Hapa, Hafu and Happy


This is the last day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and what a month it’s been for me in terms of learning more about my heritage and the heritage of others like me.

This week I discovered and joined the Facebook groups Hafu Japanese and Kokusai Kazoku & Friends. In only a few days, I’ve learned many new things. Here are but a few:

  • Hafu means “half” in Japanese. In the past, I’ve referred to myself as hapa, which is also correct, but that is a Hawaiian term. In fact, I always heard myself referred to as hapa haole, which means half-white. Now, I know that I am also hafu, or half-Japanese.
  • Homemade mochi can be made easily with a machine!
  • Though there was no reason to believe otherwise, I’d never imagined a Caucasian being raised in Japan. Yesterday, I watched a video by Ken Tanaka, called “Ken Tanaka Meets a Japanese Caucasian Man.”


This video made me smile, because it broke my expectations of what a “Ken Tanaka” would look like, (in fact, my Japanese cousin was married to a Ken Tanaka) and what a Caucasian man in Japan would sound like. Sometimes, it’s good to have such expectations shattered.

I’ve read many interesting histories of dozens of hafus. In some, I see some similarities, but their stories are wide and varied. I’ve made new friends. Best of all, when I see their photos, I suddenly feel a part of a larger family.

What have I gained from all of this? I believe that in the end, we are all unique and we are all the same.

I would love for some of my new hafu friends to share a little bit about themselves. I’ve listed some questions I’m curious about, but feel free to add any comments you’d like.

  1. Tell us where you were born, where you’ve lived.
  2. What nationalities are you in addition to Japanese?
  3. What has been the best part of being hafu? The worst?
  4. Is your mother or father Japanese?
  5. Do you speak Japanese? How many different languages do you speak?

And of course, I’m always happy to read comments from any of my friends and new readers!


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21 Responses to Hapa, Hafu and Happy

  1. Bobby Dazzler says:

    The correct term in the Hawaiian Language for us is “Hapa Kepani”.

  2. Kim Luoma says:

    Bobby – Never heard that. I thought the common term was Hapa Haole? And now just Hapa. I actually am not a fan of Hafu or Hapa as it is inherently Japanese or Hawaiian centric. I don’t know that I would prefer European centric either. I realize this is my cross to bear :).

    • Jan Morrill says:

      I understand what you mean, Kim. In a way, they’re “labels,” and I see it more as for fun in this community. I don’t really like to use labels for myself or anyone else, outside of having fun. I will say that those who called me “hapa haole” when I was little did it in an affectionate way, so it never bothered me. Of course, that could be because I didn’t know what it meant either.

    • Bobby Dazzler says:

      Haole means white so hapa haole just means “half white” and originally of course it meant someone who was half Hawaiian and half white. Kepani means Jpnse. Refer to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hapa#Etymology

  3. Kim Luoma says:

    A bit about me – I tried to be brief :).

    1. I was born in Chibana, Okinawa with a midwife presiding. It was a traditional Okinawan home. As I was a military brat I lived in Kishaba (where the current Kubasaki High School is in a quonset hut). We then were some of the first occupants of new housing in Futenma in the late mid 1950’s. My mom tells me she much preferred the quonset as it was two connected, bigger and with lush landscaping rather than a small concrete box with dirt for a yard :). The family then came to America and I lived in many places – including a return – two more times to Okinawa. Home is also Ironwood, Mi which is in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Couldn’t be more different from Okinawa – let alone much of the United States! Gorgeous in winter and summer if you enjoy winter sports and fishing and camping. And I did. So a sampling of my homes stateside include Washington State, Michigan, Kansas, Georgia, Maryland, Wyoming, Minnesota, California, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Texas and Washington DC. As I was in the Air Force later I have also been to a dozen countries.
    2. I am Okinawan & Finnish. Both cultures are strong in my upbringing and interest.
    3. The best part of being half is I get to have 3 world views including American. Which is my overarching identity.
    4. Mother is Japanese (Okinawan).
    5. My regret though I can follow some Japanese conversations after re-immersion. My mother is also fluent in Uchinanchu and this language for me was also commonly heard – as it is to this day. I know that I miss much in terms of heritage by not actually speaking! Finnish was also spoken by my Father and since he came from a large community and family of Finlanders this was common for me to hear. I do get concerned my children will be technically aware of their heritage but will not have experienced them as I have so time and tide will march on. I am having my DNA evaluated so I can share a bit of this with them. Perhaps it will be more interesting if preserved by some future generation.

    • Jan Morrill says:

      You’ve had an interesting life, Kim, and I see a lot of my own life in your writing. My father also was in the Air Force. However, I didn’t have the fortune of traveling to different countries, nor did I get to learn any other languages as a result of my multi-cultural background. Still, I feel lucky to have the history I do have. Thanks for sharing with us!

  4. I am Greek-JApanese hafu so Euro-hafu..mother japanese,dad GReek..was born in greece but spent tge first years of my life in Japan.my first worss were in japanese,my first food tastes japanese..have been living in grece but travel to japan often cause i simply miss japan too much..i speak japanese and have japanese nationality..i have a similar blog to yours with other 2hafu friends, its in greek,explaining things japanese to greek ..hajimemashite!people

    • Jan Morrill says:

      Living in Greece and traveling to Japan sounds lovely! It’s great that you are blogging in the Greek language to teach about the Japanese culture. What a small world!

  5. Marietta "sayo" Aya says:

    sorry, I just realized I posted from my smartphone and made lots of spelling mistakes!
    I forgot to mention that to me there are only good things about being hafu…If I could spot one negative thing that would be not being able to “drop by” at my (Japanese obviously :P) grandmother’s place…. not being able to be super close to my Japanese family… other than that… msst good things that have happened so far in my life (work, friends, lifestyle etc) came from being half-Japanese… usually a messy life but deffinately an interesting one!!

