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Is the term ハーフ (mixed-race Japanese/other) derogatory? Can you use it in a newspaper article? Can you use it to describe your boss? If it is derogatory, what word(s) should one use instead?

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All I have is anecdotal evidence, so I'm not going to do a full-blown answer. I remember hearing on the radio a few months ago a story about a school for mixed-race kids in Okinawa. IIRC, they preferred using ダブル because they felt ハーフ had undertones of "insufficiency". (I think this is a very localized phenomenon and not enough basis for a generalization.) Also, one of the radio dramas NHK aired last October touched on this issue. You can listen to it here, but again, a single radio drama is not enough basis for a generalization. –  Derek Schaab Jun 10 '11 at 19:20
    
@Derek Wikipedia mentions that some people find ハーフ derogatory and prefer ダブル (but then that implies that people who aren't mixed-race are inferior...) Maybe this question can't be answered strictly "yes" or "no"--which is also useful to know. –  Amanda S Jun 10 '11 at 19:51
    
Kind of makes you hope that one day the human species will be so mixed up that we can forget how much of where we each have and start universally referring to ourselves as "one person-unit"... :/ –  Derek Schaab Jun 10 '11 at 19:58
    
Same anecdotal evidence here: ハーフ definitely isn't derogatory in intent, in that I have heard it used by well-meaning people many times. It does have questionable implications (just like some object to the 外人 shortening of 外国人). Perhaps this recent movie might shed more light about how both Japanese society and ハーフ themselves feel about the word (haven't had a chance to see it yet, but heard good things). –  Dave Jun 12 '11 at 3:30
    
Also of note: ハーフ does not always refer to mixed-ethnicity Japanese (NB: race is an inaccurate and not-all-that-PC word in that context): although the default is "kid of Japanese + non-Japanese parents", it can very well be used to refer to any children of mixed heritage (in which case the two nationalities are specified). This would be an argument toward seeing the word as "Half&Half" rather than "one half of a person"... –  Dave Jun 12 '11 at 7:01
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8 Answers 8

up vote 2 down vote accepted

As an American, it strikes me as incredibly offensive. After all, half is even less than three-fifths.

That being said, ハーフ is a perfect example of wasei-eigo; a Japanese word based on English which a native English speaker would either find odd or not be able to make sense of at all. The context that a Japanese person is going to have when using the English word "half" to describe a person is going to be far different than yours or mine. I doubt that most people who use this word are even aware that it means something other than "mixed-race person" in English (and it doesn't even mean that unless you add more words to it).

So in that context, when spoken by most Japanese people, it is not intended to be derogatory; nor are half Japanese people particularly derided by society. Here's some interviews where Japanese are asked about their thoughts on ハーフ, and they are mostly positive (though given that one of the interviewees looks clearly non-100% Yamato, make of that what you will), and I can hardly turn on the TV nowadays without seeing half-British tarento-du-jour ベッキー playing with bunnies or going "へぇぇぇぇ" over a video clip. (If you've never been to Japan, note that roughly two-thirds of Japanese TV is people going "へぇぇぇぇ" over a video clip.)

All that being said, if I end up marrying a Japanese woman and someone calls my kids ハーフ, I would politely ask them to not do so, then change the topic quickly.

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I don't like the sound of ハーフ either, but we'd have to come up with an alternate to get around it. How about 日米人 (にちべいじん)? :) –  Derek Schaab Jun 10 '11 at 19:24
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@Derek: I don't know what would be more offensive between the idea that only the Japanese half would count (ハーフ), and the assumption that the other half will always be American (日米人). ;-) –  Dave Jun 12 '11 at 3:28
    
Supposedly the second character could be 中 or 英 or whatever it needs to be. In my case it would be 米. I suppose this pattern would break down for countries that don't have neatly-associated kanji, though. –  Garrett Albright Jun 12 '11 at 5:40
    
btw in that video why did that guy say だいじょうぶ? –  Pacerier Jun 13 '11 at 17:36
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So you know that ハーフ is wasei-eigo, you know that it has almost nothing to do with the number 1/2, you know that in most cases people use ハーフ with no offensive intent, and still the word ハーフ sounds incredibly offensive to you? Communication is so difficult…. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 3 '11 at 23:42
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I am ハーフ, and for what it's worth the term has never caused me to take offense, nor did it seem like any was ever intended. When I was in elementary school in Japan, if I got into scuffles, the preferred label was 外人, though not even that is necessarily offensive outside of the context of a schoolyard spat.

In short, if you aren't immediately offended by the term, I wouldn't think your way into being so.

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+1 for perspective –  rintaun Jun 30 '11 at 23:08
    
cool answer =D. –  Pacerier Jul 1 '11 at 0:27
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From what I've seen it doesn't seem derogatory. Same goes for the 2nd-generation Japanese from Brazil as well with the word "Nikei"

Just make sure you don't say "New Half" as that will surely upset your boss.

