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Hafu: Dating as a ‘half Japanese’ woman in Japan

By Tabitha Wilders

Right, the disclaimer. This article is all about my own personal perspective and thoughts about dating in Japan as a hafu (a child of one ethnic Japanese parent and one non-ethnic Japanese parent) woman in her late(ish) 20s. I am aware that not everyone will have the same experiences as me and opinions will differ. Also, if you have read my previous hafu in Japan article, you will understand why I refer to myself as halfie or hafu. Disclaimer over.

Image: Tabitha Wilders

Now, a little bit about me. I was born in Tokyo to an English father and a Japanese mother. I speak both languages (although English is my stronger language), have experience living in both countries and know both cultures. I would say I’m very 50:50 in that sense, but others would argue (even myself at times) that I’m far more English than Japanese. Here, I want to share my personal experiences of dating in Japan as a hafu woman.

Halfie Women Treatment

Japanese culture is renowned for its general politeness and respect, qualities that I deeply appreciate about the culture. However, when it comes to the realm of dating, my experience as a half-Japanese individual has unveiled a different side of interactions. The contrast in how I am treated compared to Japanese women is unmistakable, a conclusion drawn from both personal encounters and observations.

On numerous dates, I’ve found myself bombarded with inappropriate questions. It’s disheartening how some individuals feel entitled to express their misguided opinions and views without any consideration, assuming, perhaps, that as a foreigner or halfie, I must inherently be more “open-minded.” Unfortunately, this often translates into a negative presumption, making it challenging to connect on a genuine level.

Even during nightly strolls, encounters with men on the streets take an uncomfortable turn. Phrases like “gaikoku jin?” (are you a foreigner?) or “wah hafu jann” (wow, you’re a halfie!) are delivered in a sleazy manner that I’ve rarely seen directed at Japanese women. The brazenness of these encounters, combined with unmentionable remarks, is not just disheartening but also reflective of an underlying concern.

Personal space and boundaries seem to be mere suggestions in these situations. Numerous dates have unfolded where the guy stands or sits uncomfortably close to me in public. It’s not due to a lack of space or excessive noise; it’s a deliberate act to showcase the presence of a non-Japanese-looking halfie beside him. This behavior, I believe, reflects a desire to assert a certain status or perhaps an attempt to make a statement, leaving me both frustrated and disappointed.

Strange Bragging Rights

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In the US ancestry doesn't mean much. Most everyone is a product of many nationalities. But Japan has the most pure blood population in the world. When I was teaching, the Japanese students I had were confused when I told them I was German (Pennsylvania Deutsch and German), English, Navajo, and Cherokee. They had a hard time wrapping their minds around that. Most people in the US are of mixed ancestry, so it doesn't matter much there. I married a women whose ancestry was Irish, German, Black Irish, and Scottish.

It is too bad the hafus go through what they do. It is somewhat understandable, but in these modern times one would think the Japanese (pure Japanese) would not mind so much. Most people from the US and European countries wouldn't even pay it any mind. But most of us don't really understand the purity of Japanese people nor do we understand its importance.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

The contrast in how I am treated compared to Japanese women is unmistakable

what else??

-19 ( +0 / -19 )

If English is Tabatha's stronger language, she'll probably be more English than Japanese in personality. I believe it is impossible to learn Japanese to strongest language level without that level of immersion in ordinary Japanese society and the resulting socialization in Japanese ways. An international school in Japan and an English speaking home for example would not be my idea of "ordinary Japanese society". A white or brown kid who goes to Japanese school and hangs out with Japanese kids all the time will be more "Japanese".

