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Prove you’re Japanese: when being bicultural can be a burden

Parents' decision to add a katakana name can create issues when kids enter the big wide world

by Louise George Kittaka

Japanese are Japanese and foreigners are foreigners, and never the twain shall meet? In many aspects of daily life in this country, there is one way for the Japanese and another for the rest of us. Like it or not, that’s just how it is. At least foreigners know where we stand.

However, bicultural individuals — the children of one Japanese and one foreign parent — may find that life isn’t quite that simple.

Although they were born, raised and educated in Japan, and as Japanese citizens are entitled to all the legal privileges that entails, society sometimes marginalizes them in ways that their foreign parents may not have anticipated. Japanese television shows and commercials might be full of cute “half” young adults, but back in the real world, being a bit “different” isn’t always such a good thing when you are trying to make your way in this country.

Hiroki — not his real name — is a university student. Having recently moved out of the family home and into his own apartment, he was relieved when he was accepted for a part-time position at a branch of Sukiya, a national gyūdon (beef on rice) restaurant chain.

The son of an American mother and Japanese father, he has both a Japanese and a Western name. “My family and some of my close friends use my Western name, but these days I usually go by my Japanese one,” he says. “I applied for the job with my Japanese name, but since my bank account has both names on it — like my passport — I thought it was best to write my whole name in the section about account details.”

From past experience, Hiroki knew that banks could be very particular about names, so he thought he was doing his employers a favor by giving his full name. Little did he know that this simple action would lead to major headaches.

The restaurant chain, which employees thousands of young people as part-time employees, runs a training center for new recruits. When someone noticed the name “John” in katakana script on the paperwork, it raised a red flag.

“They asked if I was Japanese. I assured them I was, but then they said I needed to prove it, so I was told to get a copy of my jūminhyō [residence certificate].”

Although somewhat surprised that his verbal assurance about his citizenship wasn’t good enough, Hiroki needed the job, so he complied with the request. He dropped by the branch where he was slated to work and, after discussing his shifts, handed the document to the manager and thought nothing more about it.

The next day a call came from Sukiya’s training center, asking if Hiroki realized there was a mistake on his jūminhyō, because his gender was listed as female. “I told them there was no mistake. I explained that I’m transgender and have been living as a male since high school. However, unless you have total reconstructive surgery, you can’t change your sex on the koseki [family registry] or the jūminhyō.”

Then the bombshell was dropped. Another call came from a manager, informing him “regretfully” that they were unable to offer him a job under the present circumstances. Naturally, this came as a shock, and Hiroki wanted to know the reason. “They basically told me that because my jūminhyō lists me as ‘female,’ they have to hire me ‘as a woman.’ I was asked if I would be OK with being called a female at work, and of course I was like, ‘No, it’s not OK.’ ”

His parents were shocked and angry when they heard about the affair. “They discriminated against our son twice,” says his mother. “First for asking him to prove his citizenship, and then by making a huge issue of his gender.”

Hiroki’s father called the training center. “I wanted a proper explanation of why they wouldn’t hire my son. To cut a long story short, they told me it was based on the way their hiring system is set up — if the ID says a person is female, that is how they are listed in the company’s computer system, regardless of having lived successfully and happily as a male for several years. It was apparently too difficult for them to accommodate someone like my son.” The manager’s assurance that the company was not discriminating against Hiroki because he was transgender rang hollow.

Taking a pragmatic approach, Hiroki resigned himself to looking for a different job, but his parents are still upset about the unfairness of the whole situation. “If it hadn’t been for the fact that he had a katakana name, they would never had asked to see his jūminhyō and he’d still have a job!” says his mother indignantly. “Not that I want my son working for that company now!” Upon hearing the story, many of the family’s friends and acquaintances have vowed to boycott the chain.

So what does the company have to say? An executive in Sukiya’s public relations department agreed to be interviewed.

“Basically, any potential employee with a katakana element in their name is flagged and asked to prove their nationality. This is because we hire a lot of foreigners, many of them students,” said the representative. “Employment laws have tightened up and the company has to be very careful to ensure that non-Japanese staff can legally work in this country.” The rule also applies to Japanese married to foreign nationals and using a non-Japanese last name, and Japanese with “trendy” katakana first names, regardless of citizenship or outward appearance.

As for the issue of gender when hiring, the representative says company policy needs to be reviewed. “I believe this is the first case we’ve had with a potential transgender employee,” he notes. However, since most employees are not required to furnish a jūminhyō to “prove” anything, the spokesman admits there is probably no way to tell if someone is transgender or not.

“Our company is proud of our record of offering employment to many foreign people around Japan and we definitely do not wish to discriminate against anyone, Japanese or non-Japanese, men or women. I hope we can use this opportunity to re-examine our hiring system and improve things.”

Life isn’t always easy in the business world, either. When people first meet Stephen, they assume he is Japanese. Having spent much of his life in this country, he is perfectly at home with the culture and takes after his Japanese mother in appearance, so there is nothing to make him stand out from the crowd.

However, as soon as he hands over his name card and people notice he has katakana for both his first and last name — inherited from his Canadian father — the walls go up.

“My name throws people because it isn’t what they expected — it doesn’t ‘go’ with my face,” explains the sales executive, now in his 40s. “Doing business in this country is about connections and traditions, and sometimes Japanese people aren’t willing to give me a chance based on my name. They tend to think I’m not here for the long haul, and that I will be going back ‘home’ sooner or later. They don’t realize that home for me is here!”

Parents of bicultural children often think long and hard about whether to bestow a name from the non-Japanese partner’s culture on their children. Along with the joy and pride of passing on a name or names that reflect the child’s twin heritages comes the concern that it might cause inconvenience, embarrassment or even discrimination down the line.

Alison, an Australian mother of two, decided to go with Japanese first names only. Since her children use their father’s surname, their names can be written totally in kanji, blending in with the majority.

“My kids stick out enough as it, so I didn’t want to make things any harder for them,” she says. “I’d heard some stories from other mums of ‘half’ kids with middle names. Every time the kid goes to a new school, the teachers insist on reading out both names, because it’s listed on their official records. For a kid trying to fit into a new environment, it’s just one more hassle they don’t need.”

