12 Japanese Words You Use That Were Banned From TV
Ever notice people out there who take pride in knowing curse words in multiple languages despite not actually knowing anything else? I’m not sure what the attraction is to only knowing the bad words without actually caring about the language, but I guess some people just want to have the unbridled power to seriously offend people wherever they travel to?
I personally don’t really find Japanese curse words that thrilling, but what has left with me the real puzzling punch are the 放送禁止用語 or “Broadcast Prohibited Words.” These are the words that TV and Radio has decided are not appropriate for the masses. Now while I was hoping for something as in your face as George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words, what I got was another feeling of “Really Japan . . . again is this what you think is destroying the minds of Japanese youth?”
Now to be fair, there are plenty of racist, sexist, and nasty words that belong there. I agree with this list. No one wants to hear these on TV or anywhere for that matter.
But then there are also words that I assume these guys below added:
What shocked me about the list was how many words you probably are using in your normal Japanese speech that you don’t realize are considered inappropriate. How could this be since learning with immersion means mimicking what you watch on TV and in movies, and read in books? You hear a lot of these words everywhere. These broadcast prohibited words were just guidelines, and I think TV realized soon that some of they were over-broad. Over-broad enough to finally have this list revoked in 2008. Sorry NHK, you tried.
Here is a brief list of some of the most common words that I’ve used before that I didn’t realize I shouldn’t be:
1. 足を洗う (Literally “Clean your feet.” Often used by ex-Yakuza, ex-biker gang, ex-delinquents, ex-anything bad who are leaving and reforming to the normal, upright citizen world.
2. イカサマ (fake)
3. 田舎 (countryside – when referring to where someone is from)
4. インチキ (cheating fake, bogus)
5. OL (office lady)
6. ガキ (brat)
7. 芸人 (entertainer)
8. ハーフ (someone with one Japanese parent, one foreign parent)
9. デカ (detective)
10. 肌色 (In regards to a crayon color, “skin color”)
11. 坊主 (Buddhist monk)
12. やばい (dangerous, crazy, intense, and a long list of other meanings)
Do you find some of these offensive? What’s your opinion on why some of these words listed here were considered too nasty for TV? There are “official reasons” (which I’m not listing), but I’m more curious to see what you think the problems are. Also, the below website lists the words you should be using instead.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
Very interesting list! My take on it is that these words were added as a misguided attempt to not offend anyone, which stems from the Japanese culture of being respectful, not making waves etc.
I don’t think any of those words are offensive, but I can see how some people might think so. Especially ハーフ, which could be seen as degrading if you were to use that term in English (half) to refer to a person with mixed ethnicity. Here’s an article that discusses ハーフ: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2013/07/29/issues/there-is-more-to-my-son-than-the-fact-hes-a-half
However, I think that you have to look at the intention behind the word. I don’t think that Japanese people mean any harm when the use the term ハーフ, and it doesn’t have the some connotations that it has in English. It’s just the way you refer to a person with one Japanese and one non-Japanese parent.
I’m curious why you shouldn’t say ‘Buddhist monk’ on TV though? That has got to make things a bit difficult if you are making a program about history or religion haha.
ハーフ is definitely a confusing one and there seems to be a lot of mixed viewpoints on it. The site lists the proper alternative as 混血 (mixed blood), which doesn’t sound any better to me though!
According to the site, the proper way to say Buddhist monk is 僧侶 or お坊さん
Aha I see now. I thought you couldn’t say Buddhist monk at all, which doesn’t make any sense. :) What about OL? I’ve heard that one quite a lot. Is there are more proper way to say “female office worker”?
The polite way to go is 女子社員.
I think the objection to using 肌色 for a crayon colour is that skin colour varies between different ethnic backgrounds and pronouncing one colour as the “correct” colour for skin doesn’t reflect the diversity of skin colours in the world (or even in Japan).
Yeah I can definitely see that. At least it made slightly more sense in Japan (slightly less diversity), but as a kid in growing up in アメリカ having a 肌色 crayon was just silly.
It seems from all these lists that they are the Japanese version of politically correct terminology. I can see their good intentions, but I also see freedom of speech issues.
I would have expected ハーフ, ガキ, and 肌色 to be problematic (that the Japanese are aware of 肌色 being an issue surprises me a bit). Especially ハーフ is really quite a nasty word the way I’ve heard it used by bullies. While I didn’t know the expression 足を洗う, any ex-yakuza language is probably not welcome outside of shows actually depicting criminals. I hear you still can’t get into bath houses if you have tattoos, even if they are not actually yakuza tattoos?
But the others are a mystery to me.
I don’t see any freedom of speech issues here, as long as one can talk about those things on television with other words. Most of us choose our language every day; we don’t speak to our grandmothers the same way we talk with our buddies. And hey, if I am going to insult somebody I want to do it consciously, not accidentally because I am clueless or worse, careless about an issue.
I thought the reason they don’t allow people to go to onsen with any tattoo is to avoid direct discrimination on yakuza members and know exactly who is or is not. It’s a work around to also ban those members, but it gets applied broadly too (since a white American probably isn’t yakuza).
I’ve never personally had an issue with tattoos and onsen or hotel baths, either small local ones or more famous ones like Dogo. The tattoo itself is small, which I think helps, but I always tell the attendant that I have one, that it is small, and I always bring a sticky waterproof bandage to cover it with. I can’t speak for everyone with a tattoo, but this is my experience.
People with more or larger tattoos may have problems depending where they go, and sleeve tattoos would likely not be allowed anywhere. Some places may even reject small tattoos, but the blanket tattoo ban line is a myth.
The only place I’ve ever seen a sign outright prohibiting tattoos was at a capsule hotel in central Tokyo that had a communal bath. I’ve never been to an inner city sento, so can’t comment there.
I don’t find there are the words in this list to be particularly offensive. I was curious at school one time, since I heard my students constantly saying くそ which I thought was the equivalent of the word “shit”. But the teachers didn’t seem to mind that they were saying it in class and rather loudly and sometimes as a response to missing a question. So I asked my JTE “Are there any bad words in Japanese? Or are there any words that you are not allowed to say in class?”
They couldn’t think of any. It was more how you use the word and the context that made it “bad”. If it was directed at someone other than yourself then it could be considered offensive. I also believe using the “yakuza-type” speech patterns will of course be considered very rude and offensive as well. Now I am not saying this is 100%, but you are pretty safe using words as long as the context is appropriate. But I would go to the horse’s mouth and ask a Japanese friend or co-worker.