There is more to my son than the fact he’s a ‘half’

New father Ryan Surdick is tired of being told his son is cute — because it's always linked to the issue of race


For foreign residents, having a child in Japan can be a daunting prospect. Going to the hospital and trying to figure out what the doctor is saying in complex Japanese medical terms is just one of myriad trials.

However, as Kenji is my firstborn, I had nothing to compare this with — which, on reflection, is probably just as well. Now that the dust has settled, raising a child in Japan is pretty much as one might expect: busy, fun — and challenging at times. I’ve become an expert at changing diapers (30 seconds start to finish!), saying “No!” five times in a row, and have spent what seems like hours pointing at my face and saying “Dadadadadada.” All in all, I assume it’s not so different from having a child in one’s native country.

One difference I have noticed, however, is the way people react towards my son, based on the fact that he is half-Japanese. Many people have heard stories of elementary-age non-Japanese students being bullied or ostracized. This is surely unacceptable, but as my son is only a year old, this isn’t a problem yet.

On the contrary, people meeting Kenji for the first time often marvel at how cute he is (a correct statement, but I may be biased … ). “So what’s the big deal? Why complain about people saying your son is cute?” you might well be thinking. The problem lies not with the comment itself, but with the implication that he is cute because he is half-Japanese.

The word “half” often comes up when people meet my son for the first time. Statements such as “Yappari, hāfu ga kawaii” (“Just like they say, ‘halfs’ are cute”) or “Hāfu no me ga okii” (“Half [kids’] eyes are big”) are fairly common in first encounters. As with most transgressions in Japan, I would usually respond with a polite smile and say “thank you,” bury any misgivings and chalk the experience up to “cultural differences.”

In the West, most people would never think to call someone “half” — or, at least, they wouldn’t say it to your face. While it may be acceptable to call someone “half-Japanese” in certain contexts, rarely, if ever, have I heard of someone of mixed ethnicity being called simply “half.” In English, the word “half” by itself has a connotation of “not being complete” or possibly even “impure,” whereas “half-Italian” or “half-Chinese” has a more literal meaning.

In Japan, however, the word “half” has no such intended meaning, and it is apparently perfectly acceptable to use it in a casual encounter. According to Hafu Japanese, a project that promotes discussion about and understanding of half-Japanese individuals in Japanese society, “In modern Japan, the Hafu image projects an ideal type: English ability, international cultural experience, Western physical features — tall with long legs, small head/face, yet often looking Japanese enough for the majority to feel comfortable with.”

This positive perception of half-Japanese people, coupled with the fact that Japan is relatively culturally and genetically homogenous, makes it understandably difficult for the average Japanese to understand why the word “half” could be offensive. There is simply no way for the average person to relate.

In this context, it’s taken me quite a while to work out what exactly it is about the usage of the word “half” in Japan that bothers me. Though I know people don’t mean any offense by it, there is still a twinge of repulsion when I hear the word. For a long time, I assumed it was just the English connotation influencing my perception of people’s meaning.

However, I’ve come to realize there’s more to it than this. The real problem I have is not with the word itself, but rather what it signifies about the user’s thinking. It’s often one of the first things people say when they meet my son. “Half” immediately becomes the defining characteristic of him to anyone he meets in Japan. And along with this comes a whole host of assumptions.

People are much more than the sum of their physical characteristics. I realize, of course, that Kenji is only 1 year old and there aren’t a lot of other ways to define him yet. But I fear this classification based on the fact that his father is not Japanese will only lead to issues in the future that needn’t be created in the first place.

Obviously, it’s human nature to latch onto something that makes a person unique when we try to fix them in our memory. We often use terms like “the bald guy” or “the girl with glasses and a ponytail” when referring to people we don’t know by name. In large part, these types of statement don’t bother me, partly because of the brevity of their existence. People quickly come to know other individuals by more than these simple descriptions, providing they get to know the individual at all. “The bald guy” soon becomes known as “George”; if we never meet again, he is forgotten.

In Japan, though, the “half” classification seems to stick. It is forever associated with a person. It becomes a label. People have referred to my son’s “halfness” and then have not been able to remember his name. Often, people look at him, look at me, then say with a smile, “Hāfu?” as if to confirm his genetic identity before asking his name or how old he is.

This is clearly evidence of a person’s ethnicity eclipsing their identity. Remembering someone by the fact that they’re of mixed parentage is as useful as recognizing someone as the “woman with pink glasses.” It says nothing about their character and reduces a multi-faceted personality to two dimensions. This type of thinking is a slippery slope that furthers compartmentalized, stereotypical thinking — something I think most people would agree should be avoided.

Is Japan the only society that makes these assumptions? Most certainly not. It’s in our nature to stereotype. Even in the U.S., the self-proclaimed melting pot, people routinely class others based on their race or appearance — and it’s no more right there than it is here. But the Japanese cultural concept of uchi/soto — inside/outside — makes it all the more troubling that multiracial individuals are categorized according to their “halfness.” Such pigeonholing can surely only hinder the integration of bicultural individuals into mainstream Japanese society.

For people of mixed ethnicity who grow up, work and live here, this “racial profiling” can be a lifelong irritant. As a young half-Japanese man named Chikara Dean, quoted in an article on the Japan Today website, says, “I had some Japanese people who would stare at my face seemingly in wonder that I could speak fluent Japanese.” Much as the terms gaijin or gaikokujin push the fact that an individual is not Japanese to the forefront of the speaker and listener’s consciousness, “half” segregates people who are culturally, linguistically and genetically part-Japanese from the rest of the society in which they have been raised.

Having been referred to as “gaijin” more times than I can even hope to remember, I have at least some insight into how much of a pain these labels can be. But in my case, cultural integration is not something I’m seeking. I can live, work and get along just fine in Japan as the perpetual “guest.” But I wonder how it would be to grow up like this. How would a lifetime of these “psychological micro-aggressions” affect an individual? Could that person ever truly feel Japanese? Would they even want to? Or does it rob them of part of their cultural heritage? These are questions that only bicultural individuals can answer.

So does this mean I’ll go about my daily life correcting everyone that calls Kenji “half,” explaining to them in lengthy diatribes about the implications of their statement? Probably not. No one person in particular is to blame. Much like being told “Wow! you use chopsticks so well!” — or “You speak Japanese very fluently!” after having only said “konnichi wa” — it’s the multitude of trespasses that grates more than any one particular offense.

It’s difficult to turn the tide of an entire culture individual by individual. But is there any other way? I explain my concerns to a few Japanese friends and I encourage them to pass them on to their acquaintances. I tell them to always keep in mind that a half-Japanese person may have lived their whole life in Japan, only speak Japanese and be effectively monocultural.

Hopefully, through these small conversations, a greater recognition of these issues can eventually be reached. Japanese culture, for all it’s beauty and nuances, is slow to shift, but it is not immobile; and for change to happen, shared understanding is all it takes.

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

  • Max Erimo

    I have an 8 month old son, with my Japanese wife. When people make the mistake of referring to him as ハーフ(haafu), I quickly correct them. He is ダブル(daburu). On hearing this they look at me as if I don’t know what I’m talking about.
    I politely explain that he has 2 nationalities(dual citizenship), 2 mother tongues, two cultural identities, so how ever you look at it he has twice as much as the ordinary person (by which of course I mean a full blooded Japanese).
    I will continue to correct them.

    • Frank Schirmer

      I commend your patience, but why bother living in Japan at all? Especially with kids…

    • Lynda

      Bravo! That’s exactly what I have said for years now to any of my acquaintances who are both Japanese and of another ethnicity. They are not half of anything–they are double of everything.

      • MP

        When your kids get older they might not feel that way. Just don’t force them to use a label just because you prefer that

    • Does he also have two heads? Twenty fingers? Two sets of genome? As someone who isn’t “double” [sic] can also have two mother tongues, two cultural identities, and two nationalities, it sounds like you’re hearing a racial descriptor (“half”) and choosing to hear a descriptor referring to ethnicity or cultural identity.

      I once asked my child once what he/she thought of using the word double instead of half.

      “Yuck! Makes me sounds like an sci-fi monster. Don’t ever call me that. Especially in front of other people.”

      Thus, I seriously doubt that word choice will catch on except amongst the overly politically correct types, as it sounds more like a reference to Zaphod Beeblebrox, rather than a euphemism to conflate one’s racial makeup with their ethnic/cultural makeup.

      • qwerty

        so your son (how old is he?) calls the shots? i don’t like the word “half” – my kid is 100%

      • Guest

        I happen to agree with my child. And since his/her native/first language is Japanese and has actually experienced/experiencing 21st century Japanese public schools, and actually is and self-identifies as “half”, I respect that opinion — formed from real world present day first person experience — more than my own and most of the opinions in this article, which are formed from overly-literal English translations of “half” and not the real world nuances surrounding the Japanese word “hāfu”.

        If you look it up, many Japanese-Japanese dictionaries (kokugo jiten) say the appropriate translation of the Japanese wasei-eigo word “hāfu” in English is “mixed”, and it defines “hāfu” as “a person from multiple bloods/races”, not as somebody who is 50% Japanese.

      • I happen to agree with my child. And since his/her native/first language is Japanese and has actually experienced/experiencing 21st century Japanese public schools, and actually is and self-identifies as “half”, I respect that opinion. That opinion was formed from real world present day first person experience — which is more than I can say for my own and most of the opinions in this article, which seem to be formed from overly-literal English language interpretations of “half” and not the real world nuances surrounding the Japanese word “hāfu”.

        If you look it up, many Japanese-Japanese dictionaries (kokugo jiten) say the appropriate translation of the English-inspired-Japanese-word (wasei-eigo) word “hāfu” in English is “mixed”, and it defines “hāfu” (in the context of a person) as “someone from multiple bloods/races/parentage”, not as somebody who is “50% Japanese”.

        You’re hearing the Japanese word “hāfu” and you’re thinking the English meanings of “half”, not the Japanese meaning of “hāfu” in the context of a person, which is “konketsuji”.

        Languages (English, Japanese, etc.) import foreign words and change their meanings and usage from the original language all the time.

      • qwerty

        but it comes from the word “half”, it sounds like the word “half”, and let’s be honest, it pretty much means “half (Japanese)”.
        I don’t think people who use it (like my kids’ grandparents) are racist, I just don’t like the word.
        That’s fair enough, isn’t it?

      • Bernd Bausch

        You have the right to dislike a word, of course, but this is entirely your problem. To me, “half” means nothing, as there is no such word in my language.

      • qwerty

        you seem to have a reasonable grasp of english

      • Cathryn Mataga

        Yeah the ‘double’ thing makes me gag also. I don’t like it. Like I’m going to walk up to Japanese people and tell them I’m ‘double’ — I think I’d sound like an idiot.

    • Guest

      That’s fantastic, Max. I like that.

    • Jen

      I am a 30-year old half japanese, half canadian woman and have never ever thought of myself as ダブル! thank you for this amazing pespective!

    • DanDeMan

      That is a very good point, and it surely makes sense however be careful that you might be making the rest of the Japanese feel as they are half less as your son,…pointing out the ダブル in a corrective statement to them might also transmit the fact that they are not ダブル but suddenly the realize they are the SINGLE HALF ones,….not sure that they walk away happy from this emotional shock :-).

    • Guest

      Often when languages borrow words, the words’ original meaning changes. It’s ridiculous to “correct” a foreign borrowed word as it is not English anymore.

