Friday, February 9, 2018

newhalf ニューハーフ

NSFW : this article may contain words or images you'd rather not have your boss see.
In a certain episode of Yuu☆Yuu☆Hakusho 幽☆遊☆白書, some random girls, background characters, see a protagonist, Kurama 蔵馬, who's male, and mistake him for another character's girlfriend due to his appearance, going as far as calling him a "newhalf," or nyuuhaafu ニューハーフ, which is a transgender term.

Anyway I wanted to put that scene from the manga in this post but turns out it only happened in the anime :/

So here's a couple of newhalf instead.

Newhalf characters Momoko モモコ and Miiko ミーコ from the anime Shangri-La シャングリ・ラ


In Japanese, the term "newhalf," or nyuuhaafu ニューハーフ, is generally used to refer to transgender woman, in particular, those who can pass as a woman, regardless of whether they're pre-op or post-op, have breasts or not, etc. In some cases, a newhalf may even identify as male instead or as a third gender.

Newhalf vs. Trap

A newhalf isn't the same thing as a "trap." A trap is someone who is mistaken as female despite being male. A newhalf may be a "trap" in that sense, but newhalf is a transgender term, so the difference here is pretty simple:
  • Newhalf
    Probably identifies as female or transgender.
    Tries to pass as a woman.
    This sort of character often admits being transgender.
  • Trap, otokonoko 男の娘
    Identifies as male, and isn't gay, most of the time.
    Just happens to look like a girl because of reasons.
    This sort of character often denies being a girl, insisting he is, in fact, a guy.

Newhalf vs. Shemale

In English, the terms "shemale," "tranny," etc. are often said to be similar to the "newhalf," but there are difference between newhalf and shemale worth considering.

Taboo Word

For one, there are characters in anime which openly say "I'm a newhalf" in Japanese. But this dialogue would never get translated as "I'm a shemale" in English, due to the association of the term with the sex-industry. Instead, it would be translated as "I'm transgender" given that's more politically correct.

Note that there are differences between "newhalf" and "transgender" too. They're written further below.

Sexual Image

For two, as far as the sex-industry is concerned, sex sells. So when one thinks of pornography, one thinks of big-boobed women and Photoshop expertise. The word shemale, then, is more associated with the image of a sex-selling big-boobed transgender woman. The same isn't assumed for the term newhalf.

This isn't to say newhalf porn doesn't exist the same way shemale porn exists, of course it exists (for details, see Rule 34), but the term newhalf isn't strictly associated with the sex-industry, it's also associated with beauty contests and TV personalities. So newhalf is associated more with a woman who happens to be transgender, or with a crossdresser who is transgender.

Third Word

For three, the katakanization of "shemale" would be shiimeeru シーメール, and in this case the difference gets even more chaotic. Some people think it's someone who underwent a sex-change operation, while others appear to think it's the opposite.

Chances are there's no real definition for shiimeeru or differentiation with "newhalf" and it's just an English word that's used in titles for adult videos because it's an English world and Japan loves using English words to sell stuff.

Newhalf vs. Transgender

Not all people who identify as transgender in Japan identify as a "newhalf." That is, a "newhalf" is a transgender woman, but the word "newhalf" carries certain connotations that do not apply to all transgender women.

This happens because "newhalf" is associated with professionals who proudly claim "I'm a newhalf" to promote themselves and make money from their transgender attribute. This includes the sex-industry, obviously, but, also: performers, entertainers, singers, celebrities, etc.

For some transgender women, this isn't the sort of image they have for themselves, so they would rather not be called a "newhalf."

Note that just because they don't want to be called a "newhalf" that doesn't mean nobody is going to call them that. Sure, for someone who is transgender, or concerned about transgender issues, they'd be aware of this, but the average person doesn't know this. So they'll see a person who looks like a newhalf they saw on TV, they'll just say "hey, that's a newhalf!"

There are even cases of self-proclaimed newhalf that identify as male, making them practically gay crossdressers that pass as women.

To make matters worse, because the average person only knows about these "newhalf" they saw on TV, transgender women who do not think they're a "newhalf" may end up in situations they have to say they're a newhalf, or something like a newhalf, in order to get their point across.

