Blacks in Japan: Haircare Tips

If you’re a woman of African descent like me, and thinking about moving to Japan, I suspect there’s a certain concern on your mind: what the hell am I gonna do with my hair?

Just how do we black women living in Japan keep our beautiful, curly and unique hair looking supa dupa fly in a country where everyone else has not only different hair, but hair that is the exact opposite to ours?

Well, I wrote all about my own hair care experiences over at Surviving in Japan — a really useful blog with tips for everyday life in Japan for foreigners. I’ve benefited from many of the posts over there, like how to do a money transfer when the ATM will only allow you to do it entirely in Japanese, and where to find Tylenol and Aspirin. So when Ashley asked me if I wanted to do a guest post I knew it was time to pay it forward.

Here are my 4 Tips to Maintain Black Hair While Living in Japan. I wrote this post primarily for women because men tend to just chop it all off, especially if working in the conservative Japanese corporate structure, but there’s no reason why men couldn’t follow these tips as well. Head over to Surviving in Japan to check it out!


Why Living in Tokyo is Hard

Now that I’m completely, independently living on my own, rather than in a guest house where four of my roommates were Japanese, I’ve accidentally turned up the heat on this whole living in a foreign country experiment, and the chemicals in the beaker are starting to bubble. I have to do a lot more things in Japanese, and although my Japanese has improved in the last eight months, it’s nowhere near sufficient to make any of this easy.

At the moment I can only pick out the small amount of vocabulary I know when someone is speaking, and only if they’re not speaking super-fast. The place I hate to go the most is the post office because for some reason, even in the heart of Tokyo, no one there ever speaks a lick of English. So I have to do my best to fumble through with one word answers, grunts and body language. Every time I leave I go home and furiously study from my textbooks.

Another thing I hate to do is reschedule a delivery if I miss it. I’ve been ordering things online for my apartment, and I pray every time that the delivery guy will come when I’m at home. But alas, he comes when I’m at work, and when I come home I see the dreaded missed delivery slip sticking out of my mailbox. So then I have to go to the convenience store and buy some light booze, drink it, and then make the phone call to a guy who speaks only enough English to say “sorry, I can’t speak English”. For every short sentence I make, for example asking if he can come back today or tomorrow, I get like four or five long fast ones in Japanese back from him, and I never understand any of it, and I can’t smile and nod because it’s over the phone. Usually the both of us just give up and he ends up coming back the next day and hopefully I’m home.

There’s some stuff I want to buy like a full length mirror and a chest of drawers. My clothes have been piled up on the floor gathering dust, and I’m in constant danger of leaving the house with my shirt on backwards all because I’m dreading trying to set up the delivery in Japanese.

Then lately, maybe because of the crappy typhoon weather, I’ve been feeling somewhat isolated. This was not helped by the guy who recently moved my bed for me. He’s been living in Japan for three-and-a-half years, and gave me a lovely monologue about how the Japanese don’t want us here. “They are so racist, I’ve worked with them and I’ve seen it. They always ask ‘when are you going back?”

Perhaps I’ve just been lucky so far in that the Japanese staff I work with have been amazing, and many of my students too. I hate thinking, “the racism is just around the corner, if I stay here long enough it’ll get me too.” I just want to enjoy my time here, especially while everything is still fun and new, but sometimes I meet people who have been here a long time, maybe five years or more, and they seem…downtrodden, or bitter and I can’t help but think, “damn, that’s what’s in store for me?”

I don’t want to leave, and there is an ambitious/sick part of me that even enjoys facing these new challenges, but I do hope that as my Japanese improves and I “get the hang” of how this mundane, everyday stuff works in Tokyo, I’ll feel a lot more comfortable.


Thailand and the Fish that Ate My Feet


So back when I was in Thailand last month, some fish ate my feet.

It happened when my room mate, her good friend and me went to one of the famous “fish spas”, where a bunch of little fish with an inexplicable jonesing for dead human flesh will eat it all off of your feet if you give them a chance…which I did.

Dinner Time

First you have to wash your feet, and then you dunk them into a tub where hundreds of fish are swimming around. At the place I went to, there was a tub with small fish, and then you could work your way up to the tub with the bigger fish — although even the “bigger” fish weren’t that big. We’re not talking catch of the day or anything… that would be terrifying.