  • Michael Willard

    I have had a different experience. When anyone sees my kids they ask how old they and then say “he is cute.” Never once has anyone ever said anything about them being half. I have been asked if I’m American and then the conversation turns to me and if I like Japan. And if they choose to identify them as American/Japanese that’s fine with me. My oldest is 8 and the bullying hasn’t come up yet but I’m sure at some point it will. The only difference I have seen raising them here is the schools and city office are more health conscious than in America and the fact he is “half” he seems to have every kid in school wanting to be his friend. It sucks you have had a different experience. Maybe it will get better. When I first moved here everybody stared at me. Now it’s just the crazy guy down the street. But he still says hello when he sees me…

  • 思德

    It’s funny how what you’ll tolerate for yourself you won’t put up with when people do it to your kid!

  • It is absurd to pretend, without ‘evidence’ other than etymology (‘Half is less than double, so half is bad and double is good!), that there is a negative connotation to the word ‘haafu’. It is also absurd to pretend there is something ‘racist’ about believing ‘haafu’ or Eurasian infants are generally cute. Is it ‘racist’ to believe that African, or Arab, or Armenian little kids are generally cute? Please, let’s get over ourselves and not psychoanalyze innocent comments. I don’t want Japanese people to assume they must linguistically tip toe around us gaijin dads.

    • Dante

      Well, clearly someone’s never lived in the same Japan that the rest of us have (or thought – mistakenly to be half themselves) – or… at all?

      You, who say things like: “There will always be self-important fools in Japan making ahistorical and racist comments, and is it any different anywhere?” are entirely correct. Take your own advice. After being generally assumed as “half” during my time in Japan it began to feel like “a good foreigner is a Japanese-ish foreigner in trait and in appearance: at least half, and culturally the same as [us].” And truly, that is still what you need to function in Japanese society “normally.” The author is simply bringing up this point.

      No one’s linguistically tip-toeing nor needs to.

      – If you are a writer, or have written an article before, you would understand what the author is using the word “hafu” for: something to introduce a wider issue that he would like to discuss. Surely all this fuss is not simply about the word “hafu,” even if you have no personal basis for comparison. You are mistaken, good sir.

      • I think that’s right, Dante. I don’t live in the same Japan that you and some others do. I think, psychologically, the key is not to assume, based on usage of words (like ‘gaijin’ and ‘hafu’) that are not inherently negative, what Japanese people think of you.

      • Sean

        would it be racist to call Japanese people G.D. Slant Eyes? Maybe very much so in Japan but completely acceptable in the hills of North Carolina where their only experience with anyone not southern baptist was when their grand fathers went to war. In fact, I know several who didn’t even know this was an insulting connotation, having only ever heard others use it.

        Does it make it acceptable? No. If the speaker doesn’t care about the feelings oft he listener, should the listener care what the speaker thinks? hell no. I have one method in Japan, I show as much respect as I get. The ojiisan who complains about me sitting down next to him I tell in Japanese to go fuck himself. The japanese person who shows me respect as a person I do the same.

        To the author, if you care: speak up. As a brown skinned foreigner treated like a terrorist for my stint for work in Japan, I know the only way to fight is to face such idiocy head on. The law says you have as much right to be there as others, screw these people telling you to “quietly blend in”. Modern people in all countries realize this isn’t acceptable, and I pity the cowards who think Japan is somehow special and deserves a free pass with what racism there is.

      • haberstr

        I was commenting on the absurdity of assuming there is racist
        intent behind describing those with half-Japanese ethnicity as ‘haafu’. I agree that there are many racists in Japan and elsewhere, and they should be confronted and battled. But it is counterproductive to fight and attack non-racists after confusing them with racists. And that’s where the ‘etymological error’ comes in.

    • qwerty

      you just want to fit in – you are probably one of the many ‘guest gaijin’ here, and happily accept the subtle, usually subconscious offences

      • It is difficult to find solid evidence of “subtle, usually subconscious offenses,” and I bet that’s why some make the ‘etymological error’ and decide that use of ‘gaijin’ and ‘haafu’ makes a person guilty of racism. It’s better and fairer, I think, to recognize that it’s just hard to know what people are really thinking.

      • qwerty

        etymology shmetomology – don’t you understand why some people don’t like the word? or are you too japanesey?

      • Sam Gilman

        “Are you too Japanesey?”

        Wow. You sound rather unsettled here, qwerty. Are you sure there’s not a deeper problem than terminology with your feelings on the issue?

      • qwerty

        resorting to weak personal attacks, probably projecting your own insecurities, won’t change anything…

        “Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”
        ― Arthur Schopenhauer

      • Sam Gilman

        Qwerty, your comments in general express a paranoid mistrust of Japanese (you think they see your child as half a person) and in your last post you directly associate being “Japanesey” with an inability to empathise.

        It’s only fair to ask you how comfortable you are personally with your children being half Japanese, given what appears to be rather a strong antipathy to Japanese people in general. Does “ha-fu” remind you of the half that perhaps deep down you’re struggling to accept? You’re not alone in this: I’ve seen many westerners (usually fathers) feel threatened by their children growing up in a culture these fathers don’t really trust.

        I’m fine with ha-fu because I see it as short for half-X half-Y, and shortened in the way lots of Japanese phrases are shortened. I have never heard the word used derogatorily. Why do you hear it differently?

      • qwerty

        this is getting tiring… “too japanesey” clearly meant (in context) that, like many “guest gaijin” here, you take any criticism of japan personally and defend it “tooth and nail” (see the quote above, again)
        this seems pretty clear in your personal attacks
        “deep down struggling to accept”… i must have hit a nerve for you to resort to that kind of amateur reverse psychology
        i’m fine and dandy here in japan – i like it – i just don’t like the word “half” or “ha-fu” – and you can’t make me like it!

      • Sam Gilman

        qwerty, you’ve called me a “fool”, a “guest gaijin”, “insecure”, based on nothing more than my disagreeing with you about the meaning of a word in Japanese. Please don’t try and hide such uncivil behaviour behind the mantle of victimhood and pretend I’m being abusive.

        It’s not a personal attack to suggest that your aggregated comments about Japanese appear to be negative. It’s an assessment of what you say. You used “Japanesey” in the context you used it was clearly negative. Personally, I would hate it if I felt my children were being generally being treated as half a person, and people were regularly “subtly, subconsciously” offensive towards me because of my ethnicity. If I were you, I certainly wouldn’t say “I’m fine and dandy here in Japan”. My kids are too important for that. Aren’t they for you?

        Your explanation of what you meant by “Japanesey” was particularly revealing. All I’m doing here is saying a particular word is not offensive, and that those who find it offensive are either simply mistaken in how the word is used, or are looking for offence. For example, in the sentence “Furansu-jin to doitsu-jin no ha-fu” (“A person who is half-French, half-German”), there is no way that the word “ha-fu” can be taken to mean “50%”. It wouldn’t make sense. It only makes sense if it is taken roughly to mean “person with parents from different countries or ethnicities” ie “mixed”. I presume you speak Japanese well enough to understand this. (You do realise that “ha-fu” is not simply applied to people who are half-Japanese, don’t you?).

        Yet because of my opinion you call me “guest gaijin” and “fool” and accuse me of defending Japan “tooth and nail” against “any criticism”? This is an incredible over-reaction. You think I’m projecting insecurities? Is this projecting projection? Are only negative views of Japanese society valid?

        By the way, the term “guest gaijin” is itself rather offensive. Why do you want to diminish my stake in this society by referring to my ethnicity? I am a working, taxpaying parent and a long-term resident. I’m nobody’s “guest”, thank you very much.

      • Tammy Bondhus Morimoto

        “Too Japanesey” sounds pretty racist to me. It suggests that you don’t respect Japanese culture, because you think “too much” of it is bad.

        How can somebody who criticizes another person for being “too Japanesey” think there’s a problem with words like “hafu” and “gaijin”?

    • Matt Thorn

      Sheesh! What is it with the “obviously you don’t know the *real Japan*” ad hominem attacks, both on the author of this article and John here? Argue the merits, not whose CV is longer than whose. I’ve lived in Japan for a total of about 18 years over a period of about 28 years. I’m fluent enough in Japanese that I lecture to Japanese students in Japanese at a Japanese university 4 or 5 days a week (about manga and comics, as it happens), and I’ve also been a professional translator for 23 years. I also raised a “haafu” child (now 20) in Kyoto. And I served as the head of the PTA at his public Japanese elementary school for two years. How’s that for a credential? And as it happens, I completely understand both what the author says and what John says. Both are pointing to different facets of a complex reality, and both observations are demonstrably “true.” I could quibble with both of them about this or that detail, but they both make important and valid points.

    • FredrikJones


      Unfortunately etymological usage is weighty as that is the only evidential proof that you will ever get. Unless you ask each user of the word half to clarify what they mean by that……3 years later, the outcome might be sobering.

      Actually as an African that grew up in Europe, I resent folks that I don’t know telling me that I’m cute! Or that I have a beautiful smile. In fact Ignore such compliments now as it is just not appropriate from strangers.

      You should actually actively look for Japanese people to tip toe round the subject as they are labeling your child.. A child with a Japanese mum or dad is not half anything and can claim Japanese.

      You will find that there will be racist undertones in some cases. Not all cases but some. It is the ‘some’ that are worrying.

      • haberstr

        Etymological ‘evidence’ is not evidence, because words have the meanings and connotations that users and listeners assign to them, and this can often have nothing to do with a word’s etymological history. Specifically, as you have in fact agreed, what goes on inside the minds of speakers of words like ‘gaijin’ and ‘haafu’ varies according to the speaker and the context. In communication there are other things going on besides the words, like body language or word intonation, and I bet that helps us understand (better than etymology, for sure) when a negative connotation is being made. Finally, a haafu is definitely half: he or she is ethnically half foreign and half Japanese, and to me that seems what people usually mean. You can read people’s minds differently and infer that what they ‘really’ mean is that a ‘haafu’ is half a citizen or half a person, but I think that’s unfair to most people who use the word.

      • 7743

        How is anyone born to a Japanese parent in Japan half-Japanese? What are you talking about?

      • haberstr

        It’s common, at least in the U.S., to refer to those with a parent of Irish ethnicity and a non-Irish parent, as ‘half-Irish’. I hope that helps.

      • tesmith47

        the unstated inference is that it is surprising any one of a different ethnicity can be attractive at all.
        this is often related to power imagery all around the world, example notice that african / Black images are always distorted / not to be emulated, undesirable / unattractive in most media where as white images are always made desirable, attractive , to be emulated i.e. the blonde hair, blue-green-purple round eye thing.
        this is understandable considering the power relationships.
        all people around the world must rise above our own and others stupidity and prejudices

    • Murasaki

      I have to say I fully agree with you John, I do not understand why so many gaikokujin come to Japan and then complain about everything because it does not happen back in their home country. If their country was so perfect they why did they come to Japan in the first place?

      If someone looked at my child and said ‘Haafu’ I would be please, the better half would have come from their Japanese mother, not their Aussie father.

      The problem in Japan with gaikokujin is too many of them are paranoid and think Japanese are out to get them or belittle them. They have problems in Japan because they create them themselves.

      10 years living in Japan and only once I have had racism directed towards me and it was by a police officer who asked if I was a ‘Terrorist’ and wanted to see my Passport, at the time I was with my wife and she contacted the officers HQ immediately, later on we received a formal apology from the officers CO and a written apology from the officer and that was back in 2005 it was a one off.

      Yes I have been called gaijin but normally by elderly and it has never worried me, I do now days tell people that I have eijūken and that I am not really a gaikokujin any more.

      As they say when in Rome, People that come to Japan should behave Japanese and do as the Japanese do and then they will have no problem, but many come to Japan and try to change Japan or Japanese thinking to meet their thinking and it does nothing but causes problems and you have the gaikokujin screaming ‘Racism’.

