“Ha-fu”: Neither Japanese nor Foreigner (Film Review “Hafu” 2013)
By Nina Belova
1 out of 49 babies born in Japan today are mix-raced. Does this fact surprise you?
An interesting and original attempt is presented in a documentary film “Ha-fu”, which was screened in Japan in the autumn of 2013. The film focuses on “ha-fu” people; half-Japanese people whose parents are from different countries. It occasionally becomes difficult for “ha-fu”s to integrate into Japanese community because they constantly think of themselves as “outsiders.” This movie illustrates their hardship and how they managed to overcome the situation. The directors of the film, Megumi Nishikura and Lara Perez Takagi, are both “ha-fu” too, which made the film more realistic and meaningful.
Now, why being “ha-fu” in Japan is so exceptional? In fact, in most European countries or in United States, this “ha-fu” status means nothing. However in Japan, it seems that there is still a strong tendency to divide people into “us” and “others”. If you don’t look Japanese, or if your name is not Japanese, you are an outsider, who should be avoided in order to prevent troubles. This makes “ha-fu” people reconsider their identity; If I’m not a foreigner, and not a Japanese, then who am I?
A beneficial solution suggested in the film is that it is impossible and unnecessary to choose one side. Rather, you should accept both cultures and values as yours, and become “double” in stead of “ha-fu”. To do this, you have to know both countries well. If it is possible, try to live in both countries and acquire two languages. This makes you stronger, and also you can do good to the society by being a bridge between two different cultures.
Still, “ha-fu” people remain as a minority in Japan. They face difficulties in many fields. One example shown in the film is of a boy named Alex with mixed heritage of Japan and Mexico who was bullied in Japanese school, and gave him a speech impediment. Of course the dream is that the division between “us-Japanese” and “others-foreigners” will cease to exist. However, it seems that it will take a long time for the Japanese mindset to change. Then, what should “ha-fu” people do?
My friend, whose mother is Japanese and father is Pakistani, once said, “Being different is good, isn’t it?”
Yes, being different is great! If we start to look at ourselves not with a hope of being the same as others, but rather with the sense of being unique, the difference itself becomes an important part of one’s identity. However, our identity should not be dependent only around the fact that one is mixed-race. This will not work overseas where being mix-raced is of little significance, and it might also cause us to lose ourselves in unnecessary self-pity.
As a foreigner born and raised in Japan, this gave me a chance to think seriously about important factors when cultivating my personality. The film does not provide us with a clear answer, but at least it gives us a key. If you are a “ha-fu,” why don’t you establish an identity as a multicultural and unique “double,” but at the same time, try to find out who you are beyond your differences from the community.
If you are interested in the film, you can visit the official website or their Facebook page.
Nina is a first-year student in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tokyo.