This article is about a Japanese word for "foreigner". For the James Clavell novel, see Gai-Jin. For the video game developer, see Gaijin Entertainment.

Gaijin (外人, [ɡaid͡ʑiɴ]) ("outside person") is a Japanese word for foreigners and non-Japanese. The word is composed of two kanji: gai (?, "outside") and jin (?, "person") . Similarly composed words that refer to foreign things include gaikoku (外国?, "foreign country") and gaisha (外車?, "foreign car") . The word can refer to nationality, race, or ethnicity, concepts generally conflated in Japan.

Some feel the word has come to have a negative or pejorative connotation,[1][2][3][4][5][6] while other observers maintain it is neutral or even positive.[2][7][8][9][10] Gaikokujin (外国人 "foreign-country person") is a more neutral and somewhat more formal term widely used in the Japanese government and in media.

Etymology and history

The word gaijin can be traced in writing to the 13th-century Heike Monogatari:

Assembling arms where there are no gaijin[note 1]

Here, gaijin refers to outsiders[12][13] and potential enemies.[14] Another early reference is in Renri Hishō (c.1349) by Nijō Yoshimoto, where it is used to refer to a Japanese person who is a stranger, not a friend.[14] The Noh play, Kurama tengu[15] has a scene where a servant objects to the appearance of a traveling monk:

A gaijin doesn't belong here, where children from the Genji and Heike families are playing.

Here, gaijin also means an outsider or unfamiliar person.[16]

The word gaikokujin (外国人) is composed of gaikoku (foreign country) and jin (person). The Meiji government (1868–1912) introduced and popularized the term, which came to replace ijin, ikokujin and ihōjin. As the Empire of Japan extended to Korea and to Taiwan, the term naikokujin ("inside country people") came to refer to nationals of other imperial territories. While other terms fell out of use after World War II, gaikokujin remained the official term for non-Japanese people. Some hold that the modern gaijin is a contraction of gaikokujin.[17]


Foreigners in Japan in 2000 by citizenship.[18]

While all forms of the word mean "foreigner" or "outsider", in practice gaikokujin and gaijin are commonly used to refer to racially non-Japanese groups,[19] principally Caucasians.[9][20][21][22][23][24] However the term is also sometimes applied to ethnic Japanese born and raised in other countries.[22][25] Gaijin is also commonly used within Japanese events such as baseball (there is a limit to non-Japanese players in NPB) and professional wrestling to collectively refer to the visiting performers from the West who will frequently tour the country.[26]

Japanese speakers commonly refer to non-Japanese people as gaijin even while they are overseas. Also, people of Japanese descent native to other countries (especially those countries with large Japanese communities) might also call non-descendants gaijin, as a counterpart to nikkei.[25]

Historically, some usage of the word "gaijin" referred respectfully to the prestige and wealth of Caucasians or the power of western businesses.[8][27][28] This interpretation of the term as positive or neutral in tone continues for some.[2][3][29][9][10][30][31] However, though the term may be used without negative intent by many Japanese speakers,[1] it is seen as derogatory by some[4][5][6] and reflective of exclusionary attitudes.[1][2][17][23][30][32]

"While the term itself has no derogatory meaning, it emphasizes the exclusiveness of Japanese attitude and has therefore picked up pejorative connotations that many Westerners resent." Mayumi Itoh (1995)[3]

Now that gaijin has become somewhat politically incorrect, it is common to refer to non-Japanese as gaikokujin.[23][33] Nanette Gottlieb, Professor of Japanese Studies at the School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland, suggests that the term has become controversial and is avoided now by most Japanese television broadcasters.[17] The uncontroversial,[17] if slightly formal gaikokujin, is commonly used instead.[17]

Gaijin appears frequently in Western literature and pop culture. It forms the title of such novels as Marc Olden's Gaijin (New York: Arbor House, 1986), James Melville's Go gently, gaijin (New York : St. Martin's Press, 1986), James Kirkup's Gaijin on the Ginza (London: Chester Springs, 1991) and James Clavell's Gai-Jin (New York: Delacorte Press, 1993), as well as a song by Nick Lowe. It is the title of feature films such as Tizuka Yamazaki's Gaijin - Os Caminhos da Liberdade (1980) and Gaijin - Ama-me Como Sou (2005), as well as animation shorts such as Fumi Inoue's Gaijin (2003).

