Jesus is a Hafu


Woman stands in between cherry blossoms, a branch hides her eyse. Text reads Jesus gave us a gift — the opening of a middle space for love and inclusion, justice and freedom, reconciliation and peace, a space where divisions could heal.

I am a hafu (“haw-foo”). It’s a colloquial term used in Japan (it’s how they pronounce “half”) for someone who is mixed race with one parent being Japanese and the other from anywhere else in the world. My mother is Japanese and my father was Scotch-Irish American. 

Ten years after WWII ended, my father accepted a job with the civil service working for the U.S. government, which had been building up their military bases on the small island of Okinawa. There he met my mother. She had moved there from an even smaller island needing work, something that was scarce after the devastation of war. She ended up doing laundry for the growing population of American soldiers. That is how my father met my mother; she did his laundry.

Most hafu children of military men were left behind with their mothers when their fathers rotated out from Okinawa. My father did not abandon my mom but instead chose to stay on the island and raise his family. Besides, miscegenation laws against marrying Asians were still active in some states in the U.S.

My father raised me to be American,  which meant attending American schools on the bases and learning to speak English fluently. While this saved me from rejection and bullying in Okinawan schools (the normal treatment of hafu children who were shamed for being born out of wedlock and of being mixed blood), it also kept me from being curious about my Japanese self.


Not having an understanding of my dual identity resulted in  a rough transition to the U.S. to study science in college. I was terribly homesick and  spent a lot of energy suppressing shame. I was extremely overwhelmed by a vast social landscape, felt out of place, and did not fully belong anywhere. 

But right before I moved to the U.S. I had decided to follow Christ. This opened up a different space for comfort and belonging. As soon as I settled into college life, I got involved in a campus ministry where I was discipled in my new faith. I was so captured by my new identity as a Christian that I ended up transferring to a Bible college two years later and then attending seminary to earn a Master of Divinity.

A Christian identity offered security; it felt less complicated than my hafu-ness. As an added bonus, the church gave me a replacement family with immediate proximity. I had fathers in the form of pastors and mothers in the form of mentors. I finally started to belong somewhere. 

But like families, there’s no perfect church. It wasn’t until after seminary that I realized the church was more complicated than I thought and I was struggling once again to find a space of true belonging. 

I was at odds with my dual identities once again. This time, I was not only a hafu culturally; I was a “hafu” as a Christian woman. My feminist father had raised me to be strong, independent, resourceful — traits  that the patriarchal church culture deemed “masculine,” and not suitable for women.

I had to navigate a new space of in-between realities at church. 

It took me two decades to figure out my place in the church. I had to deconstruct my conservative Bible college training and degenderize my gifts and role in the church. In more recent years, as I became more informed about the race conversations in the U.S., I’ve had to decolonize my ethnic identity as a hafu. To fully own my racism, I had to recognize how I benefit from white privilege while also navigating Japanese culture, which has demonstrated animosity towards its own minority populations and has upheld an ideology of racial homogeneity and superiority.


The deeper I go into my identities, the more tension and complexity I have to hold. 

Sometimes I feel an internal war waging between my two cultures. On the way to becoming fully committed to egalitarian theology, I succumbed to spiritual abuse from male pastors when my inner Japanese voice demanded respect for and submission to authority, especially male authority. When I dared to challenge the men in church with my American voice, they would gaslight or tone-police me. I received it because I had subconsciously accepted the model minority myth where shame was a normal state of being.

I can’t separate my identities. They intersect in complicated ways. I’m not really half of anything but I also do not feel fully whole of either. So I struggle with my identity and I struggle to fully belong anywhere. I am white and Japanese. I am a female faith leader navigating spaces dominated by men. I am a hafu in so many ways. 

But I am not alone in feeling this. Jesus was a hafu — God and human in one body. There’s no way for anyone to understand the mechanism or makeup of his genome. We struggle to understand Jesus as he navigated the in-between space of deity and creature, spirit and body, living in his dual identities in a way that honored both and compromised neither. With his hafu existence, Jesus imprinted the Godhead with human DNA and demonstrated the Spirit-filled life to humanity.

But the more I try to understand his nature, the more hope I have that I can  one day understand myself. Jesus lived his hafu life fully, in both the heavenly kingdom and the earthly one. He lived according to who he really was and what he was called to do. And he refused to live according to the demands or expectations of those who did not understand his dual nature, whether they were religious leaders who thought they knew what it meant to be God or the people who were seeking a military messiah who would conquer with power and violence.

Jesus gave us a gift — the opening of a middle space for love and inclusion, justice and freedom, reconciliation and peace, a space where divisions could heal. Hafu Jesus was the bridge. 

As a hafu, that is where I feel like I most belong and where I am my fullest self. Gazing at Hafu Jesus helps me to relax and embrace both of my realities. I am able to inhabit the middle space where my identities can coexist and compliment each other. All my identities can be celebrated for their richness, rather than be suppressed. I most thrive where I can be a bridge from something old to something new.

As a hafu, I do not have to choose one culture over the other. I can bring to the table all the different plates of my personality and passions. 

That’s the kind of table Hafu Jesus invites us all to.