The above image is a promotional poster for the documentary film Hafu.
I recently finished William Faulkner’s, Light in August, which was first published in 1932. Modernist authors of that period were fascinated with polarities, such as light and dark, good and evil, and the duality of identity. One of the novel’s main characters is Christmas, a young man who suffered alienation, and repression, which was due to the puritanical, and prejudicial nature of the society that unjustly condemned him. Christmas appeared to be Caucasian, yet he suspected that he was of African American origin. Although Christmas was light skinned, being raised in an orphanage, and having no knowledge of his origin resulted in his inability to connect with anyone. He struggled with that duality in every aspect of his character, which culminated in a nefarious catastrophe.
I’ve lived in Japan nearly a decade. I have a Japanese wife, and an infant son. I know I’ll never be accepted as part of this society, and that’s fine with me. I’m not Japanese, and I don’t want to be. I’ve never worn a yukata, or jinbai, and I don’t have any strange looking sandals. I don’t pretend to like natto, or sake, and what Japan calls bread, and cheese are alien concepts to me. I consider Yoshinoya junk food, just as I do McDonald’s, which I haven’t consumed in more than three decades. I’m also tired of being told that every community in Japan, no matter how insignificant is “famous” for something or another. One thing Japan is not famous for is its poor treatment of the nation’s indigenous people. That same mistreatment generally applies to foreigners, and those that are called hafus.
It’s quite unfortunate, but I also know that my son will never fit in with Japan’s societal paradigm. As a result, and as a parent, it’s my duty to protect him from world illiterate, and discriminatory inclinations the Japanese have toward those they construe as outsiders. I have no intention of subjecting my child to antagonistic environs like those that exist in Japan’s public schools. In my opinion, the dingy, dull, and neglected edifices that warehouse the nation’s children for most of the day look more like a penitentiary than an establishment intended for education.
The Japanese are supposed to be good at testing, although their scores have dwindled significantly over the past decade. Regardless how important testing results are to some, standardized testing is designed for the taker to choose the “correct” choice that has already been prepared to them. I adamantly refuse to allow my child to waste his time in cram schools, subjected to absorbing an endless array of useless information. The educational model that is prevalent in today’s educational institutions don’t produce autonomous thinkers, and that’s a major concern I have regarding the Japanese, and their seeming inherent lack of ability to meaningfully interact with foreigners. This failure to interact properly in social environments also extends to their children, and is aimed largely at foreign kids.
Japan’s society as a whole, as well as its Ministry of Education, teaches children to regurgitate accepted norms. When it comes to test scores, memorizing the dates of particular historical events may net a high score, but it never gives that student the ability to express their views as to what caused those particular events to occur in the first place. This is especially troubling when it comes to the Japanese lack of information regarding the nation’s role in World War Two. Anyone with superficial knowledge knows that the schools in Japan barely touch upon that aspect of their history, and when it does, it doesn’t discuss the thirty million deaths, the biological, and chemical warfare facilities, the human experimentation, the violations of international treaties, the torture, and unconscionable treatment of prisoners of war, the war crimes, suicide missions, or even how nations like China, Korea, Russia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and others affected by Japan’s role in the war, perceive it, and its current prime minister’s defiance toward constitutional mandates regarding Article 9. It’s under this mindset that the Japanese raise their children. Not in the humility of being subjected to the worst war defeat in the history of the world, due to officials, and religious leaders that brainwashed, and instilled fear in the people, and reigned terror throughout all of Asia. And why should they?
We’ve all been taught false history. Clear examples are that the U.S. gloriously defeated Germany, Japan’s ally in WWII. Yet, those in the west were never told that it was the Soviets that advanced upon, and took the city of Berlin, bringing an end to the European aspect of a horrifying world war. We were told that England, and France were victorious, when in fact, England, and France were soundly defeated, and lost their empires as a result of the war that they claim Germany was “solely” responsible for. We were all taught that Japan surrendered unconditionally when the U.S. threatened to drop a third atomic bomb over Tokyo, which of course would have decimated the Japanese war criminals who were headquartered, and hiding out in the city, and who were the culprits responsible for bring about the worst war the world had ever seen. The reality is, prior to WWII, Japan had the world’s ninth economy. After WWII, the nation, which paid no reparations, and no resources, quickly became the second world economic power, until China recently overtook it.
