JIN-319 -- Viewing the Whole Person

T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R
Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News

Issue No. 319
Wednesday April 27, 2005 TOKYO

+++ VIEWPOINT Viewing the Whole Person
1. Half Human?
2. Eurasian Features as Paragon?

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+++ VIEWPOINT Viewing the Whole Person
1. Half Human?

"My mother is Japanese. My father is American. They call me
'half.' So began my second-grade son's school composition.

Not long afterwards the principal invited the school's part-time
English teachers to dinner at a restaurant in Yokohama's
Chinatown. The teachers were generally mothers of mixed race
children attending the elementary school; in other words, they
were foreign women married to Japanese men, or Japanese
women married to foreign men.. I tagged along. The word "half"
popped up again. Thereupon the principal opined that since
such children were bicultural, they would best be called "double."
"I'm a "single," he said with apparent self-deprecating humor..

Some foreign residents of Japan disdain the Japanese term"half."
"Half of what? Half human?" they ask in exasperation. Others heap
it together with Japanese coinages like "salaryman" and "OL"
(office lady). Residents versed in the local language tend to
interpret "half "as short for "half-Japanese"; they do not find
it pejorative.

A Japanese friend informs me that 20 or 30 years ago the word
"half" sometimes had a negative connotation . Perhaps. In the
novel "Sound the Whistle Someday" (Hiroshi Hatakeyama, 1972)
we find "young guys, seemingly halfs, blindly aping others."

Japanese seem to think "half" refers to a child whose parents
include a Japanese. However, according to the "Nihongo Daijiten"
(Unabridged Dictionary of the Japanese Language), "half" is
short for English "half-blood" and means "konketsuji," literally,
"child of mixed blood." In other words, a "half," by the dictionary
definition, does not necessarily have a Japanese parent.

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2. Eurasian Features as Paragon?

"Konketsuji," a term that brings to mind children born to GIs
and Japanese women in the grim postwar period, is seldom
heard these days. Nor, for that matter, are its English
equivalents, "half-blood," half-caste, and "half-breed" -- the
last branded on the consciousness by Cher's Billboard No.
1 song in 1973. "Half" would seem to have replaced "konketsuji."

The same friend remarks that in the past 10 years the word
"half" has come to have a positive meaning. In the novel
"Honmoku Doll" (Saki Takahashi, 2003) panache ebbs from
the Honmoku district of Yokohama with the maturation and
departure of its tribe of "halfs." In short, today half is cool.
I wonder if on a subconscious level the many Japanese women
who undergo plastic surgery and dye their hair brunette or red
hold up Eurasian features as a paragon?

Pejorative, neutral, or positive --"half" represents a blight on
the moral intelligence--a mote in the eye that prevents one
from seeing the "whole" person.

"They call me 'half," wrote my son. "But I want to be friends
with everyone."

--Burritt Sabin

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Written and edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)

(C) Copyright 2005 Japan Inc Communications KK. All Rights Reserved.