Enka singer Jero’s family. (Courtesy of Jerome White, Jr.)

The Japanese American National Museum, in collaboration with the USC Hapa Japan Database Project, will present its next exhibition, “Visible & Invisible: A Hapa Japanese American History,” from Sunday, April 7, through Sunday, Aug. 25.

Through photos, historical artifacts, multimedia images, and interactive components, “Visible & Invisible” explores the diverse and complex history of the mixed-roots and mixed-race Japanese American experience.

At a free opening night party planned for Saturday, April 6, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., visitors can preview this unique perspective on mixed race within the Japanese American community.

“Visible & Invisible” is preceded by the five-day Hapa Japan Festival, a free event featuring Hapa musicians and artists, a comedy night, readings by award-winning authors, film screenings of leading documentaries, and a two-day academic conference at USC. The festival runs from April 2 to 6. For more information on the schedule and featured programs, visit www.hapajapan.com.

Emily Folick, 2012 Nisei Week Queen. (Courtesy of Alan Miyatake/Toyo Miyatake Studios)

The 2010 U.S. Census revealed that a growing number of individuals identified themselves as “multiracial,” and it is anticipated that by the next census count, a majority of Japanese Americans will be multiracial. “Visible & Invisible” examines the Japanese American community’s long “mixed” history, including racial segregation and anti-miscegenation laws that prohibited and even criminalized marriages between white and non-white individuals.

Today, the community continues to explore questions of belonging and identity as Hapa Japanese Americans expand notions of family and community. “Visible & Invisible” addresses these important questions and challenges the community to consider the possibilities for future generations.

The exhibition’s co-curators are:

Cindy Nakashima, author of “The Sum of Our Parts: Mixed-Heritage Asian Americans”;

Lily Anne Yumi Welty, UCLA Institute of American Cultures, postdoctoral fellow, UCLA Asian American Studies Center, and Ph.D., UC Santa Barbara;

Duncan Williams, USC professor and director of the USC Center for Japanese Religions and Culture, founder, Hapa Japan Database Project, former director, UC Berkeley Center for Japanese Studies, and Ph.D., Harvard University.

In conjunction with the exhibition, JANM will present two public programs relating to the Hapa experience. On Friday, April 5, at 7:30 p.m., a film screening of “Hafu: The Mixed Race Experience of Japan” will feature the experience of five “hafu” individuals in modern-day Japan.

The second program, “Hapa Hoops: Japanese American Basketball and Community,” on Saturday, June 22, at 2 p.m., will explore the experiences of Hapa in the Japanese American basketball leagues. A screening of “Crossover,” a basketball documentary produced by JANM’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center, will be followed by a conversation with Rex Walters, a veteran player of the Japanese American leagues and the NBA.

Visit www.janm.org/events or call (213) 625-0414 for more information.

The USC Hapa Japan Database Project is a forum for connecting mixed-race and mixed-roots Japanese people. It sponsors a website with social networking, genealogical, and educational features and also hosts a festival every other year that celebrates this community. Hapa Japan I took place in April 2011 in the San Francisco Bay Area. For information, contact Duncan Williams at dunryu@gmail.com.

JANM is located at 100 N. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. Admission is $9 for adults; $5 for seniors, students and children; free for museum members and children under age six. Admission is free to everyone on Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. and every third Thursday of the month from noon to 8 p.m. Closed Mondays, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Playwright Velina Hasu Houston’s family. Setsuko Takechi Houston with Lemo Houston, H. Rika Houston (infant, sister of playwright), and Joji Kawada George Houston (brother of playwright) in Tokyo, circa 1956. (Courtesy of Velina Hasu Houston)
Six Generations of a Japanese American family. (Courtesy of Japanese Overseas Migration Museum)


Join the Conversation


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. I’m Japanese from Nagasaki-ken and my husband of 60+ years is multi-racial. We do not use the term “HAFA” or “HAPA”, during early 50’s those terms were never heard. My husband appears to many to be of American Indian, Hawaiian, Creole and many others. He also speaks on a daily basis, English, Japanese, Choctaw, Spanish and Korean because of our community and neighbors. Our family is a very, very multicolored and multiracial with close family relations in Japan, Fiji, Guam, Hawaii, Samoa, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, France, Cuba and a few more. Currently we have 24 Grandchildren and 26 Great-grandchildren that beautifully mixed with a unique blood line.

