Gaijin vs. gaikokujin II

Ok, there seems to be a difference of opinion, and I think I should have put more thought into it than I did. This is what I get for talking off the top of my head. Takunishi, a JA (sorta? Weren’t you born in Japan?), says that he is called gaijin when he goes to Japan. Gurlekka says that her mother who is East Asian (Chinese?), is also referred to as gaijin. Now that they mention it, when I go to my dad’s birthplace in Kitakata, Fukushima–for those who don’t know, this is really in the sticks–my cousin parades me around as the gaijin. But, then he never tells me this, only to others. I suppose its a way of exoticizing (is this a word?) me. At least that is the sense I get. On the other hand, my grandmother on my mother’s side in Hiroshima ALWAYS made sure that people referred to me as gaikokujin, because I was not a yoso no hito–an outsider. She also has a white daughter-in-law–my aunt–who my grandmother referred to as a gaijin. Further, haven’t many of you heard Japanese refer to Americans as gaijin WHILE IN THE AMERICA? I have heard people who have lived in the US for over 10 years say this. Yes, usage may vary, but I still get the sense that gaijin, in general, means non-East Asian, and hence can be construed as a racially-charged term.

Another point was brought up by Fooky. He is correct when he said that Koreans in Japan are called Chenjin. But they are still gaikokujin–as they are required to carry their gaikokujin tokusho (alien registration card)–not gaijin, I think.

Now this may seem like a lot about nothing. Indeed, I once thought that these terms were a reflection of traditional and historical usage, and so did not imply a condescending attitude–Americans are foreigners, so they are outsisders, gaijin. Its just a linguistic thing. What’s the big deal? But I have come to think differently. Words carry different–sometimes derogatory–connotations for different people and I don’t want to ignore this. Can you imagine people using the term “colored” for African Americans today? It’s traditional/historical, is not an intrinsicly racial “slur” and the user may not necessarily harbor a malicious agenda, but the African American who hears it will certainly be offended. Should we ignore this? I think not…

There are other racist terms as well, as Fooky pointed out. The term Chenjin is used as a derogatory term by many. Indeed, the word bakachon is a perfect example. The term was born during the early generations of Instamatic cameras, those that required little fuss to operate. The simplicity of its use was relfected in this term: even a baka (idiot) or a Chosenjin can use it. Many have tried to convince me that the chon meant the sound of the camera, or some other likely story. But the effect is the same. Koreans I know have told me that they hate the word bakachon because of its connotation. The fact that the term is no longer used publicly in the media suggests that it indeed implied something derogatory.

But really, I get exhausted writing about race. It is, for me, an emotional topic–being beat up for being a jap/chink/gook during the formative years will do that to you. I need to take Nefarious‘ advice and talk about… what did you say? Strip bars? Hmm… Maybe tomorrow… I love this girl…

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