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The ups and downs of being ‘half Japanese’ in Japan

38 Comments
By TABITHA WILDERS

irst things first. I hate to start off by putting out a disclaimer, but these are my own personal opinions and thoughts about being a hafu (half-Japanese) and my experience will/may differ from others. I do not expect everyone to agree with me. Please take what I say with a pinch of salt. Disclaimer over. Now a little bit about me…

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Photo: Tabitha Wilders

I was born in Tokyo to a British father and a Japanese mother. I attended an International School in Yokohama for eight years before moving to the UK. After completing my masters in London and working abroad for a couple of years, I finally returned. Here are my personal experiences of being a hafu in Japan.

The hafu or daburu debate

Hafu refers to a person who is half Japanese and half something else. Some are against this term and ask others to call them daburu (double). To them, daburu represents both cultures and ethnic heritages that make them who they are. They hear the word hafu and think it makes them sound like half a person. Others prefer hafu as it tends to be associated with kawaii (cute) or kakkoii (cool) stereotypes in Japan. Common stereotypes include the expectation for us to have an envious multiracial look and the ability to speak multiple languages.

My opinion? I’m personally not offended by the term hafu and here’s why. It’s because it doesn’t have a negative connotation attached to the term nor is it used in a derogatory way. I do not hear the word hafu and think of myself as half a person (sorry, that’s just ridiculous). Wouldn’t daburu mean that we’re two people then? Last I checked, I’m not two people either. If I had to give an alternative suggestion, perhaps “dual”? Can people argue with that one?

Coming out as ‘Japanese’

Click here to read more.

© Savvy Tokyo

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38 Comments
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It's somehow kinda sad people are still talking about this kind of thing decades after I first came to Japan. But these kids are gradually prising apart the insularity of the "island nation" and every good on 'em.

6 ( +15 / -9 )

Agreed, @Moonraker.

My kids have done ok, so far, and I'm very much proud of them and the way they've enjoyed their mixed heritage.

It's not even really a conversation topic here in Denmark. True, they don't look 'Japanese' in the traditional sense, but I know they feel happier here and much prefer European life to that in Japan.

-3 ( +12 / -15 )

How do they mean "half?" I tell my kids and others that my Japanese born kids are not "half." They are of many cultures. I always teach my kids the importance of knowing their cultural heritage on both sides of their family.

4 ( +12 / -8 )

There are no halves of anyone, there are only people. Why is so hard for people to accept that? Bi-cultural would be a better description.

9 ( +16 / -7 )

How do they mean "half?" I tell my kids and others that my Japanese born kids are not "half." They are of many cultures. I always teach my kids the importance of knowing their cultural heritage on both sides of their family.

But at the end of the day. They will still have to choose.

-16 ( +2 / -18 )

Traditional archery practice at the local budokan (not the famous one), and a kid openly describes my son as kimoi, apparently an abbreviated kimochi warui, for being half European.

A scared little bunny caught in the headlights of change, challenge and opportunity.

-1 ( +6 / -7 )

@REDwhiteblue the only reason why children with mixed heritage need to choose one (nationality, obviously they can keep their cultural heritage) is because Japan obliges them to.

3 ( +9 / -6 )

“Wow, your Japanese is really good!” she said. Yes, that’s right, I got complimented by a Japanese-speaking foreigner that I’m good at speaking my own language. Great....

I can be painfully British. My personality is more western, English is my stronger language by far and I lived in the U.K. for longer. My Japanese isn’t as good as it used to be...

So your Japanese isn't as good as your English, your personality is more western than Japanese, but you get upset when you get complimented on your weaker language? I don't get it. Surely that's a good thing, not something to get upset about.

-7 ( +7 / -14 )

But at the end of the day. They will still have to choose.

Then you can't call them half. If they have to choose, then either they are JAPANESE or they are NOT. To call them half is then racist.

-13 ( +9 / -22 )

Then you can't call them half. If they have to choose, then either they are JAPANESE or they are NOT. To call them half is then racist.

Not saying I agree with the term, but it generally means half-foreigner and not half-Japanese.

