Half is Not Enough
March 23, 2015 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Ariana Miyamoto is the first biracial winner of Miss Universe Japan in the nation's history. Born to a Japanese mother and an African-American father and raised in Nagasaki, she is considered "hafu" within her native Japan.

Despite being born in Japan and a holding a 5th degree of mastery in Japanese calligraphy, she was forced to defend herself against claims that she is not "Japanese enough", while also assuring her critics that there are many Japanese things about her.

Japan is one of the least ethnically diverse nations in the world, with 98.5% of its population identifying as "Japanese". Even though the biracial marriage rate is growing fairly steadily in Japan, only 1 in 50 babies born in 2012 Japan had one non-Japanese parent.

A recent documentary explores just what it means to be hafu in Japanese culture.
posted by PearlRose (43 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks, I had never heard of her before!

Japan may be hugely homogenous (and racist) but given their birthrates and demographic implosion they're going to, like Morpheus, either change or die. I suspect they will also make Morpheus' choice.
posted by Justinian at 12:10 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, I was hoping for examples of her calligraphy. I love looking at it. But it was not to be.
posted by Justinian at 12:11 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am almost as disinterested in beauty pageants as I am in nationwide openly acceptable racism, but hey good for her.
posted by trackofalljades at 12:12 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


"her soul is replete with Japaneseness"
posted by gwint at 12:15 PM on March 23, 2015


I can't even imagine the racist crap she has to deal with every single day.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:17 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


That is courage.
posted by Atreides at 12:20 PM on March 23, 2015


Japan may be hugely homogenous (and racist) but given their birthrates and demographic implosion they're going to, like Morpheus, either change or die. I suspect they will also make Morpheus' choice.
Justinian

They've chosen the third route: robots.

But on a serious note, as a non-Japanese man about to marry a Japanese woman in two weeks, articles like these makes me worry about what our future children might face. I'm glad she's done so well in the face of such adversity, but it must be terrible to have to deal with that shit every day.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:24 PM on March 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Whew, great for her, and I hope this sparks a conversation over there about what it means to be Japanese.

Also trackofalljades, since I'm already commenting I will just be the pedant that mentions it should be "uninterested" since "disinterested" means you are without bias and would be a good Miss Universe judge.

I think no less of you for making this common and highly understandable mistake

I wasn't going to say anything but then it was an interesting story worth commenting on

posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:25 PM on March 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm assuming it was a panel of Japanese who selected her to represent their country?
posted by infini at 12:31 PM on March 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


Meanwhile in the USA, Vanessa Williams had to put up with a racist reaction to winning the Miss America contest 30 years ago. And Nina Davulari, likewise, 2 years ago. You can find assholes wherever you look, and thanks to the Internet, you don't need to look very hard—the assholes proudly proclaim their position for all to see.

I will say, though, the expectation of conformity in Japan goes way beyond race. As a child, a friend of mine was sent home from school for having hair that was too wavy. And that no doubt plays into this.
posted by adamrice at 12:36 PM on March 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Hey, good on those critics for protecting the integrity of the ancient Japanese tradition of Miss Universe like that.

Reminds me of those geniuses getting outraged -- or pretending to -- on behalf of Norwegians because Idris Elba played Heimdall, thereby betraying Marvel's otherwise scrupulous record of accurately reflecting Norse theology which of course modern Norwegians observe.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:39 PM on March 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


I will say, though, the expectation of conformity in Japan goes way beyond race. As a child, a friend of mine was sent home from school for having hair that was too wavy. And that no doubt plays into this.

Sadly, there's plenty of recent stories you can find about American kids sent home/threatened with expulsion/etc for having "disruptive" hair.
posted by kmz at 12:40 PM on March 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


"her soul is replete with Japaneseness"

Pretty sure that should be Japanousity.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:41 PM on March 23, 2015


I thought we were supposed to be against sexism and patriarchal things like beauty pageants. Now I'm confused.
posted by PixelPiper at 12:42 PM on March 23, 2015


Like Japan and everywhere should be, there's room for a whole mix of things here at MetaFilter, including respecting a woman's choice to participate in a sexist contest and thinking they shouldn't get shit because of their race.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:45 PM on March 23, 2015 [37 favorites]


Pretty sure that should be Japanousity.