How do you teach a child that didn’t ask to come to this world, that everything that surrounds him is a lie? How do you try to instill in a child that the abhorrent conduct of others aimed at him, and on a daily basis, has nothing to do with a deficiency in his character? The idea of raising a child in Japan, is objectionable when it comes to the psychological wellbeing of a developing mind that doesn’t yet have the tools to react, and won’t understand why he’s not invited to birthday parties, or is isolated while school events go on around him, and is always the last child chosen on a team, regardless of ability.
Fear and loathing: The true Japanese way
I’ve lived in Japan long enough to know that Japanese children don’t, and won’t play with foreign children. I’ve seen it time, and again in just about every situation imaginable. Behavior this reprehensible doesn’t originate in the child. It comes from denial, and hatred that trickled down as a result of fear from their elders. Although Japan boasts a 99.7% literacy rate, the vast majority of Japanese are world, and language illiterate. Japan’s Ministry of Justice boasts a 99.9% conviction rate, which in reality is condemned internationally as a fraud due to coerced false confessions, the withholding of evidence, and unfair trial proceedings. Japan’s corrupt judiciary cares little for the concept of justice. The U.S. Dept. of State writes annual report condemning the corruption within Japan’s justice system. There are also an endless array of reports coming from Amnesty International, and other respectable human rights organizations that condemn Japan’s biased judiciary, its system of gross injustice, immigration policies, and the way foreigners are treated in just about every aspect of life, from employment exploitation, to landlords refusing to rent, based solely on race.
The protective mindset within Japan reaches every aspect of its society, and is adamantly justified under the concept of sovereignty. But, just how sovereign is Japan, a nation that has been occupied for the past seventy years? The protective, and irrational, us versus them mentality is the core cause of Japan’s inability to internationalize, and accept others, even those innocents, like my infant son. This includes all “hafu” children who have one parent who is Japanese, and another from a different region of the world.
I hate the word hafu; it’s as offensive as nigger, peckerwood, kike, wetback, towelhead, or any other derogatory word that is used to assault both the intended victim, and third party bystander. Sadly, no matter how much someone tries to be a part of Japanese society, no matter how well they write, or speak the language, or understanding the unspoken nuances, they will always be considered an outsider. The term hafu isn’t really any different from the term, gaijin, which means, “outsider”, or “not one of us.” To the Japanese, a hafu is an oddity, and they are entirely uncomfortable being around someone that is “so” different. For example, those who have a mixed Japanese/Brazilian heritage, and reside in Mitsukaido, Ibaraki, who had to form employment unions to protect their families from excessive exploitation carried out by their Japanese employers, and who continue to be held out as outcasts. The harsh truth is, to the Japanese, the foreigner/hafu doesn’t exist that far from the buraku on the bottom most wrung of the ladder of life.
My wife take pleasure in our son often being confused for a girl, and she’s proud when strangers tell her how beautiful he is, and “how big his eyes are.” The fact is, over time the kawaiis, and kirais will turn to taunts, derision, and isolationism that will be aimed at a boy, who won’t be able to understand that the irrational conduct has nothing to do with him. So, where does one go to get away from the abuses my son would suffer if I remain in Japan? Returning to the U.S., a nation that’s now more despised than any other, and which without legal merit spies on its citizens, has an endless supply of toxic, genetically altered, and unlabeled food, and the most obese, and unhealthy populace, who are unapologetically apathetic, doesn’t interest me at all. When Americans aren’t being supersized, their spending their time gorging on war propaganda, religious based hate speech, and the latest gossip, all while spending endless hours alone in online “social” environments. Yeah, returning to the mainland doesn’t interest me at all.
