The Black Lives Matter movement that ignited in Minneapolis, Minnesota when George Floyd died under the knee of a white police officer spread like wildfire across the world, with sparks now reaching Tokyo.
Peaceful protestors flooded the streets of Shibuya – and will fill Yoyogi Event Plaza again on Sunday, June 14. An obtuse animation aired by NHK depicting stereotyped images of Black people was deleted after the station received a torrent of online criticism – including harsh tweets from the interim US ambassador.
While world affairs force the spotlight to turn to the smoldering issues of race and injustice in Japan, the influence of Black culture is not new to the country. From the African samurai Yasuke to tennis star Naomi Osaka, people of color have left an indelible impression on Japanese history and culture. Within Tokyo’s creative community, an even greater number of Black artists are leading their respective industries. Here are just a few.
Serah Alabi is a Nigerian-born, German-raised writer, photographer and content manager promoting fashion and cultural exchange between African and Japan. She has worked on multiple projects and her first solo exhibition was based on her research on the female gaze in Japan. Her second solo exhibition was held in combination with a panel talk in honor of Black History month in Japan.
Follow Serah on Instagram at @serahalabi
Jordan Green, AfroInJapan on social media, is an up-and-coming influencer who specializes in photography and Japan-focused travel pieces. Known for his iconic hairstyle and magnetic personality, the native Brit is determined to travel to and photograph every prefecture of Japan. Be it taking deep dives into local customs, hiking Mount Fuji or seeking out the best cafés around Tokyo, there’s always something new to be discovered on Jordan’s Instagram.
Follow Jordan on Instagram at @afroinjapan
Terrence Holden is a marketer and podcaster, who is originally from Brooklyn, New York. He is the host and producer of Tokyo Speaks podcast (on the podcast he goes by his middle name Cliff). Tokyo Speaks, formally called the Raw Urban Mobile Podcast, is an inclusive podcast that highlights a diverse and inspiring community of expats and Japanese by sharing their experiences of life in Japan. Terrence has resided in Japan since 2012.
Give Tokyo Speaks a listen by visiting tokyospeaks.com
Tracy Jones is a writer from Central Florida. He’s a proud father, husband, Bill Gates Millennium Scholar, and SUNY Purchase College Alum. He’s written for Hi-Fructose, LA Weekly (R.I.P.), Huffpost, Tokyo Weekender, Bandcamp and various others. He also produces The Microscopic Giant, a platform dedicated to art and ramblings from an uncomfortable place.
Check out Tracy’s website at themicrogiant.com
Matthew, also known as Rhyming Gaijin, arrived in Japan 12 years via Philadelphia. Teaching English in the day and making music at night, he is a mainstay in Tokyo’s underground hip hop scene. A prolific freestyler, Rhyming is known for his ability to make rhymes on the spot about any topic. To raise money after 3.11 he freestyled for over 13 hours to beat the World Guinness Book of records for longest freestyle. This January he completed a 365-day rap challenge.
You can hear his music on his Instagram page at @rhyminggaijin
Lebo Tladi was born and raised in South Africa and currently resides in Japan. From a young age, he has always been fascinated by the power of imagining. Through his preferred medium of choice, pen and ink, he executes the wonders of his imagination with rich and highly detailed artworks.
See samples of Lebo’s artwork on Instagram at @lebztladi
Idris Veitch is a Jamaican-born artist who works around collage and textile prints. He is currently living in Tokyo. He received his BA in management systems at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2005. Needing a change of scenery, he moved to Colorado where he worked as a computer technician before moving back to Jamaica a year after. It was in his home country where his passions shifted to fashion design after attending a two-year course at the Edna Manley School of Arts in Kingston. He moved to Japan where he first taught English.
Wanting to further pursue his interests in fashion, he moved to Tokyo in 2013 where he studied womenswear and menswear at Esmod Tokyo. Being half-Nigerian with very little familiarity and knowledge of that side of his family, he started questioning the theme of self-identity during his graduation collection. It was this curiosity which lead him to take aspects from Japanese and African cultures.
His time spent growing up in Jamaica, living in America and Japan meant having to embrace a many number of customs and practices. “I spent a lot of time as an outsider observing and adapting accordingly,” he says. Learned behaviors piled on top of each other to create a mix that sometimes overlapped and at other times had to be kept separate. “I have always been interested in combining things that are usually kept separate to make something new.”
See Idris’s brilliant artwork on Instagram at @idrisveitch
Darryl Wharton-Rigby is the second African-American to make a feature film in Japan. His film Stay, now available on Amazon Prime, was filmed in Tokyo and is a unique love story. The film won multiple accolades including Best International Feature Film at the Baltimore International Black Film Festival and the Audience Choice Award at the Royal Starr Film Festival in Detroit. Wharton-Rigby can also be recognized from some of his acting work in commercials for Toshiba, Pocky, and Takara Tomy as well as the DJ in the ABK48 music video, “Koi Suru Fortune Cookie.”
Follow Darryl on Twitter at @whartonrigby