‘Hafu’ Film Explores Mixed Race Japanese Identity

Determining our own identity and how we fit into the puzzle around us goes far deeper than a label or definition. In September 2013 Megumi Nishikura, a documentary filmmaker, talked at TEDx Kyoto about explorations into being hafu/haafu (ハーフ hāfu), a term used in Japanese to refer to somebody who is biracial, or ethnically half Japanese.

Upon returning to Japan in 2006, after having lived in the United States for 11 years, Nishikura found herself facing identity issues that she had thought she had put behind her. Then she met others who, like herself, were “hafu”, including the founder of Hafu project, an exploration of the experiences and identities of mixed-Japanese people through portrait photographs and in-depth interviews launched in London in 2008.

By social researcher Marcia Yumi Lise and photographer Natalie Maya Willer, the Hafu Project probes the half-Japanese experience by asking what it means to be half-Japanese inside and outside of Japan. To date, the project has collected 130 portraits and 65 extensive interviews, exploring topics ranging from background and upbringing to personal identity and sense of belonging.


Inspired by the Hafu Project, what began as a personal quest for Nishikura has grown into an exploration of identity and expanded into “Hafu the Film”, co-produced with Lara Perez Takagi:

Narrated by the hafus themselves, along with candid interviews and cinéma vérité footage, the viewer is guided through a myriad of hafu experiences that are influenced by upbringing, family relationships, education, and even physical appearance. As the film interweaves five unique life stories, audiences discover the depth and diversity of hafu personal identities.

Hafu - the mixed-race experience in Japan. For more about the film, view the press release here

Hafu – the mixed-race experience in Japan. For more about the film, view the press release here [pdf]

Notions about and the conditions of hafu among Japanese do not necessarily coincide with what each hafu person feels about themselves. Sociology student Fujisaka Shunsuke at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto wrote what he learned about hafu:

I learned about hafu in this class and I learned the situation of hafu. My opinion was changing gradually. After I read a first reading, I leaned how hafu people think. Then I saw the opinions from classmates and I thought hafu people faced more difficult situation than I thought

Another student, Kanami Hirokawa wrote about the tendency of Japanese to exclude people who standout:

Japanese tend to ask hafu questions like “where are you from?” even if they grow up in Japan and have Japanese values and Japanese culture. Japanese must know that people who have different looks with Japanese live in Japan as Japanese. Moreover, Japanese should accept hafu as a member of Japan and should not make borders between Japanese and hafu because they grow up in Japan and have same identity with Japanese. In order that hafu become Japanese completely, not only Japanese accept hafu as a member of Japanese in Japanese society but also Japanese government should begin the approach to make Japan a ‘true’ multicultural country. Japan is based on the idea of jus sanguinis and conservative to foreigners. Today, in the world, globalization is developing now and Japan should review their principle.

While the film captured under the label of “hafu” may not intend to speak for all the mixed race people living in Japan, it touches millions who seek the answer to the question “Who am I?” Check out the latest screening information and more about the film here.


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