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Let's discuss diversity in Japan

This week’s featured article

KYODO

Japanese-Belgian photographer Tetsuro Miyazaki’s ongoing project Hāfu2Hāfu, which documents the portraits and thoughts on identity of mixed-race Japanese individuals, is being released after years in the making.

Individuals with mixed heritage are colloquially referred to in Japanese as hāfu, the Japanese pronunciation of the word “half,” though not all of them are comfortable with the terminology. It is often used for those with one Japanese parent.

The 40-year-old Miyazaki was curious about such individuals and their upbringings, and wanted to explore the nature of what it means to be Japanese for those who are half-Japanese.

“There are many who feel isolated because of their appearance or parent’s nationality, despite growing up Japanese,” Miyazaki said.

The project features a total of 120 individuals spanning 98 nationalities and various genders, ages and places of residence to present the full experience of what it means to be hāfu.

Each portrait in the 152-page book is shot in black and white, with a question printed at the bottom of each raising different topics, such as “How many places do you call home?” or “Do you think the problem of discrimination is improving?”

Miyazaki, who was raised in Brussels, was born to a Japanese father from Saga Prefecture and a Belgian mother.

“Many treated me like a foreigner based on my name and appearance,” he said.

His background in kendo and karate as a child led to him spending six months at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies as an exchange student. There, he practiced kendo five times a week. He soon discovered that the university’s Japanese students were practicing outside of club hours and felt as if he “existed outside of Japanese society.”

After graduating, Miyazaki joined a company in the Netherlands but quit his job to pursue photography. He began the portraits in the summer of 2016 with help from crowd-funding sources and is currently working to reach his goal of documenting and photographing half-Japanese individuals from 192 countries.

“We’re not all bilingual. We’re not all models. I’m challenging the stereotype of what it means to be hāfu in Japan,” he said. “I want this project to open discussions between friends and family about identity.”

First published in The Japan Times on April 7.

Warm up

Have a one-minute chat about Japan.

Game

Collect words related to diversity, e.g., culture, heritage, mixed-marriages

New words

1) colloquially: in the language of familiar conversation, e.g., “Tokyo University is colloquially referred to as Todai.”

2) upbringing: the treatment and instruction received during childhood, e.g., “He had a Muslim upbringing.”

3) stereotype: a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing, e.g., “There’s a stereotype of comics being for children, but they’re also for adults.”

Guess the headline

Portrait book years in the making explores i _ _ _ _ _ _ _ from eyes of m _ _ _ _-race

Japanese

Questions

1) Where does the word hāfu come from?

2) What are the stereotypes of mixed-race people according to the article?

Let’s discuss the article

1) Do you know any people who have a mutlicultural heritage? If not, who are some famous mixed-race people?

2) What can we do to stop stereotypes of mixed-race people in Japan?

Reference

日本の国際化が進み様々なバックグラウンドを持つ人々が暮らすようになってきていますが、日本人の単一的な民族思想が見え隠れするのが”ハーフ”という呼び方なのかもしれません。”日本人”と区別をするかのようなその言葉で呼ばれることに居心地の悪さを感じている人が少なからずいるようです。

皆さんの持つ”日本人”のイメージとはどのようなものでしょうか。そのイメージと異なる容姿や名前を持つ人々にステレオタイプを持っていないでしょうか。朝の会に参加し皆さんで話し合ってみましょう。

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