20 September 2017 ~ 2 Comments

Why Japanese People Fear Black People (Confessions of a former Japanese Racist)

In a recent video on his popular YouTube channel “Find Your Love in Japan“, the YouTuber known as “Nobita” decided to tackle a subject that (as you guys well know) is near and dear to me:

Pokemon!

Nah, just kiddin’. Well, actually, not kiddin’ but that’s neither here nor there. Wait, what was I talking about? Oh yeah:

Race Issues in Japan

In the above video, Nobita does something extraordinary and admirable (for anyone, Japanese or otherwise): he admits to harboring racialized notions of another people, and describes the resulting fear and behavior. My praise of this act is, of course, a little biased cuz I did the same thing and advocated that everyone give it a try in my first book, “Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist”.

Until now, I had been pretty critical of some of Nobita’s video for their facile approach to rather complex issues. I simply didn’t believe he was giving the matter enough honest consideration before hopping in front of his camera and spouting off half-baked generalizations about foreigners, and often about black people in particular. The only reason I hadn’t written him off entirely is because my intuition told me that his intent wasn’t simply to clickbait his way to YouTube royalty by pandering to the prejudices of his mostly western audience (all his videos are in English). I did however get the feeling that he was married to the idea that Japanese were getting a bad rep on the global stage due to the misunderstanding of Japanese culture and idiosyncrasies by westerners, particularly complaint-prone black people, living here, and set himself on a cyber-crusade to set the record straight, so to speak.

Can’t really blame him for that. Hell, I’m kinda on a similar crusade my damn self. I just posted today on SMS about my efforts at counter-propaganda, how it’s practically a way of life here, a daily burden you can either choose to ignore or address as a matter of course.

Though the theme of his channel, as the name suggests, is about, in particular, foreigners finding love in Japan (and the majority of his videos are about just that) he does, unavoidably, and wisely, deal with the racial aspects of such unions. Because they inevitably come up in just about every one of these unions. It certainly has in every one of mine over the past 13 years. He doesn’t skirt that reality at all. Kudos!

But, I began to suspect that, over the course of his consistent interviewing of the Japanese public (something he does in order to validate his videos with testimonials from real Japanese people) that he had to be either cherry-picking the testimonials he used or, being Japanese and knowing the extent to which most Japanese people will respond honestly to embarrassing questions posed by a strange guy with a camera on the streets, was conflicted over using such testimonies to support his claims.

Yet, when he posted the above video I was still shocked that the man confessed to have once been racist against black people. I had expected a slow slink to the middle, not a sudden leap. This was the latter.

Immediately upon finishing the video I contacted Nobita and requested the chance to get his thinking behind posting publicly such a bold confession, and to ask him some direct questions about some of his remarks. He agreed, surprisingly, considering some of the blistering critiques I’d given him in the past. Again, kudos!

So, without further ado, here we go:

My Chat with a Confessed (former) Japanese Racist

Baye: Thanks for taking a little time to chat with me Nobita. I really appreciate it!

Nobita: No problem, you’re welcome.

Baye: You’re probably not aware of this, but a few years back I wrote a book called, Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist.

Nobita: Actually I know of that book.

Baye: Oh really! Cuz when I was watching your video I wondered if maybe you’d read it and it gave you the idea to do this video.

Nobita: Haha! No, I didn’t read it.

Baye: Well, I thought what you did was great! Because, in the book, that was exactly the idea I urged people to explore: Their own racist notions and behaviors. And that’s exactly what you did. So, far as I’m concerned, bravo to you, sir! Because people hear that word “racist” and because it’s been demonized so much people have become very resistant to trying it on for size. You know? People are quick to point fingers, but rare is the person with the courage to own it. And, to be honest, in 13 years here, you’re the first Japanese person I’ve met that has done so, at least verbally. Sad, because I believe that’s one way we can progress as a species. Stop demonizing it, stop trying to lynch anyone afflicted with it. I mean, in most societies in the world, it is the rare individual that emerges without some notion of racial or cultural superiority.

Nobita: True.

