After our previous post on ethnicity and belonging in Japan, we were eager to share some more stories on what it means to belong in Japan, and what it feels like growing up as a hafu (mixed-race) or gaijin (foreigner).
“I was born and raised in the Philippines. My mother is originally from near Tokyo in Japan, my father is Filippino. I live in Macau now.”
“I am half Japanese and half black American. I was born and raised in San Diego.
My mom is from Okinawa in Japan, my dad is from New York, U.S.”
“I’m born and raised in Japan, but I’m 100% Chinese. I now live in Hong Kong.”
Would you call yourself Japanese?
Sherry: Absolutely! I grew up mostly with my Japanese mom. I used to go back to Japan every year to be with my mother’s family. Also, my Japanese is pretty much accent free. That shocks most Japanese, cause to them the way I sound doesn’t match how I look. However, if someone would ask me where I’m from I’d say I’m from the U.S.
Grace: I’d say I’m an equal mix of Japanese and Filippina. My Japanese is a bit rusty now though, cause I haven’t practised it for so long. And you know if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Jasmine: I consider myself Japanese yes. I’m actually a 4th generation immigrant, it’s my great-grandparents who moved to Japan from China. We don’t really carry much Chinese culture anymore. My education was Japanese, my friends are Japanese,… It’s only when I came to Hong Kong that I got a bit confused. When I first encountered Cantonese culture I recognized these little habits and manners that also run through my family. I kind of rediscovered myself.
Do you feel accepted in Japan?
Jasmine: This generation of youth in Japan is more used to hafus than when I was in primary school back in the ‘90s. Even in the town I grew up in, where there was this American naval base, there was very little communication between different cultures. In class, whenever someone noticed my Chinese last name, they’d start calling me gaijin, foreigner. It didn’t matter that I had barely any connection to China anymore. They’d ask questions like “Where are you from?” and “Where are your parents from?” I had to give the same answers every time, “I’m from here!”
“all they see at first is a black woman”
Sherry: I feel very much accepted there. When I was younger it was awesome being a bit different. Everyone wanted to play with me and get to know me. As children we are all so curious and innocent. When I visit Japan now I think there is more judgement, as all they see at first is a black woman. It’s actually my Japanese grandmother who had the most trouble with my roots. Because of the U.S. occupation of Okinawa, she really didn’t like Americans. She was always quite distant to me, but I feel like she learned to adapt and maybe even accept.
Grace: I always love going back there, it’s my second home. For me people usually just assume I’m Japanese. It’s only when I speak that they notice I wasn’t raised there. But I’ve never felt a victim of racism, ever.
“that’s cause you’re Chinese”
Jasmine: I was very fortunate that I never felt discriminated or looked down upon. But sometimes if I’d have a different opinion to one of my friends, they might say “that’s cause you’re Chinese.” And then I’d have so much trouble explaining that my ancestry had nothing to do with my opinion, that that was just me. I think one of the reasons Japan is a little more wary of foreigners is cause we’ve had to come a long way in short time. Until the late 1800’s, Japan was completely closed off to foreigners. Since then we’ve made a lot of progress. Our brands go worldwide. But the Japanese still struggle with foreign languages, and are still not used to seeing Japanese people that are not 100% ethnically Japanese. I’m so supportive of Ariana Miyamoto, the hafu who won Miss Universe Japan! She really raised awareness and made people think about what it means to be Japanese. I personally think it can be a huge benefit for Japan to include hafus and gaijins in our culture. After ABC (American Born Chinese) and BBC (British Born Chinese), it’s time for JBC’s!