Especially travelers to Japan should be familiar with the word gaijin. In Japan, this word is considered a condescending term for foreigners. It says that the titled person is a foreigner in the country and does not belong to the society. By the way, avoiding such terms is called kotobagari.
If you want to learn Japanese, you should be careful to avoid politically incorrect terms. But not only in Japan itself you hear the word Gaijin, but also in pop culture and in the media you meet this term again and again.
Gaijin and Gaikokujin: Meaning, Definition, Explanation
The word Gaijin faded away more and more already in the post-war period and was finally replaced by the word Gaikokujin. The term „koku“ stands for „land.“ Together in the word combination Gaikokujin, this term is the politically correct one for a foreigner. But nowadays in Japan you still hear the word gaijin here and there. This can have two reasons. One of the reasons may be that an inexperienced Japanese, who has not yet gained any experience abroad, accidentally slips out the term gaijin once. The other reason may be that a Japanese person uses the word intentionally, most likely to use it as an insult.
If you examine the politically correct term Gaikokujin a bit more closely, the term refers to foreign nationals, foreign people, people who are not from the country, and even aliens. But what exactly does alien mean? In English, the term „alien“ does not refer exclusively to aliens. If the word is broken down into its component parts, an alien is a person outside the country, the Earth, or even the galaxy.
In addition, it is common in the Japanese language to have several terms for one and the same thing. Also, the synonyms often have different meanings. For example, the Japanese word yasumi means vacation. However, it can just as easily refer to a night’s rest or simply a day off.
Therefore, the word gaijin, which is often used as an abbreviation by the Japanese, can also be interpreted to mean something beyond the foreign. For example, the word gaijin also means an outsider in the English dictionary. Furthermore, the English word also means intruder, stranger, profane, and layman. However, the dictionary itself points out that it is an obsolete word that is no longer used.
Usage of the word gaijin
In Japan, many different expressions are also used in formal conversations, media or magazines that use the term gaijin. Even when reporting on foreign athletes, the word gaijinsenshu is often used.
Almost all modified forms of the word gaijin mean outsider or foreigner in summary. However, the two words gaikokujin and gaijin are often used in practice to refer to a person who is not from the Asian region. For example, ethnic Koreans and Chinese living in Japan are not usually referred to as gaijin. This is related to their nationality, whereas these groups of people are more commonly referred to as Zainichi or Kakyō (special term symbolizing an ethnic Chinese). Kakyō, in turn, is sometimes replaced by the word wajin, which stands for people born and raised in another country.
At Japanese sporting events – baseball or wrestling, for example – the term gaijin is heard very often. Here, it mainly refers to the non-Japanese players who travel to the country because of the sporting event.