In some cases, however, having a non-Japanese name may actually be desirable for bicultural children. Germany, for example, has guidelines for parents when naming their babies, including the stipulation that it should be easy to distinguish the child’s sex. A name such as Kim would not be accepted by officials as a first name.

Birgitta and her husband chose the name Shunya for their son, who was born in Japan, but couldn’t be sure that this would be acceptable when they applied for the child’s German passport.

“If we lived in Germany, we could just go to the local town office and sit down with an official, and they would decide if the name was OK. But since we were here in Japan and the passport was handled back in Germany, we didn’t want to run any risks — (so) we added a German middle name to be on the safe side,” she says.

Hair can be another bone of contention. In this day and age, when there are arguably more young Japanese people with dyed hair than without, it may seem odd that naturally lighter hair could be a problem. However, many schools still maintain strict “no dyeing” policies, without making allowances for students who came by their hair color naturally.

When Trina’s daughter entered a private junior high school, she was piqued to receive a letter asking parents of students with naturally curly or brown hair to indicate this in an official statement. Such students were then subject to a teacher “inspection” to ensure their hair was naturally not straight and black.

Moreover, the school also has a student committee whose job is to promote and police school rules amongst their peers. The final straw came when her daughter reported there was a hand-drawn poster by the student committee on the stairs that asked, “Your hair isn’t brown, is it?”

Trina and her husband found this stance rather incongruous for a school that promotes its study-abroad program, and arranged to meet with the teachers. However, while the teachers listened respectfully to the couple, they did not agree that the policy caused unnecessary grief for bicultural students, insisting there was no discrimination behind the move. “But they did at least apologize to our daughter for hurting her feelings over the poster, and it was taken down,” Trina says.

Hair was also an issue for Yuta, a bicultural high school student, when he applied for a part-time job at a traditional Japanese pub. All employees must follow a strict code that includes no dyed hair, with no allowances made for someone whose hair happened to be naturally brown.

“They said they would only hire him if Yuta dyed his hair black, and he was ready to do it. He wanted the job,” says his mother. “Luckily, his older sister talked him out of it. We knew his high school might go along with him having black hair — he would fit in with everyone else then — but even if he quit the job, he’d then be stuck dyeing his hair all the way until graduation. We knew the school wouldn’t accept a two-tone look while his natural hair color was growing in again.”

While Yuta is looking at other employment options, his mother raises an interesting point. With the exception of his lighter hair color, her son “looks” Japanese and she thinks this worked against him. “At first glance, my kid looks like a Japanese with dyed hair. If he definitely looked more ‘half,’ then people wouldn’t expect his hair to be pure black. I suspect that the izakaya wouldn’t have given him such a hard time in that case.”

With one in every 20 marriages in Japan now involving one foreign partner, there will be an increasing number of bicultural adults entering society, and there is a growing need for Japanese society to review the way it deals with them.

Let’s leave the last word to Hiroki, who has the following message for the restaurant chain that wouldn’t hire him: “I want Sukiya to realize that there are all kinds of people in Japan. Having policies is fine, but they need to be flexible enough to change them as needed. Being open to change is very important for the future.”

Send comments on this issue and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp.

  • Ron NJ

    Good to know that Sukiya has been deputized by the Ministry of Justice to enforce immigrations regulations.

    • Gordon Graham

      I think you mean follow regulations.

    • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

      Immigration and labour laws in any country I have been to or could be bothered to look into make it a punishable offence to hire illegal immigrants or legal foreigners who do not have a visa status that allows them to work. Given that, it is only common sense for businesses to protect themselves and ensure that prospective employees are legally able to work. Punishing businesses that knowingly employ illegals also serves to protect immigrants – a business that willingly hires illegals is probably also not going to be too fussy about pay and working conditions.

      • qwerty

        harrumph!

      • Mwani

        I love that you said harrumph haha

      • Eamon

        Exactly. If anything, this article only makes it clear that the only way not to be prejudiced is to check EVERYONE’s juminhyo.

        I also find it interesting that the article threw in that little easter egg about Germany actually deciding what name you can use for your child. Japan may (sometimes correctly) assume things based on your name, but they don’t deem themselves to actually help choose your child’s name.

    • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

      If they hadn’t followed the rules that part of the story would have been about how thousands of people lost their jobs due to the resultant fines.

      Don’t panic though, I’m sure there’d be room in that article’s comment section for similar sass.

  • JusenkyoGuide

    I think they’re reaching for the first example, that’s discrimination against transgender.

    • coip

      Except that it wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t ask him for his juuminhyou simply because he had a ‘foreign’ name. It was first discrimination against his ‘foreignness’ and then discrimination against his transgender. Both are wrong.

      • Gordon Graham

        So is lying on your resume…

      • Ash

        I was unaware you had to state your biological sex on your resume/CV?

      • B0ukman

        A picture is also required by the way.

      • Ryun Hobbs

        Japanese resumes require it.

      • Christopher-trier

        You do. In Germany and the USA it is the case as well. Even when travelling to countries which require a disembarkation card (Canada, Australia, the UK (for many), Taiwan, etcetera a biological gender section must be ticked.

      • Kyosuke

        Excuse me, but trans folks aren’t lying when we try to get our documents changed but still need to be able to live our lives as our real gender before it can be formalised in the paperwork. The issue isn’t trans folks, it’s folks like you who think that the little marks on our documents tell the truth. Trans folks exist in Japan, quite a few. I’m one of them.

      • Frank Thornton

        Well, until it is formalised in the paperwork, as an employer, I would expect a little additional information whether it be verbal or written upon turning in the application. Or else it would be considered as “misleading”.

      • Kyosuke

        That’s your cisgender privilege showing. You never have to worry about presenting differently from how your paperwork is written. But it can be a truly frightening and harrowing thing to do. This is especially true of those of us who are in the middle of physical, irreversible transition. As long as I am a consistent, competent, and conscious worker whether there is an 男 or 女 on my documentation should have zero to do with how I am treated given my consistent appearance and presentation. An employer is not entitled to “additional information” and an employer is not being misled. The person is as they appear, not what the documents say.