      • Itsrealfunnythat

        I think you completely missed the point of the entire article.

      • 20smthgirl

        I totally agree with Murasaki.

      • Dan Robertsson

        You are so off-topic and wrong at the same time.

    • Itsrealfunnythat

      Are you half anything? Because if youre not and youre telling other people how they should feel maybe you are ignorant. Just because you dont have a problem does not mean there isnt a problem.

      • haberstr

        I’m not telling people what to think or how they should feel. I’m just saying two things are absurd. My daughter is half; she and her dozen or so ‘haafu’ friends think the ‘debate’ over the word is uncomfortable nonsense (or ‘weird’ to put it in teenager language).

      • Itsrealfunnythat

        I think teenagers dont see the differences until they get a little older unfortunately…

    • Inago

      What do you call a Japanese child with a foreign-looking parent (who actually might have citizenship) who looks Japanese?Japanese. Certainly, there is a lack of logic to the term “hafu”, that is worth discussing. Certainly people shouldn’t be discouraged from making innocent comments (though we can’t assume they are innocent either), particularly if they are just making friendly conversation, but this kind of discussion isn’t an attack against Japanese society either.

      The author doesn’t mention derogatory or racist terminology. The author is discussing a term that is about Japanese citizens (in most cases), not half-citizens, but Japanese citizens grew up in Japan, who speak Japanese fluently and call Japan their home. No matter what people choose to call a Japanese person (who may or may not have a foreign parent) the term is still being applied to a Japanese person.

      In the past, many foreign-looking children ended up leaving Japan to find employment, and people often assumed they couldn’t speak Japanese or use Kanji. Perhaps we should wait and let our children decide how they feel about the term “hafu”, or perhaps, until then it is worth thinking about.

      • tesmith47

        in america there is a similar phenomena, if a person “looks” white he is accepted as white but if he looks black even if hi mom is white america says he is black. I.E president Obama

        ethnic discrimination is truly irrational

      • haberstr

        Once again I see people mixing up citizenship and ethnicity. I think it’s fairly clear, if you know the context or just ask people (if you’re unafraid of asking a stupid question), that the term ‘haafu’ refers to half-Japanese ethnicity.

    • Secret Blasian Man

      “It is also absurd to pretend there is something ‘racist’ about believing ‘haafu’ or Eurasian infants are generally cute.”

      It is borderline racist, in this sense. It’s a positive stereotype, ascribing the cuteness of the child ONLY to the fact that s/he is hafu. The implication being that if s/he weren’t hafu, then s/he wouldn’t be as cute. I’ve seen this actually happen, where a guy would walk up to a (clearly Asian) girl and be all hot and heavy, but once he found out that she wasn’t hafu but instead was “only” Japanese, he immediately lost interest.

      But you have to pick your battles…which is why the author of this article “would usually respond with a polite smile and say ‘thank you,’ bury any misgivings and chalk the experience up to “cultural differences.”.

      • haberstr

        Finding a certain ethnicity or combination thereof cute or physically attractive is entirely racist, in my opinion.

    • Susannah H

      I am ‘haafu’. My mother is Japanese, my father Russian/Italian. I can tell you from my own personal, lifelong experience that being ‘haafu’ in the eyes of Japanese people can be either completely inconsequential, something to be envious of, or, unfortunately, something that makes me inferior.

      I agree and disagree with the author’s point: I do think that those categorized as ‘haafu’ should be recognized as being a Japanese citizen as much as any Japanese citizen; however, I also rejoice in my “halfness” and the beautiful racial uniqueness it gives me. Yes, I want to have my cake and eat it too.

      John, I also agree and disagree with you. There is no “pretending” that there is a negative connotation to the word “haafu’. It exists. I can tell you 100% it exists. Is it rampant? No! Does it happen all the time? No! But, has it and does it happen? Yes. I hate to pull this card, but just because you’ve never experienced something personally doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I totally agree with your points – I don’t want Japanese people to think that because I’m haafu, they would need to linguistically tip-toe around me. Nor do I want them to think that gaijin parents are ultra-sensitive about their kids. But I don’t think that was the author’s point here.

      • haberstr

        As you recognize and I didn’t comment on, ‘haafu’ can be used with negative, neutral and positive connotations. What I talked about is the trick of figuring out when a particular connotation is being communicated. Sometimes that is easy, but usually it is hard to impossible. All I said was that the word ‘haafu’ doesn’t have a negative connotation in and of itself. And of course I can pull a similar card to yours, because I have experienced the same ‘what did that mean’ confusion whenever someone has referred to my daughter as ‘haafu’. We’re both in the dark much of the time and we just have to accept that and get on with our awesome lives.

  • adventurerob

    I wonder what the original author suggests as an alternative term to introduce to Japanese society, because race will always be a way of identifying someone, much like ponytail and spectacle sporting individuals.

    I think the word cute/kawaii is almost guaranteed to be used in Japan to describe a baby too regardless of its origin.

    While Max Erimo’s idea is nice, indeed children born to multiple cultures are more likely to be double than half, they are not double Japanese which may confuse things.

    There has been a recent TED talk which relates to this, about the question of ‘where are you from?’ presented by a man with Indian parents, who grew up in England, lives in America and most desires to be in Japan. The speaker is Pico Lyer. He said the question is only going to get more complicated and less relevant as time goes by. A half-German, half-Indian who lives in America may have a child with a half-Chinese, half-Korean who lives in Japan, so where does the child call home with so many options? That child is likely to want to bred with someone else of completely different mixed cultures as an adult as a ‘full’ country person from any of those countries won’t be able to relate as well having such a limited background.

    Indeed half is an offensive term in English, but I don’t think Japanese people are trying to use it like that, just lack of vocabulary means that is the word of choice. It appears to be even more offensive to transsexuals (who have a multiple number of names available to describe them unlike people born to a Japanese and non-Japanese parent and yet) are dubbed ‘new-half’ here, which barely has accuracy to its description to start with.

    As immigration in Japan increases, I think the offensive terms will eventually move out too as the aged population starts to die off. Or at least I hope so.

    • Lynda

      “Indeed half is an offensive term in English, but I don’t think Japanese people are trying to use it like that.”

      If that is so, I suspect those Japanese people who put signs “no foreigners” on their shops, or don’t understand the problem of “comfort women” or touch people who are blond aren’t understanding that these positions are understood as offensive by others. I have often observed a cultivated blissful ignorance about it.

    • Cecilia Flynn

      Transgender is the term used by LBGT community.

  • mariamuse

    No disrespect, but I think this is much ado about nothing. My husband is half Japanese and our daughter is a gorgeous quarter, also mixed with Greek and Polish. People swoon over her…so what.

    • EastAsianNationalism

      The author is blind to his own privilege: Being allowed to live in a country where he is not the ethnic majority.

      This stuff about “being offended” is trivial, especially in non-Western countries.

      • Dan Robertsson

        You are both wrong. He only wants to grant his son the chance to be recognized for his character and not his hafu appearance, and not having to grow up feeling detached from his home country. Is that really abo? I really think japan doesnt allow this now and probably will not in the future, unintentionally people say, but there is also very little effort to even try to comprehend why this is a problem.

  • Rufus

    But in my case, cultural integration is not something I’m seeking. I can live, work and get along just fine in Japan as the perpetual “guest.” But I wonder how it would be to grow up like this. How would a lifetime of these “psychological micro-aggressions” affect an individual? Could that person ever truly feel Japanese? Would they even want to? Or does it rob them of part of their cultural heritage? These are questions that only bicultural individuals can answer.

    This was the most eloquent and poignant way I’ve ever seen this described. Thank you for putting to words what I’ve always felt but never quite managed to aptly describe.

    • Gordon Graham

      And let’s not underestimate the constant reminder from his father…just in case any of these “micro-aggressions” went unnoticed by Kenji kun.

    • Sam Gilman

      Do you think, for example, that someone who is non-white could never feel “truly British”? What’s the difference with here?

      • WithMalice

        Not being from Britain, I don’t know. I do know that someone who’s not of Caucasian appearance can feel “truly Aussie”.

      • Sam Gilman

        Exactly. Why on Earth should someone born and raised in Japan not be able to feel they are truly Japanese?

        I’m sure the commenter just hasn’t thought this through, but the implications are actually quite racist. There might be some idiots who would deny the person is Japanese, but that kind of nonsense happens everywhere. (See Fox News’ reaction to a black President) There’s no need to agree with them.

  • Tal Canita

    Half, double so what? 50% white+ 50% Japanese tend to get more positive attention in Japan so stop whining. Think of all the others who are 50% Japanese +50%non-white, see if they enjoy the same privileges or attention as your kid does. Be thankful!

    >People are much more than the sum of their physical characteristics.

    True, but do you think you’d end up with a Japanese wife as easily if you were non-white (or non-from-inner-circle?)? Look at the statistics. Japanese like white more than others and you’d have to admit, that your skin color and physical characteristics played a factor. Just saying.

    • Dante

      I think statistics show that if you are a Japanese non-white, then you would end up with a Japanese wife at a fairly high rate (well, as hard as it is right now due to economic circumstances).

      How is marrying someone because they are Japanese any different than marrying a person with brown hair or green eyes? It isn’t for me.

    • qwerty

      ‘half’ means 50%. ‘half ‘n’ half’ would be OK with me. but just ‘half’? no

      • Sam Gilman

        “Half ‘n’ half” is English. ha-fu ando ha-fu in Japanese is a cocktail or a pizza. How do you refer to your own mixed-race children in Japanese?

      • qwerty

        I just use their names

  • Kevin

    Mr. Surdick, you are an ambassador of the new, and need not to worry about the stereotyping. Instead, shine through and reveal how positive it is to be a leader of the future.

  • TokyoJules

    I’m Australian and my husband is Japanese. Our children (17 & 18) were born in Japan but also lived 7 yrs in France during elementary school. Upon arrival in France at age 6, my son said to me, “why isn’t anyone taking my picture mum….don’t they know I’m cute”…… I was stunned by this comment. I assured him he was very cute but that people in France didn’t do that. He was fine!

    This was obviously a result of spending the first 6 years in Japan and when out *alone* with my Japanese husband, would have his picture taken dozens of times each day. People were less likely to approach me to take pictures…lol……..interestingly, my daughter was not phased by suddenly not having her photo taken every 5 mins.

    At 17 and 18, the kids don’t care if someone refers to them as “half” and actually not a lot of people do to their face……I used to insist they were “double” when they were babies because the idea of being “haafu” was insulting to ME…….these days, I don’t worry about it.

    My kids know who they are and actually identify with Japan, Australia and France.

    • Guest

      To be honest, 100% foreign kids get the same photo treatment in Japan every day, too. I sometimes go out with my friend and his very blonde children and everywhere we go people fawn over them and take pictures, etc.

      • Gordon Graham

        And it sounded like the 6 year old quite enjoyed it and missed the attention once in France… It’s up to the parents to ground their children with a little humility. Also, in France they likely “don’t do that” because it is a multi-ethnic nation.

      • TokyoJules

        Perhaps not 100% of foreign kids but for sure many get similar treatment when it comes to photo taking in Japan but the difference for half Japanese kids in Japan is that Japan is their permanent home, they are Japanese by nationality, they are not ex-pats here for 5yrs or less and this behaviour makes them feel unnecessarily different (good or bad) to their Japanese friends and family.

        Like when my kids would be out with their Japanese cousins and the cousins wonder why people were not interested in taking their photo as well……just an unnecessary interruption.