I grew up in Miami, Florida. I’ve witnessed the venom aimed at Haitian immigrants called boat people, and the white racists who had English legislated as the “official” language, yet failed in their unwarranted efforts at forcing businesses in Little Havana to change their Spanish signs to English. In fact, for the first decade after my birth, African Americans weren’t allowed to swim in the ocean, and weren’t allowed on Collins Ave., or Ocean Drive without providing identification that they were employed in some aspect of the tourism industry. I lived in Los Angeles during the Rodney King beating, and subsequent riot, and I’ve been subjected to more than my fair share of hate crimes as well. The most disturbing hate crime that I witnessed was in Shin Okubo where thousands of Japanese racists took to the streets with bullhorns maniacally shouting for the Korean owned businesses to be burned down, their windows smashed, and for the Koreans that owned them to be dragged into the streets, and systematically executed. Quite disturbingly, the politicians in Shinzo Abe’s cabinet staunchly claim that speech of that nature is protected. (So long as it’s directed at those that are perceived as foreign.) The great majority of Japanese will state that Koreans deceptively use Japanese names to hide their “inherent criminal propensity.” It’s more close to the truth that if Koreans living in Japan use Japanese alias’ it’s to prevent being targeted with hate crimes, and racial stereotyping like that which occurred in Korea Town. Yes, the folly of the fools in Shin Okubo managed to even top the “whito pigu gou homu,” which was shouted from a bullhorn repeatedly, as I was passing through Shinjuku on my way to share dinner with my wife, her sisters, and my son.
We’re often told that the Japanese are “one race” as the former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone has stated. This, one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture, and one race, is in reality an absurd notion. Japan may in fact be more diverse than most other nations. Its written form of communication, half of it, is of Chinese origin. The Japanese language has craned thousands of words that originate from other languages. The modern Japanese garb is western, as well as its music. You don’t hear Japanese parents bragging about their child’s ability to play the koto, or shamisen. Nor do you hear them carry on about their child’s ability of bouncing off of other boys in sumo. In fact, Japanese children generally play piano, or (yawn) the violin. When it comes to sports it’s pretty much baseball, basketball, and soccer. None of these activities are of Japanese origin. The rigid truth for the Japanese separatist to swallow is that they have a hard time getting their young to participate in most any traditional oriented activity. The population is also set to drastically decline by nearly 40% in the next few decades. Not desiring to spend too much time on the origins of Japan, I’ll leave that for those who wish to probe deeper into the subject by providing an in depth look at, The Origins Of The Japanese People.
What’s the real issue with the Japanese? They’re xenophobic. They fear foreigners, because of their ineptness in their ability to communicate regarding real world issues, and their incapacity to communicate in even the most basic forms of speech, something no other nation in the world has such a problem with. Fear turns into humiliation, and frustration, which easily turns to hatred. The Japanese have by no means cornered the market in race based fear, and hatred. Today the abhorrent conduct of Christians, and Jews, aimed at Muslims is universally cheered on by the mass media that helps to perpetuate the endless cycle of irrationality, and stoke the flames with provocation.
But… Japan is changing!
This brings me to the film Hafu, which I recently watched with my wife. I wanted to view the documentary because of its subject matter, and to learn what my son will face if in fact we continue to raise him in Japan. Despite the filmmaker’s claims that Japan was becoming international, the reality is that the Japanese remain homogenous in their protectionist mindset, and half-Japanese are almost always cut off from their Japanese roots. Despite the film’s proclamation of change, the vast majority of Japanese exist in a vacuum, segregated from the rest of the world, and truthfully they prefer it that way.
I remember when bellbottoms first came out. It was a big deal to choose between a pair of Levi corduroy straights, or Landlubber hip huggers that dragged a foot under the feet. Change? Ask a teddy boy who became a mod how easy that was. I remember white disco suits, and the Sex Pistols taking over where Lynyrd Skynyrd left off. I recall having to choose between cutting off all of my hair, and becoming part of the fad of the week, or risk being labeled a dinosaur, not getting the hot chick, and being ostracized in the process. Here, I’m only discussing how difficult change was in regards to fashion. In Japan, rejecting any form of change is a staunch way of life.
