaijin. I grew up a gaijin. I came to Japan a gaijin. It's always been as natural as gazing out a window and appreciating the landscape yet not being one with it. I fit in Japan because I matched the role. I was a gaijin from the get go. I suspect a lot of us were. More than this, I suspect there are many Japanese who feel like gaijin too, viewing themselves as enduring extras in their long-playing epics of life. But none of this is necessarily negative——as all "true" gaijin will understand.[5]

People of Japanese descent living or born overseas are known as Nikkeijin (日系人? lit. persons of Japanese descent), while children of mixed (Japanese and non-Japanese) parentage are known as hāfu ("half") or konketsu (混血, "mixed blood").

The term gaijin is also used as a form of address in some situations, in which case it is commonly combined with the routine honorific -san, roughly translated as "Mr" or "Ms." Gaijin-san may also be used as a politer alternative to gaijin or gaikokujin.

The use of gaijin is not limited to non-Japanese in Japan; Japanese speakers commonly refer to non-Japanese 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. Interestingly, second (nisei) or third (sansei) generation ethnic Japanese outside Japan may be referred to as gaijin if it is intended to emphasise the fact that they are culturally foreign.

Gaijin also appears frequently in Western literature and pop culture. It is the title of a novel by James Clavell, as well as a song by Nick Lowe. The meaning of gaijin in Japanese society—and the question of who constitutes a gaijin—is lightly touched upon by the 2006 movie, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.

Gaijin is also commonly used within Japanese professional wrestling to collectively refer to the visiting performers from the west who will frequently tour the country.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Takagi, Heike Monogatari, page 123
  2. ^ a b Entry for 「外人」. Kōjien, fifth edition, 1998, [ISBN 4000801112].
  3. ^ WWWJDIC (edict) entry for 南蛮人, [1]
  4. ^ Entry for 「毛唐人」. Kōjien, fifth edition, 1998, [ISBN 4-00-080111-2]
  5. ^ Thomas Dillon, "Born and raised a 'gaijin', Japan Times, December 24, 2005

[edit] References

  • 高木, 市之助; 小沢正夫, 渥美かをる, 金田一春彦 (1959). :日本古典文学大系: 平家物語. 岩波書店, 123. ISBN 4-00-060032-X. 
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