        Since my kids are adults now…..it’s up to them to deal with this kind of stuff…….which they do very well..

      • Guest

        It is annoying to feel like you don’t fit in, especially as a kid. I stick out a bit myself and even as an adult I’m asked to pose for pictures more often than I would like. (I usually turn this on its head and insist on taking reciprocal pictures. After all, if I am to be treated like an alien I am sure as heck going to act like one!)

        I do hope that as time goes on more and more Japanese people realize that Japanese people are increasingly diverse-looking, and that many people who don’t look “typically Japanese” call this country home.

      • TokyoJules

        Totally agree Masa. There certainly are a lot more international marriages in Japan these days, so hopefully within 20 yrs this whole issue will be redundant.

  • Karu

    Halfs don’t only look differently, they think differently.The methods of upbringing in Japanese and foreign societies are slightly different, and in general, Japanese don’t trust foreign methods too much, considering them too loose and not very efficient.So, it’s not so much about race and appearence, but about the degree in which the little half is capable of accepting the strictness of Japanese social rules. “Real” Japanese wonder : will he/she be loyal enough to us? Or will he/she keep open the option of returning to his/her mother’s or father’s country and try a new start?

  • Magdalena Ionescu

    There are both positives and negatives associated with being “different” from the rest, in this case having parents of different race/ethnicity. I cannot say whether those associated with the Japanese context are somehow greater or smaller than thosein other cultures/societies. But I am pretty sure that even within the Japanese context experiences are so varied that they cannot be realistically described in a few lines, as the examples below tend to show.
    I have told my 12 year-old daughter repeatedly that having two of something is better than one and that she should not feel bad about that. I have also gone through the phase where I would try to tell people that she is not “half” but “double”. But over the years I have learnt to focus more on her and helping her make sense of all her experiences associated with her being different, rather than on anything else.
    Being different in this sense is undeniably influencing her development, but then all kids have something that is different and is pointed at…What I have found most challenging in recent years is relating to and understanding the difficulty she experiences with being different at an age and in a cultural context that places more weight on being “average” or “normal” than I have not personally experienced. I did have issues with kids my own age back home, but I have a feeling that when she tells me “mom, you don’t understand what it means to be ‘neither here not there'”, she is right…Only a “double” would…But then again, in the end with her family’s support I trust she will learn how to make sense of it all.

  • Bernd Bausch

    “Haafu” doesn’t mean “half”, just like “arbaito” doesn’t mean “Arbeit” (in German) and “maikaa” doesn’t mean “my car”. The recurring use of “half” in the article is wrong; this is not at all what Japanese mean when they call Kenji haafu.

    My children, elementary and middle school, are occasionally judged by their haafu appearance. “How well you speak English” when they talk with their father in German, which I always find comical. Also “how tall you are”, “hana takai” etc. I suppose such remarks can be tiring but for now they don’t feel (micro- or otherwise) aggressed. When I was a young boy, people who had known me at a younger age often used to say how much I had grown. I remember very well how annoying I found that and can imagine that my children have similar feelings when they get the above haafu treatment. Nothing too serious, I would think, though I am paranoid enough to watch out for more problematic situations.

    “In Japan, though, the “half” classification seems to stick. It is forever associated with a person. It becomes a label.” I disagree. People who know my children know them by their name and character; their haafu-ness is not a deciding factor.

    Another sentence in the article caught my attention: “These are questions that only bicultural individuals can answer”. So why don’t you ask them? I am sure that, as a journalist, you can find a grown haafu or two and interview them. One recently ran for an upper house seat in Tokyo, Rowland Kirishima (he lost).

    • qwerty

      so it’s all good in the hood? great

      • Bernd Bausch

        Yes, it’s all good. Thanks much.

      • qwerty

        – “Haafu” doesn’t mean “half”, just like “arbaito” doesn’t mean “Arbeit”

        not “just like” at all – I’m pretty sure german part-time workers aren’t bothered

      • Bernd Bausch

        They aren’t, I’d say.

      • qwerty

        i’m wasting my time here – if there was a smiley face slapping itself i’d use it

  • PoppyNero

    This article expressed thoughts, feelings and experience I have and had as Half growing up in Japan. And yes, the term Half and the meaning behind it is still an irritant! Being half British and Japanese *is* very important part of my identity, and I love both aspects – I love the fact I am British and also Japanese, the culture, food, language I enjoy are doubled. I couldn’t live without either. But in UK I’m not just Half, I am an individual who happens to be half Japanese. In Japan, I am half first and foremost. I hate that and it irritates me no end.

    I agree with the author’s opinion that the Hafu image projects an ideal type on English ability, international
    cultural experience, Western physical features and at same time looking Japanese enough for the majority to
    feel comfortable with. And I find that fact VERY creepy. The underlying context that if you look too foreign (which lets admit it, often are limited to Caucasian only) then you’re “out”. That is racism, is it not? All society has segregations, groupings, whether it’s religious, ethnicity or culture based. But in Japan, it still seems Us vs Them attitude is nationwide, and that inside/outside mentality will keep going on.

    These days I prefer the term Hapa to describe my mixed ethnicity. Much more positive than ‘half’.

    • Gordon Graham

      I guess if you lean toward some kind of victimhood then you’re going to feel victimised and slighted. England is a multi-ethnic country so obviously your different heritage is going to be less emphasised there than it would in Japan. My kids who are now junior high school age wonder what all the fuss is about when I asked them about the term “half”…They both go to Japanese schools, play ice hockey (in Japan) and are treated as friends and teammates as equally as anyone else…I guess because they make no big deal about being half, it goes unnoticed by their friends and teammates…Strangers tend to compliment them on their cuteness but that’s about it…How I will ever help them overcome such psychologically damaging experiences I just don’t know…For now, I just tell them to politely say thanks, but not to get too big a head over it.

    • Richard

      But Hapa is just the Hawaiian word for half…not that big of a difference.

      • Megumi Nishikura

        Thanks Richard. I try to help people understand they come from the same root when people tell me why they prefer hapa over hafu. While I don’t think anyone has the last say on the definitions of these words, when you track the development and movement of these words, you start to see differences in who/how people identify with these terms.

    • Selchuk Driss

      Unless you want Japan to become another generic multicultural pc state, please stop imposing western views on a eastern culture.

  • Lauren Thompson

    This isn’t a Japanese condition, but a human condition. In the US, a place that is not considered to be very “cultural and ethnically homogeneous,” you are labeled individually,– the label applies to you and you alone, *and* it is applied on the behalf of *individuals*, as opposed to a population of people– say the Japanese.

    My blond hair darkened as I got older, and I am now a brunette. My “white” looks and mannerisms apparently make it entirely appropriate for comments be made about how “SMALL EYES” I have.

    i.e. *”Wow! You have really small eyes!?”*

    Me : [feigning surprise] “Really? I do?” [Looking to mirror] “Oh my gawd they ARE SMALL! And I have blond hair, How weird?! WFT!?…”

    Nah, I wouldn’t really react like that nowadays. There was a time when such a comment would really bother me, but even then I knew better to confine such words to being said only silently in my own mind.

    I usually just say something like. “I know, aren’t they?” Nod and what not. The novelty for the most part wears off smoothly this way.

    But honestly, when I was in junior high and high school, to say I was “self conscious” about my eyes doesn’t begin to describe the way I felt. I hated myself. Because of my ugly squinty little eyes.

    That time in one’s life where being accepted by your peers often feels like a life or death issue, my eyes, I found out, were very squinted. I did very well in school, and I was athletically inclined. But my blonde hair and “ch*** eyes” didn’t match.

    If I *were* Chinese, I am sure such a slur would have hurt more. Maybe not. And what if I was Chinese?

    But I don’t know. I literally don’t know.

    I only know that I am half Asian.

    I wondered If I dyed my hair black, would my eyes be less weird?

    (And I did dye my hair black for a while in high school, to which I found made my Asian features more pronounced and thus even more of an odd commodity and par for the observation-statement course.)

    I am 31 now, and like I said, it doesn’t bother me any more. I still do get comments from strangers on my appearance, once a week maybe, sometimes more sometimes less. Sometimes even an Asian person will try to bond with me, noting that they can tell I am half, maybe sharing something in common.

    That’s the only time I may feel a little bummed about it, because I wish I could tell them, yes, I am “such and such,” decent and then bask in the ability identify with someone else.

    I’m never going to know, and I dont particularly care care to know. Because my ethnicity does not matter to me, I don’t define myself that way even if others do.

    I don’t have any desire to be of any particular heritage. I am fascinated with the history and culture of the East and the West.

    Incidentally, I’m just another “gaijin,” trying to learn Japanese. I am not learning Japanese in the hopes that I might be Japanese someday, I am “gaijin,” in Japan just as any foreigner in America, *is a foreigner.*

    ((There is one thing I would like to clarify though, and that is, *no,* I am not learning Japanese so that I can understand my favorite anime series.))

    It wasn’t until studying Japanese and “immersing” myself in the language that I ever watched much of anything anime or manga related. I’ve been avoiding actual *animated* features, but I did watch the live action movie “Rurouini Kenshin,” which I quite enjoyed. (read: LOVED)

    In conclusion, I estimate that there was no offense intended in 99% of the instances a person remarked about my appearance and my origins. In my opinion it is best not to find fault when there is none to exist.

    Anyways, sorry for the rant/unsolicited novel. Best wishes to all. <3 Lauren

    • tesmith47

      this is not true, in the US for a lot of people you are either white, or black .

  • 佐藤 ユリ (Lilly)

    I think it’s different in other countries that have a more mixed population. I noticed that once I was college age, haafu was suddenly “cool”, whereas before it was “weird” or even “creepy”. You’re seen as either sub-Japanese or super-gaijin.

  • Sam Gilman

    While I respect the desire of parents who want their mixed-race children referred to as daburu, I do get annoyed with a recent trend of such people insisting that “haafu” is offensive and wrong and daburu is definitively better. Personally, I really don’t like the term “daburu”.

    Personally, I think that insisting that my children are “bi-cultural” or “double” because of their racial heritage when they are born and raised in Japan effectively reinforces the myth of the racial immutability of what it is to be Japanese – y’know, that myth we’re all supposed to be against. My kids are bilingual, they have a foreign parent, but hey, that’s just what rather a lot of Japanese are, and are going to be like, and I’d like that understood should my kids decide for themselves that’s how they want to be seen.

    “Haafu” for me is simply a factual truth – that one parent hails from elsewhere. It really does not seem to carry any general negative connotation, and it doesn’t logically preclude someone actually being treated as straightforwardly Japanese. On the other hand, to me, “daburu” is a political term based on certain parents’ choice of identity for their kids that I don’t think it’s mine to make, and based on a certain view of how “culture” works that I think is wrong and unhelpful. People may feel this is an unfair representation of what they mean by “daburu”. All I can say is, this is how that side of the argument comes across to me.

    As for “where are you from?” there’s a really simply answer for people to give if they have angst about being asked to go over their ethnicity. Talk about cit(y/ies) or town(s). In the end, that’s a lot more personal and shareable.

    And finally – I’m sorry, but the idea that mixed-race babies are cute is not just a Japanese thing. It gets said back home too (and let’s be fair: there aren’t that many in Japan yet. Let people get over the novelty). In any case, I love people thinking my children are as beautiful as I think they are. Not a lot of parents get that luxury.

