PERCEPTIONS OF ‘HA-FU’ IN JAPAN (excerpt) / Eri Kanda

‘Ha-fu’ has been used in the Japanese context to represent the strictly multiethnic citizens both in and out of the archipelago. This paper will introduce the history of the term ha-fu to consider the connotations and imagery that are closely associated. By doing so, it will reconsider the usage of the term and recognize the fluidity and context-based identity frequently disregarded by the users.

To look into the current attitudes towards ethnically diverse Japanese minorities, interviews were conducted with six socially differently categorized ha-fu living in Japan; Ken, Laura, Yuto, Susan, Risa and Samantha. The interviewees are ethnically (also, generally perceived as) half Japanese and half Western-Caucasian descent with the exception of Yuto, who is one-fourth Caucasian. He is considered appropriate as an interviewee as he identifies as ha-fu and his peers treat him as one. The interviews were conducted with a small portion of the diverse array of ha-fu to focus on the treatments of the ha-fu, who are phenotypically distinguishable according to the Nihonjinron ideological Japanese.


The Tokugawa Period and Sakoku

Lie (2009) argues that it was only after the Tokugawa period that the Japanese people started to strengthen their national identity. He further indicates that the Tokugawa bakufu made a conscious movement towards equating ethnicity with national identities through the development of a proto-nationalist ideology.

Leupp (2003) argues that during the sakoku period, foreigners were not totally exempt from society, and in fact, half-European children were fully integrated into society. On the other hand, Fish (2008) points out that there were laws put in place in the 1630s that demanded the deportation or execution of all ‘mixed-blood’ children. ‘Mixed-blood’ in the Japanese context indicates anybody who phenotypically appears to have one parent of Western decent (Fish, 2008 and Murphy-Shigematsu, 2000). Fish (2008) elaborates on the complicated situation at that time and the racial differentiation were unlike the traditional concepts of the West but were focused on the binaries of “we Japanese” and “others” (43).

Ultimately, the Tokugawa bakufu’s attempt to unify the Japanese identity and associate ethnicity with the nation was not successful. Japan at this time was a predominately agricultural country; therefore, mass schooling and mass media failed to spread across the country. The majority of the population, who were farmers, did not identify anything beyond their village. Lie (2009) claims that the bakufu’s attempt in a “nationalistic linguistic unification” was far from complete (117).


Imperial Japan

A coup d’état swept the country forcing shogunates to step down from their authoritative positions as restrictions towards any resistance to the empire were put in place (Beasley, 1995). Under the imperial rule, Japan emphasized foreign education for the improvement of the country.

The policy issued on 6 April 1868, “decided only after wide consultation, taking account of the interests of all Japanese, high and low; that base customs or former times would be abandoned; and that in the pursuit of national strength knowledge shall be sought throughout the world” (Beasley, 1995, 56). Gradually, Japan became the family state (kazoku kokka) by basing national unity on the family (Lie, 2009). Ito Hirobumi stated:


In our country [Japan] religion is weak. There is not one that could serve as a principle of state. Buddhism today has fallen into decline. Shinto is based in the precepts of our forefathers and transmits them, yet as a religion it has little power to move men’s hearts. In our country, as a common principle, there is only the Imperial House.” (Reischauer & Craig, 1989, 211).


Murphy-Shigematsu (1993) clarifies that this is the ideology where the emperor was the father and the people were his children; therefore, Japan as a family state with “ideal virtues of harmony, solidarity, and loyalty” (Reischauer & Craig, 1989, 202). The people must cooperate with each other for absolute unity. Loyalty and patriotism became the supreme political virtues. The attempt in formatting a strong nation created a multiethnic Japan in the early twentieth century (Lie, 2009) and an “extended family” (Weiner, 1994, 19).

