A son echoes his father’s questions about identity

Noah’s Question: “Papa, what does hāfu mean?”

In his 1971 song “Imagine,” John Lennon asks listeners to imagine living in a world where all mankind can live together in peace. Speaking recently before Princess Hisako at an event in Tokyo organized by the Asiatic Society of Japan, Chuk Besher asked attendees to imagine the same.

Besher had come to talk about social diversity in Japan. The nation, he says, is more diverse and multicultural than most Japanese know or would care to admit. With a little imagination, people can come to accept others who look, think and act differently.

Besher was born in Kobe in 1962 to stateless Russian refugee parents. He received Japanese nationality at birth but is Caucasian, which means everyone assumes he’s Western.

Because he looks so different, sometimes he feels excluded from Japanese society. Besher is even told by people he loves that he doesn’t fit in.

“Being born and growing up in Japan, where I am often called a gaijin (foreigner), made me want to know what is meant by ‘Nihonjin‘ (Japanese) — the group of people I am often told I don’t belong to,” he explains. “Why am I welcome to live in, but do not belong to, the people of my own country?”

Last year Besher’s 8-year-old son, Noah, approached his father. “Papa,” he asked. “What does hāfu mean?”

Noah had been called hāfu (half-Japanese) by a second-grade classmate at the local Japanese public school he attends. This was the first question he had ever asked his father about identity.

Growing up, Besher had also given much thought… continue reading at The Japan Times

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