    • qwerty

      ‘double’ is overreacting to the offensive tone of ‘half’ – both are wrong in their own ways

      • Sam Gilman

        The word isn’t “half”. It’s “ha-fu”. That’s quite important. As others have pointed out, etymology of loan words is not the same as the definition of loan words (arubaito, maibaggu, etc.) Of course, if Japanese referred to my children as “hanbun”, I would think it strange and possibly offensive. But they don’t. They use the word ha-fu in a way that does not seem to carry any negative connotation, and which certainly doesn’t mean that these people are not Japanese in the civic sense. My children’s mother uses the word about them, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t see any of them as “half a person”.

        That there is a word that to Japanese (and to others who understand “ha-fu” is a Japanese not an English word) that is not derogatory is a good thing. If we start jumping from word to word (not ha-fu. Not daburu. Not mikkusu….) what I think we’re actually doing is responding to foreign parents’ nervousness about their own identity and their own hang-ups about their children’s identity. I don’t want a word that means anything more than parentally half-Japanese half-[enter nationality here].

      • Loren Fykes

        I see your point in being irritated about people jumping to take offense at a word that some (including you, perhaps) would say is a natural and unoffensive use of language, but before I jump into this thread myself, I think the author was saying subtly that it wasn’t the common usage of the word itself, nor that the word was offensive or not, but that the word has become a branded label that “dumps” on his boy a bunch of assumptions that, he seems to say, would suffocate the child’s identity or the ability to forge one of his own given the WALL of ASSUMPTIONS that are already piling up even before he gets into the public system.

      • P. Ijima-Washburn

        You seem to be one of the few people who got the point of the article. I tell people that my daughter isn’t cute because she’s mixed heritage, she’s cute because her mom is gorgeous.

      • qwerty

        yeah yeah. thanks sensei. ‘ha-fu’ comes from ‘half’ which means 50%. it’s used to describe mixed race kids that are half Japanese – like the other half doesn’t really matter

      • James

        qwerty, I agree. Yes, as people are doing here, it’s possible to argue about the etymology of “half/hafu” but, in essence, I also think that such children are being assessed as “half-Japanese” as though the other half doesn’t count. I remember reading an interesting essay about ten years back, published by an essayist who lived in Hiroshima (and whose name was familiar to me, although I can’t recall it now) who said that when people looked at his young son and said, “Ah! Hafu da!”, he’d gently say, “No, he’s not half, he’s both.” I found that to be a nice approach.

      • Bernd Bausch

        My children, themselves haafu and native Japanese speakers, use this word quite naturally. They don’t seem to think that it means 50%.

      • qwerty

        tremendous for them

      • FredrikJones

        Qwerty, you have an hornet’s nest of self interested fathers/mothers here. You won’t achieve anything against self interested parties. Not on objective grounds at any rate.

      • Sam Gilman

        No, it doesn’t mean “half”. It means “half X and half Y”. Japanese frequently abbreviates expressions like this. I don’t mean to be rude, but surely your Japanese is up to the level that you know this.

      • P. Ijima-Washburn

        I would argue that the half (ha-fu) means “half non-Japanese” as quarter (kuwo-ta-) refers to someone who is 1/4th non-Japanese.

    • Selchuk Driss

      Exactly, “double” suggests that “haafu” was something like a evaluative slur, while it actually was about genetics. Nobody has double genes, so the use of “double” is not equal. Much worse, it sounds a bit like describing a Ubermensch or superior person.

  • Yasu Takeuchi

    As a half Japanese person, “haafu to me, is a fine term. When people ask my ethnic/cultural identity in English speaking countries, I describe myself as half Japanese. Not double anything.

    This is just people searching for someway to feel victimized by someone using a term for “half japanese, half ____”

    Like you said, I would hate for Japanese people to feel the need to tip toe around half Japanese people.

    • MP

      Exactly. I’m half and hate the expression double. I feel neither 100% Japanese nor American, so half is pretty accurate. All my half Japanese friends feel the same way.

      • Samuel Ofoli

        MP and Yasu,are you saying you are not 100% a Japanese national.Japanese is used to refer to the citizens of Japan which comprises of various ethnicity like the Yamato,Ainus and the so called Half children etc.So,do not mix up ethnicity with nationality

      • Gordon Graham

        Right or wrong, Japanese is thought of as ethnicity by the Japanese. Whether that is technically wrong or not doesn’t really matter. It’s like religion, that God doesn’t exist doesn’t really matter to the believer. Just believing it makes it true. So you see, Samuel, Japanese is an ethnic group to the Japanese.

    • Thanks!

  • Doug 陀愚 덕 ☸

    Funny how we apply labels too.

    “Who’s Carl?”

    “You know, the black guy.”

    “Oh yeah.”

    I’ll be the first to admit that Japanese people probably need to get out more and see the world, but then again, I can think of a lot of people back home who probably should too. ;-)

  • Matt aka SUPERSCHEU

    As a father I understand the desire to protect your child, but I can’t agree with the author’s sentiments at all. I grew up in America and I was called lots of different things, Asian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, chink, gouk, etc. Sometimes it was derogatory, other times it was just people guessing out of genuine curiosity. Giant who cares. I always felt that it defined them and not me. If you grew up as not being a minority then it might seem strange when people start noticing your race or your child’s race, but trust me if you don’t make a big deal out of it then neither will the kiddo. #firstworldproblems

    • P. Ijima-Washburn

      “it defined them and not me”
      Exactly. This is the best way to process this that I can think of.

  • MP

    Come on! As a half, I really dislike how some people (usually the parents) try to make a big deal over half versus double. I’ve never felt 100% Japanese nor 100% American as an adult in her 40’s. Half fits me just fine. It’s interesting when I talk with other “halfs” how do they feel about it, overwhelmingly the term half wins out. Parents can call their kids whatever they want, but don’t force an identity of double on them if they don’t like it when they grow out of infancy. Let them decide and you might be surprised

    • qwerty

      when my kids are in their 40’s, I won’t care what they’re called

  • charlesjannuzi

    Why obsess on race or nationality or cultural affiliation, when the biggest factor in these kids’ lives will be the income and wealth of their parents? It’s true a so-so talent like Becky made it big mostly because she is ‘mixed race’, but that is just celebrityhood, and most of the human will never experience it.

  • C Ann Kirkland

    I will be 50 years old this year and I’m a HAFU. Back in my day, they used to call us “Eurasians.” I have a friend who is half African American and half White. We joke that we’re “hybrid flowers.” Hybrid flowers are often the strongest and most beautiful, so I don’t think parents should be too worried. I think if parents don’t make an issue of it, then it won’t be a problem for the kids. It is way more common to have multicultural children in this day and age than 40 years ago. I don’t think it’s a big deal and kids are resilient.

  • Megumi Nishikura

    Ryan thank you for raising your concerns about your child and allowing a great discussion to take place. I am one of the filmmakers behind “Hafu: the mixed race experience in Japan” which will be released in Tokyo on October 5! https://vimeo.com/71153390 This and many additional discussions need to be had about the changing face of Japan and what it means to be Hafu/Japanese.

    • Gordon Graham

      Ka-ching! Nice plug, Megumi!

    • I’d definitely watch this.

  • Kenji too

    My name happens to be Kenji, and I happen to be a Japanese/Caucasian (US) hafu raised in Japan. I don’t look very Japanese, so almost nobody in Japan expects me to speak Japanese, and most are quite surprised when I do. I have written books in Japanese, but this will not stop a lifetime of people being genuinely impressed that I can use chopsticks and eat sashimi and natto. Japan has its problems, but I absolutely love the country. My identity? Very simple: “a Japanese/Caucasian (US) Hafu raised in Japan — “nihon sodachi no nichibei ha-fu desu”. To me, this sounds neutral, accurate, can be said in a single phrase, and conveys all the relevant information: why do I look different? b/c I’m hafu. why do I speak Japanese? b/c I was raised in Japan. What is your non-Japanese side? US (obviously caucasian, in my case). If I add that my father is Japanese, this also answers the question about why my entire name is Japanese.

    In my view, hafu is simply a label — a label with unclear boundaries among Northeast Asian hafu — but not literally “half” in an offensive sense. Since it’s not used for its literal meaning, I’m against using “double,” since 1) replacing a word not used literally with one that is intended to be taken literally, and 2) calling oneself (or your child) double with a literal meaning can be seen as putting them above others. I enjoy the term “mix” – “mikkusu” which allows for more than 2 ethnicities/cultures/whatever-else-is-being-projected-onto-the-concept, and is therefore more flexible while being more neutral. I’ve heard it used more and more, and am happy about this.
    My parents always emphasized the fact that I can strive to take the best from both cultures… so parents, I wouldn’t fret too much about the hafu label. Unlike many others, this one is basically just a label — no deeper historical issues or negative connotations. Trust me. The deeper issue of making stereotypes from labels? A very valid point, but a much broader issue, probably closer to gender stereotypes or even blood-type-determining-personality-traits thinking.

    A final note to parents: the experiences of hafu raised in Japan is that the degree to which you don’t look Japanese will definitely affect the degree to which being hafu plays a major role in your on-the-surface, everyday-level interactions with society. Alternatively, if your name is not Japanese–particularly if neither name is Japanese–but you look fairly Japanese, then the hafu issues surface in interactions when you start dealing with writing or saying your name, which tend to come less frequently, at later stages of interactions with society.

    • Mark Makino

      What you call yourself is your business, but I would never call myself “half-American”, since my nikkei father is as American as my anglo mother.

      • Kenji too

        I wouldn’t either if my father were American nikkei, since I agree there’s nothing “half-American” about being an ethnically mixed American.

      • Megumi Nishikura

        I too was responded to in a similar fashion when I introduced myself as half Japanese/half American on a Japanese American forum recently. “American is not a race” they said. However, I was not introducing my self by race but rather my nationality and cultural background.

      • Mark Makino

        By that standard I’m not half Japanese at all. Perhaps what we’re highlighting here is the need to distinguish biraciality and biculturality. I really think the popular definition of the word “haafu” though is the former which is assumed to include the latter. I also think, as I’m sure you’ve experienced, that most people in Japan do in fact think “American” is a (white) race.

      • tesmith47

        technically you are right but when folks say american they mean white

  • Gordon Graham

    Jeff, I’m pretty sure this article is meant for those who live in Japan. If you do live in Japan and only have the courage to say such things on the Internet and not directly to the people with whom you work and live, then you’re master to none but merely a slave to your own cowardice.

  • As the father of a 6 month boy (a haafu), I understand the author’s point, but I completely disagree. I think some people are just looking for ways to be offended. As many others have pointed out in this thread, “haafu” does not mean “half”, it means mixed. If we translate we should translate. And mixed kids get more attention because they aren’t common. I haven’t traveled much in the world, but I would image that anywhere something isn’t common, that thing is going to get more attention when it appears. Foreign kids in general get a lot of attention here. I don’t think any harm is meant; people are just curious, that’s all.

    • P. Ijima-Washburn

      So what does quarter mean, then?

  • Bernd Bausch

    “It’s clear that the word should be changed”

    Why? If you happened not to speak English, you wouldn’t even notice that “haafu” comes from “half”; it would just be the Japanese word for people who have a Japanese and a non-Japanese (usually non-East-Asian, but not always) parent.

  • Cassandra Huffman

    I think…when people call my child “half” or say “Half dakara kawaii” I am more offended for other people’s children than my own. Fawn over my child if you will, but don’t say things about the color of her skin, or the shape of her eyes in FRONT of regular japanese kids. Those children are just as cute, and saying so in front of them will perpetuate that way of thinking (half is cute) They really only think that way in the first place because their mother’s taught them. I don’t care personally, but I do care about the stupidity of western “akogare”…I just want to teach my child, and every child that it is ok to love themselves, and not wish desperately to change who they are. So my goal, when I speak to other parents who automatically make some idiotic comment about how “cute” my child is because she is half….is that their child is just as cute, because ALL kids are cute…and pointing it out or making special ado over another child’s physical features (specifically) in front of their own child only hurts their own child. I ask them to please refrain from pointing out specific traits (skin color, nose shape, eye shape, etc) or referring to race. If you want to tell me that my kid is cute, by all means, go ahead…but she is cute because she is a child, not because she is a specific mixture of races.