      • Frank Thornton

        OK. I think I totally agree with your feelings. And once explained as you did above, I, as a potential employer would understand your situation and you may be hired if I feel that you are qualified. I’m just saying that as an employer, as long as there’s a 男・女 on the documentation and the appearance doesn’t match, you should be prepared to answer a couple of questions. Just as if it said you were 21 years old but you don’t look a day out of high school, I would ask for some verification.
        I know it may not be possible for me to understand how you feel but, unfortunately that’s the way it is for now. Hopefully, some day we can live in a world where we don’t need ANY documentation. Just go in for an interview and if the empoyer likes what he sees. you’re hired.

      • Kyosuke

        What questions do you think it is okay to ask me that you don’t think would invasive for cisgender folks, too? By asking me to answer additional questions, you force me to disclose deeply personal information which is none of your business as an employer. If I arrive as a woman and I say I’m a woman or I arrive as a man and say I am a man, and obviously so, than that should be the end of it. Americans are rather lucky, under Hillary Clinton’s tenure as SecState, the passport can be changed with a simple letter. Japan’s immigration policy is to use the passport info. You can ask immigration to change the marker when the passport shows up and be issues a new zairyuu card–at not cost! But under Japanese law, one must have SRS (which is much harder for F->M than M->F for several reasons), must not be married, and must have no children in order to qualify for a juminhyo gender marker change. For many folks, this simply isn’t possible. Your additional questions are an unfair burden not placed on cisgender folks. And that’s discrimination. Period.

      • Frank Thornton

        Kyosuke-san, I’m imagining that you are young. (at least younger than I..) You see, you have to understand that we are not living in the 理想の世界. And それお言い出したらきりがない. Maybe someone that has a foreign name doesn’t want to be asked his name. Maybe someone that is getting older but feels young doesn’t want to be asked his age. Or how about the person that is homeless or living in the “burakumin” part of town that doesn’t want to write an address. Or the person that dropped out of highschool that doesn’t want to be asked his 学歴. You see, you’re going into the “What is personal ID/necessary info?” It’s all information on paper that is meant to “discriminate” one from the other. And, good or bad, that’s the way it is.
        I mentioned “acceptance” earlier in one of my comments. In order to accept, you have to know what you are accepting. Have you ever heard of ” 私、変わります”? You see, you are holding your ground and trying to change the world. I’ve learned, that changing the people around me is very difficult. However, changing myself is much easier. I figure that I understand the people around me more than they understand me. If I accept them for what they are, they will slowly understand me and accept me for what I am. I cannot continue to push the people around me to change and accept me without me accepting them first. Do you understand? Don’t fight back. Accept their ways. Be offended. Disclose your deep personal information that is non of their business. Help them understand what they are requiring from you. Gain their respect. Then, and only then, will they begin to change.
        Nice talking you to Kyosuke-san. I wish you a happy future and, if you want, you can click on my face (above left, I have nothing to hide…) and you can find me on Facebook. Send me a message or friend request. It would be great to keep in touch with you.

      • Kyosuke

        I’m not as young as you may think I am. Younger than you, perhaps, but I imagine not that much. Given your picture, unless you have aged particularly well, you’re not much more than ten years older than me. Fifteen on the very outside, but I doubt that. And it could be less than ten.

        I’m afraid, Frank, that you don’t get it. You give several examples of oppression, but you seem quite incapable of looking past your own privilege.

        I think we agree that, of course, this is Japan, and here in Japan we do not value “rocking the boat,” and so I choose very carefully when to make a stand. Sometimes I do make those stands, and if chosen carefully, such stands usually conclude in my favor.

        However, that said, I’m quite politically active, and my persona as an intersectional feminist writer and blogger means I feel much freer to challenge these notions in written formats, especially when confronting folks who grew up in Western cultures and are much more familiar with the terminology I use. This is such a format. Therefore, I challenge you again to provide justification for not respecting the presented identity. Simply telling me this is not an ideal world, something I know very well, does not move the dialogue forward.

        I’m an academic, and perhaps you are confusing my challenge to your positions with a youthful idealism which hasn’t come to grips with what is or is not practically realistic within a short time frame. If so, this is a mistake.

      • Frank Thornton

        I’ll be 53 next month. And the age thing, I regretted it as soon as I upped the post. That was a comment that should have been left out. And, as you can tell, I’m not the academic type. I’ll have a few drinks and philosophize/debate all night but, not on paper. It racks my brains. But, since you challenged me, here I am.

        First of all, you mention “my own privilege”. Many people that feel oppressed tend to think that everyone else is privileged. It’s sort of a 被害者意識 kind of thng. They fail to realize that everyone has their own problems. Maybe its financial. Maybe its a broken heart. Maybe it’s DV. Many of them as a result, kill someone or themselves for things that we may think as a “minor problem compared to mine”.

        What makes it so wrong to question someone about their gender as compared to asking why the homeless guy didn’t write an address in the blank space? Or asking the lady why she didn’t fill in her age?

        “My own privilege…” I have an 18 year old son with autism. I have never had a conversation with my own son and most likely never will. He can’t even tell me what he had for lunch. He can’t shower himself, shave himself, change his clothes himself… do anything himself. I’ve decided to live until I’m 100 years old. because I don’t want to leave him alone. I’m now slowly trying to prepare him to do short stays at a special needs home. “My own privilege…” You know what? I do feel privileged. You know why? Because one of the few things that he can do…is smile. Can you understand how happy I am when he smiles? It gives me a purpose in life. And, I now that there are people with way bigger problems than I.

        I’m heavy into voluteer work for people with special needs. I do lectures at universities, special needs schools and orginize several events a year. Yes, I do understand what discrimination is about.

        But again, Yes, I’m privileged. And I think you are too. You should believe you are too. You are so lucky that this whole thing is about “yourself”. Ultimately, if you just said “F%ck it!” to the whole problem and decide to ignore what everyone says and thinks, then the whole problem will go away, wouldn’t it? It’s not like you’re dying of cancer of something right? Just think if this were about someone you loved. Not yourself. And you can never make the problem go away. Imagine how that would feel. This is why I say that acceptance is the key. Accept the way people look at you. Accept the stupid questions. If you cant do this, then the problem will go away. And, someday, they world will be a different place.

        You may not be so young (once again, bad comment on my side) but, I do think you have to come to grips with what’s 現実的 for now. However, you and your pen, as I have a purpose in life, you have your purpose. Believe me, you are privileged too.

