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We all know the harsh realities young black men and women face in America historically and present day. But what’s it like for these individuals in other parts of the world? Do they only face injustices in the States or is racism a globally spread disease? Are they idolized in other countries? Let’s take an inside look at the personal experiences of two young men who have experienced this first hand in one of the world’s most popular destinations for music, culture, food, and fashion, Japan. 

Kyoto, Japan 2018

Just to give you guys a little background information on the Japanese culture before we jump into the interviews. Japanese people admire American culture immensely. In fact, they admire it so much that they have learned to adopt it so well that they sometimes do it better than we do. From fashion to music and even food, Japan is filled with American influence from top to bottom. However, no matter how long you may live in Japan, how well you know the language, or how close you may get to a Japanese local, Japan is one of the most exclusive cultures in the world. Meaning, if you're not Japanese, you will never be looked at or treated as such. You will always be a gaijin or outsider. [ Although, knowing the language does increase the likelihood for you to "fit in" with the Japanese or Nihonjin exponentially.]

Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, with an extremely low and constantly decreasing crime rate [I'll explain why in my next blog post.] The Japanese are generally very calm, patient, and kind people. Even if they do not fancy you or even feel prejudice towards you, the worst you will probably get is an awkward stare. They are not into conflict at all, in fact they are very keen on biting their tongues. As a white/latina female, I can't give the perspective of what it's like to be black in Japan so I asked two friends of mine to explain their experiences. Hopefully this sheds some light on the topic for you guys!

Interviewee #1:

Q: What’s your name, age, IG username and where are you from?

A: My name is Daryl White and I’m 23 years old. I turn 24 on October 26th (Scorpio), you can follow me on Instagram @LosaTV and I’m from Wilmington, Delaware. 

Q: What do you do for a living and what brought you to Japan?

A: How has being in Japan impacted how you identify yourself or your self image as a young black man?
I am an F-15 maintainer (Aircraft mechanic) by trade in the United States Air Force, I have since been tasked to get familiar with some Administrative work to help expand my skill set and assist in my career progression in the military. I was blessed with assignment orders to Kadena AB in Okinawa, Japan back in February 2016 and I will be here until February 2020. 

Q: Do you speak the language?

A: I am not as fluent in Japanese as I would like to be; my skill set is very elementary. I can get around, order food, ask where the restroom is etc. However, I am famliliar with the Hirigana characters, which is one of the writing styles of the Japanese language. There is Hirigana, Katakana, and Kanji. Kanji, being the most intricate of the 3 styles. 

Q: What is the biggest challenge you face being a black man in Japan?

A: The biggest challenge I face being an African-American male in Okinawa Japan is definitely not being well versed in the language and the culture. Secondly, another challenge would have to be falling victim to the negative stigma around how young black males conduct themselves in relationships with the local females. I do not fit that stereotype by any means and that has been a little bit difficult for me. For me, there has always been a preconceived notion that I want to be sexually involved with every woman that I have come in contact with, when I simply want to be submerged in the culture and become more acclimated with the language. 

Q: What is the biggest advantage of being a black man in Japan?

A: On the flip side, the biggest advantage of being black in Japan, is that when you do show interest in the culture and the language, the locals do a great job of embracing you and are more than happy and very supportive in that process. As an individual, depending on what it is that you are trying to accomplish, having that experience and relationship with the community can give you extreme leverage. 

Q: Have you ever felt discriminated against for the color of your skin while living in Japan? Give examples if possible.

A: Stereotyping, just like any other place in the world, is the only form of discrimination that I have experienced. To me I don’t take it personal and it’s not a huge deal. I actually find it comical. As humans I understand that it’s just our nature to judge people, knowingly and subcontiously. I find it interesting to say the least. 

Q: Can you compare the difference between being black in America vs being black in Japan from your own experience?

A: I will say that being black in Japan is way better than being black in America just for the simple fact that I don’t feel targeted and I don’t fear for my life being taken away as I would if I were back stateside. Being a uniformed member of the military you would think that it is more dangerous than a civilian but I have learned that is not the case. From 2000-2018, approximately 1500 service members have lost their lives in war combat. In 2018 alone, 1400 people have lost their lives to gun violence in just Chicago. That was astonishing information that I learned via the Joe Rogan experience podcast. In Okinawa they have extremely strict gun laws, which leads to a below 4% annual crime rate in general and 0% gun related annual crime. I believe that the states could learn a few things from Japan. 

Q: How does it make you feel that Japanese people refer to hip hop, trap, rap, etc as “black music”? How would it make you feel if Americans did the same and why?

A: I haven’t heard that hip-hop is referred to as “black music” by the local community, but if that is true it doesn’t make me feel any way at all. Hip hop is primarily associated with African-Americans and that’s the beauty of our culture. If Americans did the same, I wouldn’t mind either. I’d be a hypocrite if I felt a way about it. I call heavy-metal and country white music so I don’t see a problem. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. 

Q: Do you ever feel targeted by the JPs (Japanese Police) because of your skin color?

A: I do feel targeted by the Japanese police because of 1. Being in the military and 2. Being African-American in the military. We don’t really have a great reputation when it comes to our behavior, in regards to military members in general. And when it comes to being black, because hip hop is associated with the black community, one could say that the Japanese police are informed about how we like to party. With parties usually comes chaos and confrontation. Also with parties comes alcohol and some drink and drive, so I do believe that we are a bit targeted. I don’t think it’s right, however I do understand why that is. History does tend to repeat itself.

Q: How has being in Japan impacted how you identify yourself or your self image?

A: It hasn’t changed how I identify myself at all. I can only be myself and I try embrace everything that comes with having this skin color. I’m seeking more to understand than to be understood and that’s all I can do. Some people will love it and some people will hate it and that’s just the game of life we play.

Interviewee #2

Yerrrr my name is Noah, my IG is @Guapular . I am a photographer from Bay Area, California,  living in Tokyo, Japan. I first started coming to Japan 4 years ago when i was 18 for work (buying clothes to resell) and i fell in love. 

I met this black dude from Georgia while i was buying clothes one day and bro spoke like full Japanese and my mind was blown. I asked him how he learned and he sent me the school program info n all that, and as soon as I got back to the states I signed up. So I speak a little Japanese, enough to get around and have conversations. 

Being a black man in Japan definitely has it's ups and downs. Since there aren't many black men in the scene in Tokyo it makes it easier for me to stand out. Since I’m not the average Japanese person, people are more willing to work with me just because i'm black or "look cool" lol. So that's a good thing, but there are some negatives fasho. Like I work with a big entertainment company here in Tokyo, and since i'm not Japanese i'm always being looked at, people are always watching to see when i'm going to mess up. A lot of the older people I work with don't like me and they don’t hesitate to show it. I be getting yelled at for every little thing I do, but they do it Japanese style. So they tell someone to tell me that I’m doing something wrong instead of just coming to me to tell me to my face, shit is really annoying actually. I'm treated different, almost like a burden, but some of the people really like me. But one thing I gotta talk about is the fact that a lot of the music here steals from black culture, but they don't want to pay us the respect or give us the credit when it's due.

Here's an interesting documentary made by Nigerian-American artist Amarachi Nwosu last year following the lives of a few young black mean and women living in Tokyo. Enjoy!

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