Biculturals not "Half" but "Double"

Original print publication: Bilingual Japan, 5 (1), 10 (1996).

International families in Japan were featured on pages 1 and 2 of the mass-circulation Asahi Shimbun on October 26, 1995. Part of a series on "Kansai and APEC," the articles by anonymous staff reporters did not mention the impending APEC meeting in Osaka at all. Instead, anecdotes and statistics about people of Asian or Pacific heritage married to those of Japanese nationality made the indirect point that the Kansai area is a hotbed for Japan's internationalization.

The subtitle of the front page article, "From 'Half' to 'Double,'" is clarified only at the very end. A "Daburu no Kai" has been founded in Kansai by a young man who was bullied in his childhood because his father was Indonesian. He concludes that "we who have two cultures from birth are not half but double, and we wish to share that richness."

Most of the article sympathetically airs the travails and grievances of Asians in Japan. The obligatory statistics show increasing intermarriages and foreign children in schools, especially in Osaka with its 180,000 people of North or South Korean nationality. Yet the absence of statistics from the Education Ministry on children of intermarriages who have Japanese nationality is lamented. Seemingly backsliding out of thirst for statistics, it is reported that teachers often do not know that students come from international families until they visit everyone's home. We might rather think it a good sign that there was no semilingualism or maladaptation, and it raises the question of what teachers might think or do differently when they find out a child's family background.

The second page article, "Kansai APEC Forum: Aiming for Co-existence," also mentions nothing about APEC. The photo is of a Caucasian-Asian couple and their baby, and the subtitle is "Barrier in Relations with Japanese," a continuation of the theme of the first article. This time multiculturalism is placed in a positive light, as the parents wish their child to develop characteristics of New Zealand, Korean and Japanese culture in a society free of prejudice.

It may have been to put some life into a dry series on economics, but international families were given unprecedented prominence in a daily newspaper with a circulation of about ten million. Communication in natural encounters with foreigners was portrayed as a key to breaking through the seemingly monolithic aloofness of "Nippon" and "Nihonjin."

Biracial Identity discussed on Radio via the Internet

Original print publication: Bilingual Japan, 5 (1), 10 (1996).

Radio is enjoying a revival due to the Internet, and in the boondocks we can now listen to such things as Hawaiian music or today's news. With a program like Netscape finding the Real Audio Home Page at, at the click of a button one can download the Real Audio Player program and then download radio programs as documents on one's hard disk, all free so far.

In this way I heard a National Public Radio program about a week after it was broadcast. "Biracial Identity" was the topic of "Talk of the Nation" from Washington, D.C. on November 14, 1995, hosted by Ray Suarez. Although it discusses the American situation, there are parallels to the issues of bicultural identity we face here in Japan. In fact, a caller from Brooklyn had heard about the "half" to "double" recasting in Japan and said biracials were encouraged by it.

Other participants recommended that parents be explicit about their plural heritage to prepare children for the difficult questions of identity they will face out in society. "I'm biracial" gives children an upbeat answer, and this choice of language could actually raise their status. But they may be tempted to disassociate themselves in this way from blacks or the black part of themselves. Another dilemma is that the race questions on bureaucratic forms, which reinforce racial categorizations, can also confer special privileges.

Interracial marriages and their offspring are zooming, with 600,000 children of mixed race born in America since 1968, according to Health Department statistics, but how is race defined? Ray Suarez pointed out that "race is a social construct." Author Lisa Thunderberg, who is black, white and Native American, said that "our background can make people uncomfortable with us," because the concept of biracial or multiracial identity "challenges ideas of otherness and sameness." For a fuller account of these issues see her new book: Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk about Race and Identity, published by William Morrow. She also noted that groups such as the Association of Multiethnic Americans, based in San Francisco, are pursuing their socio-political agendas through Internet networks.

Updated on 27 October 2016

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