No, these are tiny little fish with tiny little sucker mouths, and the second I put my feet in the tub they were all over me like my feet were a cheesecake on the set of “The View”. Have you ever had your feet tickled? Oh my Lord I thought I would go mad from the sensation. I wanted to pull my feet out, but then they wouldn’t be baby soft, and my room mate said I would get used to it.

Sure enough, after a few minutes I was able to relax and enjoy being slowly but surely devoured. Until another customer showed up. The man walked in, said a few words to the dude at the door, then took off his shoes and socks. The three of us stared at his feet, then stared at each other in horror. He was going to put these discoloured, diseased-looking things into the tub with us. Oh no, Oh no no no….

The guy running the place must have seen the panic on our faces because he basically told the guy to get lost. I felt bad for old fungus-foot, but I also really did not want to catch whatever it was he had going on there. This story has a happy ending because I walked away on baby-soft feet sans horrible foot disease.


My Little Slice of Tokyo

I’m all moved in to my own apartment here in Tokyo and I’m pretty pleased with myself, I have to say.

I got a whole bunch of appliances for a fraction of their price at sayonara sales. For those who don’t know, a sayonara sale is the frantic garage sale expats in Japan put on before they leave in an attempt to unload all the stuff they’ve accumulated. See there’s a fee to dispose of big stuff like beds and shelves and appliances. A lot of the time people even give away appliances for free!

I still have a lot of work to do, but I’ve been skipping merrily through housewares stores in Japan picking out my perfect decor. It’s kind of a pain to get the stuff home on the train, (I almost dislocated my shoulders lugging home a microwave in a suitcase) but that is the level of my dedication to home decor.

My new neighborhood is quiet, and residential, but near some major shopping and entertainment meccas in Tokyo, so I feel like I’ve got the best of both worlds.

Here it is, my urban castle.

Let’s call this the before picture. If it looks small, that’s because it is. The price of living in central Tokyo. But just the fact that there’s room to walk around my bed means it instantly owns the other place.


The place came with a blue fridge, cool right? You  can also see the microwave that almost cost me my arms…literally.


Here's my ginormous kitchen. "Where's the stove?" You may be wondering. See that square thing holding up the frying pan? Yeah, that's it. I could buy a two burner plus grill range, but I don't really need it. I'd rather have precious counter top space.

And here's my cheerful orange bathroom. I made it orange because I hate getting up early, so I'm hoping the orange will be like a proverbial wake up slap.

Blacks in Japan: She Was Scared of Me!

I’ve been living in Japan for eight months now, and though I had always feared it might happen, not once has a child run screaming or starting crying at the sight of my blackness.

Not until yesterday that is.

I was shopping at Don Quixote.  For those not living in Japan Don Quixote is a department store similar to Wal-Mart. I was shopping for stuff to pimp my crib, when I spotted a black man with an adorable half-black, half-Japanese two year old daughter. As I try to do when I see another person who looks like me in Japan I gave “the nod” of acknowledgment, which opened the doors for conversation.

“Where are you from?” he asked, with an African accent. I told him I was from Canada.

“Are you a student?”

“No I’m a teacher”

“Oh, I’m looking for someone to teach my daughter English, and I want her to have more interaction with the black community.”

It was at this point that the little cutie started crying.

“She must be tired,” I commented naively.

“No, whenever she sees a black face, or anyone not Japanese, she gets scared. She’s only used to me.”

Whaaaat? She’s afraid of…me? Little old me?

The irony, that the first child who cried at the sight of me was half black. Don’t that beat all huh? Well I think I’ll take the teaching job, so she’ll be seeing a lot more of me. But we’ll be best friends in no time ;)

I sometimes think about how difficult it would be to raise a visibly foreign child in Japan. I don’t think I would do it. This little darling believes in her childlike way that she’s Japanese, and technically she is. She was born and raised here. Yet sometime soon, maybe when she starts school, she will encounter people who are only too quick to show her that no, she is not “real” Japanese. And it won’t just be Japanese people either. It will be the foreigners who expect her to speak perfect English.

I don’t envy her (even though I can tell she will be a complete knockout when she grows up). She has some tough life lessons ahead of her, and I think in order to have the necessary tools to face the upcoming challenges she needs to have an understanding and healthy self-love for both sides of her heritage, so I’ll do my best to get her to stop crying.