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Useful Notes / Kotobagari

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Kotobagari ("word hunting") refers to the censorship of words considered politically incorrect in the Japanese Language. It often conveys negative connotations that sarcastically criticize the excess persistence in political correctness. Words such as...

  • gaijin ("outsider")
    • A ruder way of saying gaijin is to reverse the syllables, resulting in jingai, which translates to "not human", and often taken to mean "barbarity/inhumanity". These days, gaijin isn't always an insult. Jingai is. The most neutral word for "foreigner" is gaikokujin, which means "foreign country person".
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  • rai ("leper")
  • mekura ("blind")
  • tsunbo ("deaf")
  • oshi ("deaf-mute")
  • kichigai ("insane")
  • tosatsujou ("slaughter house")
  • hakuchi ("moron/retard")
  • pokopen ("Chinese person")
  • katawa ("crippled")

...are currently not used by the majority of Japanese publishing houses; the publishers often refuse to publish writing which includes these words.

Critics of kotobagari point out that the activity often does not serve the purpose of correcting the underlying cause of discrimination. For example, a school janitor in Japan used to be called a kozukai-san ("chore person", translates roughly to Mr/Ms. Spendingmoney, Pocketchange, Oddjob, etc). Some felt that the word had a derogatory meaning, so it was changed to youmuin ("task person").

Now youmuin is considered demeaning, so there is a shift towards using koumuin ("school task member") or kanrisagyouin ("maintenance member") instead. Linguist Steven Pinker calls this shift the euphemism treadmill. This tends to give rise to Unusual Euphemisms.


Other examples of words which have become unacceptable include the replacement of the word hyakushou for "farmer" with nouka, or the replacement of the word Shina for China written in kanji with the version written in katakana or with the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese name for China, Chuugoku. Japan's lowest class during Japan's feudal era were called eta ("heavily polluted"). Their descendants have been renamed burakumin ("village people" — no, not those guys), which has done nothing to change systemic prejudice against them. WWII saw the use of ianfu (comfort women) and jūgun-ianfu (military comfort women) for women working in military brothels, especially those women who were forced into prostitution as a form of sexual slavery by the Japanese military during the war.

Sometimes, kotobagari leads to confusing terminology. NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Company, runs a Korean language study program, but the language is called "Hangul" to avoid being politically incorrect. This is a result of both the North and South Korean governments demanding that the program be called by the name of one country. North Korea wanted the show to be called "Chosŏn language", taken from its full name, Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk (Democratic People's Republic of Korea). South Korea wanted "Kankoku language", from the Korean name of Daehan Minguk "Republic of Korea" (the characters would be pronounced "Daikan Minkoku'' in Japanese; literally translated, "The Greater Korean Popular State"). As a compromise, "Hangul" was selected, but this has led to the inappropriate usage of the term "Hangul" to refer to the Korean language. Which is like calling the English language "Alphabet".


In short, this is Japan's version of "Political Correctness". It's disturbingly common when the subjects of Japan's World War II atrocities and its discriminated minorities come up.

A variant, as mentioned below, generally prohibits mentioning actual illegal drugs (or legal but restricted drugs) by name and/or explicitly describing how to use them. Some common ways around this include the common appearance of the Fantastic Drug (in anime, manga, live action TV, literature, and the like), invoking And Some Other Stuff or other ways of vaguely describing the use, or other means of rules lawyering, though some references to actual drugs and their use do get through - usually if sufficient Refuge in Audacity is applied. Unfortunately, this also applies to journalistic reporting or educational material - all drugs are often referred to as "stimulant drugs," "narcotics," or similar, which leads to a lack of clarity and a fertile breeding ground for rumors, and very little publication/distribution of Harm Reduction material related to drugs in Japan.

A similar, albeit not as extreme version of this, happens in the Japanese video game industry when describing foreign versions of a game: When a Japanese video game is released in western countries and described in Japanese media, the western version is never called as such (In Japanese 西洋版 "seiyou-ban"), but as "the overseas/foreign version" instead (海外版, "kaigai-ban"). In this case, this is justified, as many Japanese companies release their games in other Asian countries besides the western ones, even if the ones geared for America and Europe are different from the Japanese and Asian ones.note  For similar reasons, the western users of those games are never called "westerners" (西洋人 "seiyoujin", much less the already mentioned "gaijin" or even the politically correct "gaikokujin") but "overseas/foreign users" for the same reasons.


Anime and Manga

  • In the original manga of Sgt. Frog, the aliens called Earth "Pokopen," which was a derogatory word that the Japanese used for China during the Sino-Japanese Wars. (Yes, it's a deliberate Take That!.) However, Japanese broadcast authorities won't let people use the word, so the anime has the aliens refer to Earth as "Pekopon" instead. Some dubs change it back to "Pokopen". Chinese translation of the series changed it to just "blue planet."


  • The Blue Hearts' first single, Owaranai Uta (An Endless Song) includes the word "kichigai" (lunatic) in its lyrics. This caused a bit of a stir, resulting in the word being excluded from official lyric writeups and obscured by a harsh guitar riff in the actual recording.
  • Generally, explicit references to drugs other than alcohol or tobacco by name or explicitly describing how to use them are prohibited. Visual Kei bands, whose lyrics often reference drugs, have come up with a variety of strategies ranging from Refuge in Audacity to being the Rules Lawyer, to use said lyrics or song titles. A couple of famous examples are BUCK-TICK's Speed, originally named Acid, but changed around so it could technically refer to "speed" in the sense of motion as opposed to the drug speed, with the line about popping a pill being censored in the official lyrics and only mouthed by Atsushi as he sings it, and Dir en grey's Egnirys Cimredopyh (read it backwards...).

Tabletop Games

  • Legend of the Five Rings, set in a fantasy-world take on feudal Japan crossbred with warring-states China, has the lowest social class as "eta". One wonders how they would handle that in a Japanese printing.
    • So does Sengoku, which uses the actual historical Jidaigeki era as its setting. It even tells you straight out that eta nowadays is even worse in Japanese than the N-word is in English.
  • Vampire: The Requiem has the Burakumin bloodline - and lately, the word "burakumin" has been deemed offensive as well, at least according to The Other Wiki. The bloodline originated within the mortal burakumin, and their bloodline weakness is that it's much harder for them to gain respect (the Status Merit, no matter what it's status in, is twice as expensive).

Visual Novels

  • The title of Katawa Shoujo invokes this; the doujin artist RAITA used the title for a concept sketch featuring a dating sim where all the romancable protagonists would have disabilities. When a Western dev team was formed to turn this game into a reality, they did not change the title despite its current status.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons — sort of inverted and Played for Laughs. When they go to Japan Bart uses the neutral "gaikokujin", but in the subtitles it's translated "foreign devils" note  .