Q5# What does a label mean anyway?

See the linked documents http://www.debito.org/?p=1891 and http://www.debito.org/?p=1875


17 Responses to “Q5# What does a label mean anyway?”

  1. Rikko Says:

    I think that labels are ones of social identities. We use them not only for classifying, but also for recognizing what we are. Maybe, “Student” or “Joshi-Kosei (a high-school girl student) are ones of them. People can understand those people by using these words, labels. And they use the labels by themselves, so do Otaku people, in order to divide themselves from other types of people.
    In fact, I hate the wors “Gaijin” too. But, I think, Japanese people use it to divide themselves from other countries’ people and to identify themselves; We are trully JAPANESE.

  2. gaijinalways Says:


    I’m not sure exactly what truly Japanese means. So you mean Zainichi, Ainu, and Okinawans are not Japanese?

    As to labels such as ‘student’, these are roles everyone takes on, like parent, brother, and occupational labels. They have a different usage than something like ‘gaijin’.

  3. Minkyung Lee Says:

    i myself is also foreigner here so i thought about this word ‘gaijin’ few times before. the word ‘gaijin’ makes me feel uncomfortable even though i haven’t heard that word. there is more standard word ‘gaikokujin’ which is being used instead of ‘gaijin’ so i and every my friends use ‘gaikokujin’. By seeing kanji of gaijin, it doesn’t look good in meaning because the speaker who use that word surely seems like they want to distinguish the foreiners from japanese and don’t want to accept foreigners into their groups. Labeling can make people distinguish various different groups easily but if it’s related to the racial things, it can hurt the listeners, not speakers and make problems. So i think the labeling word such as student or parent used as occupational meaning is quite different from the one like ‘gaijin’.

  4. gaijinalways Says:

    Yes, the two are very different words, ‘gaijin’ and ‘gaikokujin’. But is the word ‘gaijin’ distinguishing between races?

  5. sari Says:

    I don’t use it anymore, but actually I was the one who always say “gaijin” when I saw foreigners. I swear that I didn’t use this word as a racist, I just thought that it was an abbriviation word for “gaikokujin.” I’d never thought that people actually feel bad to be used this word. As for me, I used it because I couldn’t recognize their nationalities. Because it’s much easier for me to recognize Asian people’s nationality, I would say “Korean people” or “Chinese people” when I saw them.
    Like me, I think people use G-word withought any thoughts. They don’t mean anything. As Rikko says, it is the most apparent feature of them so that it becomes a label of them as Otaku, Jyoshikousei, GAL, GAL-O and so on. It might be ture that Japanese like to distinguish “us” to “them”, but it doesn’t mean that we hesitate to accept foreingers.

  6. ayamo Says:

    This is my personal opinion based on my experience….
    I had some oversea staying experience when I was little and after I came back to Japan, I often felt really uncomfortable when Japanese people label people overseas as “GAIJIN”. I recognized this kind of feeling many times but never thought deeply that why and how this label is used.
    In my opinion, Japan still has characteristic of closed culture as an island nation. I guess People use the term “GAIJIN” because…
    1. They have tendency of Japan-centric idea
    -they sometimes don’t recognize that GAIJIN has negative nuance
    2. They weigh on local community so that they try to distinguish others from them
    -they try to distinguish ‘us’ and ‘outsiders’
    3. Giving up to understand the world outside Japan
    -they’re categorizing people from numerous countries into one label

  7. ayamo Says:


    I think I have same kind of feeling that I hate to use the term “GAIJIN”….but I cannot say I’m “OK “and just other Japanese are using it without their conscious… Me, myself is influenced by Japanese culture and familiar to Japanese way of thinking so that I’m not completely free from Japanese bias.
    But it is clear that Japanese people have to accept diversity of backgrounds of people and respect their identity…their nationality is part of their identity as well as other factors. It’s rude to categorize diversity of people into one label:-(

  8. kanty Says:

    I’ve been trying not to use the word “gaijin” since I heard a radio personality was saying that the word is a indication of racial discrimination when I was little. After that I tried to figure out why “gaijin” is a bad word since at first I was too young to know why.

    I agree with the second idea of ayamo’s that talks about the idea of insiders and outsiders.