During the viewing of Hafu, I got into a spat with my wife over what I understood as aspects of her culture that would indeed damage our son. This came about when I saw how much harm one of the subjects of the documentary, Alex suffered as other children in his community refused to have any contact with him, belittled him, and told him he wasn’t Japanese, that he was Eigojin. When his teacher was made fully aware that the boy was being targeted with bullying, and both physical, and verbal assault, the child was told that he had to deal with it on his own. That inherently racist, and incompetent teacher apparently hadn’t recognized that the core issue the boy raised was that he was already alone, and turning to her for assistance, which she failed to provide. The irony of the taunts of being labeled an Eigojin, (a racist term for English foreigners that could only have come from adults that taught their children to use that form of hate speech), is that Alex’s mother is from Mexico. I told my wife that there was no way that I could justify allowing my son to grow up under such objectionable conditions. She attempted to defend her culture, and at one point proclaimed, “Those foreigners…” But, I cut her off. When she stated, “those foreigners”, she meant the hafus portrayed in the film. Those foreigners! I reminded my wife that our son was one of “those foreigners.” I also reminded her that the company that employed her had never hired anyone that wasn’t “Japanese.” In fact, that large nation wide insurance company that employed her had never hired a hafus either. This means the company wouldn’t hire our son, as in their inherently discriminatory notions, he isn’t Japanese, yet, the company somehow manages to rationalize that appalling perspective while having an equal opportunity employer sign posted in the front window of the companies headquarters. In Japan, the term equal means “we” Japanese. Actually, it means, we, Japanese, are antiquated old men.
The following information was gleaned from the Hafu film website.
Megumi Nishikura, one of the films producer/director/videographers states that she’s half Japanese, and half American. That statement struck me as a bad film edit would. I was jarred by it, and immediately wondered, what she meant by calling herself half American? I was born in America, but my parent’s are of German-English-Irish origins. The only real Americans are the Indians. Right? That’s what Christopher Columbus called the folks he encountered when he “discovered” the continent, and then proceeded to engage in mass genocide, or proselytized with his ridiculous religion. Those he hadn’t murdered were enslaved, and sold off for a ten percent cut, with King Ferdinand, and Queen Isabella, taking the lion’s share. Although Ms. Nishikura doesn’t clarify what she means by being American, she does recognize that hafus often experience the denial of their Japanese heritage, which she herself has always been subjected to. Ms. Nishikura states, “There seems to be an unspoken definition of what it means to be Japanese, and we (hafus) are not included in it.”
The word hafu comes from the English word half. (Yet, another word the Japanese pilfered from a foreign tongue). The filmmakers claim that the use of the term, in the modern sense, projects an ideal. That ideal includes one has the ability to speak English. Apparently to the Japanese being half anything else means that person automatically has an uncanny ability to speak English fluently, regardless what their native tongue is. Hafus also considered internationally chic, and of course have western physical stereotypical characteristics, even if they come from eastern nations. Hafus also have the ability to appear somewhat Japanese enough for the majority (of the Japanese) to feel comfortable being around them. Comfortable… being around them!
The filmmakers argue that the hafu labeling highlights the genetic make-up of half Japanese people, emphasizing the existence of foreign blood. See The Origins Of The Japanese People link provided above for an in depth look at DNA, blood type, and origins of those that claim to be exclusively Japanese; a nation of one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture, and one race. I found the information interesting as it revealed that 54% of Japanese men originate from China, a country Japanese men despise. The remainder originate either from northern, or south eastern Asia, most notably Mongolia, many having European DNA, and those from the southern Asian nations, originating from Indonesia, the Philippines, and other cultures that date back as far as 200,000 years. Much of Japanese festival attributes originated from Indonesia, and of course, Japan’s religion originated from Buddhism, which came from northern India during the 5th century B.C., and from Confucianism, which began around the same time Buddhism was spreading throughout Asia.
When it comes down to it, there really aren’t that many things that the Japanese can truly call their own. Not even the Senkaku Islets, which first appeared on Chinese maps hundreds of years prior to Japan having the ability to set out to sea. Japan’s first seaworthy vessels were built under the direction of a sailor named William Adams, after nearly perishing at sea in 1600. Adams became a key advisor to Tokugawa Ieyasu. The two became so close that Ieyasu honored him the name Miura Anjin. Adams would also become the first foreigner awarded the two swords of the samurai, as well as the title of hatamoto, a position of high-prestige in the Shogun’s court. Apparently, Japan’s most honored shogunate understood that racial intolerance was unharmonious to the nation, something his grandson, Iemitsu failed to understand. Perhaps these historical facts should be mandatory teaching for all Japanese. Perhaps the Japanese shouldn’t be permitted to travel to foreign lands until they pass a test, proving that they understand they too originate from foreign cultures. Perhaps the other nations should tolerate the Japanese to travel on their segregated tours to tourist destinations like those that exist in Honolulu, Los Angeles, Orlando, and other traps that sell cheap key chains, and stale chocolate, offering little, if any cultural experience. If a segregated bus tour to places no national would go was my only exposure to other nations, I’d feel a bit superior as well.
