Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Hafus: Japanese Hapas

Yo, Hip Hapa Homeez! Big ups and mad love to all you blendies, mixies, and multi-culti mortals here in our Watermelon Sushi World.

Our featured Hip Hapa Homee this week is Megumi Nishikura, director and producer of Hafu, a film about the experiences of mixed-race people living in Japan. To learn more about Megumi’s documentary project, visit the link here:

The flyer for the film appears below followed by photos taken at a fundraising party for Hafu. Megumi is in the red dress.

Q: What's a nice hafu girl like you doing making a film about multiethnic Japanese people?

A: Hafu feels like the film I was destined to make. I’ve been exploring my own dual identity for a number of years through personal films. However, when I realized how little mainstream media coverage there was of this subject in Japan, I felt called forth to share the experiences of people who identify as hafus with a greater audience. Hafu is the Japanese term for "half" and signifies that one is half-Japanese and half something else. At the moment, we are using this as the title of the film as it is the most recognizable term to call people who are mixed-Japanese, but this may change later.

Q: Who are your parents and how did you grow up?

A: My mother is Irish-American and my father is Japanese. My mother came to Japan to teach English in the mid-1970s and met my dad at a party. He's a bit on the stocky side, so she remembered him by thinking, "Ooh, here's a fat Japanese!"…and the rest was history. I was born a few years later in Tokyo.

I feel very blessed to have had the upbringing I did. My father's work as a journalist took us to the Philippines, China and to the U.S. I went to high school in Hawai’i and then to film school in New York. I was raised to appreciate other cultures and languages as well as have a good understanding of my own. As a result, I consider myself to be citizen of the world, more than a citizen of any one country.

Tokyo was our home base, and about 1/3 of my life has been in Japan. As a hafu child growing up here, I was stared at, teased, and called a "foreigner" or "half human." Somehow, I had the awareness that this was just childhood antics and laughed it off--never letting it penetrate too deeply. Luckily, through family friends and attending international schools, I was never far from the company of other hafus. When I left Japan for high school and university in the U.S., I noticed how people approached me differently than they had in Japan. People would ask out of curiosity, "What are you?" They seemed far more open-minded and sincerely interested in my diverse make-up.

Even today, I am treated as a foreigner on a daily basis here in Tokyo because of my external appearance. However, since coming back to Tokyo nearly four years ago, the more time I spend here, the more that I feel that this is my home and these Tokyoites are my people.

Q: How much do you know about Japanese culture?

A: I've lived in Japan for about 10 years. I speak the language proficiently enough to do a job here, but I still struggle when it comes to reading and writing. Japanese culture has always been a matter of fact for me, i.e., we eat seaweed-wrapped rice balls, have super efficient fast trains and toilets, and wear kimono on special occasions. I've never had more or less interest in it than my American side.

Q: What inspired you to make this film?

A: In 2006, when I returned to Japan to attend graduate school, I was confronted as an adult to reexamine what it means to be Japanese and hafu. With a "look" that is not even perceived as the "hafu-look" by Japanese, I am often complimented on the level of my Japanese language ability. When Japanese people meet me for the first time, it is often to their disbelief that someone with my name—a fully Japanese one—could look so foreign to them. They sometimes ask, "Is your husband Japanese?"

Last June, I came across a photo/research project called the Hafu Japanese Project ( started by Marcia Yumi Lise and Natalie Maya Willer. I got in touch with them, offered my skills as a filmmaker, and we began by interviewing people on the streets of Tokyo about their perceptions of hafus. From this collaboration, the seeds of this feature documentary film was born. I also met my filmmaking partner Lara Perez Takagi through their project.

My intention with this film is to contribute to a dialogue about the changing face in Japan. According to the 2008 findings of the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, one in thirty babies born in Japan today are born to a couple where at least one of the parents is not Japanese. That's a lot of people who will grow up with bi-cultural identities in a country that once proudly proclaimed itself to be homogeneous.

I believe that the definition of what it means to be Japanese needs to change and change in a way that includes people like myself and the participants in this film. Most of all, I want to create something that will open up people's perceptions to what the hafu experience is like and to remind them of our common humanity. 

Q: Why does it seem like the Japanese refer to hafu as someone who is half European and not of other mixes.

A: Most likely the reason is because of how hafus are portrayed in the media. Hafus are often considered kawaii (cute) or kakkoi (cool) because what people see on television are models, singers, sports players and other performers. Most of these hafus are Eurasian or half-North American. There is very little coverage of other hafus and what their everyday lives are like in Japan. In this film, we are hoping to reflect the tremendous diversity within the hafu community.