  • nanka

    I myself was sometimes encountered with this question “Haafu?” myself, and I have the sama bad feeling about it. I did not want to offend anyone who likes to be friendly to little kids, so I mostly answered “ie, kanzen da jo!”. Most Japanese like puns and with this are starting to reflect the true meaning about the English word “half” and then apologize with a smile: Of course, she’s perfect… ;-)

  • ターニャ・tanja

    Im not half japanese but half swedish and persian. When i lived in sweden where there are alot of “half” the word “half” doesnt really come up. But is the “half” feeling is there all the time. When i was with my swedish friend… “oh ur thinking is like a persian” when I was with my persian friends “its clear u got swedish blood in u” In the beginning it was hard finding your identity pendling between the both groups.

    When I moved to japan ofc. not half japanese but even so oh ur a half ! the attitude i got in japan was really positive tho! being billingual and such ! It was more out on the table tho, i thought it was a relief!

    In sweden it felt like I was a half all the time not really fitting in even tho the world half never came up.. Even if the word “half” comes up or not.. its there doesnt matter what country i think.

  • Hoko Horii

    I think: The fact that the word ‘half’ exists is more than the fact itself. It tells us many other things, people’s expectation, thoughts behinds words, and it also affects on them as vice versa.
    Is there any gathering/community of parents of ‘half’ Japanese? I’d like to join if there is, and if there is not, we could organize one?

  • Mpls-Tokyo

    I think that society change comes from welcoming the blended communities (including foreign immigrants) as normal and take the shock value out of adaptation to life in Japan (language, sushi, bowing, chopsticks, etc). Even though this is something that the author didn’t seem interested in, I think this is step one to those born here being more accepted and something that is already in progress in Japan. To try to better understand (or translate) the author’s feelings, I believe his own background is the bigger issue here. I think a homogeneous culture is hardest for Americans to understand because we are the only country in the world where EVERYONE in the mainstream came from somewhere other than America. In the last 500 years, other cultures and races have squashed any mainstream remnants of the original society (casinos and reality TV don’t count), both racially and culturally, and this makes the US very unique and focused on building a colorful identity based on ideals rather than race, culture, traditions, etc. The result, the coming together, can be very beautiful (despite some of the cost), but few people consciously realize this unique identity. There is a connection to the nation that helps shape Americans’ identities and it can feel very strange to see people shut out by another culture/country or labeled in a different way because they are not 100% of the native group, either by birth, childhood or ethnicity (Gosh, imagine what it must feel like to actually be a part of that native group and be shut out or looked on as an outsider (??) different topic for a different article – back to Japan).

    I think the author’s point that he can’t quite put his finger on: that strange irritation, will only affect his child if he imposes his perspective and feelings, especially when they are so undefined. As the Japanese population shrinks and more Japanese chose to marry and raise families with foreigners and more foreigners immigrate and stay; this will be more the usual for everyone in regular society and our children and any foreigners who come at any age can feel more at home in Japan (we hope), and the shock value will go away. I think the acceptance is already a work in progress in many ways and it is more the shock value or the ranting foreigners who get so annoyed by being special, that deter the process. My kid will be different, here and in America and everywhere else. Every kid should be able to feel unique and still fit in somewhere or feel ‘at home’ and welcome where they grow up – EVERY kid.

    I believe every country will feel a little strange to an American because of the country’s very unique history and patriotism that becomes ingrained in every American regardless of your skin-tone or even your birth country. My wish for my children is that they do not experience discrimination either indirectly by someone telling them that “half is less” because of their own issues or directly by purely being denied something because they are dual citizens or bi-racial. All in all, (the good, the bad, and the ugly weighed out), I feel pretty good about raising my family here and also sharing my American family and life with my children. I hope that my rose-colored glasses only influence them positively and that they have enough tools and experiences to form their own unique identity and be generally happy, amazing people.

    • tesmith47

      dont believe that melting pot story, america is awash in white thinking, the imposed standard is white skin, the closer you are to that standard the better for you / the further from that standard the worse for you.

  • Mark Makino

    Both haafu and daburu are stupid. The pernicious myth of racial purity lurks behind both. But at least haafu (coming from most people) has an unpretentious, innocent type of stupidity. People who say “daburu” are compounding ignorance with vanity.

  • Denny Pollard

    I don’t know want part of the western world people don’t call mixed races half. I am half native American Cherokee and Irish and was always teased about be mixed blood goes with the territory. Here in Japan with my native Japanese spouse of 37-years we discussed having children before marriage. We knew if we had a child they would suffer being mixed race so we chose not to have children knowing what I went through in the U.S.

    You are right Japanese don’t mean anything by saying half it’s awkward for them as well being a pure race and not having mixed children in Japan especially where I live in Tohoku. You must of known before you had a child what to expect here in Japan with a mixed race child. Japanese don’t
    have a word for mixed children so they borrowed an English term “half”
    something they can understand. For me I don’t see an issue with it and think you should not make it something it is not. I don’t think “half” segregates people who are culturally, linguistically and genetically part-Japanese from the rest of the society in which they have been raised form my experiences.

    Here in Tohoku I have never been referred to as “gaijin” and have ever heard anyone here call me gaijin. Again I take of offense to being called a gaijin as that is the proper term. It’s not a racial term as some race baiters would like others to believe. I live in Japan not as a guest, but as a permanent resident that has adapted to the culture and getting along just fine.

    As far as race goes I do not think Japan has to change anything we who chose to live in Japan must adapt to the Japanese culture and not try and force our
    values on the Japanese culture or it’s people. I also think it is wrong to use a platform like the Japan Times to promote race issues where none exist being half or a full gaijin.
    I do take exception with the way this article was written, why and for what purpose. Japan does not and should not change it culture or thinking just to make someone feel good about their life decisions. As a side note I have lived in Tohoku, Kyushu and Kansai areas and never was called a gaijin. So from my life experience get over it and move on.

    • tesmith47

      it might be no one knows what you are, not many first americans in japan

  • Sort of makes me wonder how my kids would be treated if they lived in Japan. Possibly because they’re half-Japanese (I’m Canadian born Japanese with full Japanese parents on both sides) with a mix of American (her background is Irish) Mother (my wife). Since my family (in Japan) comes from Kyoto, I guess I could live there instead of in Tokyo, but still, I’m sure, the bias would be there. Of course with the “Japanese-Canadian” father (who doesn’t speak Japanese very well – chalk that up to the Internment where our family chose to speak English rather than Japanese in the home); my kids would probably be thought of as “mentally-slow (I’ll refrain from using the R word here) Japanese-hafu”.

    But let’s face it, there’s bias anywhere you go. I get asked all the time “Where you from?” Edmonton. “No, I mean, really where are you from?” Or the casual cutting in between my wife and myself in the grocery store aisles as I am trying to stick with her from one place to another “ever hear of going around us?” or the unintential not realizing that I’m with her…that because we’re so different looking, that I mustn’t be with her. Certainly they’re small instances, but you don’t see that when you’re a couple that is of the same ethnicity. Maybe it’s the fact that I was born in Canada, but I am outspoken. I don’t have the same respect (the “bow and take the slights quietly”) that most natural-born Japanese born in Japan have. You tick me off, you’ll damned well hear about it. I guess that makes me 未開 “mikai” to most Japanese. Here’s some French, Canada’s 2nd official language. “C’est la vie!”

  • Mike Wyckoff

    Anytime my Japanese friends ask me “nani Jin” my child is, I say “ningen” . The topics changes away very quickly! I recommend all those foreigners with kids in Japan to try it!!!

  • vasu

    How absurd or demanding one becomes when he/she is not treated as one of them only because of mix-up . Question is not why they treat you different but why they shouldn’t .who is doing infringement upon the set up normal perception of a society ? When we are in minority or receiving end we quote all high point of humanity and each day new parlance is being created to demand or extract positive response from them who aren’t toying their line. Should they have to forfeit their personal views or mindset only because we don’t like ?Because we have chosen own way of life doesn’t mean all should follow that .It’s pity we talk of freedom of expression but don’t hesitate to deny other the same right. This is high class hypocrisy the loser always resort to.

  • ひろみ

    Uhhh I’m half Japanese and I love it ^^ I don’t get Offended when they call me a hafu…because that’s what I am. I do get treated a little differently but not in a bad way. If you’re not a hafu then don’t talk for us… obviously you’re talking from the media ==

    • ひろみ

      and I like being called cute! >~< what's so bad about that!….the author points out that it bothers her when Japanese call her son "cute" but not because he's actually cute but because he's a haafu…well duh…because haafu's are known for being good looking…and how does she know if whoever called her son cute, actually thought he was cute… gosh…would you want your son to be called ugly?

  • yoshi

    As Guest mentioned, the correct terminology should be “mixed,” not “half.” That being said, it is a lost cause to correct English words used in Japan. Let them call children of mixed race “haafu,” and non-Japanese people “gaijin”–for now. Americans still call Japan “the Far East” and “the Orient.” There will be a day when our offsprings will be 1/8 or 1/16 Japanese, or vice versa, in which case the Japanese would continue to call them “haafu” and “gaijin” regardless of their citizenship. I guess by that stage, we may be referring to bi-racial or mixed race children, “sansei” or “yonsei” “gaijin”. BTW, those “haafu” kids will need to choose their citizenship when they turn 21. Selchuk, you have nothing to worry about!

  • FredrikJones

    I sympathise with you. I get the multitude of trespasses daily and much as I wish to say that it will abate, it won’t! It will completely sap your energy to correct every single infraction so I’ve taken to ignoring people which isn’t good for young Kenji.

    Unfortunately it took Legislation to change things in UK and I remember my cousins being called half caste, imagine it! My friend also added the experience of pushing her mixed race child around in the early 1990s and the shocking cry of …………’oh he is mixed race” when people sight her bundle of joy in his pram! And this is in England!

    People love attaching labels and absurd stereotypes. The annoying fact is most people are comfortable doing so. Cute is fine for a bit but it will grate at some point especially if the parents are aware that their child is not cute at all!

  • IanPG

    The author talks references a point about the “Hafu image projecting the ideal type”, and the ideal type is of course half-western – whatever that means racially. The ideal half is referred to is clearly half-white.

    The world outside of Japan is bigger than the west and the west is no longer white. Modern Japanese are well aware of this, I would think. So, is there a hierarchy of Hafus in Japan? Where a half-Korean is on a different level than a half-German who is again viewed differently from a half-Brazillian. It will be interesting to see how Japanese society deals with multiracial, multi-ethnic identities in their midst.

    Because, more and more non-western, non-Japanese will be interacting with Japanese inside their society as the BRIC countries rise and the west itself grows ever more diverse.

  • Don Largo

    You are confused about why “half” offends you? Could it be that it is because the obvious analogue in the west would be “half-breed”? Could it also be that your assumption that homogenous Japan isn’t in a position to use “half” with a negative connotation is also indicative of your obvious confusion?

    For your edification: Referring to your son as “half” is perfectly in line with Japan’s homogenous society and the age-old tradition of using terms like “soto” and “uchi.” In case you haven’t figured it out, you, your son and your wife are not “uchi,” and this is what should preoccupy your mind.

