“I work for the Embassy of Botswana in Japan. I came here in 2017. Life here is good. No complaints. The food is great, I eat everything. Only problem is I don’t speak much Japanese and it’s hard to make friends. Irasshaimase is all I know. Good thing I have fellow African friends in Tokyo. We have a small group and we go out. I’m also being a good ambassador of Botswana, trying to help promote our products. Here, have a look at our brochure. We have so many healthy foods.”
“I’m from Ghana. It’s in West Africa. I’m here on official business, to find investors who would be interested in helping develop my country. We’re rich in agriculture. I’m also here to visit family. My sister is married to a Japanese man. She’s been living here for 29 years. I hope to build ties with Japan more. Ghana is still a long way to go so I hope we can find partners for development.”
“People don’t believe me when I tell them I’m Nigerian. That’s because my ethnic background is from India. Punjab to be exact. But I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, so I speak one of the languages there. Japanese people seem to have a bad image of us because the touts in Roppongi give us a bad name. So I usually don’t reveal my nationality right away. But I want Japanese people to know that most Nigerians have legitimate businesses here in Japan. Today, I’m helping out at the African festival, where we showcase African culture. I’m even dressed in this shirt that’s actually Nigerian design.”
“We’re brothers. We come from Angola and we’ve been in Japan for three years now. Dad’s a diplomat, that’s why we moved to Japan. Little brother here is still in junior high school. Me, I’m training to be a professional soccer player so I can join J1 League when I graduate from senior high school. We’re attending the African Festival in Yokohama today. It’s just upstairs.”
“I’m from Ghana and I do part-time acting and some modeling. But I also have my own apparel shop online, which I’m working on right now. These clothes I’m wearing, I made them myself. I’m trying to introduce African culture and traditional African fashion with a Western twist to Japanese people. We like bright colors where I come from, and Japan also likes bright colors. Japan is my second home now and I love it here. People are extremely nice and kind. We’re all people after all.”
“I like being an African woman so much, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. I like being in Japan but for the first year I had culture shock. My first year, I couldn’t eat Japanese food, but after all that, my life in Japan began to have meaning.
Being an African woman, sometimes people don’t know what to think about me. I got a lot of questions like ‘do you have school in Africa?’ or ‘do you ride elephants to school?’ or ‘do you go to school and meet lions on the way?’ I always told them ‘I saw lions in the zoo just like you’. Japanese people don’t know much about Africa, except East Africa. They assume that East African culture is how the whole of Africa is, which is not true. Africa is so big and they have so many different cultures and cities and villages.
“Living in Japan, I got very used to answering questions about Africa and I’m always happy to answer and give them whatever information I have about it. One day, I was talking with a long time Japanese friend of mine at church, I talked about my job and my students. She said ‘what? Are you a teacher? I thought you were a refugee’. I said ‘well, I’m a teacher, I also studied in Japan that’s why I can speak with you’, she said ‘oh, you studied in Japan, wow’. I was uncomfortable about being an African woman in Japan at first, but now I have totally embraced it and I don’t mind the questions.”
Interviewer: Tac Aquino and Mark Horbury