Being hafu is fashionable.
The Hafu film claims that fashionable images of half Japanese are displayed prominently in the Japanese media. Anyone that’s able to stomach Japan’s mindless boob tube, and its limited offerings, and managed somehow to stay focused on it long enough, would discover that hafus are extremely rare in the media, and are as marginalized as ever. In fact, when they do appear, they’re nearly always type casted as trivial, petty, or insignificant clown-like, overtly animated buffoons. One would certainly hear the word “oishi” on Japanese TV, far more often than they’d find a positive foreign role model.
Apparently, in order to correct the negative nuance of being half foreign, another term was devised to describe those that are half-Japanese. Daburu, (another word derived from the English language), means double. Daburu is supposed to denote that hafus aren’t half of anything, but instead are one person with two distinct heritages. The word distinct signifies that a hafu is easily identifiable, and set apart from their Japanese ancestry. The word hafu is in reality a near equivalent to gaijin. They’re both derogatory terms, intended to imply the non-Japanese is defective in some way. Gaijin actually means outsider, or, not one of us, a more detailed explanation can be found in the supplementary material of Pimsleur’s Japanese language course, where nuances in the language are further clarified.
According to the Hafu documentary, the number of foreign nationals living in Japan has increased steadily. By 2006 there were approximately 2.1M foreigners residing in Japan. The film makes it seem that this is a firm indication that Japan is becoming international. The recent upsurge in the rise of hate crimes that go unopposed by the courts is more of an indicator in the direction that Japan is taking. If the Japanese are changing, it is a move backwards, and toward the right, the far right, with a nationalistic fervor that is supported by Shinzo Abe, and the fanaticism of the LDP, and nut jobs like Ayako Sono, who recently wrote in a column for Sankei Shimbun, that she advocates foreigners being “assigned” separate living zones in Japan, segregated from the Japanese. Sono, who the Japan’s Ministry of Education compared to “Mother Teresa” in a junior high school publication, used South Africa’s Apartheid as the paradigm for these arrangements” I’d like to ask that ignorant bigot if there would be a separate living zone for hafus as well. Would both be forced to sit on the back of the bus as well?
Firm indications of Japan’s increasing internationalization?
Hafu explores the lives of five people who are half Japanese. What the film seemed to unintentionally prove was exactly the opposite of what the filmmakers were trying to convey, which was, the Japanese are becoming more acceptable. The fact is that each of the people portrayed in the film had always been shunned by the society they lived in, and by their peers, and they remain marginalized, even ostracized to this day, no matter how much they contribute to the improvement of their communities. This sad reality applies to the filmmakers as well. Although the films five subjects continue to consider themselves “somewhat” Japanese, to the Japanese, they are not, and no matter how well intentioned the documentary was in forming a bridge over this gap, it failed to show that hafus would ever be accepted as Japanese. The following are clear examples:
David is a young man who has a Japanese father, and a mother from Ghana. His parent’s divorced when he was young. He, and his brother were abandoned by both parents, and ended up being raised in a Japanese orphanage. The film never addresses David’s terrible youth, as he describes it. It also left open questions as to why he, and his brother were abandoned, by both parents. Immigration authorities no doubt forced the mother out of the country because she failed to secure adequate employment, or deported her due to the marriage being dissolved. Immigration authorities would also target her because she was of black African origin. Immigration officials, and Japanese politicians both fear, and loathe Africans. Japanese authorities would have never considered the plight of David, and his sibling, when demanding the mother to leave the country.
According to David, when he returned to Ghana, he saw the disparity in quality of life between the two countries. He claims at that point that he felt blessed in growing up in Japan. That statement contradicts how being marginalized, and raised in an orphan was somehow a blessing.