According to Lie (2009), Japan started to expand its territory to Taiwan and Korea through colonization with the justification of “assert[ing] the multiethnic origins” (122) of Japan to these countries. Therefore, in these colonies, Japan assimilated ‘incomplete Japanese’ by teaching them the Japanese language and ‘naturalizing’ Koreans by changing their last names. He further argues this point by quoting the Educational Bureaucrat Shiohara Tokisaburo; “The idea is to Japanize Koreans…In a word, because Koreans are Japanese Sinified, we can peel off the Sinification and make them into Japanese as they originally were” (Lie, 2009, 123). Weiner (1994) also indicates that there was “the notion that Koreans and Japanese shared a common racial and cultural heritage allowed imperial publicists and administrators to argue that annexation of Korea was no more than a return a natural and pre-existing relationship” (23). The family-state-Japan allowed newcomers strictly for political advancement, disregarding their previously strict Yamato ideology. Contrary, at the same time, Koreans and other Asian peoples were deemed inferior which created various negative images from “economic, political and social subordination” (Weiner, 1994, 24). Colonization was “not only [for] the education of the ‘lesser breeds’, but [for] the preservation of the ‘superior races’” (Weiner, 1994, 25). The condemners urged that “to maintain the ‘racial integrity’ of the national family and avoid mixing their blood ‘with that of the other races’…the Japanese ‘race’ might serve as a model for and inspiration to other Asian peoples” (Weiner, 1994, 30-31).

Although Japan may have had widespread multiethnic ideas for a time, the divine Japanese blood purity was the ideology that stuck.


The Nihonjinron ideology became popular amongst scholars after the war up until the period of rapid economic growth. The common conclusion of the differences was that Japan was unique due to it being an island country, possessing a ‘one of a kind’ culture and having a distinctive history like no other country (Miyamoto, 2003, 139). Ando (2009) defines Nihonjinron as “the world view, the middle mass and the ideology of the individual Japanese” (34). Liddicoat (2007) defines it as “an attempt to construct the parameters of distinctive Japanese cultural and national identity,” and he further goes on by stating that “a core element in Nihonjinron is that Japan is linguistically and culturally homogenous; that is, the Japanese are a homogenous people who constitute a racially unified nation” (34). Befu (1993) analyzes Nihonjinron as an “active” nationalism, indicating that it focuses on sentiment, “political and social development” and celebrating and emphasizing the groupism identity of the people (108). “Nihonjinron encompasses virtually all aspects of Japanese culture in the broadest sense – from “race” and cultural origins to social structure and psyche” (Befu, 1993, 109).

Befu (1993) created the equation Land=People= Culture=Language simplifying the qualifications and ideology of Nihonjinron. Miyamoto (2003) describes the essence of Japanese-ness in Nihonjinron to have ascribed and attributed qualities. Ascribed through blood, meaning two parents are Japanese, and attributed meaning being adjusted to the Japanese social structure, customs and culture by acting in a way that is approved by the society and in line with mainstream cultural values.


Importance of Blood

Blood is strongly emphasized in Nihonjinron. Befu (2001) quotes Suzuki Takao, who is a linguist of Keio University. According to Suzuki, there is a “perceived homogeneity” in Japan, but the heterogeneous elements of the Japanese people are not significant enough to disregard the belief in homogeneity. For Suzuki, the Ainu population is too small in number to refute the argument and Koreans are simply linguistically and culturally different from the Japanese; therefore, he ignores the minorities in Japan and claims Japan to be homogenous. Befu (2001) states that it is common for many of the Nihonjinron writers to consciously exclude minorities in Japan. He indicates that many writers overgeneralize the Japanese population by assuming that “regional origin, class, gender, and other variations within Japan are not important enough to violate the essential sameness throughout Japanese culture and all Japanese” (115).



The Japanese language plays a vital role in many Nihonjinron ideologies. The idea of the Japanese culture as unique derives from the belief in the immense language difficulty that only allows Japanese people in Japan to be able to fully understand. Additionally, Japanese is an official language only in Japan, therefore, Nihonjinron emphasizes that Japanese is natively spoken by only Japanese people. This focus excludes not only foreigners from fully acquiring the language and hence the culture, but ethnically Japanese people who have lived abroad as well.


