■ A 差別表現 is a word, phrase, or image that is perceived as showing or suggesting discrimination or prejudice against a person or group of people. Such words or phrases are also called 差別用語(さべつようご).

□ Most of the 差別表現 that are regarded as particularly problematic in Japanese are those related to social class, physical and mental disabilities, occupations, national and ethnic minorities, and, to a lesser extent, gender and sexual orientation.

Social Class

The focus of most controversies over 差別表現 related to social class has been expressions that refer to, or seem to refer to, people who have been systematically discriminated against for centuries in Japan based on their occupation, place of residence, or family background. In the 江戸時代 (えどじだい "Edo period"), those classes of people were called 穢多(えた) or 非人(ひにん) and were subjected to extensive, legally enforced oppression. The term 穢多 was applied primarily to people working in occupations such as animal processing and leatherwork and to their families and descendants, while 非人 referred to low-level entertainers, prison workers, and the very poor. These words are still used today in writings about history, but they are clearly derogatory if used in reference to contemporary people.

Although a law was passed in 1871 eliminating the legal categories of 穢多 and 非人, prejudice and discrimination continued thereafter and remain to this day. Some terms that came to be used after 1871, including 新平民(しんへいみん literally, "new regular people") and 部落民(ぶらくみん literally, "village people"), continued to reflect prejudice and are no longer used in the mass media.

The term 被差別部落(ひさべつぶらく literally, "discriminated-against villages") is now the most common word that refers to the areas where people who have suffered class discrimination have lived. The issues of social class discrimination and its elimination are referred to as 同和問題(どうわもんだい literally, "integration issues").

Physical and Mental Disabilities

Because of enduring prejudice and discrimination against people with physical and mental disabilities, many derogatory terms that refer to such people are regarded as 差別表現 and are rarely seen or heard in the media. These terms include めくら "blind" (also written 盲 or 瞽), つんぼ "deaf" (also written 聾), びっこ "lame" (also written 跛), and 気違い(きちがい "crazy").

Due to acute sensitivity about these issues, it is common for publishers, broadcasters, and others to avoid words that do not actually refer to a disability but merely seem to suggest it by etymological or other similarity to a 差別表現. For example, words that include the kanji 盲 or 狂(きょう "crazy") may be replaced by other words even when no discrimination is expressed or implied. There has been much unresolved controversy over whether idioms such as 片手落ち(かたておち "unfair, prejudiced") are 差別表現 because 片手(かたて "one hand") might evoke negative images of people who have only one arm.

The most widely accepted word used to refer to people with disabilities is 障害者(しょうがいしゃ "handicapped person"). For example, blind people are referred to as 視覚障害者(しかくしょうがいしゃ), the physically handicapped as 身体障害者(しんたいしょうがいしゃ), and the deaf as 聴覚障害者(ちょうかくしょうがいしゃ). Some people prefer instead terms that do not seem to identify people solely by their disabilities, such as 障害を持(も)つ人(ひと) "people with disabilities."


Among the occupations that have been the subject of discrimination in Japan are animal processing, leatherwork, personal services, and cleaning and trash collecting. For example, the word 屠殺(とさつ "the slaughter of animals") includes the kanji 殺 "to kill, to murder," so it is now often avoided in the media. 屠殺場(とさつじょう "slaughterhouse") may be replaced, for example, with 屠場(とじょう) or と場. A number of terms referring to servants or manual laborers, such as 女中(じょちゅう "maid") and 工夫(こうふ "manual laborer"), are also avoided by the media.

National and Ethnic Minorities

The complexity of Japan's relations past and present with its neighbors in Asia and with people of non-Japanese nationality or descent living in Japan has caused some expressions that refer to non-Japanese or to other countries to be regarded as 差別表現. The word 支那(しな), for example, was commonly used in Japan before and during the Second World War to refer to China, but it is no longer used in this meaning in publications and broadcasting. The term 鮮人(せんじん) and other words that abbreviate 朝鮮(ちょうせん "Korea") as 鮮 are also regarded as 差別表現. One of the first Japanese words learned by most Westerners who become acquainted with Japan is 外人(がいじん "foreigner, especially one who appears to be of European descent"), and it has also been identified as 差別表現 and is avoided to some extent by the media. The term 外人選手(がいじんせんしゅ)was once the usual term for foreigners who play on Japanese sports teams, but a search of the Saga Shimbun article database in March 2001 found only one hit, compared to 648 hits for 外国人選手(がいこくじんせんしゅ).

Gender and Sexual Orientation

There are many terms in Japanese that seem to place women in a special, segregated status, but relatively few have been widely identified as 差別用語. Some feminists and others object to terms like 女流作家(じょりゅうさっか "women writers") and OL, but the words continue to be common.

Two slang words that refer to gay men, お釜(おかま) and ホモ, often seem to be used in a derogatory way. While not used in formal writing, these words are still seen in publications that would not print 差別用語 that refer to social classes or disabilities.


The issue of 差別用語 has several conflicting aspects. One is the desire of people who have been the victims of discrimination and of their supporters to discourage the use of language that might help to perpetuate the discrimination. Another is the desire of writers and speakers to be able to use whatever terms they want to, especially if they do not intend anything derogatory by them.

Caught in the middle are the print and broadcast media, which have not always responded to the conflicts with the greatest wisdom. They often approach 差別用語 issues by banning outright a long list of terms regardless of the contexts in which they are used, and they frequently substitute alternative terms without obtaining the consent of the writers and without informing their readers or listeners that changes have been made. There have been a number of public battles over the mindless banning of supposed 差別用語--a practice sometimes derided as 言葉狩り(ことばがり "word hunting")--but the fundamental issues remain unresolved.


The following book was consulted during the preparation of this entry and is recommended for those seeking more information: 『差別表現の検証 マスメディアの現場から』(西尾秀和, 講談社, 2001). Reference was also made to the lists of supposed 差別表現 that appear at this page, which is linked from a page that discusses some other language-related issues as well; at this page of unclear origin; and at this personal Web site.

This entry was created by Tom Gally, with additional contributions by Benjamin Barrett, Brian Chandler, Michael Turner, and Maynard Hogg.

Created 2001-03-18. Explanation of 屠場 and と場 modifed at suggestion of BB 2001-03-19. Explanation of links to word lists expanded at suggestion of BC and MT 2001-03-19. Reference to 言葉狩り added at suggestion of MH 2001-03-22.

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