Generally speaking, terms like the katakanization of "transgender," toransujendaa トランスジェンダー, are used to refer to transgender people in general. The term MtF (emu-thii-efu エムティーエフ) would refer to male-to-female, that is, "transgender women" in general..

Newhalf vs. Okama

The difference between newhalf and okama オカマ is that a newhalf looks like a woman, while an okama looks like a man trying to look like a woman.

This is an over-implication, sure. The truth is that what people think a newhalf is and what people think an okama is varies too much. It's hard to define. If we were to go by stereotypes, it's like comparing a shemale to a drag-queen.

In any case, okama is generally considered more offensive than the term newhalf, because of its historic usage as a slur toward male transvestites and prostitutes. Even when used inoffensively, okama may refer to any man who doesn't act like a man, transgender or not, gay or not.

Some say an okama wants to become a newhalf, implying newhalf would be a next stage. That is, something like this: man-okama-newhalf-woman. There is, obviously, a number of things wrong with this idea, but it's the perception some people have.

It also reminds me of the anime Kaichou wa Meido-Sama, and of some stuff I've heard about 50 Shades of Grey. Specifically: the difference between hot and creepy is whether the guy looks good (and is rich) or not. Likewise, if you took an okama character, and instead of making them an strangely muscular, bearded man, dressed in pink, you gave them a more androgynous-looking body, suddenly it's not an okama anymore it's a newhalf.

To some people, okama and newhalf are interchangeable when talking about transgender women, in which case they'll choose newhalf all the time, given the assumption okama is more offensive.

(wait, is this the end? No more differences? No more comparisons? We done here? Arigatou kamisama! This was a tough battle but with the power of of perseverance we've persevered. My post here is done. To think a single word would have to be compared against four different words... sasuga da na...)

Newhalf Characters

There are extremely few newhalf characters in fiction, for obvious reasons. There's not much point in making a character a newhalf, at all. Not to mention it's a touchy topic you don't want to touch even with a ten-foot pole. Why go through the trouble?

As far as I know, the following characters are newhalf:
  1. Momoko from Shangri-La.
  2. Miiko from Shangri-La

That's seriously it. Besides these, here are some other examples of transgender characters which may or may not be newhalf. I say may or may not because I'm not sure if they are ever canonically identified as newhalf, so they may just be transgender.
  1. Aoi Futaba from You're Under Arrest (transgender)
  2. Hana from Tokyo Godfathers (works in an okama bar)
  3. Ranka from Ouran High School Host Club (works in an okama bar)

On top of that, there's the infamous case of Poison from Final Fight and Street Fighter. Poison is a newhalf... sometimes. She was originally a woman, but then the company making Final Fight was told beating a woman was NG in America, so they decided to make her a man instead. Translation: beating a woman is wrong, beating a trans woman is alright.

Personally, I don't think it counts as a genuine newhalf character since it's an attribute born out of censorship. And if things weren't awkward enough, Poison became officially newhalf and then officially woman and officially newhalf again over and over in different occasions through the years, which makes that part of the character even more meaningless.

Origin of Newhalf

The only last thing to talk about is the origin of the word newhalf.

Obviously, newhalf is English. I mean, you'd have to have a couple loose screws not to see this:
  • new
    Something new.
  • half
    Something half.

But the term isn't English-English, it's a Japanese word made from English words, a wasei-eigo 和製英語. Now the question is, what could this word mean? Who came up with it? Why "new half"? How? When?

