Rina Fukushi is an 18-year-old model born from a Filipina mother and a Japanese-American father. She lives in Tokyo but claims that she had trouble growing up as a mixed-race child in the country. She is only one of the increasing number of biracial individuals called by locals as “hafu,” a play on the English word “half.”
In an interview with CNN Fukushi said she was teased when she was in elementary and junior high school because of how she looked. Fukushi, along with Kiko Mizuhara and Rola are just some of the successful biracial models that have graced the country’s fashion week runways and have regularly featured on some of the most prestigious fashion magazines in the industry such as Vogue Japan.
The term “Hafu” first came to popularity in the 1970s, when the Japanese loosened their approach towards foreign residents by allowing them better access to insurance, housing, as well as job opportunities. The number of US soldiers in the country also caused an upsurge in biracial children and mixed-race marriages.
Despite this seemingly progressive step for the Japanese race, the immigration numbers of the country were still at an all-time low. Foreigners and their hafu children still lived as outsiders. There was even a documentary about it that was released in 2011, and it was entitled: “Hafu: The Mixed Race Experience in Japan.”
According to co-director of the documentary, Lara Perez Takagi, despite a hafu’s effort to try to appear as a local as possible, they still feel like foreigners because they are treated as such. The film showed hafu’s being bullied because they have a different appearance, the stereotype that they all speak two languages, and that they should be beautiful as a model.
It revealed that because of these societal pressures, some hafus try to hide their heritage. But for successful models like Kiko Mizuhara, Rola, and Rina Fukushi, they used these stereotypes to their advantage.
They have become regular catwalkers in fashion week, with constant campaigns in magazine covers and fashion brands. Fukushi said that today, Japan may have changed their attitudes to mixed race people by attributing a kind of ‘coolness’ to them. This has made a lot of these individuals some out of their shells.
Hafu models have climbed their way to the top because of their chameleon looks that help defy categorization and national identity. Sayumi Gunji, the editorial director of Numero Tokyo, claims that 30% to 40% of runway models in Japanese fashion shows identify as hafu.
Almost all the top models in their 20s are hafu, Sayumi adds. The reason for this might be because of how the Japanese market shuns a foreigner’s looks because they feel distant.
However, biracial models who are taller, have higher noses, bigger eyes and Barbie-doll-like appearances provide an elevated look that’s not entirely different from the typical Japanese. Therefore, the market relates and aspires to be like them.