5 Things To Know About Black People In Japan

David Kipre

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Japanese people are very conservative, having not really been subjected to intercultural mixing throughout their history

It is important to know that the black community in Japan is very small, and therefore, the clichés concerning people of color are more related to the stereotypes conveyed by the cinema, and are therefore not directed against a particular origin.

1- “She’s dirty, she doesn’t take a shower”

Many young people of color have been remarked by their acquaintances in Japan, especially by old people and children, in schools: “She is dirty, she does not take shower”. Black skin being an unknown characteristic for the less cultured in the East, these remarks are not to be taken as insulting but rather to be seen as poorly formulated curiosity. A man from an English-speaking country in Africa explained that on the train, many people thought he was a “gorilla”, and that his children, born in Japan and fluent in Japanese, were discriminated against as “little monkeys”. Some people even think that black people are not allowed to get on the train because they are “different”.

2- You will always be forced to explain why you speak Japanese if you ever understand it

As a person of color, you will always be seen as a “gaijin”, or “foreigner” in English. Even as a person of color of Japanese, you should always be prepared to explain why or how you speak the language fluently if you understand it.

3- You will never be perceived as a full-fledged Japanese

As said above, you will always have to explain to whoever asks you why you are at such a high level of integration in this culture that is not yours. Of course, there is no obligation to answer, as this kind of remark is, to say the least, indiscreet, but concerning children born there, they can be unbearable as they never stop.

4- Physical tasks, and some offenses, will be considered as having a link with you

The clichés conveyed by the cinema suggest that blacks are “physically well-built” or “city bandits”. In Japan, blacks are often subjected to facial checks, the first suspects in shoplifting cases… but the Japanese justice system does not usually allow itself to go further than accusations, especially if there is no evidence.

5- Some people have a “fetish” for men/women of color

This is unfortunately not exclusive to the land of the rising sun, but some people, especially young people with very specific ideals, fantasize about black people, and only about them, being ready to do almost anything to get one. Being a rare person has the advantage of attracting immediate attention, but also the disadvantage of attracting the interest of possible ill-intentioned people, and it is therefore always necessary to be cautious, regardless of the country of residence.

However, Japanese people are not necessarily ill-intentioned in what they say. Most of the time, it is a bad expression of their curiosity towards a race which is almost completely unknown to them because of their history. People in the land of the rising sun are not “racist”, and if they ever seem to be, it is usually not on purpose, and is simply due to a clumsiness in their words. Despite the fact that they are somewhat awkward in expressing their astonishment or their thirst for knowledge about black people, Japanese people remain very welcoming to all foreigners, although they sometimes set very strict barriers to prevent them from spreading their culture in their homeland.

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