Photo: Tetsuro Miyazaki
lifestyle

Japan's schools are in total denial over diversity

26 Comments
By Victoria Vlisides

At first glance, you wouldn’t have the slightest notion that my ethnic heritage is part Native American. The truth is, I don’t know much about it, either. My part-European and part-Native American grandfather refused to speak of it until medical reasons made it a dire necessity. My mother, however, instilled in me a pride about my roots that my grandfather didn’t possess.

Unlike a person raised to think that it’s OK to be different, there are many children in Japan who still don’t get a chance to form their own positive spin on their ethnic identity. They often come from mixed-roots backgrounds and in Japan they are labeled: hafu.

The term hafu is commonplace for someone who has one parent of Japanese descent and one parent who is of foreign descent. For those unfamiliar with the term, it does come preloaded with its fair share of controversy and negative undertones. It can imply that someone is “only” half — and lead to the larger perception of just how Japanese is “Japanese enough”? In 2015, the Miss Universe Japan crown went to half-African American, half-Japanese Ariana Miyamoto and one year later, the 2016 crown went to half-Indian, half-Japanese Priyanka Yoshikawa.

Cdb3pLWUAAAXDqz.jpg
In 2015, the Miss Universe Japan crown went to half-African American, half-Japanese Ariana Miyamoto. Photo: @ArianaMiyamoto

While I am no advocate of anything that involves judging women on their wearing of glittery nightgowns and bikinis, pop-culture moments like this brought the conversation to the forefront. Yet it has faded since then, as most pop moments do.

The general attitude about diversity in Japan is that the concept itself is as foreign as, well, foreigners.

Do Japanese people still believe this? Or is the younger generation merely acquiescing to a cultural perspective passed down from their elders? Like other non-Japanese people living here, I can’t speak to being half. Neither am I a parent. But as a former assistant language teacher (ALT) who worked in three Japanese public high schools, I did encounter the cognitive dissonance that surrounds hafu children and how they can be treated and talked about at school.

Click here to read more.

© GaijinPot

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

26 Comments
Login to comment

If they are born in Japan, then they are simply Japanese

Well, that's got nothing to do with whether you're Japanese or not. You don't become Japanese simply by being born in Japan (unlike say the US, where the children of visitors can automatically become American just due to when their mother entered the country).

To be Japanese you need to have at least one Japanese parent when you're born, or naturalise.

I want them to return some day and lead Japan out of the Dark Ages. Serious. Our purebreds are destroying their culture.

Eh? Are you suggesting that Japanese culture is being destroyed by "purebred" foreigners, or by people with two Japanese parents? Either way, that statement seems pretty offensive to me.

Japan can function perfectly well with or without mixed-race citizens.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Japan's schools are in total denial over diversity

Schools are meant to learn conformity not diversity.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

"Miss Universe Japan crown went to half-African American, half-Japanese Ariana Miyamoto..."

This to me means the following. She is 1/2 Japanese, 1/4 African (some place in Africa), and 1/4 American (Which can be part of anything including Japanese.

American is not a race, culture or ethnic group. It is a bunch of people living in a very diverse mini-world all holding the same passport.

I proudly say I am American. If people want to dig deeper and I am in th mood to break down my biological and DNA heritage, a few cups of coffee will be in order.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Aly - Canada? The weather there is cr@p! And the people are so friendly that you almost want to smack them. Being an American, I've met more Canadians in Japan than I ever met in the U.S. Relative to the population of Canada, there is a much higher percentage of Canadians here than Americans, so there must be something wrong with Canada. And the Brits - the same. Again, must be something up with the weather back in merry ol' England.

Or maybe it's that they are more cultured and curious of the big wide world than Mericans?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I don’t find being called a half, quarter, mixed, or whatever to be a problem.

I find the micro aggressions and institutionalized racism to be the obstacles I face.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Priyanka Yoshikawa was not the successor of Ariana Miyamoto. Both of them entered in two different contests which they fortunately won. The circumstances surrounding the victory of Ariana were far different from that of Priyanka's. Also, Ariana was born and raised in Sasebo City where there was an American base. Priyanka, on the otherhand, grew up in the metropolitan environment of Tokyo, which has more foreign elements in it.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

My mother is Japanese, father American (German-Irish) and I don’t mind the term hafu, hapa or double and have never had a negative issue. As my name is Patrick or Patto in Japanese; it was obvious that I was Hafu...and I was in a Japanese first grade in 1970 in Zushi. No issues, no biggie...

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Jalapeno

Aly - Canada? The weather there is cr@p! And the people are so friendly that you almost want to smack them.

Yeah. Terrible isn't it.

Being an American, I've met more Canadians in Japan than I ever met in the U.S. Relative to the population of Canada, there is a much higher percentage of Canadians here than Americans, so there must be something wrong with Canada

Yep that sounds pretty American.

To each his own. But I will have to disagree with everything you said mate. No offense.

RealCDNT

All that is wrong with Canada is the current federal government. 

Mate, in my personal opinion Justin Trudeau is awesome and he is here to stay.

LOL To each their own. No worries guys. But its Canada for us if we can get there.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Chanea? I meant 'changes'.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Aly and Jalapeno...

All that is wrong with Canada is the current federal government. Once that chanea in 2019 all is well here - proximity to the USA notwithstanding. Hahaha

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

What's so great about diversity? A house divided will always crumble.

-9 ( +2 / -11 )

My kids are double halves. They're whole. They're now either in the States or soon headed there. Since they ARE half then I thought they should learn how the other half thinks and lives. It's tough but my family is quite embracing. Society there is quite mixed; halves, quarters, eighths, etc. I want them to return some day and lead Japan out of the Dark Ages. Serious. Our purebreds are destroying their culture.

