TheDiplomat.com: “In Japan, Will Hafu Ever Be Considered Whole?”, on the debate about Japan’s increasing diversity
Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on October 6th, 2013
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Hi Blog. I was contacted recently for a few quotes on this subject (an important debate, given the increasing diversity within the Japanese citizenry thanks to international marriage), and I put the reporter in touch with others with more authoritative voices on the subject. I will excerpt the article below. What do you think, especially those readers who have Japanese children or are “half Japanese” (man, how I find that concept distasteful in Japan’s lexicographical context) themselves? Me, I think it’s a helluva lot more sensitive than this example of pap (succumbing to the temptation to zoologize people) passing as journalism about “haafu” that appeared in the J-media about a year ago. Arudou Debito
In Japan, Will Hafu Ever Be Considered Whole?
Mixed-race individuals and their families seek acceptance in a homogeneous Japan.
The Diplomat.com, October 03, 2013
By J.T. Quigley (excerpt), courtesy of the author
Entire article with photos at http://thediplomat.com/2013/10/03/in-japan-will-hafu-ever-be-considered-whole/?all=true
“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.
Olaf Karthaus, a professor in the Faculty of Photonics Science and Technology at the Chitose Institute of Science and Technology, is the father of five “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.
Karthaus, along with co-defendants Ken Sutherland and Debito Arudou – an equal rights activist who was born in the U.S. but became a naturalized Japanese citizen – sued the onsen for racial discrimination. The plaintiffs won, and the onsen was forced to pay them one million yen ($10,000) each in damages. The case made international headlines and shed light on issues of race and acceptance in Japan.
Regardless of Karthaus’ negative experience, he expresses a deep fondness for Japan and says that none of his children have been direct victims of racism.
“My son got called a gaijin (a Japanese term that literally means outsider – as opposed to the more formal gaikokujin, which means foreigner) once, in the third grade. But there was no discrimination otherwise for my other kids,” Karthaus tells The Diplomat. “My eldest daughter actually dyed her hair to look more foreign.”
Many observers see a loosening of immigration policy as a potential remedy to the birth-rate issue, but Japan, which along with the Koreas topped the list in a Harvard Institute study of the most racially homogeneous countries, is largely unwilling to accept an influx of foreigners.
“Although the government cannot prevent media hyperbole, the Justice Ministry could do much more with its crime statistics, which belie the common perception that immigrants are to blame for increases in petty crime and drug abuse,” writes Bloomberg.
For those foreigners who have made a home in Japan, the law for any biracial children they have is complex. While children can enjoy the benefits of dual citizenship, the government doesn’t allow hafu to retain their dual nationality after age 22. According to the Tokyo Legal Affairs Bureau, this decision is based on concerns over what would happen in the event of international friction or military action between a dual-citizen’s other country and Japan.
“It’s not just a matter of ‘but what if we declare war on your other country – which side will you choose?’” says Arudou, who changed his name from David Aldwinckle after obtaining Japanese citizenship in 2000. He renounced his U.S. citizenship two years later, in accordance with the strict rules against being a dual national.
“There have been debates on revising to allow dual [citizenship], due to Nobel Prize winners who naturalized overseas, but they failed because, again, people worried about loyalty and hidden foreigners,” Arudou adds.
The denial of dual citizenship beyond age 22 was actually put in place quite recently, in a 1984 amendment to the Japanese Nationality Act. Japan is a jus sanguinis country, meaning that citizenship is based on blood, not location of birth. With an increase in the number of mixed-race couples giving birth to children with dual citizenship, the government decided that restrictions were necessary to preserve national sovereignty.
Rest of the article at: