I always get a little sad when I look up blogs on wordpress, tumblr, or youtube and find very little information from bloggers of color in Japan. Not that I don’t find information from white bloggers useful but the way life is experienced, is always different for bloggers of color. Many white bloggers have no idea what it’s like to be a minority and usually don’t have to deal with issues of racism in their home countries. So they often don’t think or even consider that their darker colleagues might be facing some tougher times simply because of their skin color.
Even in Asia, western forms of beauty are still highly sought after. It’s inescapable, every where you go you see Japanese advertisements using white models. I’ve even heard of business companies that will hire white men just to go to business meetings with them because they think it makes them look good. I can’t say I’ve faced a lot of negativity here but, I’ll never forget how a Japanese man compared approaching black people to approaching dogs, “You want to come up to them because they look fun and friendly, but you’re still scared they might bite you.” It didn’t feel good to hear that but I’m sure he wasn’t the only one to feel that way.
The reason why I started writing this blog was to share a little of what I’m going through with all the numerous black people that really want to come here, but are too scared to do it. When I first studied abroad I had all the same questions everybody else had; what will everyone think about skin color, what will they think about my hair, what will I do with my hair, what if they secretly call me racist names, what if I don’t make any friends… Just a lot of what ifs, and if I could go back in time and slap myself I would. I won’t lie and say that living in Japan is easy for me because it’s definitely not. There’s plenty of challenges that I face everyday from communicating at my job to just simply commuting. However living in Japan is not as scary as it seems. In fact I think most of my initial fears were over come by simply just being open and getting out of my own head.
Fiction: Japanese people will find me intimidating.
Reality: This one I think, depends on where you live. Tochigi is fairly close to Tokyo where a lot of foreigners live. So I think most people here have come in contact with foreigners of all colors several times in their lives. In small country towns this might be a little bit more challenging to foreigners of color. It’s hard to fathom but, there are probably plenty of Japanese people who have never talked to a foreigner, let alone a foreigner of color. As I’ve said foreigners only make up one percent of the population in Japan with the biggest number of minorities located closer to the bigger cities. While I have heard some bad stories, most Japanese people I’ve met have been pretty accepting about my skin color, some have even found me more interesting because of it. More than anything I think people find me intimidating because they’re scared to speak to me in English.
Fiction: Japanese people will probably think my skin and hair texture is ugly.
Reality:Again, Japan is no stranger to Eurocentric styles of beauty. Both men and women spend thousands of dollars trying to achieve a more western look such as skin lightening, eye surgery, and extreme dieting to look more like the Taylor Swifts and Justin Beibers of the world. So I have no doubt that there are plenty of Japanese people that find African features conventionally unattractive. I think beauty standards are a little less unforgiving here in Japan because overall Japanese people don’t differ to much in terms of hair, skin and body type. Diversity is still a pretty fresh concept in Japan but it takes time for society to slowly accept what’s different. Coming here made me accept my outward appearance even more because I know no matter how hard I try I’ll never fit into conventional beauty here. I still make sure to look my best when going out but it’s on my own terms. And despite feeling self conscious I’ve had more than enough Japanese people tell me how beautiful I am whether I’m wearing a wig and make-up or just being my natural self.
Fiction: I can’t buy my hair products/ there’s no where for me to get my hair done.
Reality: Unfortunately this is more fact than fiction because, there isn’t really a market for black hair care products in Japan. Foreigners make up only 1% of the population and I’m willing to bet less than half of that percentage is black. I know there are some salons like Room 806 in Tokyo that can do braids and sew ins but their prices are pretty high. To avoid paying those prices ($60/ hour) before coming here I started learning how to do my hair myself (youtube is my bestfriend now). I order most of my products offline and do a lot of DIY mixes. If you’re adventurous with your Japanese it doesn’t hurt to find good Japanese substitutes with hair products. I’ve found some lines of sulfate free shampoos and some people swear by Japanese deep conditioners. It is annoying that there’s not a beauty supply store that I can walk to find a good leave in or curl cream but that’s the sacrifice you make to live in Asia.
Fiction: Japanese people won’t want to date me
Reality: Due to the over consumption of media and general different dating practices, dating in Japan can be difficult. Many Japanese people are reluctant to date foreigners due to cultural differences and communication. It’s hard to date someone if you can’t communicate with them so many people just don’t try. Conversely many Japanese people might want to date foreigners because they think we fit some sort of stereotype. Foreigners are often seen as promiscuous and sleeping with one might be kind of as a status symbol. However the same can be said for foreigners that only want to “date” Japanese people because of an Asian fetish. Besides all of those short comings there are plenty of successful interracial relationships both in and outside of Japan. Like any relationship, it takes time and effort and if it’s meant to be, then it will happen.
Being in Japan as a black women is hard but, I find it’s only as hard as I make it out to be. Asia in general is still relatively closed off from the rest of the world so there’s still a lot of people who are just ignorant of what life is like outside of their region. I always have to think about that when I’m out because, most of my misunderstandings just come from simple miscommunication. No amount of complaining will make my time here easier but, I can just take things for what they are and continue to live in Japan as unapologeticaly black as possible.