In Japan, in the foreign community there seems to be some kind of argument at the words gaikokujin and gaijin are racist. In not sure that I agree with this stance, these word simply mean foreigner. How else can you describe someone not from your own country? Seems fairly safe to me. BUT, I have noticed that there seems to be a very us and them attitude in the way Japanese people express themselves that gets more and more disconcerting the more I hear it.
“Foreigners are loud”, “Foreigners drink too much”, “Foreigners smell bad”, “Foreigners can’t queue properly”(!), “Foreigners are taking our jobs and our women”. These are things that I think people say no matter where they are from, not unique Japanese complaints (except for that thing about queuing). People are scared of differences and just assume that because they saw one person who is different do something once, they are all the same. I don’t condone such views but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
No, my issue is that your average nice Japanese person (not talking about nationalists here) seems to think there are 2 places in the world, Japan and Aboard. I have had people say to me things like “What do foreigners do?” or “How would a foreigner eat this?, “What is popular with foreigners?”. In my internal monologue I think, “How am I supposed to know?”. The only place I feel qualified to talk about is England, that is the only other place I have lived. How I supposed to know what all foreigners do? Sure, I’ve seen some stuff about Brazil on TV but Aboard is a big place!
Another occasion, a friend’s girlfriend started speaking Japanese with a silly accent and saying “This is Japanese like a foreigner would say it”. This stuck me as odd and I think my friend was trying his best to ignore her. It is odd because she was speaking Japanese like someone whose first language was English reading romaji badly. Not like a ‘foreigner’. I’m sure we have all put on accents to sound like an Italian, an Indian or a Scouser or whatever but I find that English people name the vague area that the person being mimicked is from. Go one, try to speak English ‘like a foreigner’, you may be able to come up with something but it would not be based on anything tangible.
I have tried to subvert the Japanese usage of the word foreigner but it often falls on deaf ears. I have been with Japanese people in a bar who have said “There are loads of foreigners here”, I have replied with, “Yes, there are a lot of Japanese people here, aren’t there”. After receiving confused looks I explain that as an Englishman they are the foreigners to me and that I am living Abroad. I think that people don’t see were I am coming from because of my poor Japanese skills though. I managed to explain it to my Japanese teacher once but that was with the aid of an iPad and some diagrams.
Gaijin, meanwhile has become one of those words that foreigners say when they are speaking English. Unlike some others like genki, mendoukusai and shouganai there is already a perfectly acceptable English word in our lexicon. Why say gaijin when we can simply say foreigner?
Well, once I was in Hub, a pub which is basically where people go to pick up girls, and a woman in my group of people came back from the toilet exasperated. “I hate gaijin!”, she said in English, matter of factly. As she was an American and having drinks with people from a plethora of different countries, I challenged her on this. I explained that she had basically just stormed in and said that she hated me and most people around the table.
“Oh, no”, she said, “I didn’t mean you. These two guys were trying to chat me up”. She then pointed to 2 fat blading white guys.
So to her Gaijin means “fat sleazy old white men”.
Perhaps it is racist after all.