While only 1.5 percent of Japan’s population is foreign born, a slice of life from one of its minorities is going viral online. Titled “Black in Japan,” the full video and its shortened edit have garnered a combined 200,000 views on YouTube already, thanks to their frank interviews with mostly African American expats residing in the Land of the Rising Sun.
The 80-minute documentary is part of an entire series about everyday life in Japan filmed by Rachel, an American woman and Jun, a Japanese man, who have posted all the clips on their YouTube channel. (We shared a much more light-hearted video of theirs here.)
“Black in Japan” has become so popular that the BBC covered it in its recent Trending series, quoting interviews with those who sing Japan’s praises. One subject said that she feels Japanese co-workers treat her with respect and avoid the condescension that white colleagues dole out back home. Another interviewee, named Ayana, said Japan’s chief benefit is its low crime rate, making her feel far safer compared to America’s currently charged racial climate. She was quoted as saying “I feel more comfortable, I feel safer. I feel like nobody’s going to shoot me because of my skin color.”
However, other interviewees griped about being heckled or being nicknamed “Whitney Houston” or “Beyonce,” even when they share no resemblance to those stars. Others say that locals’ curiosity sometimes leads them to touch black expats’ skin or hair without permission.
Japan’s black foreigners have been thrust into the spotlight as of late, thanks in part to the crowning of beauty queen Ariana Miyamoto – a member of the country’s hafu half Japanese, half foreign community – as the nation’s Miss Universe finalist earlier this year. While her feat was seen as a major breakthrough for one of the world’s most homogenous nations, there was some backlash – which Weekender touched on in our interview with Ariana Miyamoto. A subsequent Forbes article discussed Japan’s longstanding, systematic tradition of racial purity. And before that, the Japan Times ran an article about the nation’s surprisingly extensive history of blackface – running from a recent incident of pop singers applying the racist disguise, to the 1850s, when American soldiers smeared their faces dark and imitated “Ethiopian” entertainers during a celebration of the opening of trade relations between Japan and the U.S.
Hopefully anyone ignorant to the struggles of black expats will watch “Black in Japan,” and learn from the compelling video.