  6. Kinga Tatsuma-Pivaro says:

    Dear Jan,
    You and you art are amazing ! Thank you so much.

    I’d love to thank you to mention Kokusai Kazoku&Friends on your esteemed Blog !
    Let me just say a few words about Kokusai Kazoku&Friends which consists of such wonderful members who directly inspired me and my family in many ways. I’ve established Kokusai Kazoku&Friends because of the need to learn more about Hapa, Hafu and Japanese American society. Since I live in Poland we don’t have much contact with your amazing community. I have many dear Polish friends who cherrish me and my family but we don’t have any contact with Hapa or Japanese American world, which for me is yet another way of being Hapa. I wanted to share this new knowledge with my children to show them how is it, what it may mean to be a Hapa in yet another part of the world. How people live, what is their inspiration, what problems they encounter, all those equestions and many were pounding in me

    Trule I’d love to say that this community which mostly is The Hafu Japanese Group never let me down. The most importantly I have experienced their love, care and understanding. I shall say all the members are an amazing people but I’ll let myself mention those names who directly influenced my perception of them as a human beings and as a part of a larger Hapa or Japanese American community.

    First off, I’d like to start with Kim Luoma, Mori Lemau and Bobby Dazzler who are my True Mentors about everything Hapa and all. Kim, you’re the expert of documentary film and I respect that so much. I’d love to thank them for their constant support, thoughts and opinions sharing and deep understanding and oftentimes their patience towards my naive questions about Hapa Life and Reality. My immature knowledge about this community flourish with their shared experience and so I pass it forward onto my family.

    The next come Eugene Allen Saito, who shared his love of The City of Yokosuka where he lives and so we could also learn from a first hand root about this beautiful city of speciall meaning. I’ll always be grateful to him about Yokosuka photoes he posted on Kokusai Kazoku&Friends.

    The next thanks shall go to Vince Matsuidara for his patience and respect to me. I also respect your film making art and experience. Thank you Vince.

    Norman Black and Angie Astrid are people in love with Okinawa. They shared many of their amazing photoes about this beautiful land which made us realize and know more about how lovely Okinawa place is.

    I also would like to thank esteemed film director of ” Three Days in Kamakura” to find his time to join Kokusai Kazoku &Friends and visit us from time to time. Thank you

    I’d also would like to thank Kathy Suszczewicz, Teresa Williams for being very active and for posting many inetersting stories that I learn from.

    This is my great honour to also thank Academy Award Winner Chris Tashima to join Kokusai Kazoku&Friends and to support us so much. The inspiration you Sir give us through your films and art has an amazing impact on millions of people !
    Sir, this is my honour !Thank you always.

    The last but not least, I’d love to thank Isami Yoshihara, who kindly agreed to share our “The Respect&Thank you Card” for never forgotten The 442 Battalion to pay respect from our family and in the name of Kokusai Kaozku&Frirends. The Respect&Thank You card was made by my daughter Miyuki, who first watched the film and learn about this amazing history. It was put on the Soldier’s Monument in Italy. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts Isami san !

    And just think about it, before I created Kokusai Kazoku&Friends, just 3 monthes ago I didn’t know about any of this esteemed people here but now my life is enriched. Me and my family are so greateful ! Thank you all ! All I want to do now is to pass on my knowledge about you people forward to others who absolutely should know about you.

    And My special thanks go to you Jan to make it possible for us to know the past through your stories and to give us hope for the future by letting me express all my feelings and thanks to above mentioned and not mentioned members of Kokusai Kazoku&Friends.

    Jan you’re also my Great Inspiration. Thank you !

    • Jan Morrill says:

      Hi Kinga,

      YOU should also be thanked, for creating Kokusai Kazoku & Friends. (By the way, what is the origin of the name of the group?) It is such a great way for us to get to know each other and learn about all the ways we can learn more about our culture.

      So thank YOU!

  7. I was in an antique store the other day where they had a tiny photo album of vintage photos from a Japanese family and another huge collection from a Japanese family in Hawaii, and those photos were going for a lot more $ than the Caucasian photos. And it’s no wonder–you don’t see that very often. I wanted to buy them, but they were just far too expensive.

  8. Nyasha says:

    The other day I found out one of my friends is quarter Japanese and I’m just surprised but love it. Also I’ve just posted my thoughts on the Hafu ‘ハーフ’ film that I was lucky to watch in. Please take a look at the article and comment if you can!

    • Jan Morrill says:

      Thank you for visiting my blog, Nyasha. I enjoyed your discussion of the film “Hafu.” It’s an important documentary that teaches us to look at who people are on the inside, not the outside.

  9. John Calvert says:

    I am half Japanese and half Italian, I am an original Hafu since my parents met in 1950. I was born in 1966 and suffered unrelenting racism in my youth. Today people find it a novelty my “mix”. I think people of my generation that are hafu are lost. I don’t feel American because I still find some of them crude and I don’t feel Japanese because I was was born in America

    • Jan Morrill says:

      Thank you for your comment, John. Though I did experience one or two incidences, I was lucky that my encounters were not unrelenting. There’s no doubt, however, that I often felt I didn’t measure up to either culture, because I was only “half.” It’s just one more reason we should be more open and accepting of each other. It just seems we’re more “comfortable” with someone who is not different from us, whether it’s skin color, philosophy, religion, etc. Sad that we don’t pursue and understand our differences. I think it would make life more interesting.

  10. kat9090 says:

    So much to learn from each other! Thank you as we all look at each other from the inside out!

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