That is why they say "quarter" when someone is 1/4 foreigner.

They could do away with the word, but it still won't change the fact that most Japanese view our Japan-born mixed race children as foreigners.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

All children born in Japan should be Japanese but only the ones with at least one Japanese parent are, or when the child will be stateless.

Japanese law forces a child with a foreign parent to choose their citizenship by the age of 20 and refuses to recognize dual nationality. I suspect many do though.

Technically they are only "hafu" until they decide on their citizenship.

But it's not only the label they suffer but also discrimination from society, for jobs or housing for example.

A foreigner can become a Japanese citizen but outwards they will still remain and be treated like a foreigner.

3 ( +10 / -7 )

Not saying I agree with the term, but it generally means half-foreigner and not half-Japanese.

That is why they say "quarter" when someone is 1/4 foreigner.

They could do away with the word, but it still won't change the fact that most Japanese view our Japan-born mixed race children as foreigners.

I agree. Which is why we're trying to get to Canada. I can take the ignorance and bigotry here, but I don't want my kids to suffer as well.

-11 ( +7 / -18 )

It's somehow kinda sad people are still talking about this kind of thing decades after I first came to Japan.

Well that's Japan for you. Always behind.

But these kids are gradually prising apart the insularity of the "island nation" and every good on 'em.

I really do wish that were true and I don't mean to be a Negative Nancy, but I just don't see it. Like others said, our mixed children will suffer racism and general discrimination. In a country which is desperate for young people, you would think that they would think differently, but Japan seems hell bent on screwing itself. Madness.

-10 ( +7 / -17 )

Maybe combine daburu hafu and you end up as one.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

"Smart" in Japanese means slim or thin. It does not mean clever. "Bin" in the US means storage (e.g. on a plane). It does not mean "garbage can" as it does in the UK. Nobody has a problem with this. I would argue that they should not have a problem with the word "Haafu" in Japanese either, which clearly means mixed race/culture. It does not mean "50% of a person". Most haafus themselves are happy with the term.

As for the lives of haafu people, its a mixed bag. This is well illustrated by the "Haafu" documentary you can watch on Amazon Video etc. (it used to be and may still be free with Prime). I would agree with the documentary and other haafus that there are certain angles to being a haafu than probably don't exist as strongly for people who are mixed-race in most other countries. Some Japanese have a very constricted view of "Japaneseness", possibly directly or indirectly influenced by Nihonjinron, and set limits do not square up with reality. A few hours of Japanese tv should show anyone how insular the country is.

-5 ( +9 / -14 )

The are many advantages of being from bi-cultural parents and those aspects are the ones to exploit. Getting or creating a job where the other language is important.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

List of successful people.

List of hāfu people

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_h%C4%81fu_people

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I cringe at the term "half" - "both" is preferable. My kids were raised in Japan and both attended American colleges. They now both work in Tokyo, but one has a view of moving to LA. As a non-Japanese with well over half of my life in Japan, would you call me a "half"?

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

Japanese people have told me over three decades that when on parent is Japanese and one is the foreigner their child is known and recognized as a "hafu". They are not and never will be a "true blood" Japanese whether they were born in Japan or not.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

Discrimination is made by some sectors of all societies.

A child born from two "haafu" parents is what, a quarter. クォーター, Kuōtā.

I have spent almost half of my life living in Japan, and so am I a half. Anyway, I intend to become three-quarters. クォーターSan - kuōtā.

I enjoy most aspects of living here and in the beginning, I tried hard to be more Japanese until I realized I did not have to be. Now I enjoy being my own nationality while in Japan. When I go home then I can pretend to be Japanese, bowing when answering my smartphone.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

Respect to the author for paving the way for future boys and girls in the same boat, what you do know will eventually make life easier for my kids when they reach teenage/adult years. It is getting better, but far too slowly..

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I honestly feel that parents who get their knickers in a twist about people calling their children hafu are actually setting their children up to feel discriminated, when they aren't.

Get over yourselves for the sake of your children.

6 ( +13 / -7 )

Traditional archery practice at the local budokan (not the famous one), and a kid openly describes my son as kimoi, apparently an abbreviated kimochi warui, for being half European.

