Regarding Hidesato Sakakibara’s Feb. 28 letter, “Term ‘gaijin’ has run its course“: When I arrived in Japan, it was another foreigner who presented “gaijin” to me as short for “gaikoku-jin” (someone from a foreign country). In Tahiti, where I come from, we use a similar expression: “Popaa.” It has become associated with white people since most foreigners there are white. I, too, have been called “Popaa” because of my Tahitian-French blood.
In Japan, I have occasionally been referred to politely as “gaijin-san” by Japanese people talking about me to each other, but no one has ever said anything like “Hey, gaijin, come over here” — which I would consider rude and possibly racist. In Tahiti, though, it is not unusual to hear locals address foreigners directly as “Popaa,” since there are no Tahitian words for “Sir,” “Madam” or “Miss.” It would be a mistake to react negatively to it.
I have always viewed “gaijin” as the Japanese equivalent of “popaa” and, consequently, have not made much of it. I think most foreigners don’t complain about the expression because, unlike, say, “Jap” or “Spic,” “gaijin” does not target a nationality or race. It remains neutral with regard to ethnicity. Yet I can see how it could be interpreted as racist, depending on context. I will, therefore, refrain from using the term from now on.
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