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Loco in Yokohama: Are You African?

Last updated on August 12, 2013


Two very interesting posts from Loco in Yokohama that deal with stereotypes and very common perceptions about race and ethnicity in Japan. Feel free to comment on both Black Tokyo and Loco in Yokohama.

In Part 1 of the Loco in Yokohama, “Are You African? post:

The other day in class, the Japanese English teacher asked me what languages could I speak. The simplest answer would have been English only. I mean, as far as fluency is concerned it is the only language I know. However, from grades 1 through 8, I was heavily exposed to Swahili (an African language spoken in Kenya, Tanzania and other East African countries) and between HS and University another 8 years were spent gnawing and yawning at the French language. So, in the spirit of teaching the students that there are more than two languages in the world, I answered, “Of course, English, but also a little Swahili, French and Japanese .

The students were of course familiar with English, and with French as well. But the Japanese teacher had to explain Swahili a little.

“Are you African?” one student asked, innocently.

“Uh…no,” I said, after a brief hesitation during which 500 feelings flash-flooded my heart.

“Did you live in Africa before?” Another student asked.

“No…not really.” Another flash flood…

The reason the students had asked was simple deductive reasoning: If you speak an African language you must be African. They didn’t ask me if I were French or British, though I speak languages originating from those areas as well.”

In Part 2 of the Loco in Yokohama,”Are You African?” post:

“Are you African?” I asked.  In Japan, I’ve learned that black is black. I’ve yet to meet a Japanese person who could distinguish between African-American and African. Though there are many variations of African and of African-American rarely have I been unable to ascertain with a glance whether a person was from my quadrant of the globe or from The Motherland. I might mistake a Caribbean person, especially Haitian or Cuban, for African, but rarely an American. There are distinct physical differences usually.  Skin tone is usually not the cue though people from certain African countries have a certain density of blackness uncommon in the States. Facial structure is usually how I can distinguish between us and them and Terrence’s screamed African, though clearly diluted by Asian, probably Japanese.

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  1. Natural Girl Natural Girl October 10, 2009

    I think as people in general we shouldn’t make too many haste assumptions. I attended an extremely diverse university, but often there would be a mistake made in identifying someone’s race for another. I used to be mistaken for an African from the Ivory Coast. Unsure of what that means, but I’m African-American or proudly what many of us say “Black”. It’s happened so much, that even Africans thought I was full African. I’m not offended by this, but I’m pretty sure because of the wrong assumption made they thought so.

    I love the site, my husband and I are very interested in visiting Tokyo, especially due to its lovely culture and his heavy involvement in martial arts.

  2. Bola Bola March 9, 2014

    I believe Black will always be Black regardless of your skin tone, hair texture or facial features. Most black people prefer not to be called Africans (even though we all are) not because they aren’t ‘from’ Africa (some are from the US[African Americans], Europe, etc.) but because over the years Africa has been branded quite negatively. I think all Black people are African by virtue of their skin color whether toned light or not. Black people outside of the motherland need to learn to accept who they are and be proud of it, remember its not what people call you that defines you, its what you answer to.

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