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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Opportunist Beauty in Japan

Miss Universe Japan 2007 wins Miss Universe 20...

Miss Universe Japan 2007 wins Miss Universe 2007 crown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Mitsumi Yamamoto

Every year a number of Japanese students in my university decide to participate in a study abroad program (mainly to the US, Canada, and Australia). They usually start to prepare for the coming life in foreign countries by packing stuff or setting up their goals during spring semester in Japan. It was such a time when I often saw the female students dying their hair black again, although they used to have their hair dyed bright colors such as blonde and brown. I asked some of my friends how come they would do so and they answered, “Obviously that is because black hair represents Asian beauty.” Meanwhile within Japan, there is a huge boom about biracial people referred to as “hafu”, especially referring to people of half-Caucasian and half-Japanese (one parent being Japanese and one parent being of Caucasian heritage) (Okamura, 2009). Recently you can see hafu models and celebrities a lot on TV and in magazines, and many Japanese women try to achieve a western-looking face due to their adoration for hafu’s appearance.

Those two standards of beauty that Japanese women have, “Asian beauty” and “Western beauty,” seem to be the opposites of each other. However both standards exist simultaneously as the dominant viewpoints when thinking about what is beauty for Japanese women. Why?

This phenomenon can be explained with a case of African American women competing in the Miss Bronze or black beauty contests during the 1960s and 1970s, when the Civil Rights Movement flourished against discrimination towards black people. Maxine Leeds Craig, a professor of Women’s Studies at the University of California-Davis, pointed out that  at that time black women in the Miss Bronze pageant would realize views of themselves depending on how whites saw blacks, but at the same time this helped them to see the structure of racism (Glenn, 2009). Therefore in order to accept and reject this hierarchy, contestants who had dark skin tone were crowned as winners of Miss Bronze since the 1960s, rather than those with light skin tone, who were considered as the closest color to whiteness. The black beauty came to be used as a demonstration of the value of black people.

Related to this case, what about the pageant of Miss Universe Japan? In spite of the domestic hafu boom, almost all participants of this contest attempt to show their beauty as Asian with typical images of Asian women (e.g., long black hair, slit eyes) (Miss Universe Japan). The same thing can be said of women who stay in foreign countries outside of Japan. Even if the women used to prefer western-looking (e.g., bright colored hair and round eyes) inside of Japan, they somehow start to focus on “Asian beauty,” showing their Asian features to foreigners.

Hence this coexistence of the seemingly opposite standards of beauty and switch between them depending on the situation look similar to the case of African American women. It seems that Japanese women, as representatives of Asian women, would think of themselves as inferior to whites in racial hierarchy and this consciousness would help accepting and rejecting this hierarchy. Therefore Japanese women who have chances to live in an environment filled with Westerners try to behave as one a representative of Asian beauty, although once they are in Japan, they still tend to have the feeling of inferiority toward white people with an ideal to Western-beauty.

References

Okamura, H. (2009). ハーフブームと『ハーフ顔』? [hafu boom and hafu face?]. Retrieved from http://www.kreuzungsstelle.com/column5_10.html

Miss Universe Japan. Miss Universe Japan Official site. Retrieved from http://www.missuniversejapan.com/

Glenn, E. N. (Ed.). (2009). Shades of Difference: why skin color matters. Stanford: Stanford University Press.