Whenever the topic of racial discrimination is brought up in Japan, one of the arguments you’ll hear is that the vast majority of Japanese people aren’t racist, they’re simply naive.
Naivety should be no excuse for discrimination, though, even when you live in a largely homogeneous country where 98 percent of the population is Japanese. Still, the lack of racial diversity in Japan means a lot of locals don’t have much experience directly interacting with people of other nationalities, particularly in rural areas, and as a result, people with foreign features can find themselves on the receiving end of stares, pointed fingers, and inquisitive questions time and time again.
While it’s one thing to receive attention as a foreigner in Japan, it stings more deeply when you’re half-Japanese, or haafu (“half“) as it’s commonly known here. Instead of being accepted as a Japanese descendant, your non-Japanese appearance becomes the topic du jour, and conversations descend into predictable questions that end up hurtfully listing the ways in which you’re not 100-percent Japanese.
One half-Japanese woman, Anna, decided to tackle this problem with a “First Meeting Card” which answers all these predictable questions, while also educating the other person on the inappropriateness of asking these questions in the first place.
On the front of the card it says:
“♡First Meeting Card♡
Are you haafu? Yes, I am.
Which of your parents is the foreigner? My father is American.
How many years have you lived in Japan? About 15 years in total.
Can you speak English? Yes.
Which language do you dream in? Both.
Which language do you use when you’re thinking? The language I’m speaking in at the time.”
On the back of the card it says:
“Which do you prefer, Japan or America? Both have good and bad points.
Are they your real eyelashes? Yes.
I’m always asked all these questions upon first meetings. I’ve grown tired of answering them every time so I made this card. To the people who ask these questions, I have a request. It’s rude to ask questions about a person’s appearance or race upon first meeting. From now on, when you want to ask another person these same questions, please remember this card.”
Anna says about half of the people she’s given the card to simply stand up and leave after reading it. Other reactions have been mixed, with one man clicking his tongue and throwing the card back at her, saying “You won’t get anyone with a card like this”. Women, on the other hand, seem to be more sympathetic, with many of them expressing surprise and apologising immediately. While some of them try to explain why they asked such questions, others have sided with her, commenting on how she must be fed up with answering the same questions time and time again.
People online were equally sympathetic, leaving comments like:
“This card is a great idea! I’d love one of these as I’m often asked these questions and I always have to force a smile when I answer.”
“This happens to me too. It’s so odd that strangers who strike up a conversation with me immediately want to know all about my family background. Why do I have to tell a complete stranger all my personal details?”
“The word ‘haafu’ is commonly used in Japan but it’s actually a form of racial discrimination.”
“It should be obvious that it’s not okay to talk about someone’s appearance when you meet them.”
“A lot of Japanese people can’t imagine that half-Japanese people won’t want to be asked these questions. It’d be a bit of a shock for them to realise that it’s actually unintentional discrimination.”
This “unintentional discrimination” is something that half-Japanese people encounter time and time again in Japan. Even if it’s couched in polite, friendly conversation and comes from a place of naivety, it doesn’t mean it’s not racial discrimination.
Anna’s brave act of creating the card and sharing it with people to spread awareness of what it’s like to be half-Japanese in Japan is going a long way to educating people on how not to be “unintentionally” racist in Japanese society.
It may be a challenging journey with a lot of roadblocks to chip away at, especially when even famous half-Japanese people like Naomi Osaka is asked these mundane questions by reporters in Japan, but if we can follow in Anna’s footsteps by saying something instead of smiling and politely playing along, the day when First Meeting Cards like this are no longer necessary may not be that far away.
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