  2. I have been married to my husband now for 60+ years. And our families in the US and Japan have NEVER mentioned the differences in color. I am Japanese and he (since birth) has been referred to as “Other, Islander, Indian (American), and now Black Indian”. The US Military referred him as “Other” during 1950~1970’s why? Yes, he speaks daily in five different languages because of our immediate neighborhood and many others locally. We have as of Jan 2017, 24 Grandchildren and 26 Great-grandchildren and they are beautifully different colors and shades speaking many different languages. Our four children have continued the family trend of never marry the same race or color in the same generation. The term “Hafa” is not acceptable within our family and will not argue the subject, period!

  3. America seemed to harbor the notion that full-blooded Japanese embraced anyone of any degree of Japanese ancestry. However, the majority of the full-descent Japanese in the United States as well as in Japan, in fact, ostracized individuals of mixed Japanese ancestry. Full-blooded Japanese disparagingly referred to persons of mixed Japanese ancestry as Ainoko; or as in our family’s case, Hanbun-hanbun (half-and-half). The expression Haafu, the English word half pronounced with a Japanese inflection, also referred disapprovingly to mixed bloods. The more tolerant younger Japanese used the polite term, Hapa (half), adopted from the Hawaiians to denote a person of mixed ancestry. Japanese mixed with black ancestry, or individuals of Negro ancestry, were derogatorily referred to as Kurochan or worse, Kuronbo, a slur of the lowest degree. Modern day Japanese use the socially acceptable term Kokujin when referring to African Americans and the word Konketsuji when referring to individuals of mixed Japanese ancestry.

    Perhaps the non-acceptance of Konketsuji was due to the replacement of national cultural uniformity over the caste system, prevalent during the Tokugawa regime to establish a sense of national pride in an effort to defend Japan against foreign colonization. In addition, the sense of ethnic, cultural and linguistic homogeneity, combined with the supposition of racial superiority most likely made the Ainoko incompatible with the full blooded Japanese’ sense of Japaneseness. Not being fully Japanese, Konketsuji attained the status of the Gaijin (foreigner), who regardless of his or her knowledge of Japanese culture, proficiency in the language, or length of residency in Japan, would always remain an outsider.

    Excerpted from my book, “Pure Winds, Bright Moon ~ The Untold Story of the Stately Steward and His Hapa Family Beautiful.” 2013 ~ Maybe see you April 4, 2013 at the Hapa Japan Festival at East West Players Theatre in LA’s Little Tokyo ~ from 2 – 5:30pm!

  4. Hapa is a word commonly used in Hawaii for people whose families include people of multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds. Originally it meant foreign, and referred to people who were half (or part) caucasian. It has been used as a pejorative as well as a simple discriptive, depending on time/place/situation. There are increasing numbers of people who identify as “Hapa” — to say otherwise is to negate them and who they are. One of the things I liked about Hawaii is that when asked what our background is we list everything — unlike the Mainland where historically we had to choose one aspect of ourselves to identify with.

  5. Stephen Rutherford don’t be a jerk looking for offence where there is none,”In Japan some folks started using the term “double” . Not true. half hafu ハーフ are common terms in Japan,only hypersensitive people looking for the smallest evidence of discrimination like yourself try to claim offence. Sad.

    The so-called stigma of the word half in Japan arose from the immediate years after WWII when there was an explosion of mixed faced Japanese children born because of the 10000s of young American GIs stationed there and the resulting unplanned births because of rape or Japanese women prostituting themselves for food in war ravaged Tokyo/Yokohama..
    Stephen Rutherford maybe you wouldn’t have an issue with the term half if American GIs in occupied Japan did not behave like savages and popularised the term ‘half’ in Japan..

  6. Please do not use the term “HAPA” People are not half of something. In Japan some folks started using the term “double”