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Headlines announcing Japan's surrender in World War II

Jap is an English abbreviation of the word "Japanese". Today, it is generally regarded as an ethnic slur, although English-speaking countries differ in the degree to which they consider the term offensive.

In the United States, Japanese Americans have come to find the term very offensive, even when used as an abbreviation. Prior to the Attack on Pearl Harbor, Jap was not considered primarily offensive. However, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Japanese declaration of war on the US, the term became derogatory, as anti-Japanese sentiment increased.[1] During the war, signs using the epithet, with messages such as "No Japs Allowed", were hung in some businesses, with service denied to customers of Japanese descent.[2]

History and etymology[edit]

WWII propaganda poster using a rhyming slogan in its text

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "Jap" as an abbreviation for "Japanese" was in colloquial use in London around 1880.[3] An example of benign usage was the previous naming of Boondocks Road in Jefferson County, Texas, originally named "Jap Road" when it was built in 1905 to honor a popular local rice farmer from Japan.[4]

Later popularized during World War II to describe those of Japanese descent, "Jap" was then commonly used in newspaper headlines to refer to the Japanese and Imperial Japan. "Jap" became a derogatory term during the war, more so than "Nip".[1] Veteran and author Paul Fussell explains the usefulness of the word during the war for creating effective propaganda by saying that "Japs" "was a brisk monosyllable handy for slogans like 'Rap the Jap' or 'Let's Blast the Jap Clean Off the Map'".[1] Some in the United States Marine Corps tried to combine the word "Japs" with "apes" to create a new description, "Japes", for the Japanese; this neologism never became popular.[1] In post World War II America, schoolchildren often referred to an unannounced test as a "Jap quiz" in reference to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The term has fallen out of favor and is largely replaced by "pop quiz".[citation needed]

In the United States the term is now considered derogatory; the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary notes it is "disparaging".[5][6] A snack food company in Chicago named Japps Foods (for the company founder) changed their name and eponymous potato chip brand to Jays Foods shortly after Pearl Harbor to avoid any negative associations with the name.[7]

Spiro Agnew was criticized in the media in 1968 for an offhand remark referring to reporter Gene Oishi as a "fat Jap".[8]

In Texas, under pressure from civil rights groups, Jefferson County commissioners in 2004 decided to drop the name "Jap Road" from a 4.3-mile (6.9 km) road near the city of Beaumont. Also in adjacent Orange County, "Jap Lane" has also been targeted by civil rights groups.[9] The road was originally named for the contributions of Kichimatsu Kishi and the farming colony he founded. In Arizona, the state department of transportation renamed "Jap Road" near Topock, Arizona to "Bonzai Slough Road" to note the presence of Japanese agricultural workers and family-owned farms along the Colorado River there in the early 20th century.[citation needed] In November 2018, in Kansas, automatically generated license plates which included three digits and "JAP" were recalled after a man of Japanese ancestry saw a plate with that pattern and complained to the state.[10]

Reaction in Japan[edit]

Koto Matsudaira, Japan's Permanent Representatives to the United Nations, was asked about the offensiveness of the term on a television program in June 1957, and reportedly replied, "Oh, I don't care. It's a [sic] English word. It's maybe American slang. I don't know. If you care, you are free to use it."[11] Matsudaira later received a letter from the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL),[12] and apologized for his earlier remarks upon being interviewed by reporters from Honolulu and San Francisco.[13] He then pledged cooperation with the JACL to help eliminate the term "Jap" from daily use.[14]

In 2003, the Japanese deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Yoshiyuki Motomura, protested the North Korean ambassador's use of the term in retaliation for a Japanese diplomat's use of the term "North Korea" instead of the official name, "Democratic People's Republic of Korea".[15]

In 2011, after the term's offhand use in a March 26 article appearing in The Spectator ("white-coated Jap bloke"), the Minister of the Japanese Embassy in London protested that "most Japanese people find the word 'Japs' offensive, irrespective of the circumstances in which it is used".[16]