      • Kyosuke

        I’m an intersectionalist; of course I have privilege. I have class privilege, I have education privilege, I have ability privilege, the list goes on. I also lack privileges, like straight privilege and cisgender privilege, depending on how people read me, I may or may not have male privilege, or if I do, it is often quickly revoked. You have privileges I don’t, and I no doubt have privileges you don’t. The one which seems to be the most obvious at the moment is my education privilege.

        Most people who understand how intersectionality works understand that it is called that because of the intersection of privileges and lack of privileges. Just because you are oppressed in one area does not mean you are not privileged elsewhere. Likewise, my privilege as an educated, able-bodied, well-off individual does not erase my lack of straight privilege and cisgender privilege.

        I don’t think that discrimination against the homeless or ageism is acceptable. Those are your words, not mine. This is not what I asked you.

        There are no “minor problems,” only differences of degrees. Having privilege does not mean you will have a great life. That you won’t have obstacles or trials. It just means that you start off with certain advantages in certain areas others do not. Someone who is has all of the identifiable privileges is playing life in easy mode. Those of us who lack this or that or those privileges end up playing in a harder mode, which increases in difficulty the fewer privileges you have.

      • Frank Thornton

        Just a few points and I will call it quits.
        1) You are you. It doesn’t matter how people read you. Nothing that is inside you can be revoked unless you give it up.
        2) I agree. Your privilege is your education. Mine obviously seems to be more spiritual.
        3) One privilege does not need to erase a lack of a privilege. One that does not exist does not have to be erased. It wasn’t meant to be there in the first place.
        4) I didn’t say that discrimination against the homeless and whatnot is acceptable. I merely pointed out the fact that they are all forms of discrimination and the male/female thing is just one of the many.
        5) Not having privilege does not mean you will not have a great life. It just means that you start off with fewer advantages in certain areas than others. Those of us who have all of the identifiable privileges tend to play life in easy mode, only to discover later in life (often too late) that they don’t feel the fulfillment, 達成感, 人として生きてきた満足感 that a person that struggled through a less privileged life and made something of himself would.
        When I die, I would rather be the less priviliged one that lived life to its fullest, knowing that I made a difference than the privileged one that lived in cruise control. Life is what YOU make it. Not what people dish out to you.
        Have a good one Kyosuke-san!!

      • Frank Thornton

        When you hire a person with a katakana name, most likely this person is a foreigner. If you hire this person and later find out he/she is on a student visa, in the country illegally or something, then the employer is up sh%t creek. So, it’s actually highly recommend to check the papers and make sure he/she’s legit.

      • coip

        Either check everyone’s or no one’s, otherwise it is technically discrimination. I don’t have a problem with either, but I do have a problem if only “probable foreigners” are subjected to checks.

      • Antoine B.

        Exactly: their process is completely flawed. If it really is because of employment laws that they check the juminhyo, then they should ask every employee.

        How can they be sure when there are Chinese people also writing their name in Kanji?? The katakana writing has never been a good criteria for checking the citizenship.

  • Miura_Anjin

    Great to see that the principles of the “Volksgemeinschaft” are still alive and well in 21st century Japan. I wonder if the private junior high school mentioned above also offers racial science classes?

  • King Rat

    This is an issue of bureaucracy more than anything else and I have faced it in Asia, in the USA, and in Europe.

    In the end, “Hiroki/John” made the choice not to be hired as
    “Hiroko/Joan”. To say that “… Having policies is fine, but they need
    to be flexible enough to change them as needed…” misses the point
    because it does not factor in Sukiya’s perspective. To Sukiya,
    “Hiroki/John” misled them twice which is not the best of first
    impressions. If “Hiroki/John” is really that great of a guy, he can
    learn from his experience and get a job elsewhere.

    I was asked to resign from my position because I failed to disclose important information to my CEO. In an effort to pad her resume my supervisor falsified reports of my accomplishments without my knowledge. When review time came up and my “accomplishments” turned out to be false, I got blamed for lying, disobeying orders of my supervisor, and also for her poor performance caused by my alleged dishonesty.

    At the time I was furious and I felt betrayed. In retrospect, asking me to resign was the best thing that organization ever did for me. Once I got over the shock, I was so relieved to find employment for others grateful to have me and enjoy me for being me. That will happen to Hiroki too. I have never had a Sukiya near me although I had Yoshinoya, Nakau Hokka Hokka Tei quite frequently. Maybe one of those would be hiring.

    • guest

      Great advice, dude! People are doing you a HUGE favor when they discriminate against you. You should frickin THANK them for the character building lesson, not get mad!

  • Frank Thornton

    I was reading the article with interest because my son is also in college, name is in katakana and has dual citizenship…until I got to the “transgender” and “living as a male since high school” part. At the very top it says “…katakana name can create issues when kids enter the big wide world”… Should be more like “living as a male since highschool when your jūminhyō and koseki says you’re female can create issues in any world…”

    • Claire Stathas

      They do have other examples if you keep reading . . .

      • Frank Thornton

        Like I said…I was interested until I got to the “transgender” part. Meaning in my opinion, it wasn’t worth reading any further. The integrity of the entire article becomes questionable.

      • Micki

        I think the article would be false and misleading if they hadn’t mentioned that the young man was transgender. It would be unfair to say that Sukiya is inflexible about hiring bi-cultural kids, when the case is that they are inflexible about data entry re: gender.
        (FWIW, I don’t see why Sukiya should care if an employee is male or female — it’s not like restaurant work requires a certain set of genitals, reconstructed or otherwise.)

      • Frank Thornton

        I think that the only reason the example was used is that because it was a well know name, Sekiya.
        And about the not caring if male or female, let me put it this way… My U.S. passport says I’m male. If I try to go back to the States looking totally like a woman, do you think the person checking my passport will say “Oh. Whatevers. We don’t care whether you’re M or F.” or will they take me to a separate room and start asking me a bunch of ???. If they do, does that mean that my country is inflexible about data entry re: gender?

      • Bozley

        Try being openly gay or transgender in Japan. Some people will say that being gay is not very “Japanese” of you. Traditional gender roles are as much a part of this problem. The problem being that people are treated differently because they are not “typical” Japanese.

        The reader only thinks “huh?” if the reader is in denial about the difficulties that gay Japanese people face.

