“Hafu: The Mixed Race Experience in Japan”

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Lina Galeai
Contributing Writer

Have you ever felt like an outsider when attempting to immerse yourself in a culture different from yours? For those of us who have ever vacationed overseas or studied abroad, it can be easy to find yourself right on the brink of a country’s cultural pool. But what happens when people from your own culture or race keep you on the outside? USF’s Center of Asia Pacific Studies held an on-campus screening of Megumi Nishikawa’s “Hafu: The Mixed Race Experience in Japan,” which explores obstacles that multi-racial and multicultural people experience. Following the lives of five “hafus,” or people who are half-Japanese, each of these individuals share the battle of overcoming alienation. Journeying to self-discovery, each hafu finds a balance in identity through trial and error, and ultimately self-acceptance.

film starts with Sophia, a Japanese-Australian woman who spent her entire life in Sydney. Having spent a minimal amount of time in Japan while growing up, she still felt her dual racial identity difference in appearance caused her to feel like an outsider. She travels to Japan to get in touch with her roots, and to understand her Japanese culture and herself a little better.

The film moves on to David, son to a Ghanaian mother and a Japanese father. He spent six years in Ghana before his family moved to Tokyo. However, his parents separated and he was placed in an orphanage until the age of eighteen with his two brothers.  David recalls comical stories of his childhood in the orphanage, coming to realize that his physical appearance set him apart from the others.  In one moment of the film, he recounts falling and scraping his knee, and how the kids were astonished to see his blood was red, just like theirs. “I realized I was like an alien to them,” David recollects. In spite of this, David fully identifies as Japanese in his mannerisms, language, and love for culture.

For a hafu, appearance isn’t the only factor that sets one apart in everyday life. The Oi family, the third subject of the documentary, embodies a mix of cultures. Tetsuya, the father of the family, comes from Japan and the mother, Gabriela, is from Mexico. Having met while studying abroad in America, they married and relocated to Nagoya, Japan. The film follows their eldest son, Alex, closely. He is seen to have an extremely difficult time adjusting in school, especially since he is  bullied for being an “English-boy.”  At home, his confidence with schoolwork deteriorates as he juggles learning English, Spanish, and Japanese. His language skills and comprehension suffer in combination with the constant ridicule he receives at school. Having had enough, Alex moves to Mexico to see if he can identify with his Mexican side.

Fusae, a half-Japanese, half-Korean woman doesn’t look or sound any different than a full-blooded Japanese person; she was even raised to believe she was. But the dissatisfaction and isolation she feels stems from a place unseen. At the age of fifteen she came to find her mother had hid half of her heritage from her out of shame, knowing life would be harder for someone who wasn’t of complete Japanese descent. After learning the truth, the difficult feelings she endures are exactly what the last individual, Ed, spends his life addressing. Half-Venezuelan and half-Japanese, he takes pride in his involvement with Mixed Roots Kansai, a support group for people like him.

When lacking the privilege of being from one race, one culture, and one set of people, the inner turmoil of coming from mixed backgrounds can be intensely difficult. Director Nishikawa’s made the film to bring more attention to the experiences of people from mixed backgrounds. Her interest in this was sparked through personal experience. “A part of me never felt fully accepted in Japan. I wanted to reach out to other hafus and show each individual’s journey to understanding who they are,” she said. Through “Hafu: The Mixed Race Experience in Japan,” Nishikawa is successful in documenting the difficulties and beauties of being multicultural. The documentary does an excellent job at addressing the surface issues of why hafus struggle in terms of their appearance, what language they speak, and the internal struggles that many don’t see.

Also look for Colleen Barrett’s article about being a hafu here.

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