Nihonitude.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:49 PM on March 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


Pretty sure that should be Japanousity = Japanesatude. tfify. But Nihonitude also is good.

So, now that part's settled. Let's get back to the sexist part. What if they open the contest to men, and make them men wear speedos?

I'll sure be glad when Japan toes the mark regarding racial and sex-based equality. Like us.
posted by mule98J at 12:51 PM on March 23, 2015


Pretty sure that should be Japanousity = Japanesatude. tfify. But Nihonitude also is good.

Nihon no nihonjin.

日本 の 日本人
posted by fraula at 1:09 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm so glad that the USA doesn't have any bigots who would question the authenticity of a biracial public figure.
posted by octothorpe at 1:10 PM on March 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


"So, now that part's settled. Let's get back to the sexist part. What if they open the contest to men, and make them men wear speedos?"

I know that there are already male beauty pageants but I don't really know anything about them.
posted by I-baLL at 1:10 PM on March 23, 2015


Please stop derailing this thread to have a "hurr durr but what about America rite?", too-smart-for-this back slapping party.

It's amazing that this girl even won and honestly is probably a good sign for Japan and suggests a change in its historically xenophobic attitudes. Miyamoto won this contest through human votes, not a computer algorithm. Japanese human votes.

Yes, people are racist. But you're hearing about it because something happened to cause their racist reaction, and that something is rad.

The "soul" of Japanese-ness is something that is pretty core to group Japanese identity, and it involves ethnicity, culture, and race in a way that is hard to grasp (as far as I can tell) from outside the system. Japanese culture is _____ist against the Chinese, Koreans, and the Ainu (who are Japanese but not, you know. Really). Way, way before you get to people who aren't Asian the door is already shut for most Japanese on what it means to be Japanese: there is no Dashan there.

So what a baller thing to have a girl who's dad is African American become Miss Japan!! That is crazy pants. It will be interesting to see how this is taken going forward. How do the kids feel about it, is the real question to my mind.
posted by Poppa Bear at 1:16 PM on March 23, 2015 [43 favorites]


On the subject of male beauty pageants, the picture in the first link shows Ms. Miyamoto with Mister Japan 2015 Junpei Watanabe. Here is the competition he was up against. Apparently he will compete in the next edition of Mister International (not to be confused with Manhunt International, Mister Universe Model, Mister Global or Mister World).
posted by misteraitch at 1:19 PM on March 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Prejudice against hafu drove the plot of the 1970 Japanese girl-gang flick Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, starring the wonderful Meiko Kaji. Her character becoming enamored of a gang leader whose father was an American soldier sparked a violent rivalry with another more xenophobic gang.

Driving the point home, the gangs hung out in a club whose entertainment was provided by the real-life pop group Golden Half, whose all-female roster were indeed hafu. I have one of their CDs.
posted by Gelatin at 1:29 PM on March 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


The film Hafu is good. I saw it with my (American) hafu wife. Regardless of how well or how badly you think Americans have handled the race issue, in a country so xenophobic and race-conscious as Japan (not that other countries with very long histories of non-multiculturalism don't have equally problematic attitudes), the decision to pick this particular woman as Miss Japan is startling--in a good way. Especially because she is half black. A lot of models in Japan have faces that lean toward the Euro-American ideal of white beauty (that's what I remember from the billboards and subway ads in Japan, anyway).

The film shows a bunch of half-Japanese people (half black, half Korean, etc. getting together at a picnic, for example, sharing their experiences with each other (half black, half Korean, etc.) and with the camera.
posted by kozad at 1:30 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I thought we were supposed to be against sexism and patriarchal things like beauty pageants. Now I'm confused.

