Some thoughts about ethnicity in Japan

MissJapan2015Recently, the Miss Universe Japan contestant was chosen. While usually I wouldn’t care (I view beauty pagants as a persistant, obsolete, and patronizing trend from a by-gone era), the Japanese contestant has sparked controversy because she’s the first Japanese contestant who is of mixed heritage.

Ariana Miyamoto was born in Japan, is a citizen of Japan, and speaks Japanese fluently. She also has a Japanese mother and an African-American father.

Of course, this has led to debate on whether she really deserves to compete for the Miss Universe title. Is she Japanese enough? Seeing this story made me reflect on the idea of ethnicity in Japan, which is, to be honest, still firmly entrenched in isolationistic ideas.

In Japan, if you are someone of mixed ethnicity, you are called “hafu,” which literally means “half.” This word, in and of itself, I feel, is exclusionary. You can’t ever be fully viewed as Japanese because “half,” by it’s very definition, means you are half one thing and half something different. Different being the key here; different meaning not Japanese.

Lately, in Japan, seeing hafu people on TV has become trendy, and while this does make ethnic minorities more visible in Japan, perhaps, it also has the dicotomy of giving them a special “otherness” akin to the otherness given most foreigners.

I wonder if it’s possible to really feel included in a society that always labels you as half-Japanese? Where a beauty pagant contestant must endure social media comments like “is it okay to select a hafu to represent Japan”*? Also, if Japan cannot fully include their own mixed ethnicity people, what does this say about the way Japan treats foreigners in general (well, I could make a whole post about some of the interesting things I’ve experienced in Japan as a foreigner, but that’s for another time…)?

Finally, there’s also a part of me that can’t help thinking, Japan, when you’ve got such a quickly declining birth rate, is it really smart to exclude anyone?


*I’m also going to throw this out there — I wonder if she would have the same backlash if her “mixture” was something other than Japanese and black? I’ve noticed that not all “foreignness” is the same in Japan.


One Reply to “Some thoughts about ethnicity in Japan”

  1. At least in the U.S. if you are beautiful, you are beautiful. Although when it comes to inanimate art and beauty, Japan is very advanced. However, when it comes to animate beauty, Japanese psychosis comes through.

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