In Japan, Will Hafu Ever Be Considered Whole?
Image Credit: dejalovely (YouTube), Michael Connolly, Hafu movie poster courtesy of Megumi Nishikura

In Japan, Will Hafu Ever Be Considered Whole?


“Spain! Spain!” the boys shouted at her and her brother, day in and day out at a summer camp in Chiba prefecture. The incessant chanting eventually turned into pushing and hitting. One morning, she even discovered that her backpack full of clothes had been left outside in the rain.

“It was the worst two weeks of our lives,” recalls Lara Perez Takagi, who was six years old at the time. She was born in Tokyo to a Spanish father and Japanese mother.

“When our parents came to pick us up at the station, we cried for the whole day. I remember not ever wanting to do any activities that involved Japanese kids and lost interest in learning the language for a long time, until I reached maturity and gained my interest in Japan once again.”

By the year 2050, 40 percent of the Japanese population will be age 65 or older. With Japanese couples having fewer children than ever before, Japan is facing a population decline of epic proportions. However, one demographic continues to grow: Japanese and non-Japanese mixed-race couples. But in one of the world’s most homogeneousous countries, is Japan ready to accept their offspring?

Biracial Japanese nationals like Takagi are an increasingly common sight in Japan. The latest statistics from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare indicate that one out of every 50 babies born in 2012 had one non-Japanese parent. Additionally, 3.5 percent of all domestic marriages performed last year were between Japanese and foreigners. To put those numbers into perspective, the earliest reliable census data that includes both mixed race births and marriages shows that fewer than one out of 150 babies born in 1987 were biracial and only 2.1 percent of marriages that year were between Japanese and non-Japanese.

Takagi is one of a growing number of hafu – or half Japanese – who have grown up between two cultures. The term itself, which is derived from the English word “half,” is divisive in Japan. Hafu is the most commonly used word for describing people who are of mixed Japanese and non-Japanese ethnicity. The word is so pervasive that even nontraditional-looking Japanese may be asked if they are hafu.

Rather than calling someone mixed-race or biracial, some believe that the term hafu insinuates that only the Japanese side is of any significance. That could reveal volumes about the national attitude toward foreigners, or perhaps it’s just the word that happened to stick in a country where mixed-race celebrities are increasingly fixtures on television.

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Olaf Karthaus, a professor in the Faculty of Photonics Science and Technology at the Chitose Institute of Science and Technology, is the father of four “hafu” children. Far from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, he raised them in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, which makes up 20 percent of Japan’s total land mass, yet houses only five percent of the population.

In 1999, Karthaus visited an onsen (hot spring) with a group of international friends, all married to Japanese spouses. The onsen had decided to deny entry to foreigners after some negative experiences with Russian sailors, hanging signs that read “Japanese Only” and refusing entry to all foreigners.

The Caucasian members of his group were flatly denied access to the bathhouse based on their foreign appearance. When management was asked if their children – who were born and raised in Japan and full Japanese citizens – would be allowed to bathe, the negative attitude toward anyone who appeared to be non-Japanese became shockingly clear.

“Asian-looking kids can come in. But we will have to refuse foreign-looking ones,” was the onsen’s answer. Negative sentiment had trickled down from a group of rowdy sailors to defenseless toddlers.

December 9, 2013 at 05:58

The West needs to stop telling people what to do! I think Japan is great for keeping things this way. Nationality should be determined by blood, not place of birth. You shouldn’t call a Poodle a Husky even though they’re both dogs, it’s not offensive. It is Japan’s right to keep their sanity, if you don’t like it, don’t live there. I’m American with Scandinavian appearance and I would like to visit Japan, so this opinion is unbiased. Some people are so manipulating-ly hypocritical!

December 13, 2013 at 11:36

Oh sure. Imagine if in Australia nationality was determined by blood. Australia has a mixture of people who can trace their roots to countries and races from all over the world. Almost everyone would have dual citizenship, assuming race can be traced to national identity.

Juan de la Cruz
December 23, 2013 at 12:28

Nobody is telling anybody what they should do. But if something that isn’t right is happening, somebody has the duty to notify the injustice. And that is the situation at hand. I’m Latin American with two nationalities, and I shouldn’t be denied my dual nationalities since I am clearly a loyal citizen to both my countries. The Japanese government is clearly showing a heavy case of Xenophobia the way they deny their should be citizens the right of dual nationality, even revoking the Japanese nationality if they don’t comply. This excessive form of patriotism and racial purity needs to end for the benefit for all the Japanese. I have a friend who was born from a Half-Korean father and a Japanese mother, and her accounts of racism towards her father and to a lesser extent herself is pretty appalling.

