Are hafus ‘dirty’ or ‘special’? Negotiating mixed-race identities among Japanese-Indonesian youths in Indonesia

Danau Tanu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This is one of the first papers to examine the experiences of mixed-race individuals who have one Japanese parent, commonly referred to as ‘hafu’, living outside of Japan. Specifically, it analyzes the experiences of Japanese-Indonesians living in Indonesia who have attended an overseas Japanese school and an Indonesian or international school in Indonesia or elsewhere. Japan’s dual positioning–as inferior to the West and superior to the Rest–impacts upon the experiences of mixed-race individuals in varying ways depending on the predominant discourse operating at the school. At the Japanese school, the discourse of Japanese superiority, which draws on both the cultural legacy of Japanese imperialism and contemporary regional socio-economic hierarchy, deemed the hafus as inferior in relation to their Japanese peers for not being ‘pure’ Japanese. At the Indonesian school, the regional hierarchy deemed the hafus as superior in relation to their Indonesian peers. In these cases, mixed-race individuals find themselves on opposite ends of Japan’s dual positioning. Finally, at the English-medium international school, the cosmopolitan discourse that privileges mixedness (and western cultural capital) at times inverted the positionality of those who were of mixed descent in relation to their Japanese peers. The paper discusses the way hafus submit to, negotiate or challenge the prevailing discourses through the use of varying strategies (sometimes depending on gender) such as performing Japaneseness or bicultural competence, constructing social distance, or physically fighting. Furthermore, the paper extends the application of methodological transnationalism to analyze the way multiple regional and global discourses intersect to simultaneously and situationally affect hafu experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)376-391
Number of pages16
JournalSocial Identities
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2019


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