Baye: I mean, in your case, yours is past and you no longer hold onto that belief system, but I think most people hide it or try to bury it for fear of being discovered. Which is virtually impossible because it’s almost the normal human result of many societies’ indoctrination of their people, or the natural human result of ignorance reinforced by goal-oriented misinformation. Even you, in the video, admitted to being victimized by just that. You didn’t have any information about black people, and what you did get was mainly through the media portrayals of black people, and the result was fear. And only once you addressed that ignorance with effort, little by little you began to learn about black people. And your fear level began to drop. So it never reached the crescendo of hate, as fear tends to do eventually if left unaddressed. At least that’s how it happened for me.

Nobita: Exactly. So our stories are very similar.

Baye: Yes very similar, so I thought, I have to talk to this man. So first question: why did you think making a video like this was important?

“Why did you think making a video like this was important?”

Nobita: Well, I’m teaching Japanese language at a Japanese school in my neighborhood, and we have a bunch of black students. They’re not from the US. They’re from different countries, Africa, Europe, etc… but their skin color is black. And I often hear from them that they experience discrimination in Japan, from Japanese people. They told me that Japanese people get scared just looking at them! Everywhere, at the convenience store, and especially on trains! They said most Japanese people avoid them, they stay away even when the train is crowded! So when I heard those types of stories that got me thinking that maybe Japanese people are subconsciously or unconsciously discriminating against black people. Because from my white students I rarely hear that type of story, or about that type of discrimination. So I asked my Japanese friends did they ever discriminate against black people. And some of them told me honestly that they had. They said that they really didn’t have a good impression of black people. We (Japanese) kind of worship white people because white skin has a high value in Japan. One of my friends said that black people are kinda gross! But he wouldn’t say it on camera, of course. I actually asked them to be on camera but obviously they don’t want to be on camera saying such things because they don’t want to seen as racist. So, I was kinda representing their opinions in my video. I didn’t mention about them on the video.  But deep inside I used to be like them. I didn’t hate at all, just had a kind of fear of black people. When I saw black people, they were so, er, unfamiliar. No offense, but they were like aliens to me.

Baye: I see. No offense taken. You said that your students in your Japanese class spoke of the discrimination they’d experienced. Was this the first time you heard about blacks being discriminated against in Japan? Really??

Nobita: Actually I haven’t spoken to black people much. I have some black friends but they never told me about any bad experiences. Maybe they were hesitant for some reason, but they never did.

Baye: Your previous videos indicate otherwise. Your videos would indicate to the viewer that you talk to black people all the time!

Nobita: Haha, that’s true. Actually some of my black friends told me about their experiences with discrimination. But nothing as terrible as what my students were telling me.

Baye: So, talking to your students is what prompted you to make this video?

Nobita: Yes, exactly.

Baye: OK. Next question, you said in your video something like, “I know you guys are gonna really be angry with me and gonna wanna kill me for saying what I’m saying.” Why do think that people would wanna harm you for confessing to having had racism in your heart in the past?

“Why do you think that people would wanna harm you for confessing to having had racism in your heart in the past?”

Nobita: Because I’ve actually gotten hate emails. Someone actually threatened me!

Baye: Trust me, I get that people on the internet send ugly messages. But for this video? And did you mean Japanese people would be angry? Or black people? Or people in general?

Nobita: Black people, maybe. Because before I made the video, I actually got a LOT of emails from black guys. Some said that I was disgusting, and stuff like that. Any video about race or about black people, I get those kind of responses.

Baye: Ah! You anticipated hate because you usually get hate whenever you make videos about race?

Nobita: Ya! Because this topic is very sensitive, especially in the US. And black people are particularly sensitive about this.

Baye. I see. Well, did you wind up getting any hate mail about THIS specific video?

Nobita: Yes, actually I did.

Baye: Really? What did they say?

Nobita: One guy said, “We, Black people, we will never forgive you!” Yeah, it was actually kinda scary. But that was quite rare, Basically the comments are positive.

Baye: Well, as you know, I’ve been quite critical of some of your videos in the past. If I disagree with an approach you have to a subject, I will say so. When I think you’re making broad generalizations, or being unintentionally condescending, or commodifying blackness, I’ll say so. And the only reason I take the time to do that is because your influence on the net has grown. People are turning to you, as a Japanese person, and therefore to an extent an authority on the thoughts and feelings of Japanese people. At least more so than your typical foreigner talking about Japanese people on Youtube. Your opinions have added credibility because of your subscriber numbers, and your race.

