Are you Japanese?

HSS

Senior Member
Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
Suppose you are at a party. Someone who you never knew has walked up to you and asked you

'Are you Japanese?'

What would you construe this as?

Are you
(1) a Japanese national?
(2) any national of fully Japanese descendance?
(3) any natinal of predominantly Japanese descendance?
(4) any natinal with any degree of Japanese descendance?

I for one would interpret the question as 1 thruogh 3.

How about you? What would you think the query meant?

Hiro
 
  • sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Suppose you are at a party. Someone who you never knew has walked up to you and asked you
    'Are you Japanese?'
    What would you construe this as?
    I would think the asker was making a joke or something similar, since I have no Japanese ancestry.

    If he/she were to ask my granddaughter, who is half Japanese (born in the U.S.), however, I think she would leave the specifics open without making an assumption.
     
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    WyomingSue

    Senior Member
    English--USA
    it could mean any of the four possibilities, and would also mean that this person was very rude, as it is not polite to ask personal questions of people you don't know.
     

    You little ripper!

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    If someone asked me, “Are you Japanese?”, I would assume they meant your first two options. It’s probably politer to say, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I was wondering whether you had a Japanese background.” If I had some Japanese in me, I might say, “My father was Japanese and my grandmother on my mother’s side was also Japanese”.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    'Are you Japanese?'
    What would you construe this as?

    Are you
    (1) a Japanese national?
    (2) any national of fully Japanese descendance?
    (3) any natinal of predominantly Japanese descendance?
    (4) any natinal with any degree of Japanese descendance?
    You are asking about meaning. In the US, this question means (1). The other 3 refer to a person's race. If you wish to ask about race or ancestry, you ask "Are you of Japanese descent?".

    Walking in the local mall, I see descendents of many countries, and I hear several languages. It would be silly for me to think someone is Chinese because they look Chinese. Their family may have lived in the US (or UK or Canada) for 100 years, but kept the last name "Chen".

    Note that 20% of Americans speak a non-English language at home. My son-in-law speaks AE at home, but Korean at family gatherings: some family members don't speak English.
     
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    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I would think they were asking why I looked Japanese in the same way as I was asked in New York if I was Australian my accent isn't what the fool questionner thought a British accent should sound like.

    If such a personal question came out of the blue in a social setting without reference to anything in the conversation, it would be extremely rude. The questionner would no doubt for some reason be seeking to distinguish you from other nationalities with somewhat similar facial features.
    It is primarily a question about nationality. Of course, being realistic, if we talking to a person who speaks any variety of English perfectly, we assume they are natives because no non-native can speak exactly like a native.
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    I should have needed to work more on the context so that the rudeness wouldn't have been existent. I just wanted to know if the question is only about his/her nationality or if it includes ethniticity. It seems it means 1 in the strict sense but could also loosely mean 2 and 3 ... and maybe 4.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    You're over-thinking this far too much in my opinion. :(

    Let me give you a simple example. ;) When I was on holiday in Germany as a teenager with some school-friends, a few of the locals asked me (in German, obviously) if I was Italian. To this day I've never found out why, whether it was because I spoke German with an Italian accent, or whether I just looked Italian. But what they meant was "Do you come from Italy?"

    Exactly the same applies to your scenario of asking a complete stranger at a party whether they're Japanese. It's a simple straightforward question about where they're from, no more no less, and certainly nor what their ancestry or legal nationality is. I'd go one step further, in fact, and say that you'd need to know somebody quite well before any of that mattered.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    OK, I can answer as someone who has been mistaken as Japanese before. I have had people speak to me in Japanese (either Japanese people or non-Japanese shop assistants who end our interaction in English with a Japanese greeting). (Alas, I haven't an ounce of Japanese blood in me.) I'd understand it like Wyoming Sue (post 4) - any of the possibilities in the opening post - but I also agree with Donny (post 9) that the questioner wouldn't have been very clear whether they were asking about nationality or ethnicity themselves. All your possibilities are to do with different levels of prototypical Japanese-ness.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    'Are you Japanese?'

    I would understand this as

    Are you
    (1) of Japanese nationality?
    (2) any national of fully Japanese descendance?
    (3) any national of predominantly Japanese descendance?
    (4) any national with any degree of Japanese descendance?

    However, Japanese is not a good choice of adjective, as Japan is, in broad terms, a non-diverse culture. It might be clearer, for example, as "Are you South African?" - a question that can be asked of people of African, Asian, European, and Oriental backgrounds.
     
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