Using your brilliant criminal-investigation meitantei 名探偵 skills you've acquired from binging Hyouka, you put together the pieces of the puzzle wrapped in an enigma to reveal the answer, uncover The Truth™, protect the world from devastation, unite all peoples within our nation: indeed, as we all known, humans are a type of animal whose sexual reproduction takes the form of anisogamy, meaning we have two sexes, and each sex is responsible of producing one type of gamete. The fusion of these two different gametes gives birth to a zygote, which is then gestated to become offspring. Furthermore, the word half refers to a single part of a whole which has been divided into two parts. Given the existence of two, and only two human sexes, if one were to divide all human sexes in two, that is, divided the whole of human sexes in two halves, one would see that one sex is one half of the two sexes humans have. HOWEVER!!! The notion that we only have two sexes is merely established upon the preexisting knowledge of the fact. Were a third sex to come to existence, the whole premise would crumble into nothingness. The halves would become thirds. Unless... UNLESS!!!!1 We were to preserve the previous notion of two halves due to traditionality, as it's been historically regarded as so, or due to the statistically insignificant effect of this new development. Detail: the term has no genetic basis hence it wouldn't refer to sex but the social construct emerging from sex denominated gender. Given the facts gathered thus far we can reasonably deduce who is the real culprit! The source of the word. Its origin. The logic and motivation that caused it: there are two genders, two halves, so new half refers to a new gender!!! A third gender!!!!!!!!111111122223

And that's correct, but it's missing a couple of things.


Below is how the term "newhalf" was coined, apparently.

The term haafu ハーフ, the katakanization of "half," is sometimes used to refer to a child of a Japanese person and a gaijin 外人, a "foreigner." So half-Japanese, half-American, for example.

In 1980, in a radio program in Osaka, in a pub called "Betty's Mayonnaise," Bethi no Mayoneezu ベティのマヨネーズ, Betty would say they were "a half of man and woman," otoko to onna no haafu yo 男と女のハーフよ, and Kuwata Keisuke 桑田佳祐, hearing this, would say "then it's a newhalf," jaa nyuuhafu da ne じゃあニューハーフだね.

From then on, in 1981, Kuwata would ask which country's "half" were Betty from, that is, saying they were "half-japanese half-what?" And Betty would keep answering "half man half woman." This way, they'd keep selling her personality as a "newhalf" in the radio program.


In 1981, there was a certain beauty contest called Roppongi Bijin 六本木美人. This contest generated a lot of discussion because the winner, Matsubara Rumiko 松原留美子, was actually a man. Ironically, she's been quoted saying:
  • moshi "roppongi bijo" dattara moderu ni oubo dekinai ga, "bijin" nara otoko de aru jibun demo daijoubu da to kangaeta. もし“六本木美女”だったらモデルに応募できないが、“美人”なら男である自分でも大丈夫だと考えた
    If it were "Roppongi's bijo" I wouldn't be able to enter [the contest] but, if it's "bijin" then even I who am a man is alright I thought.

In the quote above, Matsubara is talking about how the name of the contest had the word bijin 美人, literally "beautiful person" in it, and not bijo 美女, literally "beautiful woman." That is, if the contest was literally for "women" only, Matsubara, who is a man, would've thought she doesn't meet the criteria. But if it's bijin 美人, it's literally "beautiful person," and has nothing about gender in it, so it would be alright.

(this is a level of pedantry that is normally only found in comments on the internet.)

Note, however, that although the word bijin is literally "beautiful person," it's in practice used to refer women mostly. As an analogy, it would be like if the contest was called "Roppongi's Beauties," and a man entered then pedantically mentioned the title didn't say it was about women only.

At the time, stuff like hormone therapy, sex-reassignment surgery, and even cosmetic surgery wasn't something people knew about or that transgender people got. So Matsubara was literally just a crossdresser with a naturally androgynous body. Because of this, the idea of a newhalf became the idea of a man who passes as a woman.


For reference, her debut.

In the video you can see Rumiko's sister telling everyone Rumiko is her "younger brother," otouto 弟, at 2:00 mark, consequently causing a nearby woman to say "I lost confidence in being a woman." The interview with a "newhalf" starts at 3:00 mark.

Neohalf & Newboy

The term newhalf generally refers to male-to-female transgender, for female-to-male transgender, the following terms exist:
  • neohaafu ネオハーフ
  • nyuubooi ニューボーイ

These terms are more recent, clearly based on the term newhalf, so the adoption of the terms isn't as spread, and they aren't used as often.

For reference, there is this blog ( of a newboy and newhalf couple (according to the title), that is, a couple of a ftm and a mtf. Whether it's a real couple or someone lying on the internet I don't know, and is irrelevant, the point is the term "newboy" is actually used.

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