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Hāfu (ハーフ, "half") is a Japanese language term used to refer to an individual born to one ethnic Japanese and one non-Japanese parent. A loanword from English, the term literally means "half," a reference to the individual's non-Japanese heritage.[1][2][3][4] While Japan remains one of the most homogeneous societies on the planet, hāfu individuals are well represented in the media in Japan and abroad and recent studies estimate that 1 in 30 children born in Japan are born to interracial couples.[5]

Related terms[edit]

  • Afro-Asian (also Blasian) - An Afro-Asian is an individual of Black African and Asian ancestry. Blasian, a portmanteau of Black and Asian, is a slang term and is regularly used among English speakers in North America.
  • Ainoco (f. Ainoca) - An ainoco is an individual with one Japanese parent. The term is a loanword, based on the Japanese word ainoko (間の子, lit. multiracial) and is used by Portuguese speakers in Brazil and Pohnpeian speakers in Micronesia, both countries with a sizable Japanese populations.
  • Ainoko (間の子, lit. multiracial) - An ainoko is a Japanese person with a non-Japanese or gaijin (外人, lit. foreigner), parent. It is a Japanese term, used in Japan.
  • Amerasian - An Amerasian is an individual of American and Asian, especially East Asian ancestry. Historically, the term referred to children born to local women and American servicemen stationed in East Asia during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. It should not be confused with Asian American, which describes an American citizen of full or partial Asian ancestry.
  • Eurasian - A Eurasian is an individual of White European and Asian ancestry.
  • Hapa - A hapa is an individual of mixed Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, East Asian and/or Southeast Asian heritage. The term is a loanword, based on the English word half, as hāfu is, but, unlike hāfu, the term does not imply an individual is 50%, or half, of a certain race or ethnicity, only that they are mixed race. It is a Hawaiian term, used by English and Hawaiian speakers in Hawaii and California.
  • Konketsuji (混血児, lit. mixed-blood) - A konketsuji is a Japanese person with one non-Japanese or gaijin (外人, lit. foreigner), parent. It is a Japanese term, used in Japan and is considered a derogatory term.[6]
  • Kwōta (クォータ, lit. quarter) - A kwōta is a Japanese person with one non-Japanese or gaijin (外人, lit. foreigner), grandparent. The term is a loanword, based on the English word quarter and refers to an individual's 25%, or one quarter, non-Japanese ancestry. It is a Japanese term, used in Japan.
  • Mestiço de japonês - A mestiço de japonês (lit. Japanese mestiço) is an individual with one Japanese parent. It is a Portuguese term, used in Brazil, but enjoys less popularity than ainoco and hāfu.
  • Mestizo de japonés - A mestizo de japonés (lit. Japanese mestizo) is an individual with one Japanese parent. It is a Spanish term, used in Argentina and Mexico.


Prehistoric and Feudal Japan[edit]

Hāfu refers to a person who has one ethnic Japanese parent and one non-ethnic Japanese parent. The term ethnic Japanese refers to the Indigenous Japanese people of the Japanese archipelago. Over the course of centuries the minority ethnic groups such as the Ainu and Ryukyuans were mostly assimilated into the Yamato population. Mixed race couples and thus hāfu people were rare in feudal Japan. There were mixed Asian couples between ethnic Japanese and other East and Southeast Asian peoples.

The most well-regarded theory is that present-day Yamato Japanese are descendants of both the Indigenous Jōmon people and the immigrant Yayoi people. [7] In modern Japan, the term Yamato minzoku is seen as antiquated for connoting racial notions that have been discarded in many circles since Japan's surrender in World War II.[8] The term "Japanese people" or even "Japanese-Japanese" are often used instead.[9]

Genetic and anthropological studies indicate that the Ryukyuans are significantly related to the Ainu people and share the ancestry with the indigenous prehistoric Jōmon period (pre 10,000–1,000 BCE) people, who arrived from Southeast Asia, and with the Yamato people who are mostly an admixture of the Yayoi period (1,000 BCE–300 CE) migrants from East Asia (specifically China and the Korean peninsula).[10][11][12][13][14][15][16] During the Meiji period, the Ryukyuans distinct culture was suppressed by the Meiji government and faced forced assimilation.[17].

Since 1899, the Ainu were increasingly marginalized. During a period of only 36 years, the Ainu went from being a relatively isolated group of people to having their land, language, religion and customs assimilated into those of the Japanese.[18] Intermarriage between Japanese and Ainu was actively promoted by the Ainu to lessen the chances of discrimination against their offspring. As a result, many Ainu are indistinguishable from their Japanese neighbors, but some Ainu Japanese are interested in traditional Ainu culture. [19]

16th and 17th century[edit]

English sailor William Adams (1564 – 1620), a navigator for the Dutch East India Company, settled in Japan and ultimately, was granted the rank of samurai, one of the few non-Japanese to do so. He wed Oyuki, a Japanese woman and together, they had two children, Joseph and Susanna, who were hāfu.

Koxinga, Chinese monarch

Chinese military leader Chenggong Zhenga, historically known as Koxinga, was hāfu, born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Chinese father and raised there until the age of seven, known by the Japanese given name, Fukumatsu.

Post-WWII Japan[edit]

The presence of the United States Armed Forces in Japan and Asia saw the birth of many children born to American fathers; these children were called Amerasians. It's estimated that by 1952, anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 Japanese children were fathered by American servicemen, with many of the children placed for adoption by their Japanese mothers due to the stigma of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and miscegenation and the struggles of supporting a child alone in post-war Japan. One orphanage, Seibo Aijien (聖母愛児園, Seibo Aijien, Our Lady of Lourdes Orphanage), in Yokohama, run by Franciscan nuns, opened in 1946 and, by 1948, staff members were caring for 126 children fathered by American servicemen, by 1950 and 136 children.[20][21] A letter, dated 1948, detailed an incident of a malnourished infant born to a Japanese teenager whose American father refused to support for fear his wife would learn of his extramarital affair.[22] Another orphanage, opened in Ōiso by a Japanese woman named Miki Sawada, cared for more than 700 Amerasian children, none of whom were visited or supported by their American fathers.[23]


Fashionable images of the half Japanese people have become prominent especially with the increased appearance of hāfu in the Japanese media.[24] 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.[25][26]

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.

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."[27] 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.[28] Most intermarriages in Japan are between Japanese men and women from other Asian countries, including China, the Philippines and South Korea.[29] 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.[30][31]

Notable hāfu individuals[edit]

Anza Ohyama, Japanese singer
Irina Khakamada, Russian politician

Hāfu (ハーフ, "half") describes an individual who is either the child of one Japanese and one non-Japanese parent or, less commonly, two half Japanese parents. Because the term is specific to individuals of ethnic Japanese (Yamato) ancestry, individuals whose Japanese ancestry is not of ethnic Japanese origin, such as Zainichi Koreans (e.g. Crystal Kay Williams and Kiko Mizuhara) will not be listed.[32][33]

Mike Shinoda, American musician
Akira Takayasu, Japanese sumo wrestler

Fictional characters[edit]

Hāfu in popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]