Why is the foreign source of something often still marked in Japanese words?

The one that always surprises me is youfuku (洋服ー ようふく- Western clothes) when it would seem to be more sensible nowadays to mark out the very rarely worn Japanese clothes for a special name, but there are a few more such as using gaisha (外車ーがいしゃ- car from outside, or foreign car) much more than “foreign car” or “imported car” would be used in any other language I know.

The book I’m reading says that gaisha is a way of showing off because even recently non-Japanese cars were rare and almost always expensive imports (Korean cars and European hatchbacks being rarely if ever sold here), but I’m not convinced that this is still a factor, even if it was in 1990 when Gaishi- The Foreign Company in Japan was written. I also don’t think that 1% of Japanese using the word youfuku are actually thinking of jeans or a suit as foreign. Maybe it is simply that two kanji expressions like this are just two syllables and so as easy to say as kuruma (車ー くるまー car), if not easier.

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3 Comments

  1. alexcase said,

    August 28, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Come to think of it Gaishi, the name of the book, is another word that pops into conversation more than you’d expect, and certainly more than you’d say “I work for a foreign company” in any other countries I know. In that case, I guess it could be because Japanese would usually use the company name but they think that you might not know a foreign company??

  2. alexcase said,

    May 16, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Ryuugaku is another similar one – I don’t know any other country where the “abroad” bit of “study abroad” gets so much emphasis.

  3. Richard said,

    May 18, 2011 at 12:23 am

    I’m sure that “youfuku” is just used because of inertia. When Western clothes first became well-known (Meiji era I suppose) they were noticeably foreign, and so got the “you” prefix. The word, “youfuku”, became established and continued to be used even after Western clothes became the norm. Like you say, I doubt Japanese people think of jeans etc. as Western.

    Just had a quick look at the JWiki page. One interesting point on that page is that “fuku” now means “youfuku” rather than the Japanese clothing it would have done at one time.


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