“Asian-looking kids can come in. But we will have to refuse foreign-looking ones”, this was the answer which was given to father of four ha-fu children, at one of Japanese onsens. Why Japan still cannot deal with or simply tolerate biracial people? Do Japanese treat them like second-class citizens, despite of equality before the law? Is increasing ha-fu population an issue or a part of the future of Japan? In this piece of papers I shall answer those very important questions by presenting the situation of mixed-race people in Japanese society. What is more, I will indicate that biracial people may play crucial role in the future of such homogenous country as Japan, undoubtedly is. I base my research on several articles and reports provided by ha-fu people and their families. What is worth noting is that the volume of media coverage dedicated to ha-fu phenomenon is quite large, which illustrates its importance.
At the beginning, I shall demystify the notion of a so-called “ha-fu”. Ha-fu is a Japanese resident of a mixed-race descent: Japanese and foreign. Therefore, being a child of Japanese parent makes those people full-fledged citizens and give them right to stay, educate and work in Japan with no restrains. In addition, it is necessary to distinguish two types of so-called “ha-fu”. One of them is an “international” and the other – “shima ha-fu” or “golden ha-fu”, allocated to Japanese-American in particular, born and raised on Okinawa Island. In most of the cases, identifying a ha-fu among Japanese is not a problem, because of slightly or quite different physique. Accordingly, biracial people can easily attract the attention. Furthermore, some authors point out that “the word (ha-fu) is so pervasive that even nontraditional-looking Japanese may be asked if they are hafu”. That indicates the influential power of the phenomenon and the word itself.
With regard to the above, it is easy to understand that ha-fu person is not a gaikokujin – someone from the outside world. Yet, Japanese people consider them as they would be. Consequently, they treat them differently, unfortunately just because of a “non-Japanese” appearance. To depict the scale and essence of inappropriate behavior of Japanese people’s toward biracial residents; I shall mention some reports and comment them afterwards.
Nigerian-Japanese Edwin Tanabe recalls school times and confesses, “I was definitely treated differently back then, and on reflection it was kind of racist. Just because I looked foreign, people expected me to act and speak differently (…) but the fact of the matter was completely opposite — I was as much Japanese as they were”. This example shows, how serious problems would he face back in school and how marginalized could he feel. Apparently, he received no understanding from his class mates, who did not make any effort to put themselves in his shoes. “When I was growing up, people threw rocks at you, they spit at you (…) and yelled at me to go home”, says Okinawa born women, Emiko. For people she met she was American and had no right to stay in Japan. Emiko points out that she was made even more fun of when she would admit that she could not speak English, which should be obviously typical for ha-fu like her. Moreover, the situation mention in the intro of this paper, demonstrates intolerant attitude performed even by hosts toward their customers, which is unlike for Japanese in general. Other reports, provided by interracial parents prove that they decided to remove their children from regular school and seek for another solution like international or private schools. They did not want their children to be discriminated in any way. There is no doubt that being “different” for Japanese is an adequate argument to judge and even ostracize. However, Japanese should be aware of increasing number of biracial residents. According to Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, in 2012 two percentage of newborns were half-Japanese. This is a minority, but comparing to data from 1987 this number has tripled. Let me reference here to results of a survey conducted this year by Fukuoka Now, see below:
Remarkably as many as 62.71% of respondents identified their families as mixed-racial. These answers leave no doubt that Japanese society is continuously changing. Another chart clearly indicates seriousness of wrong and unacceptable acts toward biracial nationals:
It is impressive that almost 73% of respondents had a contact with discrimination against ha-fus. The poll might not illustrate the whole perspective but is undoubtedly alarming. As it shows, nowadays ha-fu are still treated disrespectfully, bullied by classmates, what in the consequence makes them feel like outcasts, a fifth wheel to a coach.