        They probably won’t take you to a separate room and ask you a bunch of questions. It’s common for Americans to be transgendered. They might ask a few extra questions at the desk, but they won’t deny you entry into the country because their form doesn’t have a checkbox for you. Being 100% at the mercy of paperwork and policy is a problem unique to Japan. They’ll say “Thank you ma’am” while allowing you to proceed with a passport that says “male”. Not a big deal to sensible people.

      • Frank Thornton

        Well, as you can clearly see, we are getting completely off track. The article is supposed to be “katakana name can create issues when kids enter the big wide world”, not about traditional gender roles and how being gay is “typical” Japanese or not. That’s why I’m saying, the gender example was a bad choice as an example for this article and should have been left out and used for a different topic. You get it?

      • mypantsdontchuckle

        Frank, I think its bizarre that you feel so sure about what the article was “supposed” to be about. You are free to write your own article and decide what its about, as this author did. For me, the article was about how “otherness” is treated in Japanese culture, and I’m glad he/she included the transgender example, as it fits the topic.

      • Guest

        Well, as you can see up above, my original comment has received 62 “up” votes. Which means I’m far from being alone in my “bizarre” feelings.

        I do agree with you that the author was trying to point out how “otherness” is treated in Japanese culture. The “Prove you’re Japanese: when being bicultural can be a burden. Parents’ decision to add a katakana name can create issues when kids enter the big wide world” at the begining of the article clearly means a “non-Japanese” otherness, which we all know is very common in Japan. To me, that would be things such as katakana names, gaikokujin looks and so on. It would NOT include this individual’s jūminhyō and koseki problems.

        What does it have to do with Japaneseness?
        It’s something completely different.

      • Frank Thornton

        If it’s not a big deal to sensible people, then why does my country bother to ask whether I’m male or female when applying for a passport?. I could just write whatever I feel like and then say “Oh, I’m a transgender”.

      • Kyosuke

        2010, one letter from a doctor will change that passport marker.

      • Frank Thornton

        Once again, why does my country bother to ask whether I’m male or female when applying for a passport? It asks for Sex, Date of Birth, Place of Birth, and Nationality. It does not ask for hair color, eye color, skin color. Maybe it shouldn’t be asking me for my sex either.
        Once again, I believe we are getting far off track. All I’m saying is that the person in this article’s “falsification” on his/her application should not be regarded as a discrimination towards “non-Japanese” thing.
        Wakarumasu? Kyosuke-san?

      • Kyosuke

        Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does. It isn’t discrimination towards being non-Japanese, but it *is* a consequence of further scrutiny due to discrimination towards being non-Japanese. There isn’t just correlation, there is *causation.* You keep trying to pretend the two have nothing to do with one another as opposed to one happening because the other happened. That just isn’t the case. Wakarimasu ka, Frank-san?

      • Frank Thornton

        I think what we have is a difference of opinion/theory here. You see, I think they are totally separate. Being non-Japanse and transgenderness are totally different. Therefore, I believe that the discrimination is too. One may cause the other to 目立つ more. But, even if you remove one the the elements, the discrimination towards the other will continue. However, the discrimination may come from someplace different. In this particular case, Hiroki-kun may have been hired if the 男・女 thing were squared away. Or, the other way around. They actually don’t have anything to do with one another. They just double the headache.

      • Bozley

        The article is about Japanese people whose “Japaneseness” doesn’t fit the mold and the problems it creates for them. Katakana names, natural light hair color, and non-traditional gender identification are all turn-offs to “traditional” Japanese.

        Why do you have such a problem with the transgender issue in particular? It’s just as relevant.

      • Frank Thornton

        I don’t see why what I’m trying to get at is so difficult to understand. Because, as you said, the article is supposed to be about “Japaneseness” and all that other stuff. So, why is transgender brought up in the first example? As an article it was an unwise choice and possibly should have just been left out. Much much less, used as the first example. Makes the reader think, “Huh!? What does this have to do with “Japaneseness?”

      • Kyosuke

        Look about intersectionality and get back to us, Frank.

      • Frank Thornton

        OK. I Wiki’ed it. So what? I suggest you giving me a piece of your mind before handing out homework. Then, get back to us, Kyosuke.

      • Kyosuke

        It means, Frank, that you cannot divorce one oppression from another. Oppressions do not exist in isolation. Hiroki-kun is both bicultural *and* transgender. His lived experience consists of being both at the same time. Both his identity as trans and his identity as Japanese intersect. Asking him to put side one while considering another does not reflect the reality of his life. The discrimination he faces as a trans man in Japan comes about in part because of discrimination he faces as a Japanese man with a non-Japanese name. One is intimately connected to the other.

      • Frank Thornton

        Once again, I think understand what you’re getting at but, I think you’re wrong. OK, maybe “wrong” is the wrong word. It’s a difference in attitude and approach. If you believe that you cannot seperate on from the other, then you have one giant headache. If, you can mentally separate this into 2 smaller headaches, you have a fighting chance. I understand that these two are situations that are lifelong and non-negotiable. The bearer of the headache must first accept himself. Then, he must accept how the world around him accepts himself. For example, in my case, I’ll forever be the 変な外人, and I accept it. Many people feel stress when people say 日本語が上手ですね or something like that. I don’t. I also accepted the fact that my son is autistic and he’s going to be like that for the rest of our lives. But, I can accept that too. And, I feel lucky. Things could have been much worse.
        We are alive and have people we love. What more is important in life? The young man (I forgot his name) is still young and going through more pain than most of us ever will. Whether it be one big headache or two smaller ones, eventually, he will learn to tackle his headache and accept himself and the others around him.

  • Hanten

    Isn’t it enough for the school and traditional Japanese pub that everyone wears uniforms? Is it also necessary to also have the same hair colour?
    Surely a sense of community comes from the way the members act towards each other not from the colour of their hair or skin or where their parents are from.

    • Gordon Graham

      Kids should be learning more than math and science in school. Social skills such as cooperation, team-work , being responsible and following rules should also be part of a young person’s development. Also, high school students shouldn’t be working in a pub.

      • Bill Ronson

        Is it the government’s or your right to tell my high school kid where he can or can’t work? I don’t think so! Following rules! I think Japan needs more rule breakers. This country is full of sheep without any ability to stand up for themselves. Most men in this country can’t even stand up to their dominating wives. No doubt they need responsibility training but this should be done by the family, not the freaking government. I don’t want my kids’ independent spirit broken by the authoritarian Japanese system., thank you very much!

