Is he half Japanese or half gaijin?

August 7, 2013 Juju Kurihara Culture, Lifestyle, Society Tags: 10 Comments

rie miyazawaA few days ago, I happened to read an article about being bicultural in Japan. Bicultural here means one of their parents is non-Japanese.

When I was 6, we moved to a new house. I saw a little boy playing alone in front of our new house. He lived in the apartment behind our house with his grandma and mother. He was 4 when we met and he said his name was Maikeru (Michael). I didn´t think he was special, maybe because I myself have a strange name as a Japanese but actually he was a bicultural whose father was an American army. We never saw his father and they lived in a small flat that he and his mother slept in a bunk bed in the kitchen-living room.

Back then being a single mother was tougher than now and what I understood much later was it must´ve been even harder for the mother to have a bicultural kid. Not because the boy had a problem, on the contrary, he was the sweetest boy I´d met at that time, but because the fact that the mother had a relation with a foreigner but he wasn´t with her anymore. The only remainder of the father was the son who had a foreign name. I don´t know what they are doing now but every time I see a topic about bicultural, I think about this family.


kaneshiroAnother good friend in the primary school was a bicultural girl. She was a year older and was quiet. I knew she may have had problems with other kids with certain things being "half foreigner". For example, in a summer camp. She was probably 11 and it was a bath time when all the kids have a bath together (it was a huge bath room in a hotel). I heard her class mates (girls) were whispering over her more matured body. 

I saw her face was red. I wouldn´t know if she was angry or embarrassed but she covered her body with a small towel like adults would do and went into the bath. After the bath, I went to her room and we played catch with a rolled sock. She played as if nothing happened.

As a kid, I didn´t see the difference and I don´t know their life afterwards. Mixed race TV stars are so popular and you see them in every channel. Then in the real life, they are discriminated even they have Japanese nationality. Why? Because they look different? Japanese are mixed of many races anyway. Why the aspect is so important? I´ve heard stories like the article but I haven´t seen it myself. It´d be great if any of the readers who are bicultural talked to us about your own stories. 


Here is the article.  

Prove you’re Japanese: when being bicultural can be a burden (The Japan Times)



  1. Charlotte 7 years Reply

    A million thanks for posting this innoimatrof.

  2. Andrew Smith 10 years Reply

    As a US Citizen growing up in Japan (40+ years), with a Japanese wife, both of my children have multi-national citizenship (or at least until they’re 21- this is due to limitations forced upon, by the US government…).

    Personally, I remember being called a Gaijin in Japan from as young as when I was only 3 or 4 in the small town of Tokushima, and later being called the Devil Japanese in the Midwestern US, when in 6th and 9th grade (the later was made worse, by me living in Arlington Texas just after hundreds of workers were laid off, due to booming Japanese car sales).

    Having children go to international school, as well as my past experience as a talent manager for foreigners on TV and movies, I have talked to Aussies, Brits and Americans who go on and on about how the foreigners are destroying their home country by not speaking English, and in the same breath, they complain about how lousy Japan is, because the Japanese don’t understand enough English in Japan.

    More to the topic in this article, my daughter had the chance to stay with my parents for almost a full year in Tennessee, USA. Here, she experienced being called a foreigner by the teachers (she has US citizenship, but that did not seem to matter), and had trouble getting the people at the church she went to, understand that she was not an “adopted child”, and that it was very logical that the son of her “white” grandparents, could possibly marry a Japanese woman, and NOT live in the US.

    So, what I am trying to say, is that however you may try, the act of calling people from a different ethnic group a “foreigner”, is alive and well in countries like the US.

    On a lighter side, here is something that really made me laugh-

    During a trip to Disneyland in the US, I happened to walk into a small mom and pop doughnut shop by the Hotel. The couple working there, were Asian, asked me if I was German.

    Surprised (I have been mistaken for Canadian once, but never German), I told them that I was an “American”, to which they insisted that I had a German accent, and that I “couldn’t be an American”.