Terminology for Mixed-Blood in Japan

Ainoko was the word for mixed race children during the postwar period. The literal meaning of this word is someone with a mixture of two things, but the connotations of the word were very derogatory. According to Douglass and Roberts (2003), ainoko “evokes images of poverty, illegitimacy, racial impurity, prejudice and discrimination” (214). As the memory of the war began to fade, ainoko was dropped and replaced with konketsuji, literally meaning mixed-blood child. This word came with the rise of American-Japanese entertainers in the media in the sixties and “sexual fascination was attached to erotic and exotic images and feelings of fascination and admiration” for the models and singers (Douglass & Roberts, 2003, 214). However, the negative stigma still remained and the word konketsuji, similarly to ainoko, was tied to negative images such as children of prostitutes with poor education.

The term commonly used today, ha-fu¸ became popular in the seventies based on physically white-looking Japanese who speak fluent English and Japanese. According to Murphy-Shigematsu (2000), this image is associated with white images, such as long legs and fair skin while still possessing enough Japanese culture to be relatable (214). Contrary to konketsuji, which solely referenced the physical appearance, ha-fu has an image of bicultural, bilingual and international images that people associate with intelligence. Ha-fu is also associated more with high socioeconomic status.


Interviewee Response

Christian (2000) defines identity as “a sociological concept…as the search of ‘self’ and how one relates to the broader social context” (2). He claims that our identity “consists of our membership in social groups (race, ethnicity, religion, gender and so on), the traits we show and the traits others ascribe to us” (2). Risa and Samantha’s identity shifted as they realized how others perceived them; however, for Ken, other’s opinion did not matter. He constructed his Japanese identity with less outer influence than Risa and Samantha. Christian (2000) further explains that identity is “highly complex and fluid” (3). Identity can shift at every stage in life, and however many times. The feeling of outsider perception can change also, depending on the context.

Park (1928) quoted “the man of mixed blood is one who lives in two worlds, in both of which he is more or less a stranger” (6). Whether this ‘living’ is physically, culturally or ethnically; Park (1928) elegantly summarizes the discomfort of alienation some multiethnic people may feel.


Part of the Society

“Do you feel a part of society?” was asked to understand whether ha-fu’s are conformed and integrated into society as ‘Japanese’. The idea of Language=People=Culture=Land (Befu, 1993) and the equation of “race, ethnicity, and culture” (Sugimoto, 1999) positions ha-fu in a complicated role in society. Every ha-fu is excluded in People; however, not all will be exempt from the qualities of Language, Culture and Land. Along with Sugimoto’s (1999) equation, ha-fu’s lack full qualities of race and ethnicity, but some will have secured the culture as much as any other ‘Japanese’. To this question of inclusion, Risa seemed to be very distressed when asked this question.


「中途半端だよ。今まで21年間費やしてきたのに、まだ ‘not Japanese enough’なんだよ?お父さんが日本人じゃないから。でも変えていこうとは思わない。権利を主張したくない、平和に生きていきたい。」 I’m just in between. Up until now, I have spent 21 years (being Japanese), but I’m still ‘not Japanese enough’. Because my father is not Japanese. But I do not feel like changing it. I do not want to assert my right; I just want to live peacefully.


For Risa, the only quality she lacks in the equation is People. Simply because her father is American, she feels she is not accepted as Japanese. She feels like a guest, possibly an Other. Risa’s remarks are one example of the intensity of the equation. A single absence of a quality can trigger the othering and exemption from fully assimilating into society.