      • Gordon Graham

        Actually, it is the policy of Japanese schools that students not have jobs. As for rule breakers. Thank goodness most Japanese don’t think like you or we wouldn’t have such a well ordered, safe place in which to live. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Bill.

      • tomado

        Like it or not, as long as his papers are in order it’s his business where he lives.

      • Gordon Graham

        Depending on what rules he intends to break, it may not be up to him.

  • 思德

    The transgender red herring aside, this article was good in pointing out how a system designed around more than just cultural homogeneity needs to change.

    • EastAsianNationalism

      Racial and cultural homogeneity are values to be aspired to.

      Multiculturalism is based on little more than naive whites thinking with their emotions. It’s also a failure worldwide.

      • 思德

        Straw man much? You read waaaay into my post, friend. I don’t say, “Foreigners should never learn how to rei, speak Japanese or follow basic protocols of etiquette or laws.”

        I am implying Japanese people should not be jerks towards people with katakana names. Is that straightforward enough? Because even amongst people like myself who do not embrace multiculturalism, I know better than to give someone crap simply because his name is Mohammed, or Lamont, or Mi (a Chinese childhood friend), or whatever his name is.

        I personally don’t expect people who are not of my country or race to celebrate everything I do or like everything I do, just speak the national language (not right away of course), behave decently (customs can take time to acquire), and not break laws that involve harming others, which is what I expect of everybody who is already an American. Same fabric, different colors.

        The idea that racial homogeneity is something to be inspired to is what caused the holocaust my great grandfather died in and what caused Japan to do horrible things to its neighbors. That attitude will inevitably lead to strife and killing. I suggest you take up a more nuanced philosophy that involves critical thinking rather than reacting to perceived threats / multiculturalist silliness.

  • Buntan

    Since the article brings up the subject of appearance in Japan I would like to mention how funny it is that many people judge the Japaneseness in someone’s looks by how much “shoyugao” (the kind of plain face lacking distinct features and which is somehow considered the norm) the person has. I suppose most people mean ‘typically Japanese’ referring to this kind of physical appearance when they say Japanese, but it is as if every trait that differs from this automatically is categorized as something foreign. Even a lot of both-parent Japanese people are asked if they are foreign just because they have unique or different facial features. Absurd as it may sound, you often hear comments from Japanese people about other Japanese people not looking Japanese. For example, the whole cast for the Roman roles of the Japanese film “Thermae Romae” were Japanese. These men obviously don’t look very Mediterranean to a European, but in the eyes of many Japanese people they were considered very fitting just because their facial features are considered koi (deep, thick, heavy, distinct). Funny thing is that one of the so-called “fathers” of modern Japan, Saigo Takamori, would probably also be offered a role in this film if he was a modern actor, and would hear comments about not looking Japanese just because he didn’t look like a painted character from the tales of Genji.

    Physical appearance aside, there are many norms for what is accepted as Japanese in Japan, but the sad reality is that probably most Japanese people, regardless how much they try (and if you live in Japan you know they do) don’t fit into most of them which leaves Japaneseness to being a mere ideal that is actually unattainable.

    • Frank Schirmer

      Like a certain brown-eyed, dark haired frail man who said anyone who’s not tall, blue-eyed, and blonde-haired is subhuman?

      • Christopher-trier

        If it was a certain Austrian who became a naturalised German citizen, he actually did have blue eyes — there are colour pictures available. Still, he was a short, ugly, deformed psychopath.

    • Mwani

      I was wondering about that Thermae Romae” thank you for your interesting perspective on it. Now that I think about it, the lead man did have some deep set eye sockets. But I didn’t think about it as making him less Japanese/more Mediterranean. From the perspective you showed it makes more sense. To me it definitely didn’t make it seem like he was Roman…but O.K, I understand that 日本は is still a very homogeneous country and etc. Although I notice that there sometimes seem to be more openings in T.V and movies for non-Japanese, and mixed actors/models. It’s still slow to progress it seems for sure, but it’s making it.

      It’s ironic because here in the U.S too, most lead roles are Straight and White, and ethnic minority characters are usually relegated to the background or given a token presence if any. Even when they were going to make a live action movie based on Akira, all the lead actors were supposedly going to be white, instead of Japanese or even some other sort of East Asian. I guess people are just trying to conform the looks to what they think the country perceives as normal. It’s a little ridiculous here though because although this country is mostly White, there are many, many people of other Backgrounds, so it’s not realistic to portray the media as if that were not the case. But I guess that is the United States’s own prejudices at work.

      Also I almost watched Thermae Romae just because I really like Aya Ueto, but..I just didn’t get into it from the trailers. Was it any good? It looked pretty funny.

  • Frank Schirmer

    Should those kids enter the actual “big wide world”, they’ll be fine. It’s only as long as they try to get somewhere in a certain small-minded country when they run into problems.

    • Mo-ham-mad Ghard

      Personally like Frank says.. Its a big world out there, looks and names are not every thing but smart people know they can and will get you places. We took a long time to name my daughter and she got the best of both worlds.
      I also have every confidence that as a member of the human race, and with parents like these she will easily be able to see beyond some silly restaurant that pays $10 an hour getting pissed about her name.
      But hay by the time she is university age with her two other nationalities …. both of which offer free university education I think just like the emperors kids she is probably going to study abroad.

  • disqus_vK1X0x2nho

    It’s funny how some people are against discrimination on the basis of
    culture or ‘race’, but not on gender identity. Punishing people
    based on not fitting into what the dominant group in society gets to define and assume as ‘normal’ can be hurtful to any person, whatever that basis might be. (and there’s a difference between viewing something as “normal” vs simply “common”). Is the pot calling the kettle black? Well, most of us pay attention to only the things that affect us personally, but not necessarily extend that same sympathy to other human beings dealing with similar issues on another front…

    • LeslieCz

      What about transethnic persons? Eg someone is white but identifies as Japanese?

