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Sunday, November 13, 2011


Yesterday in the Japan Times a talented journalist and friend of mine, Kris Kosaka, published an article about a project by "hafu" Japanese filmmaker Megumi Nishikura. "Hafu" is the Japanese word for people who have one Japanese parent and one parent from a country other than Japan. 1 in every 30 babies born in Japan today, including my own (though one of my kids was born in the US, so I'm not sure if that counts in the statistic), are either "hafu" or have two parents who are not Japanese.

Megumi Nishikura, who is a peace activist as well as a filmmaker, wants to explore the lives of "hafu" living in Japan, and show how they are finding ways to gain better acceptance by a culture that largely considers them not Japanese. This attitude is changing, in part due to people like Nishikura, who are working hard on public awareness. Her film "Hafu," in which she is collaborating with another "hafu" Lara Perez Takagi, is one such campaign.

To learn more about it, see the article or watch this short fund-raising video.

The original "Hafu Project," which began in 2008 and was a source of inspiration for Nishikura, can be linked to here. They provide statistics as well as a visual and sociological study of "hafu" people, and a discussion of many of the unique challenges that face these individuals, such as answering the seemingly simple question, "Where are you from?"

These are both great resources for families with "hafu" members. Consider supporting one of them today.


Chris said...

One start would be to avoid the pejorative term "hafu" for "both", which much more accurately describes the reality of kids like yours and mine.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

This is a really interesting point that has been discussed a lot in a group I belong to of non-Japanese women married to Japanese men. I used to be a big advocate of the term "daburu," or double, which emphasizes that children like ours have two nationalities, heritages, and cultures, not half a nationality or culture, or identity or value. This term has not caught on with the children it was designed to describe, because they largely feel that "hafu" is not understood as "half" by Japanese people, and they are far less sensitive to its usage than their parents seem to be. They are less inclined to want to go around educating Japanese that they should switch terms than they are interested in being accepted for who they are, or so it seems.

On the "Hafu Project" website, there's a discussion of the history of words used in Japan to describe children like ours. It's an interesting (and sad) read. It ends with the paragraph "In order to correct the negative nuance of half foreign-ness, a new term was created in the 1990s: “daburu,” deriving from the word double. It emphasises that Hafus are not half anything but one person with two different heritages. However this word has been rarely used by the Hafus themselves due to its overemphasis of positive self-assertion, and many feel that Hafu is acceptable."

It's an interesting discussion, but I am willing to let the inidivduals who fall in this category decide what they want to be called rather than argue for it myself anymore. They've got my support, whatever they decide.

chris said...

True, I have never considered how Zen feels about the word because he'S too young. At this age (a month shy of 7), he just wants to be treated as himself without being lavished with extra attention for being different. He doesn't consider himself different, he says, so why should anybody else?

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Chris, that's exactly how it was for us too. I was super vigilant about what my kids were being called, and they were surprised to hear me ranting about half and double, because they saw it as a Japanese word having nothing to do with numeric values, and they thought having to tell everyone around them to change the word exacerbated the situation, creating a problem where they didn't see any. They just wanted to get along and were doing fine without my intervention.

When they are teenagers and more interested in group identities, they might have different feelings, but my friends with older kids say that they are generally fine with being called "hafu" too. We'll see.