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Reading a Japan Times column, I see:

But we still have no word for an immigrant as an individual person, such as iminsha, with its own honorific sha — in the same vein as ijūsha (migrant), rōdōsha (laborer), teijūsha (settler, usually a Nikkei South American), zairyūsha (temporary resident), eijūsha (permanent resident) and even (in a few government documents) kikasha (naturalized citizen).

Does the above reasoning make sense?

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It makes no sense. 移民 can be an individual person, just like 国民, 市民 etc can. –  dainichi Jun 5 at 1:31

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Japanese (BCCWJ, http://www.kotonoha.gr.jp/shonagon) draws on published sources such as literature, newspapers, etc., as recent as 2005. The numbers for the words in question are

移民者{いみんしゃ} iminsha 8 results
移住者{いじゅうしゃ} ijūsha 181 results
労働者{ろうどうしゃ} rōdōsha 6982 results
定住者{ていじゅうしゃ} teijūsha 19 results
在留者{ざいりゅうしゃ} zairyūsha 25 results
永住者{えいじゅうしゃ} eijūsha 91 results
帰化者{きかしゃ} kikasha 1 result

The only result for 移民者 in online J-J dictionaries (accessible via http://www.kotobank.jp) is the title for the Swedish film "The emigrants" 移民者たち.

That said, 移住者, 定住者, 在留者 and 帰化者 are not in any of the dictionaries either.

I'm not sure what conclusions to draw from this. 移民者 is certainly very, very uncommon, but not unthinkable. That said, 帰化者 seems to be even less frequently used.

I see several problems with the argument here.

  • One problem might be that 移民 literally means the moving/migrating of a person, which makes 移民者 look like a little pleonasm, so that 移民者 might not exist because it sounds silly, not because the Japanese don't accept the concept of immigration.

  • Another problem is that all the other nouns (without 者) can used to form a verb with する, e.g. 移住する, 永住する, etc., which lends itself very well to form, say, 永住者 meaning "somebody who does 永住". Only 移民 doesn't have the corresponding 移民する.

  • Another thing I have to take issue with is describing the word/suffix 者 as "honorific". I don't think anything justifies this description, especially since "honorific" means something very specific when talking about Japanese, and that is suffices like さん, 様, 殿, etc., usually used for addressing someone (maybe the equivalent being Mr., Ms., etc.), not for describing someone.

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I think you are already saying it in your first problem with it, but maybe it could be slightly clearer that the character 民 already means person and can be put onto names itself. –  virmaior Jun 5 at 0:54
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FWIW, pleonasty (is that a word?) could be it. 移民者 makes my head run away with the repetitive redundancy of it, producing sillinesses like 移民者人. –  Eiríkr Útlendi Jun 5 at 1:02
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I think in your first of list of problems with the argument, you are misinterpreting the case being made in the article. In the context of this debate, "Japanese" is too broad a term. The article is saying that particular Japanese policy makers want to constrain the terminology. Whether or not a broader populace would find the word awkward is another, linguistic discussion. The politics is outside JL's scope, but linguistically, I agree the word 移民者 is awkward now, but only as a result of being uncommon. If some people chose to promote it by using it, it could potentially gain currency. –  Dave M G Jun 5 at 4:42
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@KenY-N Don't rely on Google hits! Click yourself through to the last page to get a reasonable estimate. In this case, Google only has 22 results without repetition and 87 results, including repetition... which is why I used the corpus. (In the corpus 0 results for は移民です.) –  Earthliŋ Jun 5 at 9:26
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@DaveMG Oh yes, I actually just skimmed over the article and caricatured what I picked up... I actually asked a couple of my friends: "Do you know the word 移民者?" "Yes." "But it doesn't exist." "Oh, right." What I think this means is that people understand what should be meant by 移民者, but any careful thought would expose 移民者 as being redundant and silly and so nobody would consciously choose to use it, at least not as long as they don't recognize it as being a common word. –  Earthliŋ Jun 5 at 9:42

I must be missing something obvious, but the article doesn't make sense to me

As far as I know, an immigrant as an individual person is ijūsha. The Toronto Japanese Community Association refers to itself as 新移住者協会, for instance (http://torontonjca.com/). The term imin, to my understanding, generally refers to migration or immigration itself, rather than the people. Adding -sha would be understood by most people though, I'd think, in the same way that immigrationer could probably be understood by English speakers.

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