Nobita: I see.

Baye: But, as someone with a great deal of charisma, and using the kind of energy you do when you make your videos, maybe it’s difficult to be nuanced. Cause your style is very “in your face!” So I understand that’s the nature of the beast when it comes to making youtube videos. I just want to make sure that you’re aware of it. But, I think this video was more nuanced than usual, and very valuable.

Nobita: Really? Thank you.

Baye: Yeah, and from what I’ve seen in discussions I’ve had about it on the net, people, meaning confirmed black people, are impressed. And that’s another thing…just because someone claims to be black in your comments means nothing! You know that, right? I mean, if someone in their comments begins their hateful harangue by saying “I’m a black man and…” or “we, black people…” to me that’s a red flag. You get that, right?

Nobita: Yeahhhh, it’s still hard for me to identify people’s race.

Baye: Yeah, it’s tricky. I usually look for red flags. On my blog I used to always get white guys claiming to be black just because they felt by saying “I’m a black man and…” that would add validity to their point, or they could spew some ignorant shit and other readers would say, “oh, those black guys are at it again…” But I know you have to always respect your audience.

Nobita: Yeah. I get a lot of request questions. “Nobita, please make a video about,” this or that.

Baye: Well, you’ve got a refreshing personality, man. The image of your typical Japanese guy is not you. You break the mold, and people can see that, and are attracted to that I think.

Nobita: Hahaha, yeah I’m quite the opposite from your typical Japanese guy.

Baye: Yeah you’re very outspoken, and I like that.

Nobita: Thank you.

Baye: So, the black people you know, real black people, have they responded to this video?

“So, the black people you know, real black people, have they responded to this video?”

Nobita. Nobody responded negatively. My students — they watch my videos — most of them said, I agree with you Nobita, or something like that.  Because I was expressing their opinions in the video. So it was mostly positive feedback. It’s very complicated having your students watch your videos. I was kinda hoping that some of them would say, “that’s not correct, Nobita.” And say that they were having good experiences in Japan, or something like that. Because some black people are enjoying Japan. In fact, some black people have told me they’ve become happier in Japan, specifically in their dating lives. But my black students, they have had really bad experiences. I’m sorry about that.

Baye: Well, you don’t need to be sorry. It’s not your fault. Besides you’re in a position where you can actually inspire change, because you have an audience, and a big megaphone, and people are listening to you! Japanese are listening to you, and non-Japanese are listening to you, too, so take advantage of your power, but be responsible. Do you ever make videos in Japanese or translate them into Japanese?

Nobita: Making subtitles is very difficult. You can’t just translate, because we don’t have the nuance. I actually like to use English as much as I can.

Baye: I hear you. But I think what you have to say, particularly in this video we’re discussing, would be very useful for other Japanese people to hear. In fact, I’d argue it’s more important for Japanese people to hear that message than for non-Japanese.

Nobita: Yeah…actually I got quite a few comments from Japanese people. Mostly they were angry or defensive, saying they don’t have those types of stereotypes about black people.

Baye: Yeah, I can see that. But then you know that there are also people like your friends who were afraid to come on camera and speak the truth.

Nobita: Yeah, nobody wants to say such things on camera. Maybe that’s a kind of tatemae (建前 polite fiction).

“Yeah, nobody wants to say such things on camera. Maybe that’s a kind of tatemae (建前 polite fiction).”

Baye: Yeah, glad you brought that up. In the video, the way you used the expression “tatemae”, it seems like you’re saying that it’s a tool that Japanese people use to mask their racism?

Nobita: Yeah, I think that it’s a way for Japanese to hide their true feelings. They don’t want to say anything bad or uncomfortable in front of you. You feel that, right?

Baye: Me? Hmmm. Chotto ne. But I’m like your students, as far as my experience here goes. But I also have many positive experiences, too. That’s life. A combination of both. But maybe tatemae is a way to try to escape or hide from the negative. You know?

Nobita: It’s a kinda natural behavior, natural acting, as a human being. Not just Japanese, but all humans use tatemae. But maybe Japanese use it too much? Because they don’t like honesty in public, I think.

Baye: So, what was your intention in making this video? What did you hope to achieve?

 “So what was your intention in making this video? What did you hope to achieve?”