Across the world[edit]

Jap-Fest is an annual Japanese car show in Ireland.[17] In 1970, the Japanese fashion designer Kenzo Takada opened the "Jungle Jap" boutique in Paris.[18]

Neutral sign advertising "Jap Rice" in Singapore

In Singapore[19] and Hong Kong,[20] the term is used freely as a contraction of the adjective "Japanese" rather than as a derogatory term. The Australian news service Asia Pulse has also used the term in 2008.[21]

The word Jap is used in Dutch as well, where it is also considered an ethnic slur. It frequently appears in the compound Jappenkampen 'Jap camps', referring to Japanese internment camps for Dutch citizens in the Japanese-occupied Dutch Indies.[citation needed]

In Brazil, the term japa is sometimes used in place of the standard japonês as both a noun and an adjective. Although not considered offensive in the vein of the English Jap, its use assumes a familiarity with the interlocutor that may be inappropriate in formal contexts.[22] Moreover, while common, the use of japa in reference to any person of East Asian appearance, regardless of their specific ancestry, carries a pejorative connotation.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 117.
  2. ^ Gil Asakawa, Nikkeiview: Jap, July 18, 2004.
  3. ^ "Jap". From the Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved November 30, 2008.
  4. ^ "Tolerance.org: Texas County Bans 'Jap Road'". Archived from the original on September 14, 2005.
  5. ^ "Jap", Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  6. ^ "Oxford Languages | The Home of Language Data". languages.oup.com.
  7. ^ [1] Archived July 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "The Nation: Fat Jap Trap". Time. February 28, 1972. Retrieved April 22, 2014.
  9. ^ "Texas Community in Grip of a Kind of Road Rage". web.archive.org. September 29, 2007.
  10. ^ Noticias, Univision. "¿Por qué en Kansas están retirando las matrículas de automóviles con las letras JAP?". Univision. Retrieved 2018-11-28.
  11. ^ "Protest envoy acceptance of 'Jap'". Densho. Pacific Citizen. 2 August 1957. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  12. ^ Miyakawa, Wataru (9 July 1957). "Reply to letter regarding use of term "Jap" on a television program". Densho. Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  13. ^ "Matsudaira sorry on acceptance of 'Jap'". Densho. Pacific Citizen. 9 August 1957. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  14. ^ "Matsudaira to cooperate in JACL campaign to depopularize 'Jap'". Densho. Pacific Citizen. 16 August 1957. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  15. ^ Shane Green, Treaty plan could end Korean War, The Age, November 6, 2003
  16. ^ Ken Okaniwa (9 April 2011). "Not acceptable". The Spectator. Retrieved 22 July 2012. His brief letter continued, noting that the term had been used in the context of the then-recent 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster still-ongoing; "I find the gratuitous use of a word reviled by everyone in Japan utterly inappropriate. I strongly request that you refrain from allowing the use of this term in any future articles that refer to Japan."
  17. ^ "Homepage". Jap-Fest. Archived from the original on 18 February 2015. Retrieved 1 August 2014.
  18. ^ William Wetherall, "Jap, Jappu, and Zyappu, The emotional tapestries of pride and prejudice"[permanent dead link], July 12, 2006.
  19. ^ Power up with Jap lunch, The New Paper, 18 May 2006
  20. ^ "Dept. of Jap. Studies. C.U.H.K. -- Dept. Info". www.cuhk.edu.hk.
  21. ^ "Chinese Capital Inflow to Leave Taiwan Vulnerable: Jap Newspaper". Asia Pulse. March 26, 2008.
  22. ^ "Combinações inusitadas do sushi brasileiro viram tendência até no Japão". www.uol.com.br.
  23. ^ Hypeness, Redação (July 7, 2017). "Ele desenhou os motivos pelos quais não devemos chamar asiáticos de 'japa' e dizer que são todos iguais". Hypeness.

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