by Yui Matsushita
According to Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (2010), the number of birth in Japan which one of parents comes from a foreign country was 21,966, while the total number of birth was 1,071,304. That means about two percent of babies (one of 49 babies) in Japan have one Japanese parent and one foreign parent. They are commonly called a “hafu.” It can be said that Japan is no longer a racially homogeneous nation.
Japan is diversifying today; on the other hand, Japanese society does not recognize this situation well. It tends to consider “hafus” as different from Japanese. They are still constrained by its stereotyped images that “hafus” are “foreigners.” Typical questions that Japanese people ask them, such as “what is your parent’s nationality?” and “which language do you speak at home?” are clarifying the difference and do not accept them as Japanese. There are a lot of “hafus” who were born in Japan, brought up in Japan, can speak only Japanese and recognize themselves as Japanese, however, they are often apt to be misunderstood that speaking Japanese fluently is surprising and speaking English is natural even it is the result of their efforts. Japanese society tends to cast people with ‘different’ appearances and ‘different’ backgrounds out (as regards appearances, it is conspicuous in people who have a white parent).
Also, there has been a lot of debate over how to call mixed-race people. In Japan, these people are usually called “hafu,” which is derived from the English word “half.” However, some people object this word because it seems to mean incompleteness of “hafus,” and those people claim the word “daburu” (the English word “double”). Both words typically focus on a “blood” characteristic of “hafus” and tend to ignore cultural and racial backgrounds (Lise, 2011). It can be applied to other Japanese words which represent mixed-race people. Every time a new word comes out, its appropriateness is argued and its fault is pointed out, however, “hafus” themselves tend not to feel its negative meaning, and some of them even think the word “hafu” is convenient to introduce themselves. Due to this, the way to call them is not a big problem because most people are not aware of the original meaning of the word “hafu” or “daburu.”
The most important issue today is that “hafus” are considered as special people and society does not treat them as individuals. They are classified into a framework of “hafu” and their action is seen as characteristic to foreigners. What Japanese society has to do is to treat them as individuals and respect their identity as Japanese. They should be considered as not foreigners or specials but one of Japanese.
Lise, M. Y. (2011). The hafu project: Photography and research. The booklet of The Hafu Project.
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. (2010). Demographic statistics: Annual transition of the number of birth classified by parents’ nationality. Retrieved 16th October, 2012, from http://www.mhlw.go.jp/toukei/saikin/hw/jinkou/suii10/index.html