I strongly advise everyone dating or just spending time with friends to not spend a lot of time contemplating why the other person is with you. "Is it only for my looks?", "is it only for my apparent wealth?", "is it only because I'm foreign and a bit exotic?" etc. etc. While one needs one's self defences, too much navel gazing on this topic will make you neurotic. There is also the "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" aspect in that it is just as acceptable to question Tabatha's own motivations in choosing date partners. Maybe she'd have more luck dating people who are simply kind than people who are tall, or good looking, or a bit international, or whatever criterion she is using. If she wants a lifetime partner, a short, fat, and kind one is probably a better bet than a tall and handsome narcissist.

Numerous dates have unfolded where the guy stands or sits uncomfortably close to me in public.

It's thirty years ago, but I dated two women several times where I respected their personal space and may have held hands on the third date, I don't quite remember. Anyway, I later learned that other men had slept with them on the first date. Taking it slow can be taking it too slow. "He never showed me any intimacy" etc. etc.

6 ( +11 / -5 )

The half women I have seen are usually above average in looks. Gift or curse? At least as they age the male attention will plummet.

-3 ( +6 / -9 )

Interesting, brave, honest article. People do seem to get really hung up about this stuff. Not sure why.

Many of the issues noted here are just variants of the problems experienced by everyone engaging in the meat market that dating is. Substitute different characteristics and the problems will just morph a little.

Most people on dates are really quite nervous, so a lot of the behaviour you see will be atypical. When we are nervous, we are not our usual selves and behave like idiots, especially after a bit of alcohol. And for many singletons, a date can be quite a rare experience, outside their comfort zone. Serial daters may forget this.

Having a foot in both camps and being comfortably bilingual must be great. Enjoy it. There will be way more benefits than negatives.

I would suggest that going on lots of dates might not be a good idea for anyone. Hang out with your friends and have a good time. You'll probably meet someone through work or circumstance.

quote: These men treat the relationship as a status symbol.

Trophy wives/dates are a thing and always have been, but it's not mandatory.

quote: it becomes unsettling when the primary reasons for dating someone are reduced to their mixed heritage.

That what parents want. Decent income. Maybe a doctor or lawyer. No inheritable genetic defects. Mixed heritage is just one of the more obvious desirable characteristics for many. It's a recognition of desirable status - something potential in-laws will always like you for, without you having to lift a finger. Hardly a problem. You are expecting too much of people. Maybe be a bit less spiky. Parents are parents and that's how they are. Wait until you are in their position and see how you behave. :)

quote: Some men openly express a dream of dating or being with a foreign girl.

And so do some women. It happens. Everyone has preferences. It's natural.

quote: am I valued for who I am, or is my identity as a halfie.

Stop worrying about what others think and just get on with life. What you think about yourself is what matters. You have to take others as you find them, with all their imperfections.

Don't yearn to be acknowledged, or you will waste your time trying to win plaudits. Life is for living. Worry less about others, their opinions of you, and how they behave towards you, and enjoy each day as it comes, being the person you want to be. Eventually you will meet someone and just click.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

My child is half, and life was hard in school with bullying that my child had to leave country and me too and so I could continue raising my child with love only a mother could provide. I miss Japan; however, it is not a country for children who go to school the pressure and the bullying is very severe. I don't say these words lightly, I love Japan and the people with all my heart and miss my home there something terribly and I write these words for the hope of change and where children can grow without stigma and with more empathy.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

Being a hafu woman should be less of an issue as of today...

Just last night, the new Miss Japan 2024 was crowned... and she is a full-blooded Ukrainian (both parents). But she is a Japanese citizen (she acquired Japanese nationality in 2022, after spending much of her life in Japan).

So the officially crowned most beautiful Japanese woman this year has no Japanese DNA.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Made me think of all those "poor charisma men in Japan, who suddenly find themselves objects of desire to certain J-girls due to their foreign status, lol. Ah, the tough life. But seriously , no doubt there are plenty of Japanese who wanna date foreigners or haafu just hoping for their own "coolness" levels to zoom up. If that is how it feels for Tabitha on a date with a particular guy just give him the flick, she is a good looking girl and can date many a foreigner from a multicultural country for whom haafu or any sort of a mixed partner is absolutely normal. As for the situation when she is approached with “gaikoku jin?” (are you a foreigner?) or “wah hafu jann” (wow, you’re a halfie!) are delivered in a sleazy manner. - just sprinkle the sleazy J dudes with rapid off the cuff English , 90% of them will not be able to talk back.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Get over it - life is to short to dwell on petty issues. My "hafu" kids have created beautiful lives in Japan with Japanese spouses, though, ironically, my son-in-law now plans to move to the US.

