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.