Growing Up As A Hafu In Japan
By Yumi Nakata
On August 23, 2014
Even though Japan is far more Westernized today than it has ever been, it still remains a very homogeneous country. The government has been trying to promote internationalization and also improve the English curriculum in schools but the process takes times and Japan is not a country that moves quickly.
As more foreigners choose to live in Japan, the number of interracial children has been on the rise. These children who have a non-Japanese parent are called “Hafu”, a twist on the English word half. Some people say these mixed children should be called “double” instead of “half”.
I am actually Hafu myself. My mother is from South East Asia and my father is Japanese. They met while my mother was studying in Japan as an international student. All of us, Hafu who grow up in Japan share the same dilemma. Hafu children are minorities so we struggle to fit into the mainstream Japanese society that constantly teaches us the importance of harmony and unity. At least, I look Japanese and people would never know that I am Hafu unless I tell them but what about the Hafu children who look non-Japanese?
If I had Hafu children, I wouldn’t feel comfortable raising them in Japan.
My sisters and I went to a regular public school in the countryside of Japan. It was a very hard experience for us and my family. Our classmates would often tease us about the fact that our mom was from a South East Asian country. Overall, being Hafu was very tough for us and sometimes we wished our mother were Caucasian instead.
Why is it so difficult to be Hafu in Japan? Japanese society is of one nation, one language and one culture. There is a saying: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” And Hafu children are often bullied in school just because they are different.
The question than arises as to whether Eurasian Hafu children are special and are not discriminated against in Japanese school. Typical Eurasian Hafu children are admired for their “exotic” Eurasian look, while Hafu Asians like myself are looked down upon as not being fully Japanese.
My father’s co-worker is married to a Caucasian woman from Brazil who has blond hair and blue eyes. Both of her sons looked very White and could have appeared in children’s fashion magazines in Japan. Even then, their sons struggled to fit in school and started to tell their mother not to come to their school. They were embarrassed with all the attentions they got every time their mom came to their school. Obviously, their experiences in school were a little different from mine. Nevertheless, it isn’t easy to be Hafu in Japan because we are the outsiders and the nails that may be hammered down.
The real issue arises when Hafu children grow up and start looking for a job. Many conservative Japanese firms are still reluctant to hire Hafu, especially those who obviously look mixed. It doesn’t matter if they speak perfect Japanese, many companies feel that for a position that requires you to deal with Japanese customers, you must also be Japanese.
The only advantage of my Asian heritage is that I can easily blend in and pretend to be Japanese. My sisters are working for Japanese companies and their employers aren’t too concerned because of their appearance and fluency in Japanese language. My sisters still tell me they are happy with their heritage because if they were Eurasian Hafu, they might have had an option to become fashion models but they would have had more difficulty finding a regular job.
I believe that my childhood experience as Hafu is what made me seek opportunities outside Japan in the first place. Racism exists in America and it may even be worse than Japan, but I am comfortable that in America I can just be who I am.
My experience growing up as Ha-Fu was back in 1990s, and I truly hope that things are different in Japan today. But I suspect that many Hafu children who live in Japan still struggle with discrimination. The Japanese government has a long way to go to open up the country and be part of the international community.
I support the idea that Hafu should be renamed as Double. We are not Hafu. We are double because both cultural and ethnic heritages make us who we are. We are Japanese despite our mixed ethnic and cultural heritage.