Japan’s Future: Will they embrace their hāfu population?
Tuesday, February 18, 2020
HIgh profile celebration and discrimination of mixed-race people in Japan is making the country have difficult and sometimes ugly conversations
Japan has a split personality on the mixed race issue but the knee jerk reaction is to classify their hāfu population as “other” or just not Japanese enough. The one exception to this “other” category are celebrities or those with special skills (e.g. athletes, scientists, etc.). However, it is obviously not that simple, to be embraced and celebrated as Japanese while being mixed-race, one has to be the right kind of famous.
High-profile cases of discrimination
As an ethnic minority in the Japanese society, the hāfu population is susceptible to social stigma and hateful discrimination, whether subtle or outright as outlined in our previous article, Hāfu: What is means to be Japanese in a changing Japan. As more hāfu people become visible public figures, as in most places in the world, the colour of their skin plays a role in how they are received. Those with half caucasian or East Asian blood are met with mixed opinions while hāfu people with African, South Asian or South East Asian blood often experience the most scrutiny.
Systematic loopholes and a lack of official recognition
While even elite athletes and celebrities undergo hateful public scrutiny that make headlines, the unjustified attention and differential treatment that ordinary hāfu people face is often silenced or goes unnoticed. As the size of the multiracial community is on the rise with increased immigration, the general public attitude has been slow to change.
Institutional barriers still prevent children of mixed heritage in Japan from being officially recognized. A consequence of not being considered a distinct social group by the Japanese government means that the government doesn’t track their numbers, locations or the disparate treatment that hāfu people face. The active denial, or at best, the subtle lack of recognition has created an identity crisis for individuals who are caught in an either-or situation and have to resort to denying, or at the very least, hiding the other half of their identity.
The either-or situation also exists in a much more significant life decision that hāfu people have to make: which citizenship to select before they turn 22. The Japanese government does not allow children of interracial couples to retain dual citizenships in adulthood. Restricting people to single citizenship are rooted in the idea that it prevents complexities with regards to national security and diplomatic relations should political and military conflicts arise between two nations. But fundamentally, systematic and institutional structures create convenient barriers to fully acknowledging the presence of biracial people in Japan.
Consequently, the research and conversations that do emerge about Japan’s hāfu population are conducted in an ad hoc way and observations, analysis and conclusions of these topics are often derived from unstructured interviews and a recollection of anecdotes rather than through comprehensive national surveys or studies. This lack of official recognition and media coverage is a likely reasons as to why a certain part of the Japanese society remains unconcerned and uninformed about the realities of life for many hāfu people in Japan.
By stimulating public discussions and opening up with their personal stories, there has been an effort to represent the hāfu community and create a better understanding within mainstream Japan. For instance, the documentary, Hafu, bye Megumi Nishikura and Lara Perez Takagi (both hāfu themselves), features candid interviews and narratives, in an attempt to help bring a facilitate a nuanced conversation about of the hāfu community. The documentary invites the audience to take a close look at the often overlooked minority and listen to their thoughts, concerns, emotions and struggles.
The journey ahead is long and arduous for Japan, yet members of the multiracial and multicultural community are constantly fighting to be involved and to have a say in public discourse. With a positive and resilient attitude, combined with inevitable trends of the era like sports legends Osaka and Hachimura and conversations about being hāfu and Japanese identity being discussed on media outlets like Buzzfeed Japan, it is hoped that changes will take place sooner or later. Kicking and screaming Japan will have to learn that identities do not have to be strictly defined stereotypes and under their façade of homogeneity, diversity is already brewing.
About the Author
Economics student based in Tokyo. Focused in writing about socioeconomic issues in modern Japan.