Photo Credit: Photo by Andre Benz
Japanese Student Asks Interviewees "What's It Like Being Black In Japan?"
A Japanese college student named Takashii creates YouTube videos where he interviews random strangers on a host of different topics. One of his recent videos shows him asking Black people living in Japan what their experience has been. Takashii poses his questions with respect, and it’s interesting to see how people from different parts of the African diaspora respond to them.
Japan, an island nation in east Asia, is one of the most homogeneous in the world. So when an obvious outsider goes there to visit or live, the locals might regard them with fascination, admiration, suspicion or all three.
One Black American woman featured in Takashii’s video has been teaching English in Japan for six years. She said when she first arrived she felt like a “spectacle” because a lot of people were looking at her. She added, “it just feels like I would living anywhere else…people are just gonna look because they have this notion of Black people.”
Takashii asked for her thoughts on Japanese people styling their hair in dreads. To her, the saying “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” doesn’t cut it in this case.
“Some people say it’s appropriation, others say its appreciation,” she said. “I personally don’t like it, but I can’t make anybody do anything, so I’ll just sit and look and mind my business.”
Another Black American who goes by the stage name, J The Protagonist, weighed in.
“My perception, I don’t know how they see me. I’ve never actually asked a Japanese adult how they see me. And no one has told me either.”
He said that when Japanese companies are looking to hire foreigners, they likely are referring to white people. When he performs in a group with other rappers, locals show support. “Hip-Hop is very popular, it’s global,” he said. “We get love. It’s been mostly positive.”
The rapper said that Black culture is appreciated in the U.S far more than Black people. In his view, it’s about the same in Japan, but an increase in Black presence there might change that.
Two Kenyan women commented after Takashii slightly modified his original question to “what’s it’s like being African in Japan?”
“It’s a bit different for us compared to white people,” one said. “You get a few stares sometimes but mostly no one cares.”
“I haven’t had any negative experiences in terms of my racial identity,” the second Kenyan said. “In my opinion, the Japanese are very welcoming. The stares you get aren’t malicious, people are just curious.” She remarked that Japanese people probably connect more with Black Americans than Africans, because of the reach of western media.
One Jamaican expat said, “I’ve been here over 10 years. A lot of the time I forget what color I am because the Japanese aren’t outwardly racist. But,” he added, “there are a lot of social rules.” He insisted that if one follows those rules to the best of their ability, they will likely be fine.
Part of the social protocol includes taking off your shoes before entering a home or wearing a mask if you have a cold. Respect is at the very heart of Japanese culture.
Travel Noire featured several Black people living in Asia. This Cameroonian expat who lives in China, said that people touched her braids without permission. A Black woman studying abroad in South Korea experienced being stared at and kept out of certain venues. Other Black people living in Asian countries experienced being pointed at and photographed without consent.
If you are a Black person going to Japan, you’ll almost certainly catch the attention of locals. But how you respond makes all the difference.