I'm from California and would say from experience that there is a greater difference between Angelenos and Japanese than, say, Bostonians.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

Just last night, the new Miss Japan 2024 was crowned... and she is a full-blooded Ukrainian (both parents). But she is a Japanese citizen (she acquired Japanese nationality in 2022, after spending much of her life in Japan).

I smell a hidden agenda! What gave her the one up over the other Japanese ladies? Maybe her Ukrainian language skills LoL! Because it certainly wasn't her looks.

-12 ( +0 / -12 )

As a "half" also but male... I can tell some stuff.

1) This is from the language point of viex, but your dominating language influence how you think and how you perceived things.

There are research papers related to this, but also from personal experiece. The language that you use mostly affects in almost every aspect of once life. I have experience that first hand too. there have been periods of my life where I use heavily one particualar language at the time (Spanish, English or Japanese), in each of those periods how I engaged with people or situations changed from language to language.

2) I get that "wah ha-fu no hito" time to time even now. But most of the time I don't get it as a slur.... Given I don't give much attention to that sort of comments... I am a cynic and fatalist so in my mind when i get those types of comments usually I go "Yes, you have stated teh obious BRAVO!!"... I don't say that ever, 'cause well common sence.

But again I have never got it as a slur, if people intendet to be so well it was lost in translatiion then.

3) How you are being approached by people (male japanese), that may have many reasons, but two I am sure can be appointed.

a) The type of people that you hang out with... If you go meet people to a bar or disco in Roppongi, or simil the average type of male you are going to get are those types of airheads morons.

b) How you are being introduced by your friends or acquiantances,

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I think is has a lot to do with how you present yourself, who you hang out with, and where. I have seen many so called hafu having a very good and pleasant times with all types of men and or Women not only in Japan but in many parts of the world.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Articles like this are interesting to read, because in the end, they are about individual life stories. And the truth is that it is impossible to condense everything into a short article. There is no way to truly discuss the issues.

Anyone that has grown up in Japan who has not grown up in a traditional Japanese family or any 100% Japanese who has spent significant time overseas while growing up knows that things are different and life experiences are different. It is just a statement of fact. As an individual, you ARE different.

Many 100% Japanese women who have grown up overseas for a significant part of their lives ARE different from 100% Japanese woman who have grown up in a traditional setting in Japan. They may not have exactly the same experiences of a "hafu" female, but they may have similar experiences. Perhaps for different reasons.

It's not just a question of where you live, it's also a question of what you are comfortable with.

I grew up in Japan as a 100% non-Japanese. But Japan helped define me as a person, which meant that when I returned to the U.S. for college, there was a culture shock. Similarly, I went to high school with a girl who was 100% Japanese but had lived in the U.S. for much of her life because of her father's work. And there was no way she would have fit in at the local Japanese high school. And she ended up going to college in the U.S. and marrying an American guy who grew up in Japan his entire life.

A woman I dated for a number of years while in Japan as an adult was hafu. Her father was a foreigner, her mother Japanese, and she grew up her entire life in Japan and went to international school. And while she was obviously internationalized, her home was Japan. In the end, she had to make a choice as to where she called home and, more importantly, the type of home setting that would make her happy.