Edit: Apparently it WAS derogatory back in the day when there weren't many foreigners in Japan, but and thus changed and is no longer seen as a derogatory word.

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Is ニューハーフ derogatory? (Not an academic question, as my wife is transgendered and I've wondered about the proper Japanese terminology.) –  Amanda S Jun 9 '11 at 23:52
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Wow! That comment packed a lot of information in :) –  nevan king Jun 10 '11 at 0:09
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An interesting aside... there was a rapper named Lafura Jackson who was half-Japanese, half-Black. His famous quote was "I'm not half, I'm TWICE!" His stage name was A-Twice. He is missed. RIP Lafura. –  Jeshii Jun 10 '11 at 1:42
    
I don't get the feeling that new half is derogatory, though if you are calling someone a new half that isn't one, that would probably be derogatory in some way... But there is this one new-half celebrity that is drop dead gorgeous and i'm still not convinced to this day they there are a new-half –  Mark Hosang Jun 10 '11 at 15:22
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@MarkHosang Are you mixing 二世 にせい nisei, second-generation, with 日系 にっけい nikkei, ethnic Japanese? There is no such word as 'nikei'. –  dainichi Feb 3 '12 at 22:23
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No, this is not derogatory. We put our culture on top of the word and assume, which is a fair assumption because I don't like using at all, that it is not cool.
But I have had this conversation a few times now after seeing old Japanese ladies talk about being half and using the word with the child's parents.
I even remember reading about the word in a newspaper or some printed article. There are different ways to describe the person/childs heritage too but if you are unsure about how to put something in print about a person you know, I'm sure its probably best to ask them.

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To most Japanese, it is not seen as derogatory. But then, they do a lot of racist things without thinking that it's wrong. If you want a lot of examples, read the blog Loco in Yokohama. He's a black ALT in Japan and he chronicles the things that anger him almost on a daily basis, like the empty circle that surrounds gaijin on trains while the whole rest of the train is crowded.

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heys is there a link to the blog you are talking about? –  Pacerier Jul 1 '11 at 0:28
    
@Pacerier locoinyokohama.com I haven't been reading it for the last few months now, so the older posts may be better examples than the new ones. I don't know for sure. –  William Jul 1 '11 at 11:17
    
ok that's cool. –  Pacerier Jul 2 '11 at 8:28
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Not at all. I hear Japanese use it normally, so there should be no problem as long as you don't use it in a pejorative sentence or so :)

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The main thing wrong with the term is that it is so vapid. Most Japanese are familiar with the term "hybrid", in the context of cars with two different types of engine, and will figure out in just a few seconds that "hybrid" is an entirely polite and reasonable way to refer to someone of mixed ethnicity, just as it is in most of the English-speaking world.

To see that it is in fact derogatory (if only subconciously so), try pointing out to a Japanese who owns a hybrid car that they have a "half car", and see what they say.

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While I agree with the intent, I should point out that the word "hybrid" is probably not any better for this use. I might be missing a dialectical (US?) English nuance, but afaik, hybrid is only used to refer to mixing between species within pairs of animals or plants. Using it for humans would tend to imply that non-Japanese and Japanese are different species... an even thornier implication as you can imagine ;-) –  Dave Jun 13 '11 at 11:03
    
I never hear hybrid on its own to describe mixed race people that I can recall, but I have heard "hybrid vigour" used to describe over achieving mixed race people, or at least read, I think. –  hippietrail Jun 13 '11 at 12:16
    
I will not rule out the possibility that the word ハーフ can be used in a derogatory way, but your argument in the last paragraph does not prove anything. No one calls hybrid cars “ハーフカー” in Japanese, but many people us the word “ハーフ” meaning mixed-race/-ethnicity. This difference matters when we consider the implication of using these words. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 13 '11 at 13:58
    
As a native English speaker, I too find the word "hybrid" to refer to a human very odd. It sounds mechanical or scientific - not humanizing at all. –  Garrett Albright Jul 1 '11 at 9:34
    
Hybrid sounds like 2 species being mated... I might use it to describe myself, but never someone else. 'Mutt' is a more negative version of the word and I'd use it in the exact same way. There really isn't a sensitive way to say that someone has parents of 2 different colors or cultures. The best I can come up with is something like 'Her parents are Japanese and Italian.' (She was cute, too. It's a neat combination.) –  William Jul 1 '11 at 11:21
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I think that derogatory word you're looking for is 在日, which I think has similar nuance to Yankees (oh, another derogatory word) calling east Asian people Chinks.

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No, I don't think that has much to do with this question. That word doesn't seem to have the same meaning as ハーフ. –  Amanda S Jul 4 '11 at 7:12
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In the US a Yankee is someone from New England, which is where I'm from, so that makes me a Yank...maybe it could be used as an insult, but as far as I'm concerned, it's just a description (or a baseball team). In any event, it's no where near the level of what you're talking about. –  silvermaple Jun 12 '12 at 1:30
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