While issues of race and identity are currently at the forefront of the minds of many Americans, the Asian Studies Department exposed campus to race relations abroad with a screening and discussion of the Japanese documentary “Hafu: The Mixed-Race Experience in Japan.” The 2013 film follows the lives of several half-Japanese individuals—“hafus”—as they attempt to fit into a racially uniform culture. 

“Hafus are actually quite popular in Japanese media—but they are also stigmatized. They are supposed to live a certain way,” said Professor Toru Shinoda of Waseda University in Tokyo who moderated the discussion following the film. 

“No matter how long you live here, you’re not Japanese. You’re not accepted as a Japanese,” said Sophia, a half-Australian, half-Japanese woman profiled in the film. 

The hostility expressed towards hafus can be so intense that some parents choose to hide the fact that their children are not completely Japanese.

Fusae, a half-Korean, half-Japanese woman in the film described the moment where she found out that she was not actually fully Japanese. Her mother concealed her Korean ancestry in order to protect her. Fusae’s mother warned her that she should be careful when telling men that she is only half-Japanese. 

Fusae recalls, “I really felt that I did not belong anywhere in Japan. I wished to be either fully Japanese or Korean.”

The film also follows Mixed Roots—a group that connects and supports hafus struggling with their racial identity. 

Senior Lecturer in Japanese Language Hiroo Aridome noted that students will enroll in Japanese Language courses in order to find their own identity. 

Though Japan’s demography is different from America’s, the challenges that accompany a multiracial identity still resonate. 

“I’m a first generation American. That has really complicated the answers to ‘What is your nationality?’ and ‘Where are you from?’” says Jorge Gomez ’18, who attended the event and is of mixed race. “I’ve struggled with the question of whether to identify as American or Mexican. That’s why I identify as Mexican-American, as that includes both.”

Wednesday’s screening was followed by a discussion moderated by Shinoda that featured student panelists Emily Licholai ’18, Greg Stasiw ’15, Justin Ehringhaus ’16 and Alex Mathieu ’15.

“People perceive Japan as a homogeneous society with no race issues. I hope that students can understand that this is not true,” said Professor Shinoda. 

 

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