The first step is for women of all races to have the opportunity to be commodified and demeaned equally. Let us all join hands.
posted by cmoj at 2:19 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Who is it that watches and cares about beauty pageants? I don't mean to be dismissive of them when I say that, it just seems that the only time that I see or hear any reference to beauty pageants in the news, on social media, or anywhere else for that matter, is when it's the subject of a reality TV show or when there's some controversy about it. There doesn't seem to be a regular audience, or at least that audience is completely separate from my social circles for some reason.
posted by bracems at 2:21 PM on March 23, 2015


I thought we were supposed to be against sexism and patriarchal things like beauty pageants. Now I'm confused.

The first step is for women of all races to have the opportunity to be commodified and demeaned equally. Let us all join hands.
...in hurling the baby out with the bathwater.

I'd argue that any net reduction in bigotry is a positive.
posted by Existential Dread at 2:29 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


In response to who watches Beauty Pageants, I'd guess the answer includes both "not many mefites" and "a lot of the rest of the world". I was shocked when a Venezuelan friend was keen to watch Ms Universe because she was a feminist who would fit in on metafilter. She explained that Ms Universe is Huge in South America. The contestants were more talented and interesting than I expected (bad feminist!) and I learned things about other countries that I wouldn't have otherwise.

So, yes, beauty pageants are problematic. But this is still a good example of people embracing diversity in a country and media forum that have struggled with it in the past, and that's cool.
posted by ldthomps at 2:35 PM on March 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


But on a serious note, as a non-Japanese man about to marry a Japanese woman in two weeks, articles like these makes me worry about what our future children might face.

I have a good (caucasian) friend who lives in Osaka with his Japanese wife and two hafu children. His father-in-law was high up in the Osaka political scene at one point and naturally he has friends who are powerful in the yakuza.

My friend's kids have had zero trouble.

I'm assuming these options aren't open to you, but it's at least hopeful that Japanese communities can and will treat hafu without prejudice under the right conditions. It's not impossible, although it doesn't seem unusual.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:59 PM on March 23, 2015


In that video she actually says "I'm very confident in my body, because my father is American." Not sure what to make of this.

And what's with the music in that video? Isn't that distinctly Chinese?
posted by sour cream at 3:24 PM on March 23, 2015


But on a serious note, as a non-Japanese man about to marry a Japanese woman in two weeks, articles like these makes me worry about what our future children might face.

First of all, I absolutely hate the word hafu. It's a nasty, insensitive word. I hate it. My kids are bicultural, if you had to stick a label on them.

But my kids are just kids. They are individuals. Japan is not a monolithic culture. It is filled with human beings. My children are human beings. They are not "half" anything. They are full Japanese citizens. They were born here. They have Japanese passports.

Anyway, we live in Japan three months a year. My older son has attended school here in this small town on the north coast for the past 7 years. He's very popular. We're back long enough so that he's no longer a novelty. He's functionally bilingual, and does all the schoolwork that everybody else does, and does it well.

So he's got that going for him - he's good at school. He's also a lot bigger than his classmates. Taller people are generally more popular.

He's also easy-going, boisterous, likes to smile and have fun, and makes friends easily. When we come back to Japan our house becomes the focal point of neighbourhood activity.

He's also good at sports, and knows a lot about video games.

Basically, he's doing all the right things, and everybody just thinks of him by his name, "e.g., Nevin Jr. is back!", rather than by his ethnicity.

At least in his nakama, or group, and that includes teachers who have taught him over the years. We had a new vice principal this year, and it was a bit of a different experience because we didn't have that relationship established. But luckily all of the other teachers in the school are supportive of our son, and that wen a long way.

Conversely, a friend of mine just took his family back to the States. His kids, born in Japan, hate it here. They're the target of bullying and social exclusion.

