My first thought when I decided I was seriously going to Japan was, “this…will be epic“. The next thought was “Hmm, I’m black. Will that be a problem?”
I have to admit that when I first heard about the JET program in 2003, I had planned to apply once I got the required degree, however, when the time rolled around I chickened out, and I think concerns about how I would be received not only as a foreigner, but as a black foreigner — a black female foreigner, (which is a very rare sight in Japan it seems) were a big part of that. Videos like the one below made me nervous. The depiction of blacks here is sad, but hilarious too, simply because it’s such an over-the-top blatant sterotype. I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that the one guy’s weapon of choice is a basketball…
Sooooo, are blacks treated differently in Japan?
From what I’ve read, yes and no.
Of course, any info I give now will be based on second-hand accounts, mostly the blogs of others I’ve found online, but stay tuned, because I’ll be blogging my own experiences as an expat soon enough .
Anyway, what do I mean by yes and no? Here’s my understanding of what will go down.
Yes: Blacks (and any other visible minorities really, including whites, indians, natives, hispanics, etc.) will have to get used to some staring, and this seems to increase the further you get from the big cities. The Japanese (and the rest of the world, North America is no exception) have developed stereotypes regarding other races thanks to the media. There is a huge hip-hop movement in Japan right now. You’ll see Japanese b-boys, Japanese with afros and dreads, and NYC hats and jackets. Since the vast majority of Japanese exposure to blacks is through Hip-hop/R&B and sports, they may ask questions like “Can you sing? can you dance? do you run track?” And they may be somewhat confuzzled if you can’t do any of that. So if you’re black and you want to come to Japan…um I guess you better practice your moves? There will be some ignorance, but overt racism is rare.
No: Over and over again I hear that the Japanese are unfailingly polite, and foreigners and natives alike can expect to be treated kindly wherever they go.
It was with great relief that I realized after reading many blogs and forum posts that the foreigners in Japan, including black foreigners, are loving it! There may be bumps here and there but on the whole they’re enjoying the experience, so I think I will too.
For more on what it’s like to be black in Japan (you know, from people who have actually been to Japan) check out these blogs. You can find them in my blogroll too.
Sista in Tokyo — this sista has been in Tokyo for a few years. She’s even having a baby!
Intro2the1 — excellent vlog about a black girl living in a rural area as part of the JET program.
Jasmine Louis (TUJ-circle.net) — she has some very informative posts, and she answers the three questions black women usually want to know about Japan: 1) Is there racism in Tokyo? 2) Do Japanese men like Black women? 3) What am I going to do with my hair while I’m there?
Gaijin Smash — A very popular blog, it’s pretty hilarious. It’s about the misadventures of black man who is an English teacher.
Loco in Yokohama — This one has a very philosophical vibe. It’s about another black man working as an English teacher in Japan.