Gaijin (外人, [ɡai(d)ʑiɴ]; "outsider", "alien") is a Japanese word for foreigners and/or non-Japanese national. 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 is typically used to refer to foreigners of non-East Asian descent.[1][2][3][4][5][6] "Gaijin" usually does not refer to Wajin born and raised in other countries or other East Asian ethnicities.[1][7]

Many consider it an ethnic slur and feel that the word has come to have a negative or pejorative connotation,[8][9][10][11][12][13] while some maintain it is neutral.[14] Gaikokujin (外国人, [ɡaikokɯꜜ(d)ʑiɴ]; "foreign-country person") is a more neutral and somewhat more formal term typically 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 (平家物語):

Assembling arms where there are no gaijin[note 1]

Here, gaijin refers to outsiders[16][17] and potential enemies.[18] 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.[18] The Noh play, Kurama tengu has a scene where a servant objects to the appearance of a traveling monk:[19]

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.[20]

The word gaikokujin (外国人) is composed of gaikoku (foreign country) and jin (person). Early citations exist from c. 1235,[21] but it was largely non-extant until reappearing in 1838.[22] The Meiji government (1868–1912) further 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 (内国人; "inside-country people", "countrymen") came to include nationals of these imperial territories.[citation needed] 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.[23]


Foreigners in Japan in 2000 by country of citizenship. [24]

While all forms of the word mean "foreigner" or "outsider", in practice gaijin or gaikokujin are commonly used to refer to foreigners of non-East Asian descent.[1][2][3][4][5][6] For example, other East Asian ethnic groups such as ethnic Chinese and Koreans residing in Japan are typically not referred to as gaijin (外人), but by their ethnicity directly, or zainichi (在日), or for ethnic Chinese specifically, kakyō (華僑).[25][26][27] 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 frequently tour the country.

Japanese speakers commonly refer to non-Japanese people as gaijin even while they are overseas.[7][28][29] This interpretation of the term as neutral in tone continues for some.[10][14][30][31] However, though the term may be used without negative intent by Japanese speakers,[8] it is seen as derogatory[11][12][13] and reflective of exclusionary attitudes.[8][9][23][32][30][33]

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 (1996)[10]

In light of these connotations, the more neutral and formal gaikokujin is often used as an alternative term to refer to non-Japanese people.[32][34] Nanette Gottlieb, Professor of Japanese Studies at the School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia, suggests that the term has become controversial and is avoided now by most Japanese television broadcasters.[23]

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