They lived in a different city, in a white collar neighbourhood. My pet theory is that the more educated people are in Japan, the more status-conscious they become. My worst interactions have been with edumacated managerial types. So my friend's city is pretty white collar and status conscious.

Our town is blue collar. There are a lot of construction workers here, shop owners, fishermen, that sort of thing. It's way more laid back.

In my son's class here in Tsuruga, there was a girl who never came to school. Her mom is from the Philippines. It turns out there are a lot of Filipinos here in Tsuruga married to Japanese guys. They probably don't speak Japanese that well (the moms).

In our case we moved mountains to get our son to learn Japanese. It was full on, and still is full on. I work as a translator, so I can help out motivating my son to learn.

But if you don't speak the language well, and if you're a kid that has a cascading effect in all aspects of your social life, you are going to have a challenging time.

You might say that my son is benefiting from white privilege at his school compared to his part-Filipino classmate.

But my kids have been called "gaijins" and let me tell you, depsite their white privilege, it hurts them.

My younger son has attended a couple of years of preschool. He hated it. He's a little more serious than his older brother. Doesn't laugh quite as much. So I wonder how he will do in Japanese school.

It's all about the individual. We are all individuals who have individual experiences. Culture is not monolithic. Race is a construct.

As well, I wouldn't say that Japanese folks are particularly xenophobic. People are very kind and gentle here. And it is a lot easier to develop deeply personal friendships here.

Canada has a prickly, cold, and irritable Anglosaxon culture that is absent in Japan.
posted by Nevin at 3:29 PM on March 23, 2015 [20 favorites]


First of all, I absolutely hate the word hafu. It's a nasty, insensitive word. I hate it.

In the video, Ms. Miyamoto self-identifies about five times as being haafu. Just about the first thing she says is "I took part in this competition, even though I'm a haafu. Honestly, being a haafu, I never thought I could win this thing..."
posted by sour cream at 3:43 PM on March 23, 2015


"her soul is replete with Japaneseness"

Nihongry? Try Japaniciousness!

Seriously though, what does this say about Japan's changing self-perception? What's the composition of the judges?
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:53 PM on March 23, 2015


The comments seem to suggest that this entire story is PR spin by an American company.
posted by phaedon at 4:37 PM on March 23, 2015


I wonder how many countries that now cheerfully gobble up, join and replicate U.S.-style beauty pageants once upon a time had standards of beauty that were different from ours?
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:41 PM on March 23, 2015


>In the video, Ms. Miyamoto self-identifies about five times as being haafu.

Well, that's her prerogative, and obviously her approach to living life in Japan (thank no doubt to strong support from her parents, bless them) has worked really well for her. As well, I don't give a damn what anyone else does. I just care about things that I can hope to control or influence.

So in terms of being called a gaijin, or using terms like hafu, while I will be sure to vocalize my displeasure I am not going to go on a crusade or whatever. If they make jokes about funny foreigners on prime time tv, I just turn the tv off.

I was going to say that it's really interesting that Americans and Canadians and Australians and so on would call Japan insular and xenophobic given the state of race relations in Western countries (take a look at France for example).

In Canada my sons' bicultural, "biracial" status is totally unremarkable (although Asians were teased quite a bit a generation ago) so that's a good thing.

On the other hand in Canada there is a wide divide between First Nations (ie, "Native Americans" or "Indians") and the rest of Canadian culture. It's de facto apartheid.

So as I Canadian I don't think I can point a finger at Japan.
posted by Nevin at 4:46 PM on March 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


In terms of people representing Japan, there have been many "haafu" and formerly "nikkei-wherever-jin" and formerly "zainichi" Korean players on the Japan national soccer team. And of course there's Darvish, the baseball player whose father is Iranian. As far as I know there haven't been any overt nastiness hurled at them because of their backgrounds, but then they aren't in a position where their looks have much to do with their jobs.