Again, its not a matter of ordering a country to do something, its pointing out something that is wrong. If you think Japanese Society is correct in the matter, then by all means continue your train of thought. But if Mexico, the USA, France, China, and every single country across the world ever treats its citizens unfairly, we sure as hell should be vocal about it. And will continue to be vocal as long as we can be.

December 23, 2013 at 13:17

Your oppinion is racist not un-biased…Stay out of Japan….they def can d without the likes of you thats for sure..

November 21, 2013 at 13:36

The answer to your question is NO.

North East Asians are racist.

They cant help themselves, they are closet racists at best.

By this I include Chinese, Korean and Japanese.

It would be nice if as a group they could accept their failings and change it but it wont happen.

Individually they aren’t racist but as a group they are.

Dominic Yusoff
November 20, 2013 at 16:40


“It’s my prejudice, I am a white boy in Japan and I see so many of my western colleagues go crazy over the fads of Japan. They have clubs and restaurants themed around these weird fetishes that try to pull in the westerners (along with pervy old Japanese men).”

Those places are geared to pull in Japanese men people not Westerners. You people just happen to be there. Are you talking about otaku stuff though? If so then Akibahara is still mostly for Japanese people, but of course the Western and Asian otakus also get a kick out of it.

Dominic Yusoff
November 20, 2013 at 16:33

Well the article reflects a eurocentric view in my opinion. One thing is that the majority of multi-racial marriages in Japan are between Japanese men and women from other Asian countries yet this article only touches upon half-white and half-black childern. How can you make a review of mix-raced kids in Japan without even considering the majority.


Not neccessarily. you sound just like another gaijin troll that fetishes about J-women. In any case the overwhelming majority of fathers may not be white men. For one thing there are many J-women who marry Korean and Chinese men. Also when statisctics mention “American” im sure it also includes many Asian, Latino and Black men. Also you discounted the thousands of women who married Pakistani/Iranian/Turkish/African immigrants in Japan

Julian John Vickery
November 10, 2013 at 14:40

Ex Jet here who participated in the programme between 1989 and 1992 in Saitama prefecture. Happily married, I still live in the area and have been here long enough to have many years of first hand knowledge of this thorny issue. So here is my take on your question for what it's worth … No, I don't think so, absolutely not! The fact that the term is still being used is a good indicator of the point that most Japanese don't have a clue when it comes to this issue, and the Japanese government only exacerbates the problems by denying such kids dual nationality status. (Fortunately, they can't stop them also holding a foreign passport secretly though!) As far as the average person in the street is concerned, I wouldn't always call it outright prejudice, just ignorance of the issue in most cases. My own children, offically "Eurasian", refer to themselves as "Nigirisujin(s)", which is probably a more accurate description of their status and completely devoid of prejudicial connotations. I, myself, have always had a problem with terms like "half" since it implies they are not complete. In reality such children are often bridges between the cultures, perfectly at home in both environments. The term "dual" or "bi-cultural" seems more appropriate in my view in this case.

October 21, 2013 at 18:38

"I believe that with changing demographics, Japan is at a turning point."

Its a common misconception about Japan. Japan is never at a "turning point" Japan is more like a spring; it opens and closes as it seems fit. It takes from other cultures what it wants, and disregards the rest, thus explaining why everything is so mechanical. A person, animal, machine, plant or anything that enters Japan long term must become Japanese, or it is ostrasized. It is one way of looking at it. Mulitnationals etc take advantage of the groups amoungst the largest group mentality of Japan, that is they form their own group in order to survive, just as it was in the fuedal days. It appears they are international, but they know how to turn it off when required for the sake of the majority and conformity. So it may appear that Japan is changing, but its only changing itself in order to keep its most wonderful (if your Japanese) traditions alive and continue being uniquely Japan. There will never be some sort of "revolution" or else it would of happened long ago. Conformity is the glue that keeps it all together, with exceptions being tolerated.