    If you still have any doubts about the meaning of “half,” I recommend that you begin your research by investigating the term “mestizo,” because you really do seem to be a little mixed up.

  • RIKA

    Referring to mixed racial kids, half, is definitely a Japanese thing. It’s because Japanese people, including myself, may have slightly different background, we usually share similar physical traits, black hair, brown eyes, small nose, short height and yellowish skin tone. Thus, seeing someone who doesn’t have that physical traits is automatically seen as non-Japanese. That’s how it’s been for very very long time in this country. Calling out people “hafu” and “gaijn” is not correct and kind of insensitive, but sadly a lot of Japanese people are not yet as sensitive about ethnicity issues as Americans. If this behavior needs be stopped, this topic should be talked in Japanese in Japanese media where those who do not have keen sense of ethnicity issues read or see. Not Japan Times… Majority of Japanese do not read this newspaper. no offense.

  • In America I find mixed raced kids are still called halfies. Stop being so culturally sensitive, casual racism is not unique to Japan. Get over it. Having a kid being called a half is the least of your worries.

  • Japanish

    IMO If you have a mixed race child in Japan, and if you decide to bring them up in in Japan, they will be discriminated against their whole lives. Unfortunately, Japan is a society that discriminates against women, foreigners and “haafus”(even that term is discriminatory). So, all you foreigners intent on subjecting your children to a lifetime of discrimination: At least have the moral honesty to admit that you sre staying in Japan because it suits YOU, not your children. That way, you may be able to take steps to negate the worst effects of discrimination facing your child.

  • Simpleobserving

    I can definitely relate to this article. I see very few if y of the comentators are of mixed parentage so instead rely on personal experience which is fair. I however libe with it daily, having to all but lay out my family tree as if I have to prove something. I’m past it all now and it doesn’t suprise me. Japan as with many countries in Asia is xenophobic and I believe now in an ever increasing westernized society needs to cling to something which in this case is culture. I n understand that and also know that it’s born out of ignorance of the rest of the world.

  • Dan Wiberg

    You live in a country that is mostly one race. They aren’t used to seeing someone different (especially a baby). Deal with it.

  • Tyas

    The issue that is addressed here may indeed look quite farfetched, though, I think that the persons who make those “innocent” well meant “compliments” should know and understand that their “compliments” aren’t always understood as such.

    The example given above is that of a “half” Japanese – Western baby, but doesn’t everyone here has ever heard one of the following “compliments” at least once? “So cool, your eyeholes are so deep” (Kakkoi! Hori Fukai ^^) or “What a tiny face!” (Kao Chichai! (O.O) )

    This kind of “positive racism” exists in many forms within Japan and indicates not only, how alienated Japanese society is but also how low the affinity is with things foreign. In today’s world, you’d expect (request?) that foreigners aren’t being handled as rarities or exotic objects that are expected to accept any or all absurd comments that are being made about their appearance. They should be respected and treated as fellow human beings, which is the civilized thing to do.

    This is what is expected from a globalized country and this is where Japan needs to open it’s eyes as they are already miles behind.

  • Darryl Baker

    It seems like the author doesn’t like being “classified”. I’d say that is karma pure and simple. I’m sure he has been taking his “normal” traits for granted all of his life. He is now getting a dose of what race classifications do to people emotional state. Oh the irony.

  • David E. Spence

    I agree with mariamuse that this is “much ado about nothing.” But, more than that, the writer, herself, is “profiling” the citizens of her host country, Japan. Japan is close to 100% homogenous (per the last census). If the Japanese ignored the fact that her child was “hafu,” I would then think, perhaps, they are racist. “Hafu” children represent a tiny percent of the population and, therefore, will “stand out.” While the Japanese are traditionally self-aware, they are not really “racist” in the Western sense of the word. They, generally, are more accepting than Westerners are. Do not make a “story” where there is none. My wife is Japanese and I, frankly, would love to make my retirement in Japan. I will not because I cannot live in the style to which I am accustomed there (Japan is too expensive for me). I was always a “gaijin” when I lived there (my 15 years there) but, it never really bothered me to be a “gaijin.” I had many, many friends and enjoyed my time in Japan. The writer should do the same.

  • KareemAbdul

    May I kindly suggest you focus on making your child, and potential future children, feeling loved and accepted.

    It’s important to have a strong sense of self-esteem and wellbeing regardless of what others perceive.

    I’ve heard all of the half and gai-jin and “me ga okii” comments… but despite having several children people remember the names.

    (From the point of view of the parent of several children with several citizenships fluent in three languages).


  • disqus_1VyLgOUNws

    this is how minorities feel throughout the world. #whiteprivilegeproblems

  • FcsevenXIII

    I hope the Japanese are nicer then the folks then what I had to deal with. Growing up half Hispanic in the Midwest of the United States was terrible. From students beating the crap out of me to parents not letting me in their houses I’ve been through it all. Being treated like crap and a second class citizen really sucks. I hope your child has it easier then I did.

  • kotegawa

    People aren’t seeing the point of the article. The point isn’t that the word hafu is racist, but that people shouldn’t label someone only by that. It really gets annoying for someone who has lived in Japan for most of their life to be called hafu, because it implies the other half is “different”. What would a half Hispanic person, for example, that has lived in the U.S. for his whole life, think if they were asked “can you speak English?” every other day?

  • Justin Thyme

    i can relate. i’m an American living in The Philippines, and the term for a white guy here is Joe. it’s a reference to GI Joe from WWII. it’s not necessary meant to be offensive or derogatory, but it does get annoying after a while when you walk down the street and people are shouting “hey, Joe”. like, ok, that’s not my name. but i can imagine if i wasn’t even American. Maybe i was Swiss or French or something white and they called me “Joe” which is specifically for Americans.. now that REALLY would piss me off!

  • Maya Rose

    Thank you thank you for posting this, I’m also “halfu” (haha..) living in Japan and go through this every day. It should be greater recognized and thought about how this word is being used in contemporary Japanese society. Despite what other people have commented before me…

  • Guest

    In the long run, Japan is very similar to the US in terms of “ethnicity”. The current population of Japan is a mixture of peoples immigrated from many different regions of Asia, and they came from the mainland and other islands driving out the indigenous people. It’s just that it happened about a thousand years earlier than The Americas.

  • Chibaraki

    My family is bicultural, but visibly “white”. My family is proud of our biculural, multilingual identity. Members of our family, from various ethnic backgrounds, remark that the 16 grandchildren, all hybrid, are beautiful specifically because they are hybrid. We have good features from our mixed heritages. When people tell you that your child is cute because he is “hafu”, you can always say he’s cute because he’s “hybrid”, showing good looks from both sides. Attractive people get positive attention. The internal part, your child’s perspective and capacity as bicultural and bilingual, that’s up to you and him. You’re blessed. I hope that you can multiply those blessings. Good luck!

  • C321

    Yeah, in a ideal world maybe people wouldn’t do this, but half is almost always used in a positive way in Japan. I don’t agree that in the west it means anything negative either (half is often short for half/half anyway). Maybe we should just be happy most Japanese think being half is a good thing and don’t recall in horror as generations of westerns used to do when presented with a mixed “race” child. (Note I know race doesn’t exist in reality, but in some people’s minds.)

  • I’m a half, and I assure you, you will at times, be discriminated, especially if your other half is from an Asian country. I believe some or many Japanese think they are superior among any other Asian countries.

  • William Dalebout

    It’s kind of bad form to take offense where no offense is intended.

    If you want people to see your kids for who they are, they have to get to know them. There really isn’t any other way.

    (proud father of three hafu boys)

  • Blahtacular

    To be offended by the word hafu is the equivalent of being offended by being a

    hyphen american.

    take that however you will…

  • I was born a half in America – half Jewish, half Italian. At the age of eleven I worked as a caddy on a golf course. One day a group of Italian-American kids asked me, “Hey kid, what are you?” I knew exactly what they meant. “I’m half Jewish, half Italian,” I answered. “You’re half good, kid,” they responded. 67 years later I was walking down the street in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. A young man came up to me. “Are you a Jew?” he questioned. I nearly laughed. “Well, my father is Jewish, my mother – ” He cut me off, “Doesn’t count,” he said and walked away. So the judgement came full circle. Rejected by both sides of my “half” I could only conclude that in my advanced age, I have no future…

  • paulelan

    I am no expert on Japanese culture although my grandparents and their children were ‘guests’ of the Japanese emperor for some years. Mutual understanding on an individual base is always possible; it even made prisoners and guards look at pictures of
    their respective children and smile.

    When it comes to behavior in a social context however the combination of personal latent shame and supposed racial-cultural superiority makes a plain level understanding very complicated I believe.
    With all differences both culturally, genetically and otherwise mutual understanding can only exist on the basis of respect; both self-respect and respecting others. If accepting yourself is in the end only possible by conforming and identifying yourself with a genetical and cultural majority, a mixed identity will always be confusing.
    Inclusion and exclusion are powerful means to exercise power and as long as this is a base for social behavior, first impressions are serving a cultural identity that is based on (polite…) superiority over others.

  • sabetsu

    Regardless of whether “haafu” means “half” or “mixed” or “exotic” or “Martian,” it certainly means “not fully Japanese.” I think this is what the author is getting at. Japan as a dynamic culture has a long history of racist self-imaginings that endure in the present day, and it’s difficult not to react to the pernicious effect of all these daily micro-judgements as a parent. (We live in Europe now, as I would never want my bi-racial [East Asian but not Japanese] kids to go through the Japanese education system.) Some kids are tough and secure and able to deal with just about anything, but a fair bit of kids get either bullied or slighted regularly, made to feel “less than full” in Japan, and that’s just not cool.

  • Nathaniel Green

    I have a daughter who is an asian/caucasian toddler. I haven’t heard “haafu” in quite a while. What I have heard by Japanese children say when they see us is “Eigo Jin” ! Personally I feel that this so undefined that there is a lot of room for her to create her own identity here. So I don’t mind.


    I understand how you feel. My sons are half white/half black. Racism is alive and well, and so is ignorance. Most people are just ignorant,and they need a little grace. The rest are best ignored whenever possible.
    Such children, well-loved, will grow up strong and proud of both cultures.
    You will get used it. You may always be protective, but he will adapt. Kids are resilient. As long as you give him an appreciation for both sides of that duality, he will ultimately be at peace with it.
    Don’t let what other people think bother you. Develop a thick skin!
    God bless you, and your family

  • Anil Pandey

    We can argue here till the end of time, but the truth is ‘ha-fu’ means half Japanese. And, its true that this tag will hang on his child forever( I have seen this). Japanese society is homogeneous(at least they say). And, a very important part of Japanese culture is their feeling of racial superiority.

    The mass killer in Norway Breivik said he liked Japan and Korea because they fought multiculturalism. If we see history, during world war Japanese tried to change even the names of people in occupied Korea and China. They had allied with Hitler, whose goal was racial purity. Japan has modernized but the vestiges of racial superiority still lie in Japanese society and this has become a part of life. People are ignorant about it. People don’t see problem in racial profiling and segregation. Japanese society will change, it is bound to change. With its dwindling and rapidly ageing population the change is inevitable.

  • gunboat_d

    File this under White Guy Living In Japan Problem. If you move back home, you’ll hear the exact same thing.

  • Seamus

    Seriously, if you care about your children why would you want them to grow up in Japan?

    • sad

      maybe so they wont get shot in school.

      • Anon

        Funny, my children have survived years in the education system without ever being shot.

