Photographer Captures Half-Japanese Faces From 192 Countries in Stunning Identity Project

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A Belgian-Japanese photographer has set foot in Tokyo to capture the faces of fellow half-Japanese people for a novel project that aims to paint a picture of their hafu identity.

At first, Tetsuro Miyazaki’s “Hafu2Hafu” project only wanted to interview other hāfu — people whose either parent is Japanese — and learn about identity.

“I want people to get some understanding of the complexity of identity when both parents are not from the same country,” the 39-year-old told Japan Today. Miyazaki himself is a hafu, born to a Japanese father and a Belgian mother, and currently lives in the Netherlands.

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Tetsuro Miyazaki

His project, however, evolved into a bigger social gesture, thanks to the generosity of several non-profit organizations in the U.S. and the Netherlands.

It is now set up as a website, which aims to “present a complete image of being hafu” by documenting portraits and questions of hafu of “different ages, genders, places of residence and of all 192 combinations of nationalities with Japanese.”

His work was also cited by The New York Times earlier this year in a feature article on the Hapa Japan Festival, which was a “celebration of mixed-race and mixed-roots Japanese people and culture.”

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Miyazaki is in Japan for the second time for Hafu2Hafu, which has been running for more than a year. He has conducted 24 interviews — which translates to 24 countries — in just 11 days. So far, the project has covered 36 countries in total.

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Miyazaki acknowledged that the term hafu — which comes from “half” — is perceived negatively by others, but the awareness that his project fosters is precisely an instrument for positive recognition.

“Some people are offended by it, but many are not. It’s nice to find a name to relate to other people,” he said.

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Participants are volunteers who sign a waiver, many of whom heard about the project on local Japanese media. The interviews last for hours, but the main goal is to find one hafu’s question to another.

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Katimi Ai Katayama (26), Nigerian-Japanese, asks: Living in a more multicultural country than Japan, do you still feel different from the majority?”
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Shizuka Anderson (25), Canadian-Japanese, asks: “What are social expectations you encounter as a hāfu in both countries?”
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Wataru Miyazaki (30), Ugandan-Japanese (born in Kenya), asks: “Do you think it is fair to use your hafu-ness as an excuse to get out of things?”
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Tomoharu Kudo (22), Filipino-Japanese, asks: “Is it easier to come out as gay in Japan than the ‘other’ country?”
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Miki Koch (29), El Salvadorian-Japanese, asks: “Being raised by one parent only, how would you react if you met your other parent for the first time as an adult?”
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Mina Joo Uchiyama (28), South Korean-Japanese, asks: “Have you ever met a hafu with the same roots, but who grew up in the ‘other’ country?”

On Oct. 15, Miyazaki presented the project at Tokyo’s Sophia University, where some 40 hafu showed up and connected with each other. He described the results as “fantastic”.

One attendee reviewed the experience positively:

“For the first time in my life, I felt that I was in a room with people who sincerely understood and shared similar experiences as me… There were so many nods, chuckles, grunts — I was getting butterflies and chills.”

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Interestingly, Miyazaki observed that most of the hafu he interviewed in Japan, particularly those with one single Japanese parent, identified as Japanese and not hafu.

Based on the project’s site, he needs to interview 156 more hafu, but such endeavor likely needs no rush. He hopes to visit Japan again next year.

Learn more about the Hafu2Hafu project here.

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