Births from International Marriage in Japan Increasing

August 5, 2008

According to an article in the Japan Times, one out of every thirty babies born in Japan had a non-Japanese parent. 19,000 babies had non-Japanese fathers, the majority being North and South Korean, followed by Chinese and Brazilian. 26,000 had non-Japanese mothers who were from China, the Philippines, and the Koreas respectively. 9,000 children were born to two non-Japanese parents.

6.6 percent of marriages involved a non-Japanese in 2006. Of that 49,000 marriages, 36,000 were between a Japanese husband and non-Japanese wife.

The article looks at the positive aspects of this by arguing that kids from international backgrounds will grow up to help globalize Japan. I think this is only true if the non-Japanese people are allowed to keep their culture, and if they remain in Japan. I worry that there won’t be a lot of globalization if the kids are forced to “fit in” to schools here. Since it seems that most of the kids born with a foreign parent will still look Japanese enough to “pass” for Japanese, and a majority involve Japanese fathers with non-Japanese mothers, most of the kids will be Japanese by name, language, appearance, and culture.

The second section talks about the 25,411 “foreign” students who need help with Japanese language. This is of course a completely different issue warranting a separate article because kids who are born here with at least one Japanese parent will have very little trouble with Japanese, having been raised in Japan by at least one Japanese parent. I think the kids involved here are children of foreign workers who have settled in Japan. The majority are Brazilians with Japanese ancestry which is how they get visas to “settle” here as foreign workers in the first place. Right now Japan is failing to give proper attention to the plight of these Japanese-Brazilian workers who are given a visa to work in Japan, but none of the special opportunities necessary for their children to succeed here.

Japan is way more international than it pretends to be. The image of homogeneity is being preserved by a society which forces kids to be as Japanese as possible in order to succeed. There have been cases of kids with Japanese names and appearances having job offers rescinded once it was found out that they had one non-Japanese parent. That’s the case in the real world.

In the entertainment world, being “half” (as the Japanese call kids with one Japanese and non-Japanese parent) can be an advantage PROVIDED that the non-Japanese parent is American or European.


1 Dave August 15, 2008 at 3:02 am

Interesting to see the popularity of “haafu” extending beyond that of Becky and Pak-kun. Could we be witnessing a shift in Japanese society where foreigners are seen as equal members in the society? It would take a long time but it might be starting.

2 jay August 17, 2008 at 12:58 pm

There are plenty of openly gay “talent” or tv personalities in Japan, but I don’t see any more acceptance of homosexuality as a result. Kids that are “half” are considered good looking, but still ostracized to some extent, depending on how “foreign” or how “Japanese” the kid looks, reactions and expectations vary.

I wonder if things are better in Okinawa where I imagine there are even more “half” people than here in Kansai.

I think it’s still what I call a “pandas in the zoo” phenomenon. They are fun to gawk at but would you want one in your house?

3 Dave August 18, 2008 at 1:58 am

That “pandas in the zoo” anaology is awful, but I understand exactly what you mean!

Things are a little different in Okinawa just due to the sheer numbers of foreigners here (including some 50,000+ military and dependents). Hence there are a lot of mixed marriages and kids who are half Japanese. I have heard of “half” kids being ostracized in some elementary schools because of their looks, but it does seem to be a minority. It seems a bigger issue in mainland Japan.