      • Kyosuke

        Nope! Not remotely the same. And you do transgender folks a great disservice when you compare the two. Transethnicity only applies to bicultural and immigrant individuals. A white long term resident/citizen of Japan can claim to be transethnic, because they have no doubt assimilated in some ways. However, what you’re implying, an ethnically Caucasian person who has never been to Japan or only been to Japan briefly who identifies as Yamato/Jomon… That is not a real identity. Someone who becomes a kikajin, however, that person is Japanese. Period. Just not ethnically Yamato/Jomon.

        I tackle this here: http://groupthink.jezebel.com/is-trans-ethnic-really-a-thing-492878854

  • Doug 陀愚 덕 ☸

    Of course, this sort of thing never happens in places like the US or the UK if someone happens to have a name like Mohammed, wears a headscarf or just “looks” dark in general. You know, because racial profiling is wrong.

    • Brandon Brown

      When Atheists start blowing themselves up in the name of something (or nothing), stabbing people in broad daylight, and declaring majority Atheist zones as self-governing, let me know and I’ll start keeping an eye on myself.

    • qwerty

      that stoopid old chestnut – 2 wrongs don’t make a right

  • bartonim

    So far, my kids (I am Caucasian from Canada; their mother is Japanese) have had no problems. The schools they attend are very welcoming. Perhaps we got lucky, but I won’t rule out problems in the future, just in case.

  • Bernd Bausch

    The article says the following about German names: “A name such as Kim would not be accepted by officials as a first name”. There are many Germans named Kim (famous in Internet circles: Kim Dotcom, born in German as Kim Schmitz), or Eike, or Kai, or other names that can be both male and female. The German-Japanese couple could have checked with the embassy what names were acceptable.

    More to the point of the article, it seems to show that Japanese are reluctant to even slightly bend rules. Whatever is written must be observed to the letter, otherwise one might be in trouble. Once rules are written without consideration to “marginal” cases, the damage is done – no flexibility allowed, with ridiculous consequences. And, as can be seen from the case of Hiroki, it is not only bicultural Japanese that are affected, but anybody not fitting the norm.

    “With one in every 20 marriages in Japan now involving one foreign partner, there will be an increasing number of bicultural adults entering society, and there is a growing need for Japanese society to review the way it deals with them”. This will happen. It is inevitable. But the problem is not how to treat bicultural people, but anybody not fitting the description of “standard” Japanese.

  • Brandon Brown

    “With one in every 20 marriages in Japan now involving one foreign partner…” I find this a little difficult to believe. Anyone have a source for this? Or know from personal experience?

    • Megumi Nishikura

      Here is the link to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. http://www.mhlw.go.jp/toukei/saikin/hw/jinkou/tokusyu/konin06/konin06-4.html#4-4 If you can read the top line on the right, you will find that international couples make up nearly 6% of marriages. I believe 1 in 20 equals 5%.

    • Doug 陀愚 덕 ☸

      I can’t say I know the source, but I have heard something similar, maybe on NHK: 5% of all marriages in Japan in recent years were interracial marriages.

  • Megumi Nishikura

    I have met Hafus with all sort of name combinations. I have heard good and bad things about each combination, so I think there is no perfect solution when parents are naming their kids. For some of those who have completely non-Japanese names, they feel that they have been denied part of their Japanese heritage. For people like myself with fully Japanese names, I am often stared at in disbelief when I had over my meishi in work situations. Because of the way I look, I get questions like “Is your husband Japanese?” I have softened my answers to “My father is Japanese”, when I really want to say “It’s because I AM Japanese”. More insulting people have said bluntly, “You are Japanese, with that face?” 「その顔で西倉めぐみなの?」
    I am grateful to Kittaka-san for this article as this is much needed discussion in Japan. I hope to ignite the same sort of discussion with the release of the upcoming documentary 「ハーフ」”Hafu: the mixed race experience in Japan”

    • richard denauldo

      thats funny, i am half japanese but attend university in the US, I have a completely US name and professors and students always, ask whats my real name, or how in the world did i get that name

      • Antoine B.

        Well, I guess it depends very much on the way the question is put… you can’t push back on people being honestly curious. But there are also a good deal of people who mean evil in asking…

    • Mwani

      Thanks for mentioning the film I added them on my fb. The film looks really interesting!!! As someone who is of mixed heritage and who is interested in Japanese culture, I am really fascinated by the way these situations may be played out there, and how different people deal with it. I’m from NY so it’s very interesting when you see a culture that is much more homogeneous in Japan, and how racial/cultural differences are explored.

  • Scott Newby

    Feel the author of this important issue has , intentionally or not, clouded this issue by using a transgender example to open the topic. I do know a number of people who have taken the huge decision to tell their family and friends and in some cases, their partners, that they no longer feel comfortable in their own skin. This shouldnt be confused with at its most innocent, ignorance, and at its worst, racial discrimination. Not employing someone because theyve decided to change sex and not employing someone cause of their hair colour, whilst both absurd, shouldnt be confused if we do, in reality, want things to change,

  • wanderingpippin

    While I do sympathize with Hiroaki, it just seems beyond naive to think that he could apply for a job as a male and then just drop off a document listing him as female with explanation without flags being raised. And of course any company should be doing what it can to prevent the accidental illegal hiring of foreigners without the legal right to work. I now that they have their explanation from Sukiyaki, the parents should be getting busy lobbying the government to allow the hiring of anybody, anywhere, anytime.

    • wanderingpippin

      Sorry about all the typos

      Hiroaki — Hiroki

      with explanation — with NO explanation

      I now that — Now that

      Sukiyaki — Sukiya

      Old blurry eyes and an iPhone late at night are not a good combination!

  • Toolonggone

    The article well describes how deep public misperception of ‘Japanese’ is penetrated in its secular society. Many people are well aware that the society keeps producing and re-producing the myth of Japanese as predominantly homogenous race by caucasianizing Yamato(Wajin), who is actually neither mono-ethnic nor mono-cultural. The great contraction is that the society has historically mistreated (and is still mistreating) indigenous people (i.e., Ainu, Buraku, Okinawans), while their great ancestors and founding father of Japanese culture are the immigrants of Korea and China. And see what some crazy people are acting out of such cultural ignorance—i.e., bashing people of Korean and Chinese descents (including Zainichies) as a national threat (huh!?) — makes me wonder what kind of race they are, and what kind of society keeps us silent on discrimination and social injustice.

  • tomi

    I think it was more about the gender issue than Katakana name issue….

