If there is anything that I took away from a week long trip in Japan, then it would be that some exposure to Japanese is essential. Watching over 500 episodes of Dragonball Z just doesn’t cut it like you’d expect. This obvious fact hit me in the face on the first day that I arrived in Tokyo, when in the airport, I attempted to speak Japanese to the bus ticketer. Mind you, I have never formally studied Japanese. Ever. But, surely my Toonami-filled childhood would prepare me for and the feat before me. Sike!
Luckily my friend good friend @blkgirlajin gave me key phrases that I am sure I butchered. The two phrases that I know I nailed were “do you speak English and/or Chinese” and “Where is the bathroom?” Toi re wa doko desu ka. I knew that if there were one thing that I needed to pop out on, it would be this one phrase. So I mastered the heck out of that phrase, reciting it like poetry.
However, simply knowing how to ask where the bathroom is does not help you in other social situations so, my best bet was a lot of non-verbal queues and hand gestures, and I am proud to say it worked. I successfully made my way onto the bus that took me to Mitaka, Tokyo where this chapter of my adventure started.
I was definitely nervous about getting around everywhere but the one constant that gave me courage the whole time was, “If white people can do it, then my beautiful black self is going to do it better.” The way a lot of people think about travel, in my opinion, excludes Black narratives. The majority of travel commercials about going to some romantic island or a cruise feature either the white, happy couple or the white pseudo-functioning family. I never saw myself in the ads geared toward consumers. As I got older, however, I did see some color diversity on study abroad pamphlets. There was always one brown person lodged somewhere in the photo. I wish I could say that I thought that was me but back then, I couldn’t imagine myself traveling out of the country because my family didn’t really do that. That wasn’t our thing. But, then I was presented with the opportunity to go to Madrid, Spain when I was sixteen. Everything changed and I’ve been #ontherun2 since then.
I was running to Tokyo but I had no idea what would await me while I was there. Well, that’s a half-truth. I knew that my friend, Qadira, would be at the station waiting to welcome me. She had been studying in Japan since late summer of 2017, and she spoke the language. QUITE BOMB-ly if I do say so myself. Sometimes, when she would talk, I’d be so thrown off by how great her Japanese sounded.
Here’s an old twin photo of me and Qadira.
She was an amazing host and she volunteered her time everyday when I was there to do something cool with me. I did come at the end of the year so a lot of places had certain closing policies for the end of the year celebration. But, that also meant that I got to live out my dream that I thought would only happen in manga. I got to visit the shrines in the start of the new year!
Thanks to my friend, I ate lots of good food. Sushi was actually the first meal that I had when I arrived and once I saw the sushi chefs and the conveyer belt I knew I was really far from home. I WAS IN JAPAN! (Click to check out my reactions to eating ramen for the first time in Japan. Yes, I recorded the moment because it was monumental.)
My first full day in Tokyo fast approached and I felt like I was truly living my best life. You could not tell me that I was not finessing. It was an honor to be in Tokyo but I wasn’t just there for my own fun but for work. I was pursuing a project about global blackness, different interpretations of blackness and black narratives, and my chosen location was Japan. I spent all of my 2017 summer in Taiwan, my first time is East Asia. That was a different feat in and of itself. It’s also a different story to be told another day. But, the fact of the matter is that I went to East Asia for the first time ever AND by myself.
Me and my host family at a huge buddhist temple in Tainan, Taiwan.
I had never imagined that I would be a traveler! I recognize that the things I am doing are not the case for a lot of people where I’m from, and I’m very grateful for all of these opportunities. I’d like for more African Americans to travel abroad, to have positive experiences, and to expand our narrative and shut down bs simply by our being where people don’t expect. But, of course that inevitably coincides with money and often, education, but don’t have me get on my soap box about the lack of opportunity for travel abroad in my community. That is for the next post. The point is that I, a native of the beautiful Chicago’s South Side, was in Japan. And by golly, that’s dope.
It was this type of dopeness that inspired by project. I realized that the accolades that I was achieving truly impacted my blackness and my interpretation so I wanted to see how different cultural contexts plays a role in black identity and the first person to allow me to interview her was Qadira.
We’ll learn about her story in the next post.