The government seems to care little about the future of our youth; just support a revised constitution.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Absolutely nothing you can do to change the fact that Japanese use the term "hafu". Maybe one of the few good things about Tokyo is that hafu is so common people barely lift an eye. When I lived in Osaka, which is still a cosmopolitan city, there was a lot of whispering and staring at my son. It gets worse the more rural you get although there is by and large no bad intention.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

ugh...another article debating the pros and cons of haafu

That's not the impression I got of the article. To me, it is bemoaning the lack of diversity in Japanese schools, e.g., requiring all kids to have the same hair colour. This is an issue regardless of whether the kids are haafu. Some kids in Japanese schools have two NJ parents.

I find semantic discussions about the "haafu" expression as boring as anyone, but this article is not one of them. I know lots of people who assume my kids must speak perfect English and prefer sandwiches to onigiri. That is what the article is talking about. The average Taro who doesn't meet many kids may be excused his ignorance, but schools full of kids must do better. The number is creeping up to 1 kid in 10. We are not in the Edo period now.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Bosphorous - agreed. Very astute. But the Japanese tend to abbreviate words longer than three syllables, so saying someone is Japanese-American wouldn't fly. They might cut it to JAM, which wouldn't be a bad thing. Or a Japanese-Vietnamese could be JAV or JAVI. Or a Japanese-Brit could be JAB.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It simply means one of your parents has Japanese ethnicity and the other not.

What about 3/4 Japanese or 1/4 Japanese, should we call them "three-quarter" and "one-quarter"? Why labeling? Isn't it enough to refer to people by their names? If they are born in Japan, then they are simply Japanese (of American, European, or Middle-Eastern ancestry). Everybody has foreign blood in their veins if you dig deep enough, even so-called "pure Japanese".

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

 Can't believe this is happening in the 21th century...

That's because the term is used in non-negative way. It simply means one of your parents has Japanese ethnicity and the other not.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Nakanoguy - exactly. I haven't met many mixed race kids bemoaning the term.

Aly - Canada? The weather there is cr@p! And the people are so friendly that you almost want to smack them. Being an American, I've met more Canadians in Japan than I ever met in the U.S. Relative to the population of Canada, there is a much higher percentage of Canadians here than Americans, so there must be something wrong with Canada. And the Brits - the same. Again, must be something up with the weather back in merry ol' England.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

ugh...another article debating the pros and cons of haafu. i think quasi-journalists/bloggers make a bigger issue about this than the haafu kids themselves. if you don't like the term then use another one (british-japanese, bicultural, or even "double" **not sure if that's a real one but hey, to each his own).

 but i've never come across this term being used negatively, it's just a simple way for people, and kids, to understand when they hear a name like jennifer tanaka. and then the next question usually is, "Oh, where are you from?" But some people equate this term to the "N" word in america, which it isn't.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

I would hate if someone labeled me 'hafu' or something else. It's like putting a yellow star of David on you. Can't believe this is happening in the 21th century and this is a norm here.

-7 ( +3 / -10 )

My kid is Scottish/Japanese.

He has the spirit of the Samurai and the Highlanders.

Tough as old boots and wont take **** from anybody.

Just a pity he is so damn lazy. LOL

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I did encounter the cognitive dissonance that surrounds hafu children and how they can be treated and talked about at school

I don't doubt this is true, and would stress that some of this treatment and talking is from the school itself.

Having rules about non-black hair is institutional racism, and it would be foolish to assume that it stops just there. Rules that forbid all children, including the fair-skinned, from using sunscreen even fly in the face of medical advice.

As the article points out, unfortunately in the part that has been clipped here, demographics mean that we are at the point where the average-sized class already includes at least one haafu. There is no excuse for schools having practices that assume such people do not exist. Schools cannot be allowed to hide in the past.

A lot of these issues are introduced in the Haafu movie, which can be watched on Amazon video. It should be required viewing for every teacher and education administrator in Japan.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Hue MarToday  07:45 am JST

To my best knowledge, Japan call it "Double", not "Half (half)" anymore.

I've never, ever heard of any mixed-race people getting called "double."

13 ( +13 / -0 )

The general attitude about diversity in Japan is that the concept itself is as foreign as, well, foreigners.

I'll agree to that.

Like other non-Japanese people living here, I can’t speak to being half. Neither am I a parent.

I am a parent.

But as a former assistant language teacher (ALT) who worked in three Japanese public high schools, I did encounter the cognitive dissonance that surrounds hafu children and how they can be treated and talked about at school.

And because of that, I want to become Canadian and get out of Japan and to Canada

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The term hafu is commonplace for someone who has one parent of Japanese descent and one parent who is of foreign descent. For those unfamiliar with the term, it does come preloaded with its fair share of controversy and negative undertones.

Agree 100%

It can imply that someone is “only” half — and lead to the larger perception of just how Japanese is “Japanese enough”?

The other question becomes WHAT EXACTLY is Japanese and how do you define half? I have a friend- her paternal grandfather was 100% Japanese. He married a Malaysian woman. Their son, (my friend's father) in turn married a Filippina. They had my friend. My friend's father is what they call halfu. So what then is my friend? She's a Japanese Citizen, and actually looks very japanese, with a Japanese first and surname. She's actually also now married to a foreigner. What will their children be, I wonder?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

To my best knowledge, Japan call it "Double", not "Half (half)" anymore.

This article try to find a fire in no smoking place.

-14 ( +5 / -19 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites