Must see: ハーフ (hafu) A new movie about what it is to of mixed ethnicity


With an ever increasing movement of people between places in this transnational age, there is a mounting number of mixed-race people in Japan, some visible others not. “Hafu” is the unfolding journey of discovery into the intricacies of mixed-race Japanese and their multicultural experience in modern day Japan. The film follows the lives of five “hafus”–the Japanese term for people who are half-Japanese–as they explore what it means to be multiracial and multicultural in a nation that once proudly proclaimed itself as the mono-ethnic nation. For some of these hafus Japan is the only home they know, for some living in Japan is an entirely new experience, and others are caught somewhere between two different worlds.

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. This newly emerging minority in Japan is under-documented and under-explored in both literature and media. The feature-length HD documentary film, “Hafu – the mixed-race experience in Japan” seeks to open this increasingly important dialogue. The film explores race, diversity, multiculturalism, nationality, and identity within the mixed-race community of Japan. And through this exploration, it seeks to answer the following questions: What does it mean to be hafu?; What does it mean to be Japanese?; and ultimately, What does all of this mean for Japan?

Narrated by the hafus themselves, along with candid interviews and cinéma vérité footage, the viewer is guided through a myriad of hafu experiences that are influenced by upbringing, family relationships, education, and even physical appearance. As the film interweaves five unique life stories, audiences discover the depth and diversity of hafu personal identities.


Featured Hafus


David (28) was born in a small village in Ghana, to a Ghanaian mother and a Japanese father. After spending 6 years in Ghana, they moved to Tokyo. However, due the to difficulty of adjusting to their new life in Japan, his parents separated when he was 10, after which he spent the next 8 years in an orphanage with his two brothers. When David went back to Ghana for the first time in his early 20s and saw the disparity in quality of life between his two countries, he realized how blessed he was to have grown up in Japan. He now uses his talents to raise funds to build schools back in Ghana.


Raised entirely in Sydney, Sophia has only a few memories of Japan, where she visited her relatives as a child. At 27, Sophia decided it was time to explore her Japanese heritage, and so she has relocated to Tokyo, leaving behind friends, family and a job she enjoyed. She is determined to make a life for herself in Japan while attempting to learn the language from scratch. Will Japan live up to the expectations she’s held for so long? Will she be able to assimilate? And, ultimately, how will she identify herself after spending some time here?

The Oi family

Gabriela (Mexican, 37) and Tetsuya Oi (Japanese, 41) met when they were students both studying abroad in the United States. They fell in love, married and moved to Nagoya, Japan. In 2002, they welcomed a baby boy, Alex Oi, and two years later Sara. Alex (9) and Sara (7)have been attending Japanese elementary school. However, worried about how her children will straddle three languages (Spanish, Japanese, and English), Gabriela has started to investigate whether she should send her children through the international school system in Nagoya. Alex has also been increasingly showing physical symptoms of stress due to the teasing he receives from his classmates for being hafu. Through the Oi’s, this film looks at the tough decisions parents have to make in raising multicultural children.


Venezuelan-Japanese Edward (28)dreams of a multicultural Japan. Raised entirely in a single-mother home in Kobe, Ed received his formal education through the international school system.  There he found himself feeling disconnected from the surrounding Japanese community and upon leaving for university in the US, he felt no desire to return. But a few years later, he returned to Japan to take care of his aging mother and discovered a vibrant online community of mixed people, prompting him to form the offline community Mixed Roots Kansai (MRK). Through MRK, Ed is working toward realizing his dream of raising multiracial and multicultural awareness by pushing forward public dialogue and understanding of the changing demographics of Japan


No one can tell that Fusae (35) is hafu just by looking at her. Fusae was born and raised in Kobe, to a Korean father—now a naturalised Japanese citizen—and a Japanese mother.  Until she was 15, she was raised to believe that she was entirely Japanese. Upon finding family documents alluding to her Korean roots, she confronted her mother to discover her mixed heritage–a traumatic experience for her at the time. After this revelation, she began looking into the differences between Japanese and Korean cultures. But 20 years later she is still struggling to redefine her place in society as a Korean/Japanese descendant. She has become actively involved in Mixed Roots Kansai. She feels by helping to organize such social events, she is helping younger people like her find acceptance with their mixed identities.

Meaning of “Hafu”

Hafu refers to somebody who is Half Japanese. The word Hafu comes from the English word “half” indicating half foreignness. The label emerged in the 1970s in Japan and is now the most commonly used label and preferred term of self-definition. Half-Japanese persons commonly introduce themselves by saying “I’m Hafu (Hafu desu)”. In modern Japan, the Hafu image projects an ideal; English ability, international cultural experience, western physical features – tall with long legs, small head/face, yet often looking Japanese enough for the majority to feel comfortable with. Yet the label Hafu highlights the genetic make up of half Japanese people, emphasizing the existence of foreign blood. Fashionable images of half Japanese people have become prominent especially with the increased appearance of Hafus in the Japanese media. Hafus now fill the pages of fashion magazines such as Non-no, Can Can or Vivi equivalent to Teen Vogue or Elle in Europe. Hafus are frequently seen on TV, often in the role of newsreaders, celebrities or DJs. To name a few, these include people like Becky (British/Japanese) – a young celebrity, Christel Takigawa (French/Japanese) – a newscaster, Kaela Kimura (British/Japanese) and Anna Tsuchiya(American/Japanese). The appearance of Hafus in the media has provided the basis for a vivid image of half Japanese people.

Why Hafu and not Daburu

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 largely not been adopted by the Hafus themselves due to its overemphasis of positive self-assertion, and many feel that the term Hafu is acceptable.

Hafus in Japan

Japanese governmental statistics tell us that there were only 5,545 recorded international marriages in 1980. This more than doubled in 1985 when 12,181 international marriages were recorded. The figure doubled again 5 years later in 1990 with 25,626 marriages consisting of one foreign national. The number has steadily increased since then. It reached its peak in 2001 with 39,727 interracial marriages – this is 7 times the 1980 figure. Multiracial individuals or more specifically Hafus are therefore growing dramatically in Japan. Owing to the fact that data on ethnic/racial background is not collected anywhere in the Census in Japan (i.e. only nationality), it is hard to say exactly how many Hafus or mixed ‘race’ individuals live in Japan. However in 2004 we know that there were 39,511 international marriages, which accounted for about 5.5% of all marriages in Japan. A high number of them were between Japanese and Chinese (13,019), Philippines (8,517) and Korean (8,023) individuals. There were only 1,679 American Japanese, 524 Brazilian Japanese, 403 British Japanese marriages. So we can say that visible Hafus are a minority of the minority.

Internationalization in Japan

The number of foreign nationals living in Japan has increased in recently years. In 1985, about 850,000 foreigners lived in Japan. That figure doubled to 1,700,000 in the year 2000. Over the last few years the number has been steadily growing and in 2006 there were about 2,100,000 residents with foreign nationality. Therefore the number of foreigners in Japan in 2006 was almost three times that in 1985. This is a firm indication of Japan’s increasing internationalization.

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