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From top left clockwise: Sayaka Akimoto (singer and actress of Filipino-Japanese descent), Harry B. Harris Jr. (American Navy admiral of American-Japanese descent), Sean Lennon (American singer of Anglo-Japanese descent), Arata Izumi (footballer of Indian-Japanese descent), Renhō (Japanese journalist and politician of Taiwanese-Japanese descent) and Angela Aki (singer with Italian-American-Japanese roots)

The word hāfu (ハーフ, "half") is used in Japanese to refer to somebody who is biracial with half Japanese ethnic origin. The label emerged in the 1970s in Japan and is now the most commonly used and preferred term of self-definition. The word comes from the English word half, indicating half foreign-ness.[1][2][3][4]

Social context[edit]

Fashionable images of the half Japanese people have become prominent especially with the increased appearance of hāfu in the Japanese media.[5] Hāfu models are now seen on television or fill the pages of fashion magazines such as Non-no, CanCam and Vivi as often as newsreaders or celebrities. The appearance of hāfu in the media has provided the basis for such a vivid representation of them in the culture.[6][7]

One of the earliest terms referring to half Japanese was ainoko, meaning a child born of a relationship between two races. It is still used in Latin America, most prominently Brazil (where spellings such as ainoco, ainoca (f.) and ainocô may be found), to refer to mestizo (broader Spanish sense of mixed race in general) or mestiço people of some Japanese ancestry. Nevertheless, it evolved to an umbrella term for Eurasian or mixed Asian/mestizo, Asian/black, Asian/Arab and Asian/Indigenous heritage in general. At the same time it is possible for people with little Japanese or other Asian ancestry to be perceivable just by their phenotype to identify mostly as black, white or mestizo/pardo instead of ainoko, while people with about a quarter or less of non-Asian ancestry may identify just as Asian.

Ainoko, however, encountered social problems such as poverty, perception of impurity and discrimination due to the negative treatment of hāfu in the 1940s in Japan. The word was gradually replaced from the late 1950s by konketsuji (混血児) which literally means a child of mixed blood.[8]

Soon this, too, became a taboo term due to its derogatory connotations such as illegitimacy and discrimination. What were central to these labels were the emphasis on "blood impurity" and the obvious separation of the half Japanese from the majority of Japanese. Some English-speaking parents of children of mixed ethnicity use the word "double."[8] Amerasian is another term for children of mixed ancestry, especially those born to Japanese mothers and U.S. military fathers.

Of the 1 million children born in Japan in 2013, 2.2% had one or more non-Japanese parent.[70] According to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, one in forty-nine babies born in Japan today are born into families with one non-Japanese parent.[9] Most intermarriages in Japan are between Japanese men and women from other Asian countries, including China, the Philippines and South Korea.[10] Southeast Asia too, also has significant populations of people with half Japanese ancestry, particularly in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

In the 21st century, stereotyping and discrimination against hāfu occurs based on how different their identity, behaviour and appearance is from a typical Japanese person.

The 2013 documentary film Hafu is about the experiences of hāfu living in Japan and deals with issues of identity and stereotyping that they face.[11][12]

Half Japanese, half European girl in kindergarten uniform
Half Japanese
Half Japanese European and half Japanese Latin American girls

List of famous hāfu[edit]

American four-star admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a father who was a U.S. soldier
Japanese singer and actress Anza, who was born in Nagasaki to a White South African mother and a Japanese father
Ayana Shahab
Indonesian singer Ayana Shahab, member of JKT48, who was born in Osaka to a Japanese mother and an Arab Indonesian father
Tennis player Naomi Osaka, 2018 US Open winner. She's half Haitian and Japanese

Hāfu in popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Krieger, Daniel (29 November 2010). "The whole story on being 'hafu'". CNN. Archived from the original on 2010-12-03. Retrieved 2011-04-12.
  2. ^ Navidi, Nooshin (22 June 2010). "Hafu draws viewers into world of Japanese identity". Japan Times. Archived from the original on 2011-12-01. Retrieved 2011-04-12.
  3. ^ Yamada, Mio (28 February 2009). "Hafu focuses on whole individual". Japan Times. Archived from the original on 2011-12-16. Retrieved 2011-04-12.
  4. ^ Fujioka, Brett (14 January 2011). "The Other Hafu of Japan". Rafu Shimpo. Archived from the original on 2011-01-22. Retrieved 2011-04-12.
  5. ^ "Growing Up Different but Never Alienated". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2014-12-30. Retrieved 2012-03-18.
  6. ^ Japan and Global Migration: Foreign Workers and the Advent of a ... - Mike Douglass, Glenda Susan Roberts - Google Books. Books.google.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-07-26.
  7. ^ American Mixed Race: The Culture of Microdiversity - Naomi Zack - Google Books. Books.google.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-07-26.
  8. ^ a b Kosaka, Kristy (2009-01-27). "Half, bi or double? One family's trouble". Japan Times. Retrieved 2011-11-20.
  9. ^ "About the film | Hafu". hafufilm.com. Archived from the original on 2016-10-15. Retrieved 2016-09-14.
  10. ^ "Being 'hafu' in Japan: Mixed-race people face ridicule, rejection". Archived from the original on 2017-05-20. Retrieved 2017-05-01.
  11. ^ "Documentary shows hardships of mixed-race individuals in Japan - AJW by The Asahi Shimbun". Ajw.asahi.com. Archived from the original on 2013-10-13. Retrieved 2013-10-20.
  12. ^ Shoji, Kaori. "Double the trouble, twice the joy for Japan's hafu". The Japan Times. Archived from the original on 2013-10-28. Retrieved 2013-10-20.
  13. ^ Fagiputra, A. "10 Potret Ayana JKT48, Imutnya Bikin Klepek-klepek". IDN Times (in Indonesian). Archived from the original on 2018-05-01. Retrieved 2018-05-01.
  14. ^ "She, herself and AI | The Japan Times". The Japan Times. Archived from the original on 2016-04-28. Retrieved 2018-05-27.
  15. ^ Aoyama, Gosho (2018). "Chapter 1011". Case Closed.

External links[edit]