The following conversation took place with a Japanese private student at a café in Yokohama. When she arrived I was in the process of writing and didn’t even notice her til she sat down.
Student: What are you working on?
Me: Huh! oh man, didn’t even see you…how are you?
Student: I’m fine. You look so busy… Is that the ummm black history thing?
Me: Yeah, how’d you know?
Student: You were working on it last week too, deshou?
Me: Oh that’s right… Yeah I’m working on a post about how slavery has been covered in Hollywood.
Student: What is slavery?
Me: Ummm…when you are forced to work and receive no compensation…no money!
Student: No money? Eeeee…
Me: And you have no rights, no freedom.
Student: Eeee…?? nani sore??
(I whip out my iPad and open up the Japanese dictionary app, and show her the Japanese word for slavery…)
Me: Were slaves, and yeah, in America in history most were slaves. So, this post was about how Hollywood portrayed slavery…I focus on two movies mostly, one was actually a television mini series called Roots…do you know it?
Student: Roots? No…
Me: Well, it was a pretty big event in my childhood…I think it is still one of the biggest events in American television history.
Students: I see…Roots, ne? Oh wait! Kunta? KUNTA, right??
Me: Yeah, that’s right! Kunta Kinte! Wow you know it?
Student: Oh yes! All Japanese know it…(She gestures at all the people of her generation sitting in the cafe). I remember when I was a kid everybody watched it. 1977 I think.
Me: That’s right! Wow! This is unbelievable…
(I google Roots and Japan and learn that it was shown here in October 1977, 10 months after it aired in America, dubbed in Japanese, over the course of 8 days just like in the states…with ratings through the roof for a program on Japanese TV. I sat there dumbfounded for a moment, digesting this intel…)
Student: It was about apartheid in America, right?
Me: Huh? Apartheid?
Student: Yes, apartheid…am I saying it right? (She whips out her dictionary and looks it up) oh wait…this is in South Africa, not the US.
Me: Uhhhh…yeah, South Africa. But, there are some similarities so it’s an easy mistake to make.