    Once I learned from a intl. communication class that Japanese culture has always had the idea, “uchi (inside)” and “soto (outside)”.And I suppose it is due to the fact that Japan is an island nation and also it carried out the national isolation policy back in 1639.

    So the label “gaijin” is a way for Japanese people to describe that foreigners are always outsiders in Japan. It is actually true that somehow some Japanese people are still having difficulty communicating with foreigners. But whenever I hear the word I always feel uncomfortable.

  9. Minkyung Lee Says:

    no i don’t think the word ‘gaijin’ distinguishes between races.
    i think it is used for all kind of races except Japanese.

    and i agree with what kanty and aya said above.
    that word always make me feel uncomfortable whenever i hear it
    and I also think Japanese people got used to distinguishing themselves from others.
    In Korea, we like to have the group consciousness and also have the word which means ‘Gaikokujin’ but we don’t have the word ‘Gaijin’.

  10. Rikko Says:

    I agree with Aya, Kanty and Ming idea.

    I think that Japanese has been haunted by the traditional bias for the outsiders. In the old era such as Edo and early Meiji, Japanese government ruled only the mainland “Hon-do”, so Okinawa and Hokkaido was not parts of it. And Ryukyu or Ainu people were ones of the outsiders for them.

    I myself want to believe that there will be no country and no races and no border. But, at first, Japanese people themselves should abandon the old bias, I suggest.

  11. gaijinalways Says:

    If you trace word geneology further, you’ll see that gaijin once was applied to people outside of a person’s village, so in a sense it included Japanese. Nowadays, Japanese are shocked to hear the term applied to themselves when traveling overseas, and some will become angry not realizing that being pigeonholed is not always a good thing.

  12. Yuka Says:

    certainly the idea of ‘uchi’ and ‘soto’ is very similar with ‘gaijinn’, however it is a little bit difference nuance, i know.

    I have learned ‘the lavel in japan’ during junior high school student, and most current japanese are come from about erly 1900.
    ‘gaijin’ had been often used during War-term, such as ‘bannzai’ too.
    At that time, nationalism was higher and higher and we forced to distinguish Japanese and others. as a result, just the waord has remained here, and used now. However, i think younger people rarely use ‘gaijinn’ and olders often use the word…is it may misunderstanding?..

  13. Panya Says:

    I think the labels are there to define the role of a person in the society.
    A young boy, can be a ‘son’, a ‘student’, a ‘member of scout troop’ at the same time. Labels, of course a be offensive but I think most of them exist just to make it easier to catagorize people in the society.

  14. gaijinalways Says:

    ‘I think the labels are there to define the role of a person in the society.’

    Right, but we have to distinguish between labels that are useful, and those that aren’t.

  15. gaijinalways Says:

    ‘However, i think younger people rarely use ‘gaijinn’ and olders often use the word…is it may misunderstanding?..’

    I guess it would depend on how you define ‘rarely’. The ‘gaijin da!’ practice is still alive and well, even in Tokyo. Some of the people I know cringe every time they pass an elementary school (especially if it’s on their regular route to the station), though a few take the piss out on the school kids who chorus at them by asking “Gaijin wa, doko dis ka?” and of course using the ‘popular’ “Nihonjin da!” in return (helps if you use a big finger pointing at them as you do it).

    So you have to wonder, who is the role model for these kids?

    Then again, you sometimes gets flurries of conversations about foreigners on trains, just by entering the train car.

  16. Li Julia Says:

    I rarey hear the word ‘Gaijin’, but the word ‘Gaikokujin’ is often used. I always get mistaken as a Japanese person (If i don’t talk that is), so I don’t really know how people might feel if get called Gaijin. I think the word ‘Gaijin’ is kind of like saying, no matter how good your japanese can be one day, we will never accept you as one of us, you will always be different. When a label has the effect to alienate or exclude someone into a certain group, it becomes more complicated and controvertial.

  17. gaijinalways Says:

    I’m still looking for this ‘gai’ place, I haven’t found it yet?!

    Yes, it certainly is like that in Japan to some extent, but of course there are other places where similar things happen. It’s just surprising it happens in Japan after all these years of exposure to the outside world. That and TV and the Internet I thought might have changed a few things, but it’s a slow process.

    So keep this in mind when you consider about our various social groups we’ll be presenting on.

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