Sunday, October 16, 2005

Living as a 'half': What it's like to be of mixed race in Japan

from NATALIE OBIKO PEARSON - Associated Press
TOKYO -- "Gaijin da, gaijin da!" my playmates began taunting me one day at the neighborhood park near my home in Kobe, the port city in western Japan where I grew up.

It meant "look foreigner!" and although at age 4 I couldn't grasp the full import of what they were saying, I knew what I was -- and I told them so: "I'm not gaijin. I'm Japanese. I'm also Australian."

We all stared at each other, little brows furrowed. Japanese AND Australian -- how could that be? The other kids went back to the jungle gym, leaving me to figure out a puzzle whose pieces I'm still pulling together at age 28.

Am I really Japanese? Never mind that I was born in Japan, that my first language was Japanese, that I've spent three-quarters of my life here. The problem is I don't look Japanese, and that has always foiled my attempts to pass as one in a country that cloaks itself in an impenetrable veneer of homogeneity.

So in Japan, my native country, I am "haafu," from the word "half." My mother is Japanese and my late father was an Australian of Scottish descent. To most here, I'm simply "haafu gaijin" -- half foreign.

My home was the safe haven where the two sides could freely intersect.
The full article can be found here.


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