What's it like being half Black in Japan?

Originally published at: What's it like being half Black in Japan? | Boing Boing


Best part is where he wants to get better marks in English so he can talk to all the tourists who assume he’s American and ask him for directions. Not gonna lie, that would be me too.


I’d imagine that it’s rather similar to being Biracial anywhere:

It’s far more difficult than it should be.


Of course we all know that race is basically a social construct. My wife was an exchange student in Japan and was disappointed to find that, human nature being what it is, people found ways to be bigoted and discriminatory towards other groups within Japan that appeared to outsiders to be pretty homogeneous. It’s always possible to finely divide people into sub-groups if you’re determined to do so. Most people from outside Japan probably wouldn’t see the Ryukyuan people of Okinawa as a different “race” but they’ve often been treated as such. And that’s not to mention the discrimination against people of Chinese or Korean descent, or the Ainu people.

But as the video indicates I’m sure those with any African ancestry are probably singled out for even worse discrimination.


It seemed to me he was like any other kid in the World, he has a positive outlook, and a nice friendly smile, good luck kid and go out and grab the tiger by the tail, so’s to speak.


Anecdotally, my friend who is black went to Japan and had a pretty good time. He was met with some flak, as he has some visible tattoos on his arms.

But I do know talking to people from Japan that in general… they are pretty biased against anyone not Japanese. Like even as a tourist there are places where you are not wanted.

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The part that stood out to me is how he felt it necessary to differentiate between “bad” and “not really bad”.

He should be able to say “none”.




Even if you look like japanese you can face discrimination. Some people who fled the economic chaos in Brazil used to say “we were Japanese in Brazil and we are Brazilians in Japan.”


There is absolutely an assumption that someone in Japan who doesn’t appear to be Asian can speak English. But there is also an assumption that anyone who is Asian in Japan can automatically speak Japanese. An American born and raised person of Asian descent will be told that they should be able to more easily learn and speak Japanese than an American born and raised person of white/brown/black descent. Some racist nonsense about the shape of Asian tongues.


Right; much like how a person of non-European descent would think that pre-WWII Poland looked racially homogeneous or a person of non-African descent would think pre-civil-war Rwanda looked racially homogeneous.


Having a mother from Nagasaki prefecture, the sense I have about the Japanese is that, everyone not from where you are is either a hick or a snob or impolite to rude. To those in Tokyo, those from Osaka are viewed as rather crude. Flip the script and those from Tokyo are uptight. To both, those from Kyoto are snobs. But the history and dialects of those places are reason for and reveal, respectively, the differences. Consider that all three were once capitol cities.

As a hafu, I do know the good and the bad of being so growing up in America. You’re always going to be an outsider no matter what. I think that kid understands that. However, had he grown up in America, he’d likely have his father’s community to be a part of.

Despite that, it’s my thought that being hafu can have its advantages—be it in Japan or the US. If you are kind and thoughtful, once they know you, the Japanese will tend to quickly accept you. That’s because those traits are highly prized. Can’t say so in the US. The barrier of Race (White privilege douche-iness) tends to prevent that.

BTW, if anyone browsed the comment section of that YouTube video, you’d be mortified by how hard some people try to turn it into a reason for blanketing all Japanese as racist. I am going to assert that as wrong. It strikes me that, it’s because of the regional-mindedness of Japanese xenophobia. If anything, it’s likely an inheritance from a history of feudal states and civil wars, as well as the Tokugawa shogunate’s 250 years of cultural isolation (backed by punitive martial law). Strangers be dangers.

For an example of how the Japanese actually can treat foreigners, albeit one fluent in their language, look up expat American, Craig Mod. He does these epic “walks” along historical trails and meets all kinds of people in small towns and cities. What’s surprising is how kind and generous people are to him. Then again, so is he. And people respond with some amazing and lovely stories.


But, wherever you go there you are. And you have to figure out how to make the best of it. If you don’t, the world of people tend to want to crush you.

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Yeah, my wife’s personal experiences as an exchange student were mostly very positive as far as how she herself was treated. But she was saddened to hear the way her host families invariably talked so negatively about folks from other regions of Japan. The “inheritance from a history of feudal states and civil wars” may be part of the explanation but folks need to find a way to get past that. Especially when it comes to folks of Korean or Chinese descent who have lived in Japan for generations but struggle to be accepted as full citizens.

Clearly the US has major problems too, and I don’t mean to imply that we’re morally superior in this regard. But Japan does have its own special flavor of discrimination. And one of the black executives from my company that did a stint working at a branch in Japan a few years ago certainly felt that they had a lot of challenges with racism there.


Well, given the roots of US vs Japan discrimination, the fact that ours is systematic and is a product of a history of colonialism and slavery, and theirs is what it is, I suspect the “quality” of the discrimination is different. Ours is the construct that is Racism and theirs is not. My guess is Japanese discrimination—especially against other East Asians—is descended from the hyped-up nationalism poured into the Japanese people from the moment they went to war against Russia and China at the beginning of the 20 Century on to the end of WW2. Yep, my mom showed that, having been born in 1931. Interestingly, her own mother was very kind to the poor Koreans in their town, who needed midwifery and got it for free. So who’s to say?


Kudos on the Buckaroo Bonzai quote, but you’ve told me nothing that I don’t already know all too well, firsthand.


Well they were pretty dang xenophobic for centuries before that too. They forcibly isolated themselves from the rest of the world from 1633 until 1853 when Commodore Perry sailed in, blew some shit up, and said YOU GUYS BETTER OPEN UP TRADING RELATIONS WITH US OR ELSE.

(In retrospect, perhaps not the best way to dispel xenophobic notions.)


They tend to appear to cut foreigners (especially male foreigners) far more slack socially than they would their own. But its in a passive aggressive sort of way. The Japanese weaponize manners and custom. Basically chalking faux pas up to “they are too ignorant to know any better”. Followed by “lets pretend it doesn’t mean anything and talk smack behind their back”

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