Ariana Miyamoto crowned Miss Universe-Japan, endured abuse after winning the crown because she is Hafu. Ariana Miyamoto, who is part African-American, became the first biracial person to represent Japan in the Miss Universe contest when she won the national qualifying pageant in Tokyo.

Ariana Miyamoto

To say I was surprised at the verbal abuse I read in the comment sections of the various newspapers is an understatement. Because there are 38,000 active duty military stationed on land in Japan and 11,000 afloat with 85 military facilities and the military has access to 77,000 acres of land; is it reasonable not to expect co-habitation with this many young healthy Americans living in Japan. I thought the perhaps that day had passed.

Despite shifting demographics, about 20,000 children are born annually to mixed racial parents Japan Hafu, (the Japanese word for half) who have grown up in Japan as native Japanese speakers and are still considered foreign by many, even if they have a Japanese passport.

Hafu children are minorities so they struggle to fit into the mainstream Japanese society that constantly teaches the importance of harmony and unity.

Why is it so difficult to be Hafu in Japan? Japanese society is of one nation, one language and one culture. There is a saying: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” In spite of the fact that they speak fluent Japanese, Hafu children are often bullied in school just because they are different.

The new Miss Universe-Japan was born and raised in Japan. Her mother is Japanese and her father is an African American who was stationed at the U.S. naval base in Sasebo, Japan. As a child, she endured daily discrimination and racial taunts.

“In school I had trash thrown at me and was laughed at, and everyone pretended not to notice. When I was talking to my friends in the classroom, both boys and girls would be told not to talk to me,” she said.

On field trips or in gym class, other students would avoid holding hands with her because they thought her skin color would rub off. It was the same in the swimming pool, she said.

Even when a Japanese man is married to a Caucasian woman who has blond hair and blue eyes and the children look very White they struggle to fit in school.

Regardless of the skin color, it isn’t easy to be Hafu in Japan because they are the outsiders and the nails that may be hammered down.

“Hafu” carries an awful lot of weight in Japan. “Hafu” in Japanese describes a person who has one Japanese one non-Japanese parent. The word is immediately indicative of something very un-Japanese, and many Hafu, who have never set foot outside of Japan and speak no other language – are never truly accepted by society.

According to the “AN Investigation of Global Policy” with the Yamato Race as Nucleus, a classified report in 1943 of the Ministry of Health and Welfare completed on July 1, 1943, just as a family has harmony and reciprocity, but with a clear-cut hierarchy, the Japanese, as a racially superior people, were destined to rule Asia “eternally” as the head of the family of Asian nations.

Racial discrimination against other Asians was habitual in Imperial Japan, having begun with the start of Japanese colonialism. The Meiji era Japanese showed contempt for other Asians. The Shōwa regime preached racial superiority and racialist theories, based on the nature of Yamato-damashii. Racism was omnipresent in the press during the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Greater East Asia War and the media’s descriptions of the superiority of the Yamato People was unwaveringly consistent.

Attacks against Western foreigners and their Japanese friends by nationalist citizens, rose in the 1930s under the influence of Japanese military-political doctrines in the Showa period, after a long build-up starting in the Meiji period when only a few samurai die-hards did not accept foreigners in Japan.

David Yano

After WWII-the Pacific War, Westerners were detained by official authorities, and on occasion were objects of violent assaults, sent to police jails or military detention centers or suffered bad treatment in the street. This applied particularly to Americans and British; in Manchukuo at the same period xenophobic attacks were carried out against Chinese and other non-Japanese.

Allied (primarily American) forces were set up to “supervise the country,” and for 80 months following its surrender in 1945, Japan was at the mercy of an army of occupation, its people subject to foreign military control.  The loss of the war is still buried deep in the Japanese ethos.

28-year-old filmmaker, David Yano was born to a Ghanaian mother and Japanese father.

David describes his feelings after visiting Ghana – the country that most Japanese assume is his home despite the fact that he was born and raised in Japan. David says that he never felt especially welcome in Japan during his childhood, but on going to Ghana he felt very much like a foreigner there too. Not belonging in either country is one of the greatest challenges Hafu kids growing up in Japan face.

The real issue arises when Hafu children grow up and start looking for a job. Many conservative Japanese firms are still reluctant to hire Hafu, especially those who obviously look mixed. It doesn’t matter if they speak perfect Japanese; many companies feel that for a position that requires you to deal with Japanese customers, you must also be Japanese.

“Attitudes toward race are shifting, and overall there is a growing move toward appreciating diversity in all its forms and really understanding what that means. But it’s a very slow, slow process here in Japan,” Greg Dvorak, associate professor of Pacific and Asian History and Area Studies at Tokyo’s Hitotsubashi University said.

If anyone can help, it’s Miyamoto, her father, Bryant Stanfield, told USA TODAY.

Ariana Miyamoto

“She’s very strong. She knows who she is. She knows where she comes from. She knows to speak up for what you believe in. I am very proud of her,” said Stanfield.

Stanfield said he and Miyamoto’s mother met at the Sasebo naval base, where she worked. They fell in love, married and she followed him to California when he was transferred. When she became pregnant, they decided she should return to Japan because of his long deployments at sea.

Though they later divorced, Stanfield kept in touch, and Miyamoto came to live with him and her paternal grandmother in Arkansas for her final two years of high school.

Now that she’s back in Japan, Dvorak said he thinks Miyamoto will have an impact.

“Because Ariana is in the public eye, she speaks Japanese, and has been chosen to represent Japan, her voice will reach enough people to make a difference,” he said. “She may never change the attitudes of closed-minded people, but she also has a lot of fans, and I think her drawing attention to this issue is a meaningful first step.”