Give the people what the people want.
What is it like for a black woman in Japan? This is something that many who visited my blog searched for. I will be sharing in different segments on this topic from time to time. I hope what I say allay some fears, motivate some people and ease minds. Bear in mind that I am sharing my perspective. I will see about featuring other black women from around the world who live here to present a balanced picture over time.
Background of this black woman in Japan
Japan is now truly my second home. Jamaica is “the land of my birth” and where I lived until I came here almost 12 years ago. I came over on the JET Programme for a few years and transitioned into teaching English Language and Literature in the IB Programme in a high school after. Since, I was an educator for 5 years in Jamaica and had completed a Masters in my discipline things worked out well.
I have lived in Fukushima Prefecture, Gunma Prefecture and Tokyo. I have had the pleasure of experiencing live in a rural area, a small city and a megapolis. With this in mind, I think I have a somewhat rounded view of how people in these different areas treated me.
As with life anywhere else you interact with different groups of people in Japan. My circles centre around my work colleagues, my church family and the random people I meet out and about.
I am single and have lived alone throughout this time. I travel alone within Japan as well so I have been to many prefectures solo dolo. I have also travelled with people of similar or other hues as well. I am a glass-half-full kinda person so this dictates how I live my life but I am far from naive and trusting. I came to Japan on the cusp of 27 and had taught some every adult high schoolers in Jamaica for 5 years. I had also travelled to America a few times by that time as well.
Classism is an issue in Jamaica but not racism in the way that it is in some other countries. This is important, because I do not automatically assume that someone is racist because they treat me poorly. I think my upbringing in Jamaica directly relates to this.
What is life like for a black woman in Japan?
The simple answer is that it is not very different to life in many other places. Many people who ask this question want a simple answer. There is no simple answer to this complex question. Is the ‘black woman’ a monolith? Are we only the colour of our skin? Do we view things and process them in the same way? Every black woman of course has different experiences here. Some are carefree, depressed,single, married, working, studying, here by choice, here under duress and so on.
I interact closely with black women from every continent and one major thing we talk about is where to get our hair done. There are a few salons especially in Tokyo that cater to our hair but most of us know someone who do braids at home and such.
Life is exciting, awesome, not so good sometimes, irritating, fulfilling, challenging, exhilarating, tiresome and others on different days or times of the day.
Are people racist? I am pretty sure there must be a few. Should that overly concern you? Nope, they won’t affect your daily life since may not even know it. Japanese people for the most part are peace loving and accommodating. You will be served like others in shops, restaurants and such.
Do people discriminate against black people? I am sure some do but I believe much discrimination is based on you being foreign. Many foreigners experience the empty seat beside them on a full train, a few Japanese only adult clubs and not being allowed to rent certain properties.These three stand out in my mind.
Unless you are an uber sensitive person you learn to brush these things off and make your life healthy and happy if you so desire. The vast majority of Japanese people will not treat you poorly. Don’t forget we are dealing with human beings and do not expect everybody to be angelic – real talk.
Stereotyping groups of people is ingrained in some people here. Blacks are viewed negatively by the less exposed because of how we are portrayed in those wonderful Hollywood movies. For some people you are scary and you are going to attack them savagely. This is especially the case with bigger black men. I have passed people and heard them saying ‘kowaii’ (scared/scary). I just keep it moving.
There are many black women who date and marry here – Japanese and non-Japanese. Black women are thought of by many, as not mirroring the ole western standard of beauty that the whole world has been brainwashed into. What is yours is yours. I know black women of all sizes, shapes and hues who are married. Yes, there are others who are single but is this any different than anywhere else?
Is Life in Japan comfortable for Black Women?
Your life is what you make it. My life as a black woman in Japan is pretty comfortable. I know black women who are stay at home moms, entrepreneurs, office workers, teachers, entertainers and so on. You can network with other women and find support to live your best life here. The Facebook group black women in Japan is a great one to network with other black women across the country.
All the black women I know and others I know of are living their lives here. This doesn’t mean a perpetual state of happiness but we have learned to be content. Check out this YouTube video to get some other perspectives.
Phew… It’s after work and I am tired now. The pollens are messing with my nasal passage so I am gonna end this installment here. I will share more about haircare, travels and other relevant issues connected to this topic from time to time. Ciao.