Foreign residents in Japan

See also

Look up gaijin in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Look up gaikokujin in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.


  1. The 13th-century pronunciation of the characters 外人 is debated; it may have been kotobito (ことびと), udokihito (うどきひと) or gwaijin (ぐゎいじん). The spelling gaijin is used here for continuity.


  1. 1 2 3 Wetherall, William (1983). "Foreigners in Japan". Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan. 2. Tokyo: Kodansha. pp. 313–4.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Buckley, Sandra (2002). "Gaijin". Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture. Taylor and Francis. pp. 161–2. ISBN 0-415-14344-6.
  3. 1 2 3 Itoh, Mayumi (Summer 1996). "Japan's abiding sakoku mentality - seclusion from other countries - Economic Myths Explained". Orbis. Foreign Policy Research Institute / JAI Press Inc. 40 (3).
  4. 1 2 De Mente, Boye Lafayette (1994). "Japanese Etiquette & Ethics In Business". McGraw-Hill Professional: 159. ISBN 0-8442-8530-7.
  5. 1 2 Hsu, Robert (1993). "The MIT Encyclopedia of the Japanese Economy". MIT Press: 195. ISBN 0-8442-8530-7.
  6. 1 2 Wetherall, William; de Vos, George A (1976). "Ethnic Minorities in Japan". In Veenhoven, Willem Adriaan; Crum Ewing, Winifred. Case Studies on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: A World Survey. Stichting Plurale. p. 384. ISBN 90-247-1779-5.
  7. Kitahara, Michio (1989). Children of the Sun: the Japanese and the Outside World. Sandgate, Folkestone, England: Paul Norbury Publications. pp. 117, 516."For example, gaijin literally means a "person from outside", namely a foreigner, and that means "Caucasian"."
  8. 1 2 Lie, John (2000). "The Discourse of Japaneseness". In Douglass,, Mike; Roberts, Glenda Susan. Japan and Global Migration: Foreign Workers and the Advent of a Multicultural Society. Routledge. p. 75. ISBN 0-415-19110-6.
  9. 1 2 3 Befu, Harumi (2001). Hegemony of Homogeneity: An Anthropological Analysis of Nihonjinron. Trans Pacific Press. p. 76. ISBN 1-876843-05-5."In the generic sense, [Gaijin] refers to all foreigners; but in daily usage it designates only Caucasians—that is, those foreigners who are worthy of admiration in some respects"
  10. 1 2 Koshiro, Yukiko (1999). Trans-Pacific Racisms and the U.S. Occupation of Japan. Columbia University Press. p. 114. ISBN 0-231-11348-X.
  11. 高木, 市之助; 小沢正夫; 渥美かをる; 金田一春彦 (1959). 日本古典文学大系: 平家物語 (in Japanese). 岩波書店. p. 123. ISBN 4-00-060032-X.
  12. A. Matsumura (ed.), Daijirin (大辞林), (p. 397, 9th ed., vol. 1). (1989). Tokyo: Sanseido. "がいじん【外人】② そのことに関係のない人。第三者。「外人もなき所に兵具をととのへ/平家一」"
  13. A. Matsumura (ed.), Daijisen (大辞泉), (p. 437, 1st ed., vol. 1). (1998). Tokyo: Shogakukan. "がいじん。【外人】② 仲間以外の人。他人。「外人もなき所に兵具をととのへ」〈平家・一〉"
  14. 1 2 "外人". Kōjien (5 ed.). Iwanami. 1998. ISBN 4-00-080111-2. がいじん【外人】① 仲間以外の人。疎遠の人。連理秘抄「外人など上手多からむ座にては」② 敵視すべきな人。平家一「外人もなき所に兵具をととのへ」
  15. (Japanese) 鞍馬天狗, Ohtsuki Noh Theatre.
  16. M. Yamaguchi et al. (eds.), Shinkango jiten (新漢語辞典), (p. 282, 2nd ed., vol. 1). (2000). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten Publishing. "【外人】② 局外者。他人。「源平両家の童形たちのおのおのござ候ふに、かやうの外人は然るべからず候」 "