Sophia was raised in Australia, and had only a few memories of Japan when she visited as a child. As an adult, Sophia decided to return to Japan, and explore her Japanese heritage. Apparently, her time in Japan didn’t go well, as she quickly decided to return home. The film left open as to why she abruptly decided to go back to Australia. The one statement Sophia made did however concern me for my son. She stated, “When you’re young, you don’t want to be different. You want to be like everybody else.”
Tormented daily by Japanese children, Alex, an elementary school aged boy was constantly harassed. His parents finally took control of the situation, and sent him to Mexico where he excelled in speaking Spanish, and learning about his Mexican ancestry. Upon returning to Japan, the boy was transferred to an international school, and removed from the environment of terror, and isolation he suffered in the Japanese public school.
Bullying in Japan is known as ijime, and Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world when it comes to children. One would think that teachers who discover that children like Alex are suffering, could use a bit of empathy, and recognize the obvious signs, and take appropriate action. If teachers don’t have an intuitive level of care, then they should be trained to recognize such symptoms, and notify proper authorities. Ironically, teachers in Japan are forced to detail insignificant matters in daily reports, including what the weather conditions were when class began, and what the conditions were at the end of the day. The minutia that must be reported is nerve-wracking, yet the system doesn’t bother to consider the mental, and emotional wellbeing of a child. Teachers such as the one in Alex’s case shouldn’t be permitted around children.
The film wrongly calls the increasing physical symptoms of stress Alex suffered from as due to teasing. Teasing is a terrible choice of wording. Alex wasn’t teased, he was verbally, and physically assaulted by his peers because he wasn’t considered Japanese enough, and no adult with supervisory authority would step in and prevent it.
“I felt disconnected from Japan.” Venezuelan-Japanese Edward faced continuous harassment by Japanese immigration officials, and was constantly threatened with losing his visa in a country that he grew up in, and where his ill mother resided. Realizing that he would never be accepted as Japanese, Edward formed a community called Mixed Roots Kansai (MRK). Edward’s reality was that he had to form a group of non-Japanese, or half-Japanese in order to have any social connection within Japan’s homogenous society.
“I really believed I was Japanese. Suddenly, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.” Fusae, was born, and raised in Japan, and had always believed that she was entirely Japanese. Reality set in when she discovered family documents that proved her father was Korean. Fusae confronted her mother, and discovered her mixed heritage, which traumatized her. After this revelation, she began researching the differences between Japanese, and Korean cultures. Twenty years later Fusae still struggles to find her place in Japanese society as both Korean, and Japanese.
When filmmakers want to tell a story from a particular perspective they have to consider financing. Funding sources are notorious for manipulating, and even controlling the projects direction, and what the artist wants to convey. This often results in the artist’s vision being harnessed, with the final product becoming a watered down version of what was intended. This is the feeling I got after viewing Hafu. At some point I was expecting the filmmakers to accept that their project failed to achieve their objective, which was to get the Japanese people to recognize that hafus are Japanese as well.
Japan is changing? No it isn’t. Japan is still the same fearful, conditioned people that can’t cope with any kind of modification to their lives. Unfortunately, this affects people like hafus in a very negative light.
I enjoyed having the opportunity to watch Hafu, and thank Megumi Nishikura for providing me with a viewer copy for this article. I hope they obtain their objective of getting the film on television in Japan. Moreover, I wish their idealistic goal could somehow become a reality. As for David, Sophia, Alex, Edward, and Fusae, they seem to recognize that the issues they face have nothing to do with flaws in their character, or genetic markers. If Japan won’t accept them for who they are, there is always the other half of who they are, and those that exist on the other side most certainly will, and probably already have opened their arms, and hearts to them.
After all is said, and done, and knowing what my son would be subjected to if I allowed him to remain in Japan, I would be worse than the teacher’s that took no action to protect Alex. When the time is right, I’ll be taking my son from the land of the rising sun. I want to take him where the waters are clear, and the air clean. Hawaii! I want to take him to a place where he can live among Japanese Americans, which make up 42% of the Hawaiian Islands, and where there are numerous other cultures as well. He will be surrounded by the sea, and hopefully come to love the ocean as much as I do.