Half or Double?

In today’s edition of The Japan Times, Kristy Kosaka writes about the  half/double dilemma

My husband and I had a little chat about it this morning at breakfast.  “What do you think is the best term for children like ours?” I asked him.  “Half, bi, or double?”

Hafu, the Japanese rendition of “half”, is the most common way to describe children with one Japanese parent and one foreign parent.  To me, it brings to mind that old Cher song, “Half-breed.”  (“Half-breed, how I learned to hate that word,” etc.).  My husband, however, has memories of a Japanese musical group from the 70s called Golden Half.  Apparently, they were biracial and way cool.

“What about bi?” I asked him.  (Actually, this sounds like “bisexual to me,” but I tend to refer to our children as “bicultural.”

“That makes me think about buying something,” he said.

Okay, whatever.  “How about ‘double’?”  This is a more recent term, one, I believe, that was coined, or at least encouraged by, filmmaker Reggie Life.

For my husband, that would be two fingers of whiskey.

So what do you call your kids?

12 thoughts on “Half or Double?

  1. I have spent time trying to think of a term that fits, that is in no way degrading… but haven’t yet found it. I was angered when my mother used the term ‘half-caste’. I don’t see, really, why there has to be a name for being multi-cultural. They’re just children. For now, until I find something appropriate, that’s how I answer when faced with the inevitable, “Hafu desu ka?”. Kodomo desu.

  2. i usually use ‘half’. i know a lot of people (in japan) get offended because of the feeling of ‘half NOT japanese’ but i don’t really see it myself. i know/knew quite a few half kids in the states and even as grown ups the say, ‘it’s just half. half of one, half of the other, it’s no big deal.’ i think if you make a big deal out of it, then you offend or get offended. just my personal opinion, though. i don’t really like ‘double’ because it’s not really that, either.

    difficult, isn’t it??

  3. i think ‘hapa’ was originally meant as offensive, but has been ‘claimed’ and now celebrated. i personally see it as a hawaiian word and as my kids aren’t hawaiian… 😀

  4. i kind of like to think of them as “hybrids” …an old word which has new, sort of “green” connotations these days.

    i talk with my kids that while they are half (half mom and half dad), just like all humans are one created from two… … i don’t like to refer to them as half, but rather a combination of mom and dad (which led to some uncomfortable birds and bees discussions which I wasn’t ready to tackle yet…) they are not double, either. rather, they are human beings…blah blah blah… by then I have totally lost them…

    hybrids. (which i don’t really like either…. ) and like angela, above, when people ask me ” Hafu desu ka???” I answer…”ningen desu” or i say ” otosan wa nihonjin desu” which really is none of their business….

  5. Hmmmm. It used to bother me, the “hafu desu ka” thing. Now, I just say, “otosan wa nihonjin desu.” Actually, they already should know that as especially my eldest looks just like her Dad. EVERYONE insists on telling me that. (grin). Double does sound confusing. In family we just talk about our kids as being both American and Japanese. Outside, like it or not, they are firmly and irrevocably in Japanese society as it stands now, HAFU. (Probably wouldn’t bother me so much without the katakana accent.) They will grow up and determine who they are and how they want to be addressed or labeled. They’ll decide what labels they want to protest or fight and what labels they want to take on. Being their mother, and both of my children being girls, they most likely will have an instinctual urge to disagree with their mother’s opinion on the issue anyway. At least if there is such a thing as karma. I gave my own mother living hell (grin).

    I do remember how startled I was in the U.S. when people walked up and asked, “What are they?”

    although my husband assures me that what is really irritating in the states in when someone assumes that you are a race/nationality that you are not–he was often assumed to be Chinese or American Indian!


  6. We’ve considered “hybrid”–my daughter doesn’t want to sound like a car. She calls herself “zasshu” (mongrel) and was thrilled when Obama used something similar. Other than that, she says she doesn’t mind “hafu.” In the end, I figure they have to make their own decisions. I have another daughter; I’m not sure what she thinks. She’s more of the “I refuse to dwell on this subject” sort. They both respond extremely favorably to “kawaii” (cute–preferably accompanied by a squeal!)

  7. “Half” is not bad. What is annoying is people asking all the time. I grew up in the U.S. during the 60’s-70’s and people were always asking “what are you,” or “where are you from” – and not accepting Chicago as an answer. It was exasperating to have to answer for my looks all the time, but I had to accept that I stood out, and those people were interested in a friendly way. Thank goodness the U.S. if full of halfs (and wholes) now so hardly anyone asks anymore.

  8. LOL – I think hub and I could well have had the same conversation at some point. I tend to use ‘half’ – or rather I don’t get offended when people use it to refer to the kids, although I do tend to lengthen it out by saying that yes, they are half their Japanese daddy and half their New Zealand mummy – said like this as the majority of people that ask are children.

  9. My kids are half black, half white; I say “bi-racial” but like you, just “bi-” makes me think bi-sexual. They call themselves “mixed” and I like that better than anything else.

  10. “both” (both, not “bosu”). I don’t really resent ‘half’ or ‘hafu’ applied to my children, though. It’s just a term, and really isn’t something to get worked up over.

    The blog owner even refers to herself as “gaijin mama” rather than using the more pc “gaikokujin”.

    The question comes about half the time as whether my kids are “half” and half as whether their mother is Japanese (which is a really odd question a lot of the time, since I’m an obviously Caucasian American living in America, speaking to my kids in Japanese).

  11. Hi, just for everyone’s information and probably to everyone’s disbelief I am by all accounts the first person ever in Japan to coin the word “double”. Back in the mid-1980s I totally detested the use of the word half to describe children of mixed marriages so I decided to start calling the “double”. At first the phrase didn’t seem to catch on and many people didn’t really understand what I was talking about even I’m fluent in Japanese but it looks like the term has finally caught on.

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