Overall, most of the interviewees did not seem bothered by the usage of the term ha-fu. Yuto was the only one to show strong aggravation towards the word itself, and the overall positive impression must be related to the way in which the term was created. For the interviewees, the negative connotations that were associated with ainoko or konketsuji did not seem to be prevalent in how they perceived the word ha-fu. The negative impressions they receive are due to either the ‘othering’ by ethnically Japanese people or the excessive amounts of questions or comments about them being ha-fu. Possibly, this may be because the term ‘ha-fu’ is not entirely exclusive. According to Befu (1993), there is the importance in Land=People=Culture=Language, and ha-fu’s seem to barely fit in to the equation. For the ha-fu’s that were born and raised in Japan, they have the Land, Culture and Language quality as would a “Japanese” person. The only quality absent is the People; however, the creation of the word ‘ha-fu’ should be an indicator of moderate inclusion. The usage of the term, according to Douglass & Roberts (2003), is a bi-racial person who simultaneously holds a Western appearance and Japanese culture. Ken, Susan, Risa and Samantha said that for the most part they do not mind being perceived as a foreigner at first, because the misinterpretations are easily recognized once they explain that they can speak Japanese and are ha-fuHa-fu must be moderately included as Japanese when concerning Nihonjinron considering the examples of recognition and acceptance of ha-fu presented by the interviewees.


What Does it Mean to be Japanese?

In my research, the most essential criteria of “Japaneseness” according to Befu (1993), Land=People=Culture=Language, was not determined. Essentially, the hypothesis was that the most important was either Culture or People. Iino (1996) distinguishes these examples as “Japanese identity markers” (235). Many ha-fu are treated as a foreigner by first glance, but since ha-fu are moderately included in Nihonjinron, the assumption that they possess Japanese culture must be a reason for the difference in treatment. Additionally, since Culture=Language is a part of the equation, acquiring the language does not mean the person to automatically acquire the culture. The idea is that the culture is delicately expressed through language; therefore, people who have the culture can speak the language but not the other way around. On the other hand, the People criterion was hypothesized to be the most important since many ha-fu are phenotypically distinguished as Other. All the interviewees explained how they were mistaken as a tourist or received compliments on their Japanese when the commentator was not aware they were ha-fu. Additionally, the idea is People=Culture, insinuating the idea that since the culture is so unique, the pure Japanese are the only ones who will acquire it.

Through the interviews, the conclusion was made that all four qualities are essential for somebody to be classified as ‘Japanese’. The basic principle of this equation is that all the qualities are intertwined and parallel. Without one, this equation fails. The assumption of regarding one quality as the most important was inaccurate. The uniqueness of the Japanese, according to Nihonjinron, lie in the fact that the people possess all four of these qualities, secluding them from the outside world. They become different from these qualifications. Allowing the deficiency of one criteria implies that anyone can be Japanese; alluding from the uniqueness of Japanese.


Usage of the term ‘Ha-fu’

Most of the interviewees mentioned that any usage of the term ha-fu is for the convenience of others, and Laura, Samantha and Risa said that if they were asked to identify themselves, they would not use ha-fu. The world is usually seen in binaries; for Nihonjinron, it looks at the world as Japanese and non-Japanese or uchi and soto. Consequently, bi-racial people are in between the binary, evoking confusion. Therefore, a term was necessary to set them aside and eradicate the complication; ainokokonnketsuji, ha-fu and daburu. Samantha and Risa will go to the extent of describing their family information to eradicate the initial confusion many people may have.

Most of the interviewees did not have negative feelings toward the word ha-fu, but none showed a liking for it either. With the emergence of daburu, it is evident that the terms used for multiethnic people in Japan are still in its developing stage. The label ‘ha-fu’ does not represent the diversity amongst them. Four out of the six interviews conducted for this thesis were done in Japanese. Meaning, more than half of the ha-fu interviewees preferred Japanese over English, and all four of them have never lived in a country other than Japan. When only one label is widely used to encompass a multiethnic group with a lot of variety, misconceptions occur. Perceptions of ha-fu are not reflective of the diversity and variety of experiences, backgrounds, abilities and opinions ha-fu have. Being biracial or multiracial does not always mean that the person would be bilingual or multicultural.







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