Tokyo Drift, Anybody?

Asian Spotlight

While the experiences of many African Americans throughout Asia have been varied — some travelers experiencing racism and/prejudices in certain countries — Japan is rarely one of them.

Personally, traveling to Asian countries had never really been on my radar growing up. I found that the very little amount of things that I knew about Asian cultures and practices were very hard to relate to, and that I would not enjoy my time there as much as I would somewhere else. These premature thoughts of mine came from many sources. Firstly, the large amount of reputation that I had known of Asian culture and traditions was that many Asian cultures put an extremely high amount of pressure on their women to be beautiful and submissive. This was a major turn off. As a child, one of my favorite movies was Mulan, for many reasons. However, one thing that I would always pick up on when watching this film was how many expectations and standards that the young Chinese women were held up to.

In the scene in which Mulan is being prepared to meet her “matchmaker” so that she may be married off in order to “bring honor” to her family — (Which, hello? Freedom to marry whoever we want, anyone?) — her loved ones cover her in pale make-up, dress her in waist-cinching attire, and send her off as though she is merely an object of desire and nothing more. This never sat well with me. Furthermore, hearing the stories of feet-binding, skin bleaching, any many other beautification processes and practices, I had never grown a strong desire to travel to Asia. It was not until later that I realized that every culture has it’s areas of improvement. However, that it when I began seeing the issues of race upon Asian cultures.

Through personal accounts, many stories have been shared with me concerning how my African American peers have felt uncomfortable, judged, and looked down upon while traveling in different Asian countries such as China, South Korea, Vietnam, and even Thailand. A few years back, a Chinese Laundry detergent commercial caused quite a stir on the global spectrum.

In this commercial, the blatant racism lies in the fact that she so-calls “cleanses” the man of his impurities and imperfections, turning the black man into a new-and-improved * major eye-roll 🙄* Asian man. Seeing this commercial didn’t exactly make me drop my schoolwork and book the next flight to Asia, either.

My childhood friend that is half Taiwanese, half African American, would always say that she was never accepted by her Taiwanese culture because of her darker skin tone. She would never feel accepted by her father’s black family, and would never feel accepted by her mother’s Taiwanese family. This is common among many cultures — darker skin, no matter what ethnicity, usually comes with the territory of being made fun of, to feel unwelcome, to feel lesser than one’s lighter skinned counterparts. Whether you are a darker skinned African American, Latino, Indian, Middle Eastern, and yes even Asian, you are bound to face certain obstacles that are not in front of everybody. However, according to many accounts, Japan doesn’t seem like a place where this great binary is dwelled upon.

A majority of online bloggers and travelers have actually said that there is a great appreciation for diversity in not just Tokyo, but Japan as a country. Many black travelers recollect their experiences in Japan as very welcoming, culturally excepting, and friendly. Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world, and as one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, it’s population is only continuing to grow in it’s diversity. It is very commendable that the Japanese recognize this, and are reputably extending welcome to any and all forms of people. It seems to be a general consensus that as long as you make an effort to learn the Japanese customs, the language, and are respectful in your mannerisms, the same actions will be reciprocated towards you.

Many aspects of civilian culture in Tokyo are very similar to that of American pop-culture, specifically those aspects with a heavy African American influence. Today in the 21st century, it is not a hidden feat that the Afro-Japanese population is increasing, and they have been increasingly more accepted and integrated into the Japanese society. This continuously growing group of people are occasionally referred to as Black Tokyo, and serves as a network of people from similar backgrounds who are going through the same obstacles in life adjusting to fitting within their Japanese, ergo Asian, society. Black characters in Japanese anime is very common, as well as many black entertainers in the music industry, and many others. Something that displays this dynamic well is the movie, Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift.

Now while I understand that it is simply an American movie (especially one with Bow Wow in it), and is certainly not 100% factual, this is a part of the culture in Tokyo in reality, and I believe that the movie did a very well job is displaying the diversity of those living in Tokyo, as well as the acceptance that Tokyo has towards not only the Afro-Japanese, but the influence that it has on their lifestyles as well. The scene above, like the rest of the movie, is filled with African American influences and similarities to vibes that one might find right back here in the states, from the music to the type of parties to verbiage and slang used throughout the movie.

Another embodiment of the international influence that African is the creation and recreation of Hip-Hop. One of my personal international music favorites, the song “It G Ma” by Korean rapper Keith Ape and Japanese rapper Kohn, has gone viral over media, heavily applauded by a large majority of people.

However, striking similarities between this song and African American rapper OG Maco’s “U Guessed It” track have sparked a large amount of debate on whether or not they copied the song, it’s authenticity, etc., etc.. Sometimes, the influence that we have on other nations is larger than what we thought it was.

Seeing how the heritage and culture of your people effects different ethnicities and communities all over the world, and seeing the sway in which that African heritage is digested and modified to fit in with other country’s cultures is a truly incredible sight to witness, and I believe that Tokyo is a perfect embodiment of this African Diaspora. While some in today’s society are quick to scream “Cultural Appropriation”… there is a fine line between that and cultural appreciation.

So are you down to ride? Or drift I should say…