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 Gottlieb, Nanette (2005). "Language and Society in Japan". Cambridge University Press: 117–8. ISBN 978-0-521-53284-6. "Gaikokujin is uncontroversial and simply means a person who does not hold Japanese citizenship; it is the more common contracted version that has been the subject of irritated complaint: people may be pointed at by children and have the word gaijin either shouted or whispered though this is much less common in Japan today than it was thirty years ago. At a deeper level, though, it is the connotation of exclusion and oddity that irks, particularly when the term is combined with the adjective hen na to mean 'peculiar foreigner,' a term once often heard on Japanese television shows. The term gaijin itself is included these days by most broadcasters on their list of terms best avoided."
  18. Japan Statistics Bureau, accessed 8 December 2007 Archived December 25, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  19. Lee, Soo im (2006). Japan's Diversity Dilemmas: Ethnicity, Citizenship, and Education. iUniverse. p. 102. ISBN 0-595-36257-5.
  20. Reischauer, Edwin O. (1981). Japan: the Story of a Nation. Alfred A. Knopf. p. 255.
  21. Wilkinson, Endymion (1980). Japan versus Europe: a History of Misunderstanding. London: Penguin Books. p. 126.
  22. 1 2 Koshiro, Yukiko (1999). Trans-Pacific Racisms and the U.S. Occupation of Japan. Columbia University Press. p. 254. ISBN 0-231-11348-X.
  23. 1 2 3 Lie, John (1999). Multiethnic Japan. Harvard University Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-674-01358-1.
  24. Creighton, Millie (1997). "Soto Others and Uchi Others: Imaging racial diversity, imagining homogeneous Japan". In Weiner, Michael. Japan's Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity. Routledge. p. 212. ISBN 0-415-13008-5.
  25. 1 2 Tsuda, Takeyuki (2003). Strangers in the Ethnic Homeland: Japanese Brazilian Return. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-12838-X.
  26. Sibley, Adam (2008-02-13). "NOAH limits as Japan hits". The Sun. Retrieved 2009-03-13.
  27. Suzuki, Jiro; Sakamoto, Mickey (1976). "Discrimination against foreigners of Japanese descent in Japan". In Veenhoven, Willem Adriaan; Crum Ewing, Winifred. Case Studies on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: A World Survey. Stichting Plurale. p. 274. ISBN 90-247-1779-5.
  28. Meredith Stuart, Paul (1987). Nihonsense. Tokyo: The Japan Times, Ltd. pp. 3–5."Not all foreigners are gaijin to Japanese and quite a few natives of Japan are gaijin. There is a logic to this mess, but it is hardly logical. It is true that 'American' (Amerikajin) is a synonym for gaijin for many Japanese. At one time, at least when the U.S. auto industry was undisputed leader of world autodom, the term connoted awe and respect."
  29. Kitahara, Michio (1989). Children of the Sun: the Japanese and the Outside World. Sandgate, Folkestone, England: Paul Norbury Publications. p. 117."For example, gaijin literally means a "person from outside," namely a foreigner, and that means "Caucasian." To describe a Japanese person in this manner is a compliment to him or her. To be "similar to a foreigner" (gaijin-no youna) means to be similar to a westerner, and this too, is a compliment."
  30. 1 2 Thomas Dillon, "Born and raised a 'gaijin', Japan Times, December 24, 2005
  31. Wada, Minoru (20 June 1994). "Education behind the scenes". The Daily Yomiuri: 9.
  32. Sugihara, Kaoru; Allan, John Anthony (1993). Japan in the Contemporary Middle East. Routledge. p. 150. ISBN 0-415-07521-1.
  33. Whiting, Robert (2004). "The Meaning of Ichiro". Warner Books: 152. ISBN 0-446-53192-8.
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