A Japanese student asks respondents “How does it feel to be black in Japan?”

A Japanese student named Takashii creates YouTube videos where he interviews random strangers on a host of different topics. One of his recent videos shows him asking black people living in Japan about their experience. Takashii asks his questions with respect, and it’s interesting to see how people from different parts of the African diaspora respond to them.

Japan, an island nation in East Asia, is one of the most homogeneous in the world. So when an obvious stranger comes there to visit or live, the locals may regard them with fascination, admiration, suspicion, or all three.

A black American woman featured in Takashii’s video has been teaching English in Japan for six years. She said when she arrived she felt like a “show” because so many people were watching her. She added, “I feel like I’d live anywhere else…people will just watch because they have this notion of black people.”

Takashii asked his opinion on Japanese people styling their hair in dreads. For her, the saying “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” is not enough in this case.

“Some people say it’s ownership, some say it’s appreciation,” she said. “I personally don’t like it, but I can’t make anyone do anything, so I’ll just sit and watch and mind my own business.”

Another Black American who goes by the stage name, J The Protagonist, weighed in.

“My perception, I don’t know how they see me. I have never asked a Japanese adult how he saw me. And nobody told me either.

He said when Japanese companies seek to hire foreigners, they are likely referring to white people. When he performs in a group with other rappers, locals show their support. “Hip-hop is very popular, it’s global,” he said. “We’re getting the love. It’s pretty positive.”

The rapper said black culture is much more valued in the United States than black people. In his opinion, it’s much the same in Japan, but an increase in the black presence there could change that.

Two Kenyan women commented after Takashii slightly changed his original question to “what’s it like to be African in Japan?”

“It’s a bit different for us compared to the whites,” said one. “You get a few stares sometimes, but most of the time nobody cares.”

“I haven’t had any negative experiences in terms of racial identity,” said the second Kenyan. “In my opinion, the Japanese are very hospitable. The looks you get aren’t malicious, people are just curious. She pointed out that the Japanese probably have more contact with black Americans than with Africans, due to the reach of Western media.

A Jamaican expat said: “I have been here for over 10 years. Most of the time I forget what color I am because the Japanese are not racist on the surface. But,” he added, “there are a lot of social rules.” He insisted that if one follows these rules to the best of one’s ability, one will probably be fine.

Part of social protocol is to take off your shoes before entering a house or wear a mask if you have a cold. Respect is at the very heart of Japanese culture.

Travel Noire featured several black people living in Asia. This Cameroonian expat who lives in China, said people were touching her braids without permission. A black woman studying abroad in South Korea has been watched and kept away from certain locations. Other black people living in Asian countries have been singled out and photographed without their consent.

If you are a black person visiting Japan, you will almost certainly catch the attention of the locals. But how you react makes all the difference.