Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

  • Main
  • Wikipedia
  • All Subpages
  • Create New

    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 roughly means "barbarity/inhumanity". These days, gaijin isn't always an insult. Jingai is. The most neutral word for "foreigner" is gaikokujin.
    • rai ("leper")
    • mekura ("blind")
    • tsunbo ("deaf")
    • oshi ("deaf-mute")
    • kichigai ("insane")
    • tosatsujou ("slaughter house")
    • hakuchi ("moron/retard")

    ...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 Stephen 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 ("tribal people") (which has done nothing to change systematic 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 "Republic of Korea" (literally translated as "The Greater Han 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 the "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 comes up.

    Examples of Kotobagari include:

    Anime & Manga

    • In the original manga of Keroro Gunsou, 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 we get "Pekopon" instead. Some dubs change it back to "Pokopen".


    • 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.

    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 Jidai Geki 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).

    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" [1] .
    1. which is actually a standard translation of a Cantonese racial epithet, Gwei Lo, not Japanese