Japan's Must-Read Magazine

Is the term “gaijin” offensive?

The G word hero


‘Gaijin’ is just an abbreviation of the word ‘gaikokujin’ and when people use it, they don’t mean to cause any offense. On the contrary, you’ll often hear people say ‘Gaijin-san’ – the ‘san’ being added as a way of showing respect. Remember that Japanese people don’t use the word ‘anata’ (you) for strangers, but rather tend to use some identifying characteristic instead. A middle-aged woman might be called ‘obasan’ and the guy from NTT is ‘NTT-san’. And, well, you’re ‘gaijin-san’. Even if it’s not the most politically correct word in the world, it basically means “non-Japanese”, and that’s what we are. What’s all the fuss about? Yes – The word ‘gaijin’ means ‘outsider’ and it’s not an abbreviation of ‘gaikokujin’: they’re separate words. ‘Gaijin’ is almost never used in the Japanese media, because it’s condescending and discriminatory; indeed, when newscasters or politicians have used it in the past, they’ve had to make public apologies. And it’s just bizarre to hear Japanese people abroad referring to the locals as ‘gaijin’. People who use the word a lot are clearly seeing you first and foremost as ‘non-Japanese’, rather than as an ‘American’ or ‘teacher’ or ‘Joe Smith’. Maybe your grandma doesn’t mean any harm when she calls someone a ‘darkie’, but it’s still offensive. Japanzine Says – So, is ‘gaijin’ an abbreviation or not? As it turns out, ‘gaijin’ and ‘gaikokujin’ have completely separate etymologies. ‘Gaijin’ evolved from the word ‘guwaijin’, which existed before the coming of foreigners to Japan, and meant someone who was from another place or was somehow different from the group to which you belong. Wouldn’t it be better to refer to non-Japanese as ‘Americans’ or ‘Koreans’ instead of ‘gaijin’ or ‘gaikokujin’? If someone absolutely has to lump all non-Japanese in together, though, ‘gaikokujin’ is definitely the preferable term.

So… what do you think?


  1. Gaijin means “others” outside our group, the soto. Of course its offensive, its meant to alienate those who are not Japanese. Kind of a no brainer, but there are many no brains out there who dont get it yet. You will, give it time.

  2. I see what you’re trying to do with the No/Yes dichotomy, but as the Yes part shows, the No part is simply wrong. Gaijin is not an abbreviation of gaikokujin: it has a different etymology that in Japan historically held a negative connotation. So, is gaijin offensive when uniformly applied to any non-Japanese? Yes, it is because it defines people by what they aren’t (Japanese) instead of what they are. This quote sums it up perfectly: “People who use the word a lot are clearly seeing you first and foremost as ‘non-Japanese’, rather than as an ‘American’ or ‘teacher’ or ‘Joe Smith’.”

  3. I always see it as derogatory. It’s funny how many Japanese think it’s ok to use it, even though the context is clear. Would a Japanese person think its ok to be called a Jap just because it’s a shorter word? At least there is thought for nationality there. Here it’s just “outside person”, as in you’re not welcome in

    • Context is also key. Many think that there’s nothing wrong with the word haole even though its used in both insults against outsiders and to mark people who are perceived by their racial background to not belong. Whatever its etymology, the way it is used is key

  4. Whether Japanese people do it or not, I think westerners who come to Japan are usually more informed as to the connotation of it. Therefore, westerners in Japan are more at fault than Japanese for calling each other gaijin.
    It is the same ignorance as when brown people call each other the N word, but are ready to fight if someone of another colour says it.

  5. “Gaijin” is the colloquial term of “Gaikokujin” (people outside the country) the opposite of “Naikokujin” (people inside the country) but it has nothing to do with discrimination. There is no reason why to be offended for it, just as in English “foreign person”, “alien”, and “outsider” have same the connotation. Those who feel offended for being called “gaijin” probably do not understand the language, or have some political issues. In contrast, “Ketojin” (hairy person) that is discriminatory.

  6. Foreign person (gaijin), or foreign country person (gaikokujin) – neither are offensive to me. Japan is a nation of 98.5% Japanese people, any non-japanese looking person is a foreign person. Of course in context it could be used as a derogatory, but you will never encounter that context because publicly Japanese people are as nice and helpful as they come. When I see other americans traveling in Japan acting like buffoons I feel like calling them Gaijin and not the nice one 😉

  7. I meet a lot of Japanese who come to Hawaii. Whenever they address me as a Gaijin, I also call them Gaijin since they are foreigners or outsiders in the US. They are surprised at being call a Gaijin even when I explain my reason for doing so.

  8. Youre thinking too much. The word Gaijin just follows a rule of Japanese language. For example, Super Family Computer, It is known as Super Nintendo Entertainment System in other countries. However, people call SNES instead of such a long name. In Japan, we call “Su-Fami.” We just make sound shorten, so each “Su-” and “Fami” doesnt have each meaning. We just take a part of sound “Su-” from Super, “Fami” from Family. In the same way, Gaijin is just a shorten sound and doesnt have such a deep idea that you worry. Gaijin and Gaikokujin are different sound but still same meaning. You have studied Kanji and understood each kanji has each meaning, but in this case, you dont have to think separately each kanji. IT IS JUST A SOUND! After reading, if you still think Gaijin is offensive, SNES and Su-Fami are offensive words to Nintendo, so you must say “Super Nintendo Entertainment System is …” in your talk from now on. I understand that you guys study Japanese so hard, but sometime you need take a break, go out, and have fun. Enjoy!

  9. I hate jap

    • 死ねよクソ外人

  10. >‘Gaijin’ is almost never used in the Japanese media, because it’s condescending and discriminatory; indeed, when newscasters or politicians have used it in the past, they’ve had to make public apologies.

    No, that’s not true. ‘Gaijin’ is ordinarily used and not discriminatory. The point is context not the word itself.

    As someone said, Keto (literally furry Tang(foreinger)) is prohibited, though not many people even know the word.

  11. Don’t be silly.
    “foreigner” is the same meaning as “gaijin”.
    Have you seen Japanese call “gaijin” when they insult foreigners?
    Probably, in that case, they would call “yosomono” and “hikokumin”.
    Possibly they may call “gaikokujin”, not “gaijin”. This is because they want to emphasize you are foreginers.
    In terms of Japanese, “gaikokujin” is too polite to call friendly. And so newscaster and politician use it, but the public use “gaijin”.

  12. lollollollollollol

  13. Very nonsense and wrong knowledge you have.

    If you are so offensive to the word “gaijin”, you should be so to so many other words no matter Japanese or English.

    Do you use “nice” as good meaning? If so, you must check what “nice” means originally because it used to mean quite negative. You should stop using “cool” as “good/fine” and there are more words that have been added or changed their meaning and expression.

    In other words, I guess you were born and/or have grown up in very old generation perhaps?

  14. If a Japanese speaks about a foreign with respect, (s)he sais uses word gaikokujin instead. I don’t use word ‘jap’ for a Japanese, but I naturally do use it for people using ‘gaijin’.

    I’m not so sensitive about words though, and if somebody refers me as gaijin, it’s okay as long as it’s not said with disrespect (many times it is.) No matter who the person is, he will get exactly the same amount of respect from me as he gives to me – no matter weather I’m in that person’s country of origin or he is in my country.

  15. Is it offensive? That’s up to you. But it’s hardly the same as calling a Japanese person a Jap. I’ve been called everything from jap to chink to gook to VC, sometimes by random strangers walking down the street, and it was usually accompanied by some form of hostility. That’s hardly the same as the older guy in the office asking who the new gaijin in the office is.