National / Social Issues

Portrait book years in the making explores identity from eyes of mixed-race Japanese

Kyodo

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

Individuals with mixed roots are colloquially referred to in Japanese as hāfu, the Japanese pronunciation of the word “half.” The term most often signifies someone whose ethnicity is half Japanese.

The 40-year-old photographer 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 all genders, ages, ethnicities 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 then wrote an article online about hāfu, leading him to gain support for the project.

He began the portraits in the summer of 2016 with help from crowdfunding 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.”

“Hāfu2Hāfu” can be purchased at hafu2hafu.org