October 21, 2013 at 02:29

One sentence you say…… I believe that with changing demographics, Japan is at a turning point. Then a few sentences later you say you were bothered by the stereotypes of hafu perpetuated by the mass media.  It seems to me if the media and all the old japanese men that are still running the government are keeping everything same same ,what is turning ?

I never called my children half of anything they are %100 whole, they are who they are. I myself am not too worried. This country is being past by everyone around the world and they have nobody to blame but themselves.

October 16, 2013 at 00:31

Except this isn’t about immigrants of a foreign nation who bring with them their cultures and marry within their ethnic group and thus stay a homogenized sub-culture. This is about children of mixed heritage who have lived their entire lives in Japan and are very likely to “be” Japanese in almost every way save their appearance. This is not a story of colliding cultures, but of identity for those who are told they don’t “fit in”.

October 15, 2013 at 23:21

Rather than refer to my sons as "hafu", I tell them they are "double".  They aren't half a person but they are a combination of two people from two different cultures.  Therefore, "double" is a much more fitting term when referring to people of dual cultures.

Andrea Miyata
October 15, 2013 at 22:23

I would love to see this movie; any chance that it will be shown at venues other than the one in Shibuya?  Or made available somehow on internet?  I live in a small city in central Japan; I'm not holding out hope that it would come to this area, but if so I'd be very happy.

J.A. Yalinin
October 13, 2013 at 16:37

There is a major difference between owning a Job and 'owning' a human being.

October 13, 2013 at 13:18

Actually what noriko says is true, except the part where Japan has never been colonized. Its colonized now, by a Western power and all its former colonies are independent.

As far as speaking Japanese in Japan, she is absolutely correct. The more a foriegener speaks/acts Japanese, the more ostrasized they become. They longer they stay, the more unwanted they become.  Figure this out and save yourself allot of grief.


October 13, 2013 at 13:13

I have to take issue with those who say "I have never once experienced, or my children experienced, and form of racial discrimination, in Japan." I dont know area your living in, but please do tell, so I can move there. Racial stuff in japan comes in many forms; ineligibility to find work, housing or schooling, ceilings on promotion, or no promotion at all, underpaid work schemes designed for gaijin, etc. I have worked with and for several halves in Japan, and without elaborating on details here, none I knew had a positive experience here. I guess I live in a different world.

October 13, 2013 at 13:06

As Chinese guy Wilson said, its not only a unique problem to Japan. Both cultures dont seem to want any "others" amoungst them, but they like to copy and immitate what the "others" culture created.

Lifei Long
October 12, 2013 at 20:02

I agree Paula, people and societies should respect others if they respect themselves…but ignorance comes in many colors and cultures. What naive minds fail to remember is we are all human beings on the same planet called earth, and the first human beings share the same DNA with the present. I pity the blind fools who fail to see their true self in reality.

October 12, 2013 at 18:15

You do know that Japanese males have international marriages 3 times number than Japanese women, right?

October 11, 2013 at 21:30

Chinese people want to have mix babies huh? So they actively searching foreigners to made with?


December 30, 2013 at 21:28

@john: What’s wrong with that? Don’t most Japanese women seek out gaijins in Japan? Don’t most gaijins seek out Japanese women because of the way they respect and treat their men well?

October 11, 2013 at 14:26


while I might of agreed with you a few years ago, I now find myself disagreeing. Its the racism, policies and disenfranchisement that makes cities hellholes. London, like Japan, is a class based system, with foriegners at the bottom. NYC is more multicultural as is Singapore. its not the races, its the culture and politics.

October 11, 2013 at 14:08

Id also like to add that I dont think Japan will ever become a multicultural society anytime soon. The soto uchi concept is hardwired into the culture of the Japanese. An example: I was in Ikebukuro and walked by a poster of Becky. Some Japanese commented about the poster and said "gaijin mitai"! Since I was standing near them, I wanted to say the unspeakable…You mean she looks like me? Its not so much a racist thing, its the us vs others concept. If you look at many roles the halfus do in Japan, its usually in PR. I see many as weather or side bar news commentators; sort of a clown or elephant in the room distraction. Sometimes its a real deal gaijin, usually black, obvisouly being used as a conversation piece for viewers. Sometimes when Im abroad I like to spot Japanese and ask them "hey are you Japanese?" Hai. Am I a gajin in this country? and see what they have to say. I sometimes go further and ask them "was you refused entry anywhere while staying here? It at least brings an awareness, but probably they think Im a hena gaijin )

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