This writer's experiences and her musings are worth reading. Nevertheless, this a very complicated subject and it is very personal and bespoke to whoever is in the situation.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I have discovered great merit in partnering with someone who can understand your full self. For example, if you are half and you date someone who cannot fully relate to all that you are, the relationship becomes difficult because you essentially have to repeatedly explain yourself or oftentimes keep quiet instead. If you partner with someone who can fully relate to your multicultural self, communication becomes so much easier and life becomes so much more enjoyable.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I'd like to add a caveat to my comment, which may have read as unfairly critical of the author. The article felt very personal, so that's the level at which I responded to it at.

Articles on casual racism in the media are generally designed to raise awareness and reduce it, but on the JT or GP, they are preaching to the converted, and won't reach the audience they need to.

I think the author has high standards in her attitudes to others, and is disappointed that others don't have such standards. Being persistently disappointed over stuff like this weighs you down, and it's not a good idea to dwell on what others think of you in this context.

Between the 70s and the early 21stC I've seen behaviour improve in this area, organically, as we travelled more as tourists, worked abroad and crossed borders virtually online.

The rise of nationalism, Brexit, the push by governments to 'take back control' of their borders, a new cold war, more real wars, and the rise in animosity towards migrant workers, asylum seekers and tourists, has seen things degrade and become increasingly tribal. Governments have chosen this path and things will only get worse for minorities. In America, the progressives started a culture war that they are now losing. Abortion rights first, more to follow. They banked on youth, but Trump and a reversion to tribal sentiment under economic pressure were stronger.

So, whilst I may appear to be suggesting a lazy tolerance of casual racism, in dating and elsewhere, this is more about protecting yourselves from an increasingly toxic and hate-driven, tribalised society. If you are in a minority anywhere, things will get harsher. Toughen up and (for your own benefit) let this stuff bounce off without affecting you. Because there will be much worse ahead to cope with for a decade, or perhaps much longer. Having been caught out by the internet, governments will now focus on maintaining a deeply tribalised society going forward. So perhaps worry less about others, and focus on protecting yourselves in an increasingly bad world.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

What strikes me the most about this article is how many invalidating, gaslighty, denying comments are right down below it. So many reasons are suggested to express this thought ‘Oh, you had a bad experience with some(or rather many) Japanese guys BUT its not because its they are wrong but because its culture difference/you chose the wrong place/your biliguality is at fault wtc etc etc.’

Remember, regardless of culture and nationality all people of the world speak the same language in their heart that is of kindness and respect and if they dont it means they are lacking, not someone else.

what some on the streets tell you directly, others, more refined and elite and intelligent may quietly harbour in their hearts so place doesnt matter.

I have a huge respect for the author for seeing the things as they are without trying to decieve oneself or make excuses. This trait of yours will guide you through life profoundly regardless of anything anyone has to say.

I love Japan but I would never date a Japanese in a million years! :D

-8 ( +1 / -9 )

It's tough being a half especially as a female.

As a child you can be excluded from groups just because you are different. And that starts at kindergarten.

Then you always stand out, every move watched and any faux pas picked up straight away.

Then as you get to university your peers think you are an emotional refuge because your foreigners makes you more compassionate.

Guys think you are easier as the author said.

And you will never ever be fully accepted.

Luckily my daughter escaped to Europe which is a hundred times more advanced than Japan, emotionally and in respect for women.

-4 ( +5 / -9 )

Just last night, the new Miss Japan 2024 was crowned... and she is a full-blooded Ukrainian (both parents). But she is a Japanese citizen (she acquired Japanese nationality in 2022, after spending much of her life in Japan).

So the officially crowned most beautiful Japanese woman this year has no Japanese DNA.

Sad. It's always best when Miss contests are won by women belonging to the ethnic group of the respective country.

-7 ( +1 / -8 )


How do you smuggle that into this.

Truly unhinged.

Whilst I have sympathies for the young lass, the piece is self indulgent waffle.

Everyone has it hard for some reason, thats life.

It is insulting to physically unattractive people, who are playing this game on max difficulty with no equipment.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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