Mixed Race Assimilation in Japan

Anonymous student post

According to most assimilation theories, the highest indicator of assimilation is intermarriage. In her 2010 article “What happens after segmented assimilation? An exploration of intermarriage and ‘mixed race’ young people in Britain”, Miri Song explores the identification of mixed race people. The subjects of her study were those who had a single British parent and one immigrant parent, and had grown up in Britain. When asked what group they identify with, many chose the category ‘British’ – claiming that culturally they were British. I believe such findings may be applicable in other settings, not just Britain.

Japan is infamous for not being open to migration. There are only a small percentage of immigrants, especially compared to many other “developed” nations. However, this does not mean there are no intermarriages. In fact, intermarriages have been rapidly increasing recently and Hafu (the term used to call half Japanese, literally meaning ‘half’), have become less of a rare sight. Flick through a few television channels or pages in a magazine and with a high possibility, you will find a Hafu model or celebrity. Recently, Hafu are not only constrained to modeling because of their foreign looks, but also other roles in entertainment.

Comedy duo “Denisu”Here, I would like to bring up the case of Yukio Ueno, a member of the comedy duo ‘denisu’, who is half Japanese and half Brazilian. His character and portrayal in media is a great example of the position of Hafu in Japanese society.

The audience will roar in laughter as he introduces his extremely Japanese name, and mentions that he grew up in Suita city of Osaka. He talks of how he is usually assumed to be a foreigner and treated differently from his Japanese peers. What makes Yukio Ueno funny for the Japanese audience is the fact that he is culturally Japanese but looks foreign.

Yukio Ueno and other similar Hafus symbolize the Japanese attitudes towards at the moment. You can have a Japanese parent, have Japanese nationality, speak Japanese, have a Japanese name, be born and raised in Japan – yet not be treated as Japanese due to features you adopt from your non-Japanese parent. It becomes important for Japanese born and raised Hafus to assert their Japanese-ness, as can be seen in the case of Ariana Miyamoto. Ariana Miyamoto won the Miss Universe Japan contest for 2015, but being half African-American, has been receiving internet abuse for being unfit to represent Japan.

Japan is still less accepting of foreign looks for sure compared to Britain. However, I do believe the Hafu that are born/raised in Japan do identify as culturally Japanese – just as most of the subjects in Song’s study (2010) claims.

However, not all of Song’s subjects (2010) chose the British category. Half-black people chose to identify as the minority category. We see the race of the non-immigrant parent plays a large role in the identification and assimilation of a ‘mixed race’. Race does matter in Japan too. The treatment of a ‘Hafu’ is effected by the race of their immigrant parent. Being half white is usually an advantage over other races. This is perhaps due to the adoration of Caucasian features as aesthetic.

As people continue to move over borders and mixed race people increase, how will concepts of assimilation change??

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