Fortunately, there is the other side of the coin. Some biracial Japanese residents did not experience bullying or visible signs of disrespect. What is more, they appreciate “that depth and range of kindness and the willingness to do the best they could”, as Megumi Nishikura states. In some cases, a chance to other ha-fu at school made them feel more comfortable. Hence, they could grow up as multinational and multicultural instead of just “different”. Nishikura is one of the makers of 2013 documentary titled “Hafu – the Mixed-Race Experience of Japan”. The film tries to present and come to terms with a variety of issues a biracial person faces in every-day life in Japan. The audience has an opportunity to gain knowledge about many cultural misunderstandings and circumstances under what mixed-race nationals must fight for acceptance. Nishikura explains why she decided to produce such film, “ultimately, my motivation in making this film was to bring greater awareness to the ha-fu community and show that not only our numbers are increasing, but that we are going to be playing a bigger part in Japanese society in the years to come”. Her aim was to make Japanese people realize how disturbing it might become to be a biracial resident in Japan.
Nishikura mentions above about very important matter from Japanese society’s future point of view. Ha-fus were not supposed to be underestimated, because they will comprise larger and larger percentage of Japanese population in years to come. Whereas, Japan has been struggling with demographic issues such as senescence or decrease of newborns, mixed couples and biracial children may become a sort of solution. Still, Japanese Nationality Act does not meet with challenges and requirements of changing Japan. A half-Japanese citizen at the age of 22 has to choose between Japanese one or the other passport. These legal restrains cannot be encouraging for a young man who might have not found his identity yet. Hence, Japan has no policy or idea to face essential problems and make a use of favorable trend as increasing number of ha-fus is.
Regarding to all mentioned above, a question arises: is there any possibility that Japanese government will deal with the changing reality and prepare society for a kind of “new wave of nationals” born within the country? In my opinion – the answer is positive. Nonetheless there is a lot to do to achieve – what it appears to be – even more. First of all, Japan should reform immigration policy and encourage foreign people to stay and start a family in Japan. What is more, I would argue that there is a need to rethink the essence of content of Nationality Act to make the law more flexible and adapt to contemporary Japan. Furthermore, there is no doubt that a nationwide campaign about the phenomenon of ha-fu could be extremely helpful to eliminate any acts of disrespectful treatment. I believe that the documentary mentioned above may be the cornerstone for a sort of social revolution within Japanese society. It is for the sake of better and brighter future of Japan to embrace the uncontrolled evolution of the country of which homogenous character is slowly fading.
Many argue that Japan either has to deal with economic recession or historical based bad relations with the neighbors in the first place. Importance of those issues cannot be denied. But in my opinion, there is no chance to solve serious “big” problems without working on the very foundations of a country, which are the people. Ha-fus are the part of Japanese society, they are Japanese. They want to grow here up, they want to work for Japanese enterprises and build the economy. They want to be proud of being biracial and exchange the idea of cross-cultural understanding and multi-ethnicity. My statement may be supported by the results of the poll I have referenced to and present below:
It is refreshing that as many as 69.49% of respondents share my opinion that there is a gleam of hope. A comment I find especially positive, “being born from a mixed race doesn’t make any person less of a human. In fact, he/she may even have the best of both worlds. The person that he/she becomes is dependent on the society that surrounds him/her (…)” proves the rising awareness among Japanese in general. Therefore, I am convinced that Japan will cope with the phenomenon and do the challenging homework well.
- Transcultural Japan: At the Borderlands of Race, Gender and Identity, Willis D.B., Murphy-Shigematsu S., 2008;
- Japan and Global Migration: Foreign Workers and the Advent of a Multicultural Society, Douglass M., Roberts G., 2000;
- http://www.shanghaidaily.com (access: 6-7th of January, 2014).
 Transcultural Japan: At the Borderlands of Race, Gender and Identity, Willis D.B., Murphy-Shigematsu S., 2008; Japan and Global Migration: Foreign Workers and the Advent of a Multicultural Society, Douglass M., Roberts G, 2000.
 Transcultural Japan: At the Borderlands of Race, Gender and Identity, Willis D.B., Murphy-Shigematsu S., 2008, p.289.
 Note: the poll was conducted among 59 participants with different back rounds.