  • Emi Watanabe

    It is interesting that I feel almost opposite with the same reason. I am a Japanese woman lives in U.S. and my children are half Caucasian and half Japanese. My daughter often came home from school telling me that her friends call her “Asian” rather than her own name. She heard so many Asian jokes and they are usually negative like, “Hey, why Asians look like they are sleep when they are awake?” or mimicking Asian accents (Usually mimicking Chinese Accent) to talk to her. Why?? She is not all Asian. She is half American and half Japanese. She is not Chinese. She is born in America who does not know much about Japan or speak English with an accent. She does not look all Asian or all Caucasian. She is somewhere in between. The fact is she is all American. I tried to teach her about Japanese culture and language, but the reality of being married to an American who does not speak Japanese, and having to work leaves me much chance to teach her. Japanese school is available, but too far from our house. I want to tell her that a part of heritage is something she can be proud of, but you know, reality is that Japanese culture or people means nothing to the most people she encounters here in U.S, but something different and weird.
    She is beautiful and people would recognize that, but I often wondered if I made a mistake in raising my children here in U.S. with all of this. I understand as a parent that we all want our children to be seen for who she/he is, and I want this, too. But that was not our experience here in U.S. I am not sure how she feels about herself and that she is a part Japanese. I suspect not favorably because that is the feedback she received. I am very sad about that. So, I guess, what I want to say is that while I understand what author is saying, I really don’t know if being called, “cute!!” or getting a lot of attention in Japan is as bad as what my daughter went through.

    • Inago

      I’m sorry to hear that. Don’t forget that some people in some places in Japan can be equally bad. Some places and some people in the US are notoriously bad, but I can also say from personal experience that there are places in the US that are notoriously more tolerant, where Asians are the norm, where mixed-looking children not uncommon and where you are likely to feel more comfortable. In Hawaii, mixed-looking children are the majority and my daughter was likewise called “cute”.

      I think you will always wonder if you made a mistake moving to the US, and you will never have an answer. There is some good and bad in every place, but in Japan you will always stand out. In Japan, your family will always be a curiosity or always an oddity.

    • sad

      Usually mimicking Chinese Accent- there is no “Chinese” accent.

      you yourself are guilty of stereotypes

      • Emi Watanabe

        I am sorry if I offended you. I certainly did not mean to do that. I do work with different ethnicities here in U.S. And I do find that each ethnic backgrounds have accent that are unique to them. I can usually hear the accent and recognize where a particular person has come from . I know I speak with Japanese accent. I do not think there is no value judgement in having certain accent. We only want to be recognized for who we are, and it is sometimes sad when who you are is totally irrelevant to whom you are speaking with. And that is all I am saying.

  • Amy

    I’m a 18 year old female ‘hapa/halfie’ born and raised in London England. I’ve found personally my ethnicity has defined who I am, sometimes in a good way and others not so. English people will tend to be in awe at my mix and want to instantly know more, asian people tend to be more judgemental over the fact I am not fully their race (or have full blood- as I’ve been told before). But as I’ve grown up I’ve Learnt to not let my ethnicity of being a ‘hapa’ mask me but serve as a blessing, as I’ve grown up experiencing the best of two cultures.

    I tend to look at the positives of being ‘hapa’ rather than the negatives, firstly I’ve read hapas are the most desired race for modelling campaigns, having the best of both worlds, plus being mixed is a great conversation starter. Therefore the connotation of being known as ‘half’ shouldn’t be seen in a bad light but something to be envious of.

    Your son will get a lot of attention as he grows up, especially in Japan, mostly due to curiosity. I hope being ‘hapa’ to him becomes a benefit and he stands out from the crowd rather than hides, because us hapas have to have the presence we deserve in society.

  • Inago

    It could be worse of course, when my daughter was 3, she came home from her hoikuen repeatedly with bruises and two different bloody noses. It can be worse, and that is the reason I still secretly cringe whenever I hear the term “hafu”. Others might have a different experience.

    Nonetheless, it is always refreshing that some people attempt any kind of friendly conversation, rather than blatantly ignoring different-looking people as some might do. Ostracizing and shunning others has always been the ultimate form of bullying in Japan. One of the hardest comments a man in a wheelchair encountered on a train in Japan was from a mother who told her child “not to look”. Not, “don’t stare”, but “don’t look”. People often ignored him, he said, to the point where it was often quite difficult to simply get around them.

    Japan doesn’t receive much multicultural education, and people in Japan are certainly not very educated about people who make up less than 0.1 percent of the population. It is really hard to say what people are thinking when they mutter the word “hafu”. Though homogenous superficially, Japan isn’t an entirely homogenous society: people have a variety of beliefs and perspectives–some are quite innocent and some are quite disturbing. Many people are starting to refer to bi-cultural children as “doubles” (dobaru). That is just one other way of looking at it. There is no harm in lightheartedly correcting people of course: “we call her a double”, for example or we call her “Miki”. My wife just smiles and politely says “she is Japanese”. People easily see the point.

    Many of these discussions about the minority experience in Japan quickly evolve into some sort of self righteous or dualistic argumentation from foreigners in Japan who might have completely different backgrounds and different experiences. I fail to see how the author is accusing anyone of racism, or is vilifying friendly passerby, or is carrying out a full frontal assault on Japanese society, but is simply discussing an aspect of Japanese society that many native Japanese are unlikely to think about. Irregardless, “hafu” are in fact, in most cases, wholly Japanese, speak Japanese, grew up in Japan, call Japan home, and have Japanese citizenship. Certainly there is a certain illogic in a term that only applies to some citizens who might happen to look a bit different, but doesn’t apply as long as they look Japanese.

    Many native Japanese equally find discomfort with the term “hafu”, because they find discomfort in treating people differently because of their hair or eye color, or they find discomfort in treating people differently because of what they think or believe, or because they plainly find discomfort in treating anyone differently. “Everyone is different”, I was told by an older Japanese man, in this seemingly homogenous society, who felt that everyone should be respected for their differences and is entitled their own views and perspectives. This discussion is simply about, respecting differences, and making Japan a better place.

  • Jeremy

    My mother is Japanese and my father is Australian. I am a proud ‘halfie’ and have many friends from different asian backgrounds who are ‘halfies’ themselves.

    Hell, there’s a group on Facebook where halfies from all over the world join together to promote their heritage.

    Maybe this author is a little paranoid and needs to lay off the crazy pills because as a ‘hafu’ I have had positive feedback for my dual nationality in Japan.

    • sad

      diversity brings strength. pure breed dogs usually are a lot weaker than mixed breeds.

      i envy the doubles. they can pick up the best of eastern and western cultures.

  • Cathryn Mataga

    “small head/face”? Hmm, I’m half-Japanese but I have a huge head. I’m not sure what happened. My head is much larger than anyone else know. I can never find hats that fit.

  • msmademoiselle

    so quebec is not the only place where race”purity”is supposedly better.

  • sad

    i call them doubles.

  • disqus_ktBPDMLUkF

    I’ve never heard a Japanese refer to inter-racial children as HALF BREED…
    Half in Japanese terms means both parents genes…i’m half of my Japanese mother and Half of my Filipino father… whats politcally wrong about that?…My father is half Spanish, His father(my grandfather) is Spanish… and his mother (my grandmother) is Filipina/Chinese…
    Its the same as boasting that their children are Edokko (Children of Edo the old term for Tokyo) or Hamakko (Yokohama) Shimanchu (for the Islanders…eg. Okinawan)
    GET OVER IT… you’re crying over milk that hasnt even been spilled YET!…
    Maybe you should give your wife a break and take your son out to the park and loosen up…

    • jpr_2000

      That is exactly what halfu means: half breed.

  • ThreeDogs

    I just correct them … いいえ56%外人です since my wife’s great grandfather was German.

  • NYUSophomore

    Congratulations. You now know exactly how your own ignorant Caucasian racism is viewed whenever you point and coo at that cute little half-black girl’s light skin, light eyes and wavy hair.

    And you know very well you did it, because you ALL DO. Exhibit A: Halle Berry, and ten thousand other actresses and models just like her :)

    A Biracial African/Japanese-American

  • Cecilia Flynn

    You should all move too Scotland they love a wee half!

  • Nevin Thompson

    Although I would never say the author of the article is “wrong” (you feel how you feel), personally hearing my children called “haafu” is a minor irritant – I don’t let it ruin my day. Maybe it has something to do with Fukui Prefecture, but I have enjoyed my 20-year connection to Japan.

    I would also recommend that the author learn to speak, read, and write Japanese at an adult level.

    Being able to interact as an adult profoundly changes one’s experience of living in Japan for the better (and helps move on from minor irritations).

  • yahoo forever

    I wish they would use the word mixed. Mixed will become more common than half in the world anyway.

  • commandergreen

    Yeah he will probably have alot of issues as most people who are mixed do, they probably suffer from multiple split personalities. Look at Barry obama he was a mulatto raised by his white mother, later he rejected that “half” of his life and became Barack Obama a self hating anti-white “black person” who was probably very angry at only being “half white”. Lets see if obama/barry is able to get through his whole term without nuking the world

    I wonder if your son will become anti-Japanese or anti-white, probably some kind of “globalist”

  • christopherjacques

    My biggest question is why do you want to change Japan? Wy did you marry a Japanese when you knew your child would be labeled half?

    Japan is Japan only because it’s not Western. Yet people come to Japan because of its uniqueness and then immediately try to change it. WHY?

    Leave Japan alone.

    • jpr_2000

      Maybe because he fell in love? He lives there, committed his life to society and no human owns a culture as a permanent entity.

  • jpr_2000

    But it also means not Japanese (for which you need to be whole). Though as a young child my son’s Japanese was native level and he thought of himself as Japanese – that soon changed. Everyone called him gaijin wherever he went (assuming he didn’t understand Japanese) and so he now sees himself as a foreigner. So halfu is a term of exclusion no matter how much its accompanied by, s/he is so cute; it also separates and excludes which in the end is the purpose of discrimination and racism.

  • jpr_2000

    I find it interesting that people are attacking the author for quite respectingly discussing a topic of concern. Yes it certainly happens elsewhere and even with violently abusive results – yet the progress we have made against racism has been through bringing attention to a situation and working to change it.

  • Fleuret Zen

    This article was a thought-provoking read. I am a half myself and although I don’t live in Japan I frequently go back and spend holidays there and I find that half’s get a very particular kind of attention in Japan that other people don’t get.

    One thing I have found is the strangely intimate conversations on first meetings. When found out I’m a half, the next question tends to be ‘what kind of half?’, which often is followed up by, ‘which parent is non-Japanese?’ and ‘how did your parents meet?’ – if I asked the same back to my new jun-Japa acquaintance (perhaps which prefectures are your parents from, which parent is from Ehime maybe, how did your parents meet) they would go away thinking I was a strangely nosy creep.

    There’s a lot of cultural stereotyping of halfs and I hear that in recent times the term ‘double’ has come into vogue. This term is worrying given the pressures it saddles a child with, especially if the child is being raised monoculturally. ‘Double’ now suggests that the child ought to be able to speak the language of the non-Japanese parent and the parent fluently, and have the best features of both worlds in physical characteristics too.

    It is notable that when celebrities or models are halfs, there is a lot of suggestion in the media surrounding them that their halfness is the source of their good looks. The current half stereotype that they are physically attractive, fluent in multiple languages and often wealthy is quite a pressure on any kid just trying to grow up!

    As an aside, and another issue, what do people feel about the issue with Japan and dual nationality? Some suggest that it causes conflict in a sense of identity in halfs, who if they have been raised biculturally, have been raised to respect both cultures and love both countries as they might love their two parents.