But these people are gifted and successful, so they're "one of us." When it's the other way around, though, for example when someone who commits a crime has such background, the "foreignness" becomes fair game for bashing. For example, there was a recent case where a group of teenagers beat up and killed a boy in Kawasaki, and it became known fairly quickly that the leader of the group was half-Filipino. Hoo-boy, you would not believe the nastiness that was hurled around the web about that. It was sickening, really.

There was also an incident around the same time last year involving some hardcore supporters of a prominent J-League team putting up a mind-bogglingly idiotic banner stating that only Japanese people were allowed into their section of the stadium. The supporters of this team have been known to wave the Confederate flag during the games among other things, but they (the supporters, the team itself) never seemed to get what it symbolizes. Long story short, the handwritten banner created enough public backlash that the team grudgingly (this is the important part) prohibited the supporters to put up banners and wave flags during their games at least for that season. I don't know what their policy is this season.

I guess what I'm saying is, racism runs deep here and it's very real. It's also becoming more visible, especially online. Too many people don't get that what they're doing/saying is racist. People don't understand that calling someone "haafu" or "gaijin" is offensive, they think it's a compliment for the most part. When incidents such as the "Japanese Only" banner occur, the reaction to it is disappointingly slow.

So, this is my long-winded way of saying that I too am surprised and delighted to learn about Ariana. Believe me, this is a huge step forward in the right direction. More power to her.
posted by misozaki at 5:31 PM on March 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Please stop derailing this thread to have a "hurr durr but what about America rite?", too-smart-for-this back slapping party.

I don't think its a total derail. Much of the media coverage on this I've seen is portraying this as some unique Japanese thing about race or foreigners or whatever. The US is proof that that is not very unique at all (as our own Miss America got many similar comments just 2 years ago, complete with tons of internet commenters who preferred the blonde, white woman instead as she was "more American").

My wife is Japanese, and I've spent a lot of time there, and there is certainly racism and various cultural issues. But I don't buy that its really all that different than the US -- both countries have a view of what it means to be "REALLY" an American/Japanese and people who vary from that are subject to a lot of problems. And both countries ALSO have people who are too smart for that and accept people of any race/background.

The _solutions_ to the problem are different, since these beliefs do get caught up in a ton of other cultural and social issues that make them different. But the base, in-group vs out-group racism thing is pretty similar.
posted by thefoxgod at 5:54 PM on March 23, 2015


Long story short, the handwritten banner created enough public backlash that the team grudgingly (this is the important part) prohibited the supporters to put up banners and wave flags during their games at least for that season. I don't know what their policy is this season.

This is a great example though. There WAS a lot of backlash among the Japanese people. Thats a good sign, and would not have always been the case. There is change underway in Japan, and there is debate, etc. It's a little more muted than here, because angry public debate / protests / etc are just not the way things usually get done there, but it does happen.

(As far as looks go, half-Japanese models are not uncommon to see either, but I do agree with the idea that just because some celebrities/models/athletes dont have a lot of problems obviously doesn't mean that transfers to everyone else)
posted by thefoxgod at 5:57 PM on March 23, 2015


Hey, good on those critics for protecting the integrity of the ancient Japanese tradition of Miss Universe like that.

Oh, this so much. It's got "universe" in the damn title, which should be, like, a signifier of what kind of contest is at hand.
posted by zardoz at 11:44 PM on March 23, 2015


I don't know about the white collar /blue collar thing, Nevin. I live in a white collar area and my son, having just finished third grade, has yet to experience any racism. I know it will happen eventually (my money's on junior high), but I think by far the main issue is where in Japan you live. I saw more racism in three years in Kyushu than I've seen in sixteen years in Tokyo.
posted by Bugbread at 5:28 AM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hokuriku and Kansai have always been good to us, I guess...
posted by Nevin at 9:42 PM on March 29, 2015


>Hey, good on those critics for protecting the integrity of the ancient Japanese tradition of Miss Universe like that.

There are more similarities between Japan and the rest of the world than there are differences.
posted by Nevin at 9:43 PM on March 29, 2015


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