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'I’ve honestly never felt more free': new video shares how Black Americans feel living in Japan

·3 min read

“Living while Black in Japan” is a short documentary made by filmmaking couple Keith Bedford and Shiho Fukada about what it’s like for Black Americans living in Japan.

About the film: The documentary, uploaded to NPR’s YouTube channel, features three women and three men from the Black American community in Japan who shared their views on sensitive topics such as police and racism in the U.S.

  • George Floyd’s killing had struck a chord among the interviewees, with some expressing concern that the same could happen to their loved ones back in the U.S.

  • LaTanya Whitaker, a gospel teacher and a restaurant owner in Japan, said it scares her that the incident is “something that can happen to my husband or to my son.”

  • Expressing the same fear, Rivonne Moore noted that racism in America has kept her in Japan. “Yeah, I did not intend to stay for 12 years,” she said. “But here I am.”

  • A worker in music and entertainment, interviewee Ebony Bowens moved to Japan immediately after graduating from university in New York. “You know, I can do things here in Japan that I can't do...back at home, in the U.S.”

  • Tamru Grant’s words seemingly echoed Bowens’ sentiments. He said that he found freedom while living in Japan because he felt targeted back in the U.S. “It's a really tense situation… when you see this white cop coming towards you, especially if it's two.”

  • Grant said about his experience in Japan: “Living in Japan, as an African American, I've honestly never felt more free.” He talked about how he can catch a cab without even trying, and that he can say “good morning” to an old Japanese woman and she will look him in the eye and say “good morning” back without any fear.

  • Henry Moreland Seals, who has been working in Japan for 24 years, shared stories of kindness from strangers he met in Japan. He recounted a story where he was walking and came across a garden. An old man who owned the garden invited Seals and his friend in. The Japanese man then offered them free vegetables, like tomatoes. Seals says, seemingly in disbelief, “He was just friendly and kind.”

  • He also noted that in Japan, “We didn't have to worry whether someone was gonna call the police on us. That we were going to get shot, that we were going to get assaulted,” whereas in the U.S. this is a present fear in many Black Americans’ lives.

  • Tyrone Jones II noted that there is black fear in the U.S. because they are viewed “less of a person, more of a threat.” He acknowledged, however, that since Japan is an extremely homogeneous society, he still sticks out “like a sore thumb.”

  • The interviewees noted that the media still plays a huge role in how Japanese view African Americans, and they are working to “dispel as many myths as possible.” They talk about how in the U.S., it’s racism but in Japan, it’s ignorance.

  • Grant says, “Have I felt racial bias in Japan? It’s hard to answer that question because not really.”


About the filmmakers: Bedford, who is African American, and Fukada, who is Japanese, moved from New York to Japan three years ago so their son could learn more about Japanese culture, according to NPR.

  • Bedford said that while he likes living in Japan, he still feels a sense of being an outsider in the country. Fukada reportedly felt the same feeling of being the “other” when they were living in the U.S.

  • The family put their plans of returning to America on hold after the killing of George Floyd as they were worried that Bedford or their son could fall victim to the same violence.

  • With their film, Bedford and Fukada are hoping to inspire a more accepting and welcoming society in both Japan and the U.S.


Featured Image via NPR

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