A Jamaican Tale From Japan

Hello. You don’t know me. I’m a black woman living here in Japan.

I am writing to tell you that you have an amazing country.

It’s peaceful. Your trains are among the most punctual in the world. Your customer service is remarkable.

And at the end of a class when your students line up, one by one bow, take my hand and say arigato, I cry real tears. I’ve never in my life heard so many ‘thank yous’ for doing what I am supposed to do.


Believe me, you have some awesome traits — you contradict from time to time too — but that’s a whole nother blog.

via Commons

Anyways, today I want to tell you that though you have great qualities, you oftentimes ask some questions that leave me befuddled.

via vexradio.com
via vexradio.com

Now, please don’t think for a minute that I am calling you ignorant. I can’t. Not when I come from a country where everyone of Asian descent is called Mr. or Miss Chin.

I would be the biggest hypocrite if I come at you from a place of casting judgment. All I’m saying is we all need to be a tad bit more informed so as to get rid of common misconceptions and misperceptions.

For example, all black people DO NOT know each other and watching a TED Talk about a black boy named William Kamkwamba does not mean the black teacher in your school will know him. He’s African. I am Jamaican. And NO, Jamaica is not in Africa. And NO all Jamaicans DO NOT know each other either. Stop making these assumptions. It would be tragic if you continue this ‘ish and force a nice, Christian Jamaican girl to lie to you!


If you haven’t read it yet, see why I lie about knowing Usain Bolt here.


Oh, before I forget, those questions you ask— the ones that you also answer yourself — usually with some common preconceived notion — Do you dance? Of course you do, you’re Jamaican. Can you sing? Of course you can, you’re black. — STOP IT!



Next, Micheal Jackson is black. I swear on everything good, righteous and holy. It’s true. So is Beyonce. No joke. Getting in-formation is a Google search away. Google. You’ll see that she came out of the closet and outed herself as black the other day. Again, get information. It will provide an education and prevent my irritation.


Thirdly, my hair DOES NOT grow overnight. If I leave work yesterday with short hair and return with long braids, why on earth would you walk up to me and say ‘ish like: ‘I wish I had black hair. It grow so quick.’

God believe you?

I honestly thought you were pulling my legs until I overheard you explaining how they eat plants that make them good at sport and grow hair. I almost wanted to stop you, but hell I love a good story. Carry on.


Jamaicans speak English. Yes. We do. And you want to hear something even more shocking? Come closer. Some of us read and write it too. Y’asssss. Isn’t that the shizzle ma nizzle?

I get extremely tired of the ‘Where did you learn to speak English?’ question. Tired of it! And while I may give you a pass for genuinely not knowing, that Lauren chick from NYC definitely won’t get one. That’s why when I stood up to introduce myself and she went:

‘Oh my gawd you speak such good English.”

I went: ‘Oh my gawdddd, you do too. Where did you learn?’

Now, that caused tense silence.



Additionally, that other language you hear me speaking when I’m on my phone. The one you’ve asked me to teach you—I can’t. You see when the British colonized my country many moons ago, they split us up out of fear that we would conspire against them and attempt to escape slavery. They forced us to learn English (and we did), but we also came up with our own code language. A language that kept us protected and prevented them from understanding what we were saying. It’s a language born out of colonization, slavery and the plantation system and I owe it to my forefathers to keep it protected. So, no. I won’t teach you. ‘Wha gwa’an?’ is where it begins and ends. Be grateful. Plus, let’s be honest. How else am I going to talk about you to your face like you talk about me to my face? Come on now. Be fair.


DO NOT TAKE PICTURES OF ME! And yes, I meant to shout. The last time I went to the zoo all the animals disappeared because they didn’t feel like being on show. What makes you think I want to? Do I go around touching your hair or snapping pictures of you? No! You know why? Because I know you’re human and apart from the differences in skin colour — and language — and cultural practices, you probably do some of the same human being ish I do, feel some of the same human being emotions I feel and I promise if we both get a cut you’ll see the same colour blood running from our veins. That’s why miss lady on the train when you held up your phone and I saw the flash, I also held up my phone and snapped about half a dozen or so pictures of you. After all, to me you are exotic too.


via crossed-flag-pins.com
via crossed-flag-pins.com

Lastly, I have mad respect for your work ethic. Laud it. Applaud it. But, sincerely, I believe in sanity and peace of mind. My health is my wealth and I’d rather take less pay than burn myself out any day. With that said, lunch time is my time. It is not a time for you to come and ask: ‘Keisha sensei, how do you say this in English?’ Or ‘English nani?’ It is not a time to ask me to check a paper. And it definitely is not a time to ask me to stop eating and show a video on how patties are made!

Do you know the hell I had to go through to get a small taste of patty here? I had to wake up early, get on a train, pay train fare, ride the long journey to Yokosuka, meet up with Miss C. so she can take me onto the military base where I pretend that I am pretending to look and not buy anything while she picks up everything. And please note, if I ask you if you want me to take a patty for you, I’m just being polite. I DO NOT expect you to say yes. Stop saying yes — puleese!


Oh, before I forget, I get that you’re fascinated by everything I do, but that habit of standing directly over me and staring into my plate — I don’t like it. I can respect the fact that you’re upfront with this as you’re very sneaky about everything else, but I still don’t appreciate it. It forces me to pay attention to food presentation (something I could totally ignore if you just stop coming to look) and when you point in my plate and ask, ‘What’s this? and ‘What’s that?’ and ‘Is it handmade?’ it just makes matters worse. I am honestly running out of fancy names to give these dishes and God is not pleased that I am telling you that the boil dumplings in my plate is also called naan. In fact, I am sure if the Indians hear, they wouldn’t appreciate it either.

Listen. I just want to eat my food. Puleese let me eat my food in peace. Please.


Now that I’ve gotten all of that out of the way. I just want to tell you again that you have an amazing country and an enthralling culture and I promise to treasure the memories and make the most of my stay here. Thanks for always leaving sweets on my desk. Thanks for telling me thanks a million times a day for doing the job I am supposed to do. Thanks for taking horse meat for me to eat because I said I’ve never had in in my country. Thanks for the raw fish and wild boar and whale meat. Thank you. Thank you. A thousand thank yous for being so helpful when I get lost. But sincerely — respectfully — let’s try to rid ourselves of common stereotypes. We’re living in the age of information. Let’s get in formation.


Again, much thanks and nuff blessings.


Until next time remember to — wait — a sista’ helped me out the other day and I just have to do a public PSA. For my Japan readers, if you ever need translation services contact Elodie Elvira. Sistren is trilingual and speaks French, English and Japanese. If you’re house-hunting, need someone to interpret the contract terms of your gas bill, electricity bill etc. etc. etc….just add her on FB or shout her out on Black Women in Japan, she’ll answer. Thanks for your assistance sistren. May God guide your journey.

Now. Until next time, remember to:

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