The word Hafu (ハーフ)refers to someone of mixed-race in a mostly homogenous society. In Japan, this term has always been widely accepted without question or 2nd thought. A recent, international event has brought the term to the world’s stage, however, and has caused quite a controversy both in Japan, as well as overseas.

Remember the recent Miss Universe Peagant, in which the contestant (Ms. Ariyana Miyamoto) from Japan caused a big stir just for her mixed-race background?

According to her, despite speaking the language flawlessly, and having a 5th degree Mastery Certificate in Japanese Caligraphy, she still receives English Menus in Restaurants – even in her hometown of Sasebo in Nagasaki Prefecture.  A recent video by the always entertaining and thought-provoking Ken Tanaka illustrates this point quite nicely.  Because of her (for Japanese) unique look, she received lots of praise, but also lots of criticism for her entry as representing Japan in the Pageant.
Although having grown up in Japan, having a Japanese Passport, and speaking Japanese fluently, She apparently wasn’t “Japanese” enough for many online keyboard warriors.

Even the term “Hafu” (ハーフ), or Half is somewhat derogatory in Nature and carries a lot of weight in Japan. Suggesting that a biracial person is “half” anything is rather disparaging; yet this term has found a mainstay in Japanese Society and language. While admired for their multilingual abilities and exotic look, the label Hafu highlights the genetic make up of half Japanese people, emphasizing the existence of foreign blood, and thus distancing them socially and ideologically from the “pure” Japanese population. Even though there are a fair share of mixed-race individuals represented in all forms of popular media from Television to Radio these days, the social stigma of “foreign-ness” still persist in daily life.  
Japan has come a long way in terms of acceptance since the days of yore, however.

Hafu Japanese paving the way for the future

In the 1940s, people of mixed-race backgrounds were actively looked down upon and openly discriminated against. Those days are largely gone, nonetheless, and as there are more and more people from various countries coming to Japan, the number of interracial couples, and subsequently, mixed-race children is increasing year by year; thus the perception is slowly changing for the better.  Is this change fast enough however?

What is it like growing up as a HAFU in Japan? For many it can be both a blessing, as well as a curse, or Watakushigotode kyōshukudesuga (私事で恐縮ですが), as the Japanese would say. 
Many people report being teased or even bullied in school, and having a rather difficult time fitting into the tight confines of Japanese Society. “The Nail that sticks out gets hammered down,” as the old saying goes; so they are inadvertently the Nails in this analogy.

As more and more cases of bullying in school become evident, it becomes abundantly clear that some kind of cultural awareness programs should be implemented in schools.  Being bullied just for your cultural heritage can have dire psychological consequences for the individual, as was evidenced by the tragic death of Japanese-Filipina, 12 year old Akiko Uemura, who hanged herself at her family’s home in 2010, following a bullying incident in school after her mother sat in on an observation day.

Eurasian children especially, often get admired for their exoticness in school, but find it quite difficult to find a (regular) job after Graduation. Many Japanese companies are still quite conservative, and feel that in order to deal with Japanese customers, their representatives should also be completely “Japanese.”

The media, on the other hand, has fully embraced the Hafu experience, and their star is on the rise. Mixed race Tarento/Talents (タレント) are a main staple on TV and other forms of Media these days, and are just a few examples of mixed-race individuals who have made it past the regular Japanese Censors and broke free of the negative stigma of Hafu.

With an estimated 40 percent of the Japanese population being 65 years or older by 2050, and the severely declining birthrate, isn’t it about time for Japan to see people of mixed-race families as equals? Especially, since mixed-race relationships are on the upswing in Japan. If you’d like more information and would like to see an excellent documentary on the subject, do yourself a favour and check out the internationally renowned movie, HAFU

What do you think about this, or do you have any first-hand experience with this in Japan? Let us know in the comments below!

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