Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Shaking It Forward—All The Way To Japan!

Aloha Hip Hapa Homeez,

Mahalo nui loa for your continuing support. Over at our Facebook group page, postings about multiethnic, transracial adoptee, interracially-paired and cultural-crossing folks are coming in strong. If you haven’t already done so, join us and get with the groove. Just go to the Hip Hapa Homeez group page on Facebook, and request to be added as a member. Get in the mix, mixies!

For those of you wanting to become involved with our Watermelon Sushi film, or other multi-culti projects, HHH was created just for you. This is the intersection where we meet and present our stories of being mixed-race, adopted transracially, involved interracially, or how we enjoy crossing cultures. There, we share our experiences with like-minded homeez who are hip and hapa(anyone half or who supports the half agenda is hapa to us).

One person who’s been active on the Hip Hapa Homeez group page is Edward Sumoto who also happens to be active in Japan where he lives. In April, Your Hip Hapa met Edward in the flesh at the Hapa Japan Conference in Berkeley. This month, Edward is hosting a mixed roots get together in Osaka.

Check out the photos below:

Q: Who are your parents and how did they meet?

Edward w/Japanese-Algerian wife Takara Kenza

A: It’s a classic mixed-up story of hafu, but this one is more special than most. My Japanese mom went to Spain to get her PhD, a rare thing to do back then. She happened to be in Paris, and my Venezuelan dad happened to be there as well. Then, both were on the same plane to Venezuela. Voila!

Q: How did you grow up; was it difficult being accepted?

A: I grew up in Japan. Things led to me being raised by my mom and grandma. This meant I had some Spanish upbringing, but also good exposure to Japanese. I probably wouldn't have attained the same level of fluency without my grandma. Due to the pre-1985 laws and certain bureaucratic details, I never had a Japanese passport. My mom thought the best thing for my future would be to enroll me in an international school, no easy feat considering the tuition.

Thanks to this, I was able to attain fluency in English. I grew up in public apartment areas, so you could say the area was quite Japanese, but very unlike usual local communities. Festivals (matsuri) existed, but no local temples and shrines. Combined with the school and local environment, it sort of led me to grow up believing that I would end up in another country. In other words, there was ample detachment to ignore wider acceptance of myself in Japanese society. Besides, my language ability and looks meant that few noticed I was mixed.

public forum, Kobe Japan
Q: When did you create Mixed Roots Japan and how does it help mixed people in Japan?

A: I created it in 2006. This was a direct result of the sudden proliferation of the Japanese SNS site Mixi. After spending a few years abroad for school and work, I returned and Mixi happened. Suddenly, all sorts of mixed people were online forming communities. It was an enlightening moment for a lot of us, leading to the discovery of comrades, but also a time of self-reckoning. We were unsure of how to group ourselves or even what to call ourselves. In my group, we invented the term "Mixed Roots" to incorporate all the various mixed heritage people in Japan including hafu, quarter, zainichi, mixed indigenous, etc.

Mixed Roots concert event
The group was first meant to be a place for mixed people to connect, but it soon started to collaborate with single moms with mixed kids and families in general in the spirit of exchanging information and allowing kids to find those who they could relate to. To parents, we were great sources of finding out what their kids might be feeling. We soon added the element of art and music as a means to express our identities and to promote social dialogue. Volunteerism and charity events also became a cornerstone.

This actually roots in my school days, when I helped establish Kansai International School Service (KISS) as a volunteer organization for various schools in Kobe. It was originally founded by my predecessors in high school as a means to connect to local community and Japanese our age since we were so isolated and detached. I made it an official volunteer organization, and we began to do events together with foreigner schools, public schools, and other international schools.

The group still continues based in Kobe. It is also an extension of another group that has supported cultural exchange in English for the blind in the Kansai area for the past 15 years.

Q: What’s your radio show about?

MixedRootsRadio, FMYY
A: We broadcast on the fourth and fifth Saturday of each month from FMYY, a community radio station in Nagata, Kobe. The area completely burnt down in the 1995 earthquake. In the aftermath, the very multicultural locals got together to avoid confusion and disseminate timely information. 

The area residents included Koreans, nationality-less Vietnamese refugees, and many others. Now the station broadcasts in 10 languages and also became the birthplace of many foreigner self-help groups to assist their own people in their own language, offer heritage language courses, and protect children from dropping out. 

The Takatori Community Centre has become a model for like activities all over Japan and in Tohoku after March 11, 2011. You can also hear the show online via SimulRadio or our homepage. The programme features interviews of mixed activists, researchers and local government, and good music.

Q: What is Shake Forward!?

A: Shake Forward! is our flagship event. It takes place each year in Kansai (West Japan) and Tokyo/Kawasaki area and features a charity concert with mixed heritage artists, a youth expression workshop (usually musicians or researchers working together to produce something like music or theatre with local mixed youth) and a symposium or academic forum. 

This weekend on the 6th and 7th, we will have our Osaka event. From this year onwards, we will be concentrating on the academic forum so as to make a more solid analytical basis for mixed roots issues in Japan to advise domestic policy on multicultural society modeling. We will partner with USC (Duncan Williams) to try to have academic conferences in both the U.S. and Japan to share cases and experiences. Professor Velina Houston will also join us this year and conduct the youth workshop with a theatre element. 

Looking forward to it!

Q: What did you take away from the Hapa Japan Conference in Berkeley?

A: The experiences and cases from the U.S. are very, very different, even for mixed Japanese individuals. Nonetheless, various parallels can be found, and it was encouraging that there were both older more established researchers and younger professionals. I felt that this was an important vision of the future for Japanese social research. It has motivated me to further my efforts to establish a critical mixed roots research body in Japan. The result? We'll have our first Mixed Roots Academic Forum on the 7th of August where both Duncan and Velina will be joining us. They are just a few of the great connections we made in California. It was also great to meet people our age doing great things like Ken Tanabe of Loving Day and Athena Asklipiadis of Mixed Marrow, and so many others!

Q: What are some details of the Osaka conference?

A: August 6th will be a greater attempt by us to engage the public as a whole. We've kept the for-charge concert to a minimum and at a family friendly time from 1800 (6:00 p.m.), but before that, we will have a public radio show right in the middle of the tourist district in Osaka. We will be talking about multiculturalism, disaster response, the lessons from 1995 and 2011. The evening concert is a fun event in a gallery cafe. 3,000 yen gets you food, 2 drinks, and donation to the Great East Japan Earthquake victims!

On the 7th, we have a day-long academic forum hosted by Osaka University at their Toyonaka campus. We will feature presentations by a very diverse mix of professors and researchers from all over Japan.

Topics will include the history of "hafu" in Japan and its social implications, bilingualism and identity formation, raising mixed children, cases experiences by hafu, etc. 

More information is on our site:

And, on the Osaka University website:

Also, feel free to contact me about my group and activities at

Ganbatte kudasai and good luck, Edward.

Remember, Hip Hapa Homeez, join our interactive discussions on the Hip Hapa Homeez group page on Facebook. You can also show your love by “liking” our Watermelon Sushi and Hapa*Teez Fan pages. And, you can check out our Hapa*Teez t-shirts at CafĂ© Press. You can also follow us on Twitter.

Hey, I know this is really cheesey but for whatever reason Your Hip Hapa has over 5,000 Facebook friends. So those of you trying to friend me without success, please like my Fan page for now. Eventually, I’ll move everything over from my Profile page. Meanwhile, Your Hip Hapa doesn't want to miss connecting with anyone who is trying to hook up. 

Until we cross paths again, I am and will always be

Your Hip Hapa,