    All of this, while talking with a strong Korean accent… Go figure 😉

    • juju.kurihara 10 years

      Hi Verena

      Thank you for the links. I´ve read the blog and it´s interesting to see how she feels herself and how other Japanese peeople see her.

      Thank you again.


  3. DavidAyer 10 years Reply

    The distinction/distinctiveness of being Japanese seems to cut deeper than in the urban West. But the interiors of China, the United States of America and other poorly traveled populations tend to take an equally hard stance against outsiders.

  4. In my household, we’ve been referring to “hafu” for the last 20 years as double. My child was raised with both cultures represented as equally as possible – holidays, customers, “mind set”.

    You cannot have half a culture, or half a child. You have both – which is double. Kids accept “hafu” because its something others call them, and they have the pressure of mono culture people around them. But double kids are much more than that. They are a special bridge to the future.

    It is understood that calling yourself “double” sounds arrogant within Japanese culture. I have no problem calling them double, or telling Japanese people they are double, not “hafu”. I grew up mono, too. The challenge for mono people is to embrace the understanding that double kids integrate into themselves.

    Incidentally, in the United States, it is common for some people, when asked, what their culture is. Sometimes you hear answers like “I am 1/4 English, 1/8 German, 1/8 Welsh, 1/4 Scottish, 1/4 Irish”. But likely they were raised with a single culture – they are 100% American.

  5. Maria Diamondstein 10 years Reply

    I lived in Japan for a year, This is my observation: there was a group of The Golden Half. They were beautiful human beings, they had the best of both worlds. If you want to live as a Traditional Japanese, it might be difficult to immerse and fit. I think you have to live in an international environment where what you bring is appreciated and valued. We human beings are difficult , we have the syndrome of PLM “People like Me” if anything is different we close our minds and have difficulty appreciating it. We have to get passed that and value the differences.

  6. Ricardo Duran 10 years Reply

    I am half Japanese/American. Growing up, and even till now, when people ask me my race, I would say I am half Japanese. This is because I have always been more comfortable with my Japanese side since i was raised in Japan from birth till I graduated from high school.

    However, I would never say that I am truly Japanese. I truly believe that as a half, I understood my uniqueness and how it was a strength for me whether I was dealing with either Japanese or Americans. I believe understanding this made me comfortable with my own self and if there were discrimination, I was able to shrug it off and continue on my own path.

  7. My kids are full human beings who are now sensitive and sensible adults. Both my (Japanese) wife and I studied art. I guess that makes them half artist and half artist. Are they “doubles?” They speak only Japanese and hold only Japanese citizenship. No identity issues, AFAIK. Except for the elder having faced a touch of ijime in one kindergarten class, they have never felt ostracised.

    Each was given a Japanese first name and Western middle name, and developed their own identity. Our daughter, who looks more Western and always liked to “be like everybody else,” uses only her Japanese name. Our son, who looks more like his mom, has been called Jean, pronounced the French way, i.e. ジャン since high school. He is totally comfortable with that. They were never embarrassed for me to show up at school, sometimes with my full-size TV camera (permission was easier gotten in those days).

    Endowed with more talent than his parents put together, our son decided in last year high school to attend art university and got in on first try. Seeing her parents financial struggles over the years (I’m a freelance videographer), our daughter aimed to become a komuin (public servant) and landed a hoikushi (nursery school teacher) job for a Tokyo Ward. I am proud of them both, and am obviously oya-baka. I give full credit to my wife for her child-raising skills.

    I’m sure there will be horror stories to counter this one. It’s a fluke that I got first comment. Easier to start a thread on a positive note and get disclaimers, than try to put a positive spin on doomsday criticism.

  8. German Saa 10 years Reply

    Nice topic to discuss. I’d like to point out that for some of them, the ONLY reason to be “popular” and on TV is their so-called physical “halfness.” In that sense one must also recognize that there are levels of discrimination towards that group as well, as it is not the same to be a half western-(white) japanese as say, half african-japanese, half asian-japanese, half latin-japanese, halp philipino-japanese, etc. Not sure if the aspect is “important” or not but it sure shows the level of Japanese society in terms of racial tolerance and how they view the other non-western races…

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