Japan has much to teach us if we take the time to listen.
The nation has been good to me. Two and half years after moving to Tokyo all I can think is that I wish I moved here sooner.
I have been a digital nomad for the better part of the last decade doing AI and software consulting for startups. It’s lucrative work that lets me live anywhere I want.
I have traveled all over the Caribbean (where my family is from), North America, and East Asia. Since early 2016 I have been settled in the heart of Japan’s massive capital city.
It’s a glorious place to live, especially for cyberpunk nerdy types. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a city with faster wifi, comfier internet cafes, and better deals on cheap manga and games.
It gets even better once you learn the language. Japanese guys make for great drinking buddies (even if they’re all lightweights) and Japanese girls are some of the sweetest and most feminine ladies you’ll ever meet.
I would recommend visiting Japan to just about any American regardless of background. It really opens your eyes to see a major city center bustling with millions of people and they’re all the same race.
You see teenage girls leave their cellphones on a restaurant table to save a seat, secure in the knowledge that no one will steal it. You see unmanned farm stands where people in the community just trust that people will put the right amount of money into the box and take the right amount of vegetables. You see passed out drunk businessmen in the street who know that when they wake up the next morning they still will have their wallet and shoes.
It’s a trip coming from NYC. None of those things are even remotely possible there.
Japanese people truly are some of the nicest folks you will ever meet. Even younger people and teens have good manners.
I remember having my mind blown the first time I visited public school classroom with 30 Japanese 14-year-olds. When the teacher walked in they all stood up in unison, bowed, and said, “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!” (sort of like, “Thanks teacher!” in this context).
You’re not getting that sort of respect from Harlem public school kids, I can tell you that from experience.
As cool as Japan is, it’s not for everyone – certainly not to live anyway. There are some ugly truths you have to get used to if you stay for any length of time.
One is that, no matter how hard you try to fit in, you’ll always be seen as an outsider if you are not of Japanese blood. It doesn’t matter if you become a citizen either.
It’s not like the United States where anyone and everyone can become ‘American’ just by hanging out in the country for a while. (It’s only the last few decades that Americans have really ramped up this belief and history will have the last word on whether or not it was a good idea)
Asian countries define their people by blood, not paperwork or soil.
Black and white people who grow up in places like China, Korea, and Japan all know this. It doesn’t matter if they are fully assimilated into the culture and speak nothing but that country’s language at a native level; if you are of a different ethnicity, you just aren’t one of them.
Racism is very open and very polite in Japan. No one is ever going to call you a ‘nigger’ (bakakokujin in Japanese) to your face.
Instead, you will just run across the occasional night spot that has a “Japanese Only” sign written in English. Try to enter and the proprietor will come out and bow and apologize a hundred times while asking you to leave. Try to rent an apartment and the real estate agent will casually mention that such and such landlords simply do not rent to foreigners.
That said, I have experienced far less racist treatment in Japan than in the United States.
To me, the two most important facts about Japanese culture are these:
1. It is a healthy, productive culture with high social trust.
2. It is a culture that changed very quickly.
After WW2 Japan went from being a violent fanatical belligerent society to one of the world’s most peaceful. Japanese today enjoy high standards of living and the longest lifespans of any people.
Though many blacks today do not realize it, our community too underwent very quick cultural change only a few decades ago. Black men and women used to have a higher rate of marriage than whites. We had lower crime rates, higher employment, and higher rates of church attendance. Ours was a community defined by its strong nuclear family.
What happened in the 1960’s that turned everything around so suddenly? How is it that today black women only have a 1 in 4 chance of getting married? How is it that our community commits so much crime, consumes so much welfare, and rears so many of its children in broken homes?
Some on the far right blame it on IQ, but that wouldn’t explain why things were so much better before the Civil Rights movement. Many in our community want to blame white people, claiming that we’re still oppressed.
African and West Indian immigrants, who regularly outperform whites, would beg to differ.
In 1945, after having two atomic bombs dropped on them, the Japanese had every right to establish a victim culture and blame whitey for decades of struggle. They didn’t.
Instead, they got to work rebuilding. They applied their ancient cultural attitudes of honor and discipline to a new capitalist global world order and they succeeded.
Today, people around the world drive Japanese cars, listen to music on Japanese stereos, play Japanese video games, watch Japanese anime, eat Japanese food, and study Japanese martial arts and admire Japanese women.
Blacks need to retake ownership of their culture. We too need to reclaim our honor and act with discipline.
Let’s let Trump be the political nuclear bomb that catalyzes dramatic change in our community.
Let’s start taking a critical look at the media and political narratives we consume. Both are pushed on us by white progressives more concerned with illegal immigrants and transgenders than black American citizens with centuries of roots in America.
Perhaps it is time to create new narratives – new politics and new media – by us and for us.
Let’s work to clean up our own lives and build an ownership culture that creates positive change in our families and neighborhoods.
Honor and discipline – if we take only those two ideas as examples from the Japanese, we will as a community have a path back the cultural and familial stability we once enjoyed, only now without the anchor of white racism and Jim Crow.
Imagine the things we might accomplish…
About the Author:
The Renegade of Funk is a Jamaican-American software consultant and entrepreneur based in Tokyo. He is an accomplished writer, teacher, and a member of Mensa, an international organization for high IQ men and women. To hear more from him check out his YouTube channel and blog.