Nobita: Well, I don’t want people to come to Japan too optimistically. Some of them think that Japan is heaven or paradise or something like that. But actually in Japan there is discrimination, so I’m kinda hoping that people will be prepared for discrimination or even racism. Because it actually exists here. I mean, you might not experience it all the time, but they shouldn’t come here with too high expectations. That was my intention. Of course there are good things here too, but I think many foreigners, especially black people — because my previous videos kind of gave them a very positive impression of Japan — maybe they think they want to escape the discrimination of America or their own country, and think if they come to Japan it’ll be better.

“Well, I don’t want people to come to Japan too optimistically. Some of them think that Japan is heaven or paradise or something like that.”

Baye: Wait, so when you were making those previous videos, you already knew about the discrimination here. Right? So were they “tatemae” videos?

Nobita: No no no…actually, that was not intentional. Because my videos are usually street interview videos, not my personal opinion. Those videos do not reflect my personal opinion. People want to know the public’s opinions, not my personal opinion, right?

Baye: When you speak to people on the street do you really feel like they’re opening up and speaking honestly? Or are they giving you the tatemae?

Nobita: Actually some people do and some people don’t. It really depends on the person, and on the subject.

Baye: But if you use a “tatemae’d” response to your questions in your youtube video, do you feel conflicted about that?

Nobita: Actually yes. I do. I do feel conflicted. That’s my struggle.

“I do feel conflicted. That’s my struggle.”

Baye: I feel you, man. I have the same struggle when I interview black people, sometimes. They don’t want to be negative in their responses. They don’t want to say stuff like what your students say, at least not for print. They want to say, “Life is wonderful, I love Japan, I have no problems here!” and I’m like “really tho? Come on, I can’t write that. I can’t write that this is nirvana.” So when I get stuff like that I have to wonder if these people are delusional, or blinded by japanophilia or something, because humans are capable of that. We can ignore anything. We can blind ourselves to anything, both ways. Blind ourselves to the positive as well as to the negative. But over the course of the interview I have to trust my instincts and intuition as to whether the person has a balanced perception of reality…you know? It’s important to be careful with that kind of thing because people are reading my work, and watching your videos. And when they see some pretty Japanese girls saying “Oh I love black guys. They’re the coolest guys in the world!” that’s gonna have an impact.

Nobita: Haha, yeah and people watching the video do get influenced by that.

Baye: They do, don’t they?

Nobita: Yeah, it’s kind of dangerous.

Baye: Chotto ne. And people are gonna blame you when they come here and find that the Japan that you illustrated on the video is not quite syncing up with the reality.  They gonna say, “I came to Japan because Nobita’s videos told me Japanese girls love black guys!”

Nobita: Yeah, maybe some people.

Baye: Guess you can flash a “YMMV” (Your Mileage May Vary) type disclaimer on all your videos.

Nobita: Yeah I do say so on all my videos, in the notes.

Baye: Glad to hear it! Well, thank you Nobita for your time and for sharing your thoughts.

Nobita: You’re welcome.

Nobita’s channel is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds, and if this video is any indication of where it might be headed, you surely won’t want to miss what he has in store! Check out his YouTube Channel HERE:

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2 Responses to “Why Japanese People Fear Black People (Confessions of a former Japanese Racist)”

  1. Savvy 27 September 2017 at 9:59 pm Permalink

    I’ve kind of skimmed through this blogpost, but I got the gist of it. Someone forwarded me the clip of the video he made, and from what I could tell, whenever he says “black people” he almost always means black Americans. The image Japanese people have of black people is from the movies they watch.. that of a loud and violent person. About black Africans, they know next to nothing. So of course ignorance is to blame. As a black African in Japan, it’s doubly hard trying to be the African representative, explaining the complexity of cultures, history, etc of an entire continent of 55 countries.

    Nobita seemed a little shocked from the video when he went to New Orleans and didn’t get any special treatment that he may have expected because maybe he thinks his light skin makes him somewhat better than us? And also many of us (black people) don’t have tatemae. We tell it as it is. So he must have got the shock of his life in the US.

    • Locohama 27 September 2017 at 10:02 pm Permalink

      Yeah, he wasn’t quite there yet. But I think he may be on the right path. We’ll see. Thanks for the shout.


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