What a vile kid. I hope you set him straight.

I don't understand the big deal about being mixed race in Japan.

What's the massive attraction of being 100% Japanese? Is it something to vehemently celebrate?

-4 ( +5 / -9 )

If one parent is an English speaker and they can be bothered to teach them their language the "half" kids have a massive advantage in school and university selection.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

We should interpret "half" to mean you are a combination of half of one thing and half of another thing (half Japanese and half American/British/Chinese/Korean), that way it adds up to 1, that is, a whole thing.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Then you can't call them half. If they have to choose, then either they are JAPANESE or they are NOT. To call them half is then racist.

It is not a racist term. People use it normally without being racist. Even my friends use it (No, they are not Japanese).

8 ( +9 / -1 )

I was lucky, my kids never had a problem really, they're really popular in school and just never bullied, but I am also lucky because the city district where I live while I am in Fukuoka has a lot of mixed or "hafu" if you prefer to use the term. So in that sense, we are very fortunate to be around people with similar experiences and now it doesn't seem that unusual like 20-30 years ago, in that sense Japan has done a much better job dealing with biracial kids compared to South Korea or China. As far as language is concerned, we speak 3 languages so the kids are semi-fluent and can communicate well with my relatives on both sides of the pond.

Japanese people have told me over three decades that when on parent is Japanese and one is the foreigner their child is known and recognized as a "hafu". They are not and never will be a "true blood" Japanese whether they were born in Japan or not.

If all depends, that is not necessarily all true. Especially the things I hear from this generation of kids. it all depends, now with previous generations that is definitely true.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I've never heard of anyone refer to themselves as double and still don't understand the big deal about being/referred to as half.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

In Japan when you are considered "Halfu" when you are not a well known entertainer or athlete show casing the country. Once you attain that elite status the Halfu tag goes away and you are known on the international stage and "CLAIMED as Japanese because now its a nationalistic thing.

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

Japan of about 25 years ago when I had my first baby was intensely racist towards both me and that child. People described the as gaijin, despite the fact they were born in Japan, with a Japanese parent. Halfu was the least concerning thing my child was called. The bullying continued throughout their life in Japan, until we moved away. That child went on to have serious mental health issues, leading to disastrous consequences from which I will never ever recover. My younger one was there for less time, and is absolutely fine. People do not care about the child's mental health, happiness, or stability. My child was expected to be 'cute', slim and genki. They were none of those things, having suffered a birth injury and being on steroids long term for a health issue. I miss my child every single day and always will. I love Japan....but it was brutal and as far as I can tell from my continued interaction with Japanese family, continues to be so towards mixed race children.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

@Fear and Loathing

I simply cannot imagine the pain and suffering you have to live with. My heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@Fear and Loathing

That is so sad to hear my friend. My heart goes out to you, too.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

NOT racist.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Thank you for the kind thoughts. I wish children and even adults thought before they spoke and acted, if they did I might still have two children.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Not racist? Tom are you kidding? Turned away from hospitals for being gaijin, despite having Japanese national health insurance with a big crossed arms and a 'damme'. Not racist? When teachers and students bullied my child so horrendously they caused a mental breakdown? Not racist? Japan is racist. As I said, I love Japan, but the racism is strong there. I could take it. My child could not. Racism stretched to mocking how I looked and spoke by other children towards them in school, to mocking them for being large, for their brown hair, for just about every aspect of their physical being. Sorry, Tom, but I earnt my right to say this. I lost half of my everything.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The name Hafu itself is derogatory,a person that half Japanese can come to America and strive,look at Osaka and Japanese basketball player,they succeed in the American dream,

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

If one parent is an English speaker and they can be bothered to teach them their language the "half" kids have a massive advantage in school and university selection.

That's true, speaking from experience included. You don't have to give kids much English or exam technique for them to pass Eiken 2, and that will get them quite far. With getting into schools, that is. My eldest got two credits for it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It is not a racist term. People use it normally without being racist. Even my friends use it (No, they are not Japanese).

It still is racist. See my first post as to why it is

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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