    • Olivier

      Maybe if you read more carefully, you will understand that the first matter was the “trouble” with the “katakana name”… Meaning that the hiring staff was suspicious of Hiroki of not “really” being Japanese. Hence the “race” discrimination!!

  • FF

    Japan is a homogenous society. Foreigners are a bit of a novelty. But the truth is, immigration is a truly amazing thing. I truly the USA could fix our immigration system. Millions come here, and many want to come here, and I think they should all have the ample opportunity to.

    • Olivier

      The Japanese Society as being homogenous is a MYTH!!! And has been for a long time… But not THAT long… It was made up at the beginning of the 20th C.
      Foreigners are not a “novelty”… Or it is a novelty since the 5th C AD, when Chinese people and korean imported Buddhism to Japan.
      And Westerners are pretty much well known since the 19th C.

  • longtermjapan

    I am American man and have 3 children with a Japanese mother. They are native in both English and Japanese and attend Japanese schools. They are well treated in lnearly all situations and find that their bicultural identity is a plus.
    If the juminhyo states sex they are referring to the accurate bioligical definition. Should Sukiya allow women and men to use each others toliets? Do women always feel confortable with men hanging out in their toilets? Should we inconvenience many for the sake of just one person?
    This transgender person is going to face even more difficulty once they graduate and try to enter the proper work force. It would be much easier just to get the sex change operation and spare everyone the confusion.
    Dont put the burden on Sukiya or the ward office.

    • Olivier

      Sorry, but this is not about just ONE person…
      A lot of people are transgender and are facing the same problems as Hiroki does.
      I do guess you pretty much do not know a thing about transgender people…
      Getting the operation is not that easy and it is very expensive. Especially in Japan.
      Moreover, the operation does not imply the change of sex will be done right away! Even if Japan is one of the country that has recently softened the law system in regard with that, it is still not done overnight.
      Last, Hiroki’s case is not the only one stated in the article; I do wish your children will not have to face any kind of discrimination in their lives.

  • Mark Makino

    Surprised no one has mentioned yet the author’s ignorant conflation of race with culture. If it’s true that most international marriages in Japan are between Japanese men and other Asian women, I suspect most of these “biracial” kids are being raised monoculturally.
    We should also leave behind the notion that societies can either be homogeneous or not; it would be more accurate to say that societies can consider themselves homogeneous or not, and that illusion can be created and reinforced through education and culture.

  • Saya

    Japan is actually really great in terms of equal treatment of foreigners. Foreigners get the same national heath insurance, can enjoy the same public schools as citizens, etc. In Singapore, it’s just accepted that foreigners (whether you’re American, Japanese, British, and regardless of how much taxes you pay) have to pay extra, are not eligible for a lot of things, and even if your child is born and raised in Singapore, if they’re not citizens, they can’t get into local public schools (law stipulates citizens get absolute priority, so although as a “foreigner” you can apply for local schools, they only give you a place in schools that no one wants to go to.) As a foreigner raising kids in a foreign country, I’d much rather live in Japan than in a lot of other countries.
    I think this article is a bit sensationalist by using how a transgender boy/girl was treated. That’s kind of irrelevant to how “half” Japanese are treated…

    • Kyosuke

      People like to make us invisible. We are not invisible. Read Hourou Musuko. Consider Kamikawa Aya.

  • Olivier

    Well, the most important point in this article, at least in my view, is the fact that the hiring law system has “tightened” in the last years. Meaning that the government is at the core of the discrimination increasing cases.
    Seems pretty much in line with all the other latest changes or attempt of changes in the constitution and laws.

  • sing_or_die_1818

    so your whole premise is… life can be tough? wow, how revelatory. i also find it more than a bit disingenuous that you make the article all about biculturalism and then proceed to spend a huge chunk of time on an exceptional case involving a transgendered individual.

    can’t the whole situation be summed up as it often can be? exercise your best judgment and common sense, and prevail upon those around you–and, ultimately, the society in which you live–to do likewise.

    as the father of a young girl with a Western last name (mine) and a japanese first name (also mine–as in given by me), i think that the best that a parent can do is raise his or her child to know who she is and where she comes from, as well as where she is and what the norms are. this offers her best chance to be known for who she is rather than what she is. it really isn’t that complicated…

  • vasu

    Should they have this privilege of personal opinion on the issue they are interested in ? Don’t forget more you go places more strangest opinions the local people entertain .so Japanese are not only odd ,the world is instead.Refresh own knowledge on such subject before professing final verdict.

  • Gee Daigo Kawai

    as a Japanese employer, I can defo learn from these monocultural-racial problems.

    I’m saying that my company is an equal opportunity employer that would never enforce my employees NOT to dye or bleach their hair, sift out some bright people regardless of their gender, sexuality, religion, social stat or race…as long as they do the assigned job, i am so fine with it. we don’t raise much voice in the real world just because it’s just so natural to us. intolerance is evidence of impotence, at least that’s one of my company don’ts.

    Honestly this makes me sick to stomach that there still are(and mostly) many narrow minded business going on in the 21st century.

  • dcello

    There really is no reason Sukiya couldn’t hire him and treat him with dignity.
    Normally companies address employees by name and then the polite suffix “san.”
    Why did Sukiya even ask him if it’s alright to humiliate him by calling him a woman at work? They have his private info on an application- period.

    The excuse Sukiya gave is simply a lie. If companies are really that inflexible how will TEPCO clean-up Fukushima?

    The boycott on Sukiya makes sense, not just because of outrage over discrimination, but because they lied about it and became un-trustworthy. Would you eat their beef? You can assume they are buying the cheapest barely within government limits legal beef they can and serving it to you on like-quality rice for a nice FAT profit. If you ask about it’s origins and quality, you’ll get another indigestible tricky answer that will make you sick.
    Do yourself a favor and support the boycott.

  • Glen Douglas Brügge

    I still get the impression that haafu are only trendy, not because they are seen as equals, but because they are seen as oddities to be gawked at, akin to 見世物. “So Japanese, but still so foreign, wow!” It isn’t a sincere form of acceptance.

  • Richie Bartlett

    “…and there is a growing need for Japanese society to review the way it deals with them.”

    I disagree… Japanese should not just *deal* with us… Rather they should simply _accept_ us.

    After all, who else is going to repopulate this greying society?