Our first participant is David Yano (pictured above) who is Ghanaian and Japanese. David was raised in an orphanage here in Japan when his parents divorced due to cultural differences. Yet, despite this, when he traveled back to Ghana in his early twenties, he realized how blessed he was to have grown up in Japan. Now, he is using his talents as a musician/performer to raise funds to build schools in Ghana. He's set the goal of raising approximately $30,000 by September. 

Our other confirmed story is the Mexican-Japanese Oi family. Gaby and Testuya, the parents, met when they were studying in the U.S. After returning to Japan, they started a family and had Alex in 2000 and Sarah two years later. It is through their story that we hope to show the challenges and joys in raising a multicultural and multilingual family. Alex has experienced ijime (teasing) at school, and now his parents are making the difficult decision whether or not to send their children to the public Japanese school or the more expensive international school system.

We are also hoping to tell the story of an Asian-mixed hafu and, of course, the Eurasian hafu to give a more complete picture of the diversity of hafus within Japan.

Q: What's the status of the film?

A: We began production at the beginning of the year and, thus far, have completed initial interviews with David and the Oi family. We have started talking with an initial third participant for the film and, once we do our first interview with him, we will publicly reveal who he is and his unique story of growing up hafu in Japan.

As mentioned before, we are looking to film an Asian-mixed hafu. We consider Asian-mixed hafus to be the "invisible hafus" because from external appearances they may look no different than the average Japanese person, but because of their bi-cultural upbringing they themselves identify as hafu.

We also recognize that there is a greater diaspora of hafus who have little or no experience of Japan. We are hoping to find someone who is about to arrive in Japan to experience their Japanese side and follow them over the course of several months to see what their expectations are of Japan and whether their time here will live up to them.

If you know anyone who fits this description please get in touch with us at

Also, as this is an independent film, we are fundraising in order to help us continue our production. This includes applying for grants and approaching sponsors, but we are also hoping to build a community of committed fans who will help us to see this project through to the end. If you are interested in contributing, you can find out how to do that on our website ( or by attending our sneak preview event on June 12.

Q: Tell us about that event.

A: We will be showing a sneak preview of the film as a way to fund raise for the film. The reason we selected June 12 is because in the U.S. it is Loving Day--the day that interracial marriage was legalized in 1967. While Japan never had anti-miscegenation laws, I feel that any significant movement towards civil rights and liberties should be honored and celebrated. Also, as I am part American, this day resonates deeply with me and, last year, I worked with the Loving Day team to help them produce a video about their flagship celebration in New York City.

We thought that June 12 would be the perfect opportunity for us to celebrate the growing diversity within Japan. The celebration will be taking place in Aoyama, Tokyo and we will have performances from a hafu comedic duo, who will crack jokes about being hafu in Japan, and a Korean-Japanese belly dancer. And, we will be presenting our film idea and about 15 minutes of footage.

We had a small kick-off party at my apartment in mid-May (picture above). Not only did we have a great turn out, but the response to our first six-minute clip was tremendous! We're currently busy editing away our second story to show on June 12. For anyone in Tokyo, I hope you can come out and support this important film!

Domo arrigato gozaimashita, Megumi-san. Much good fortune on your film project. Your Hip Hapa is very familiar with what it takes to make a movie and would like to remind you Hip Hapa Homeez that we’re still selling Hapa*Teez t-shirts to support our feature dramadey Watermelon Sushi. You can also show us love by joining our Watermelon Sushi Fan page on Facebook and, while you’re there, sign up on our Hip Hapa Homeez Group page. That’s where we post mixed-race and transracial adoptee stories, while we update you on the film at the Watermelon Sushi Fan page.

Normally, we post requests like the following on the Hip Hapa Homeez Group page, but for Alana Young's unusual need--the more exposure, the better. She’s looking for a quote from a person of mixed heritage, preferably more than two races. The quote will be used for a short speech at a symposium to share with new incoming university students to empower them about who they are as a person and their cultural background.

You can send your suggestions to or friend Alana Young on Facebook.

Finally, filmmaker Tim Nagae who was profiled here on August 26 of last year has won a Hometown Video Competition prize for his documentary about legendary Detroit African American artist Charles McGee. Tim, who is Japanese, says the film Charles McGee – Nature has been broadcast on local PBS TV stations and film festivals, too. Check out the prize at: (go to item #38).

And, don't forget Teri LaFlesh's amazing book, Curly Like Me, which you can purchase here.

Until we meet again, I am

Your Hip Hapa


Reikalein said...

Hey there, I enjoyed your post! I can relate to alot of things you mention. I also write about being hafu and being bilingual amongst other things :)

Yayoi Lena Winfrey said...

Love your blog! The illustration is tres chic!

Drop me a line at if you'd like to be interviewed in the future. I'm always looking.

Domo arrigato gozaimashita, Reika-san!

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Where theres a will theres a way. ............................................................