Njel wrote about the term gaijin 外人. Okay, gaijin IS a racist term because its usage is based on race, but not in the way Jap, or Gook or Kike or the N word is used in English. First of all, it is not an abbreviation of gaikokujin 外国人. These are two separate words. As you know, gaikokujin is used to mean “a person of a foreign country”. In contrast, gaijin is “outsider” or perhaps in a more familiar, official term in the English: “alien”.
But it’s usage is race-based, because the term is used mostly for non-East Asian people. I am Japanese American and when I go to Japan they usually refer to me as gaikokujin, not gaijin. However, a black friend of mine is BOTH a gaijin and gaikokujin. They often refer to Koreans and Chinese as gaikokujin as well, not gaijin. Indeed, I cannot recall a singel occasion when the Japanese refer to Koreans born and raised in Japan with Korean citizenship as gaijin, just gaikokujin. (If someone know differently, please let me know.) Conversely, a naturalized citizen of Japan might be considered a gaijin (non-East Asian) although not a gaikokujin (foreigner). So the words are not, in most contexts that I am aware of, interchangeable.
It is sad that the Japanese feel the need to make this distinction. Paiky mentioned that in America, initial perception is based on how we look, and it seems that it’s the same in Japan, as well.
Didn’t I mention recently that I would ease up on “race” for awhile. It is an exhausting subject for me because it hits close to home and I get heavily involved with it. I guess its just a part of who I am and so need to comment on it.