10 January 2017 ~ 2 Comments

What’s The Status of Black People in Japan?

I received a Troublesome question on Quora about a term I’m not very fond of: “Social Status”. But unfortunately it is a reality we all have to live with and so I’ll answer this loaded question to the best of my ability.

I’ve lived in Japan for over a decade, and still reside here. If I understand your question correctly, I must say, in general, in Japan, if you’re basing social status on “race” (as opposed to economic, or other factors) then there are only two statuses: Japanese and non-Japanese.

This is the binary through which many Japanese see the entire world.

You can breakdown non-Japanese into different social statuses with race considerations (and many Japanese do in my experience) as well. That would leave you with conspicuously non-Japanese and inconspicuously non-Japanese. Through this perception, even Chinese and Koreans have a different (higher?) status than say a mix raced Japanese person.

And you can (and many Japanese indeed do) breakdown the conspicuous and inconspicuous non-Japanese into different statuses as well (in the case where the nationalities are known). For example, the perception of the social status of Chinese and Koreans would be different based on a number of factors including the historical relations Japanese have had with the people of these nations.

And among conspicuous non-Japanese, the status of blacks, whites, middle eastern and east asians is very different.

From persistent questioning of Japanese people over the years, and as a result of being fairly perceptive, there are different social statuses attached to people based on the color of their skin, and black / east asian and middle eastern colors invariably have a lower status than white.

To be fair, I don’t think many Japanese are consciously aware of this favoritism, but it’s clear nonetheless.

The problem being (IMO) that in Japan (as is the case in many countries) things un-Japanese are simplified. Complexities are mendokusai (troublesome) here. So, black is black and white is white…and anyone making a cursory glance at the outside world can see that the dominant culture they’re being exposed to from outside of Japan is Euro-centric. So it becomes easier to humanize a person of European descent because they feel more familiar with them. Their limited exposure to Afro-centric ideas and people (not to mention the bombardment of negative stereotypes brought to them via the euro-centric, as well as their own, media) has left them with very little choice other than to default to their stereotype-plagued presumptions about people of African descent, regardless of the country of our origin.

And so I’d answer your question this way— The Japanese look at the social status of people of African descent, in much the same way they do those of European descent: As utterly alien.

I’d only add that, based on my long experience here, and investigative efforts, when it comes to people of African descent, NOT ALL JAPANESE but many tend to add the status of dreadful, dangerous or best avoided and feel that to be justified to the point of common sense. This sometimes humiliatingly places the onus on people of color here to assert the diversity of our humanity in our everyday lives (“we are no more or less inclined towards good or evil than any other race — including your own!” “we have the same capacity to love and hate as you do” etc…) while we endure all manner of behaviors resulting from people’s discomfort in being in close proximity to people of such a status living in their “society”.

And short of individually becoming a celebrity here, I don’t see that status changing easily. But this is a change I strive towards everyday, cause I happen to love it here, the country and the people. And I believe Japan wants AND needs this. While many Japanese have an unwarranted fear of people of color, I’m thankful at least that it hasn’t been upgraded to an unwarranted hate like it has in some Euro-centric countries.

I can work with fear.

The next generation will have much less of it than the previous, if my and the efforts of MANY black people living here in this lovely country prove fruitful.


Hope that was helpful.


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2 Responses to “What’s The Status of Black People in Japan?”

  1. J. Michael 11 January 2017 at 7:08 am Permalink

    I was discussing this very think with folks back home and one of them said “So it’s just like they treat blacks here!”
    “Uh, No.”

    • Locohama 11 January 2017 at 8:35 am Permalink

      “Just like” is overstating it, “nothing like” is understating it…somewhere in the middle 🙂 Thanks for the shout J. Michael!

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