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The perennial ‘half, bi or double?’ debate rolls on

Confounding ‘half’ stereotypes

Re: “There is more to my son than the fact he’s a ‘half’ ” by Ryan Surdick (The Foreign Element, July 29):

I’m a bicultural teenage girl and I have lived in Japan since I was 8 months old. I connected to this article in a very personal way and it also made me laugh, because my “gaijin” daddy is always complaining about how calling people “half” seems to be the norm in Japan.

I completely agree that there is a stereotype in Japan of us bicultural people being good-looking, wide-eyed, small-faced, tall and long-legged, and I have noticed, during my 15 years of existence, that people expect this of bicultural people.

At 5 foot 2 (157 cm), I am not at all tall. My legs are not at all long. My face isn’t very small. My eyes aren’t that big. I am not very good-looking. If I were Japanese, nobody would bat an eye at this.

However, walking around in public, I have noticed people say to each other in hushed voices, “Ano ko hāfu nano ni, se hikui, ashi ga nagakunai ne” (“Look, that girl’s ‘half’ but she’s short and her legs aren’t long”).

It’s almost as if they are surprised or disappointed. I don’t take it to heart because I luckily know many other bicultural kids, and I know that a lot of us don’t fit the “half” stereotype prevalent in Japanese culture.

My friends and I have concluded, however, that if we were to be referred to as amounts, it would probably be more accurate to call us bicultural people “double” (instead of “half”) because we have two instead of one cultural background, two passports instead of one, commonly speak two languages instead of one, belong to two different countries and belong to possibly two different continents.

Great article. It’s cool to find this kind of thing in the media.

ANGELA BUNN
Tokyo

Only some ‘halfs’ qualify as cool

Replace the word “half” with “mixed” and it’s the same thing in the U.S. I got all the same stuff growing up as my son does here.

The “problem” comes down to two simple things. Firstly, the word “hāfu,” which just means “mixed,” implies to English ears something negative, as in not a whole but only a half, that’s not what is meant. Secondly, Americans especially are hyper-sensitive to race and flip the heck out over any possible difference associated to their ethnicity.

The reality is half-Asian, half-whatever children do look different because they are different-looking than 99 percent of the other people living in Japan. They have features from people that evolved separately for tens of thousands of years, and so many people find that to be cool and interesting. That’s because it is cool and interesting.

As a side note, I don’t recall anyone ever bothering about my races and such (beside remarks on being good-looking) until college, where in the supposedly “liberal” environment there were people obsessed with it and wanted me to represent all things Indian or, excuse me, “Native American.”

In America people are encouraged to reject one half, especially if it is white. Only minorities are “cool” — just look at our president: He’s black.

He’s actually a hāfu too, but his white half is rejected. Which is worse: saying “hāfu” (which is true) or pretending to not be mixed?

RY DAWSON
Ikoma, Nara

Katakana names nothing new

Re: “Prove you’re Japanese: when being bicultural can be a burden” by Louise George Kittaka (The Foreign Element, July 29):

As a non-Japanese wife of a Japanese husband living in Europe, I was interested by your article on “our” children.

Concerning names written in katakana, [the article came as] a great surprise!

My mother-in-law, born in Kyushu in 1906, had her name Yuki written in katakana with no kanji. She was “pure Japanese” (if I can use these two words, which sounds horrible together). When asked why, she always said it was “fashion” at that time to write children’s names in such a way.

The Japanese [authorities are] very short-sighted and seem to have short memories.

GENEVIEVE UCHIDA-ERNOUF
Paris

Mixed-race resources aplenty

Good to see several articles recently on hāfu issues. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that although there are more “kids” now that are young from recent international couples, there is a huge history behind hāfu that goes back decades — and even centuries.

More interestingly, the kids in their thirties now are doing quite a lot on both sides of the Pacific to promote social dialogue and understanding of multiculturalism.

Please take a look at some examples below. I hope you might want to write an article on these older generations and their endeavors.

In Japan

• Die Kreuzengstelle (has been online for more than a decade with articles, book reviews and discussion — by a German hāfu scholar, Hyoue Okamura): www.kreuzungsstelle.com

• Mixed Roots Japan (has been active for seven years now, promoting social dialogue through family events, art and music, monthly radio shows, and also academic discourse in partnership with national universities and the University of Southern California — I represent this group and am in the documentary film “Hafu”): www.mixroots.jp

• Hafu Project (quoted in the recent article, run by two hāfu who have recently become mothers): www.hafujapanese.org

• Hafu wo Kangaeyo (Blog by Sandra Haeflin, who also wrote the book “It’s Only In Your Imagination That All ‘Halfs’ Are Pretty!”: half-sandra.com

In the U.S.

• Hapa Japan Festival (biannual academic conference and festival): hapajapan.com

• Loving Day (commemorative festival for Loving vs. Virginia “Loving Day” started by Ken Tanabe): www.lovingday.org

• Mixed Marrow (promoting marrow donor registration for mixed-race recipients): mixedmarrow.org

• Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference: criticalmixedracestudies.org/wordpress/cmrs-2012/

• Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival: www.mixedrootsfest.org

In Canada

• Hapapalooza: hapapalooza.ca

In the U.K.

• Mix-d (offering a platform for parenting issues, an online “Museum” and also running a beauty pageant): www.mix-d.org

ED SUMOTO

Mixed Roots Japan
Kobe

Send comments on these issues and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp.

  • Dominic

    Calling all haafu “bicultural” just confuses ethnicity with culture and gives the impression that half Japanese people cannot be completely culturally Japanese. Even complete foreigners can end up being more culturally Japanese than anything else.

    • Guest

      i’m glad you agree that even foreigners can learn japanese culture, but on “ethnicity and culture” i think you could learn a thing or two from Mark Makino.

      culture is not *only* defined by location or “race”, and it is most definitely not static.

  • Mark Makino

    On the difference between race and culture:
    One is defined locally, more sociological than biological, defined by political and historical trends, and represents learned rather than innate human characteristics; and the other is culture.

  • Frank Hansen

    I always thought that the term half (haafu) referred to a person whos parents have different sex.