Amelia and special guests Lizzie Visitante, Jacqueline-Elizabeth Cottrell, and Minami discuss their experiences with, and provide advice for, learning Japanese as women of color!
Date Recorded: Sunday 15th April 2018
Guests: Lizzie Visitante, Jacqueline-Elizabeth Cottrell, Minami
0:01:29 Learning Japanese as WOC
0:11:50 Being WOC in Japan
0:26:01 Language meetups and East Asian fetishization
0:31:14 Dating outside your race
0:39:23 Perceptions of black women in Japan
0:43:06 White preference in language exchanges
0:47:41 Representations of foreign women in Japanese media
0:57:54 Treatment of foreign women in Japan
1:03:34 Advice for women or nonbinary people learning Japanese
AMELIA: Hi, everyone, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name’s Amelia. I’m the editor-in-chief of Anime Feminist, and I’m joined today by Jax, Lizzie, and Minami to talk about what it’s like to learn Japanese. So, if you guys would like to introduce yourselves…
JAX: Hi, guys! I’m Jax. I am with Noir Caesar Entertainment as their entertainment manager and spokesmodel, and I am a person of color—I’m a black woman—and my pronouns are she/they/them/her/him, et cetera.
LIZZIE: Hi, my name is Lizzie. You know me on Twitter as ThatNerdyBoliviane, @LizzieVisitante. You can find me anywhere. I go by they/them. I identify as Quechua Mestize, and you can find most of my stuff republished on ShojoPower.com. Used to write for Anime Complexium, but it has since shut down. You can find my newer stuff on Black Girl Nerds and Anime Feminist.
MINAMI: Okay, so I’m Minami. You can find me on Twitter @sakaimii, two I’s. And yeah, I live in Japan, and I work at a mobile game company and also draw manga and am really trying to debut in Japan. [laughs]
AMELIA: It’s very exciting. We’re gonna get onto that topic later actually, because I’m sure tons of people are curious about this. But specifically, the topic we’re looking at today is learning Japanese as a woman of color or somebody who is a nonbinary person of color with more feminine presentation, who’s perceived as a woman of color, because it is quite a different experience to that of white people learning Japanese. And most of the conversation out there centered around the experience of learning Japanese as a second language tends to be focused on the experiences of white people.
And we’re not talking about all people of color, just to be clear, because, again, “people of color” in itself is a term from a very white-as-default lens, and the experience of somebody who looks Japanese or who looks East Asian learning Japanese is very different to what we’re going to be discussing.
So, we’re going to give a little bit of an introduction to give more insight into our own racial backgrounds and our experiences with Japanese so that you all understand the context that we’re speaking about this from.
But basically, this episode came about because Jax and Lizzie and I have been recording the Michiko & Hatchin watchalong for a few weeks now, and this was an entirely organic conversation that just sprung up after recording one day where we just spoke quite passionately about the experiences that we had had learning Japanese and how we felt that it had been quite different for us than the experiences of our white peers. So, it seemed worth talking about.
This is something that I’ve absolutely discussed with Minami in the past. We’re old friends, and we’ve talked about this previously, but we don’t find a lot of discussion on it in public. So, I’m hoping that we can put this conversation out there and maybe give people a new perspective to think about, to consider, and maybe even spark some more conversations from other people of color who have very different experiences learning Japanese or similar experiences that resonate with what we’re going to be discussing.
So, to start with, just a self-introduction. I am mixed race. I’m South Asian and white British mixed, and I look brown. [chuckles] And I went to Japan as part of my Japanese studies degree, which I did in the UK. I lived in Japan. I attended Japanese university. After graduation, I lived with a Japanese family. I lived with Japanese housemates. I’ve worked in Japanese companies. And I’ve tried really hard to maintain my level of Japanese through one-on-one language exchange sessions and through going to meetups.
And I actually stopped for a few years, during which my Japanese level kind of declined, but it’s still pretty decent. I was probably about a JLPT level 2 when I graduated. Probably could’ve studied it up to level 1 at that time if I’d decided I wanted to learn an extra 500 kanji, which I really didn’t. And at this point, it’s dropped a bit below, but I’ve just recently rejoined Japanese study through WaniKani, which is a kanji learning app which Peter actually recommended to me. He’s been doing it for a while, and I’ve found it really useful so far. So that’s sparked a lot more thinking about how we approach Japanese learning.
So Jax, how about you? What’s your experience and background in this?
JAX: Well, I am Black. I wouldn’t say “mixed race,” because colonization, everything like that. I’m heavily Irish on my father’s side, heavily English on my mother’s side. And my experience has been that learning Japanese—I originally got into it around high school sometime, and this was because I’d gotten into—
Well, no, it was probably a lot earlier because I got into anime and manga as a child. And I hated that I really couldn’t quite understand what was being said, because certain anime hadn’t been dubbed. I had just been finding it or borrowing wherever I could. And I think my first experience was with Crying Freemen. So, I started wanting to learn Japanese and experience— It was so confusing, just in general, especially my family, who is just the quintessential blackest family you can imagine.
JAX: It’s like, “Where have we gone wrong? Not only does our daughter not want to play with Barbies, but she’s playing video games and she’s reading all this Japanese weird stuff. Now, she’s trying to learn the language. Where did we go wrong?” And so, I really had to rely on my primarily white friends who were speaking the language because, you know, it’s just weird for any Black person to want to learn another language outside of Spanish.
So, for me the experience was—this is literally the biggest thing I would get—“Why are you trying to be white by learning to speak Japanese?” And to this day, it still does not make any sense.
JAX: I know, it doesn’t make sense! It doesn’t make sense! I know how dumb that sounds! It doesn’t make sense! I have tried to make it make sense, and I’m just like, “No, it doesn’t work.”
JAX: So, I have primarily been learning through anime and manga. My biggest influence has been music. And when it comes to anime and music and from video games, et cetera, I would just love the music and want to know what was being said, so I’d go and I’d look up the lyrics in the romaji and then match it to the music and continually study the lyrics and study what the meanings meant and look up the meanings on their own, making sure that I was understanding exactly what was being said.
So that is how I came to learn most of Japanese, along with studying with friends and online studying, just everything I could to help me prepare for it. I’ve never had a formal class on it, but I am still learning enough to where I can kind of hold a conversation. I can listen; I can’t read it. I can’t fully comprehend it, but I’m really learning, because I’m trying to get to Japan in September.
AMELIA: Which is exciting, because actually I’m always really happy to hear when people go to Japan when they’re slightly older. You have this period after university and graduation when a lot of people go to Japan, early- to mid-20s. And then after that, it does tend to taper, so I’m always really pleased to hear about people who are going when they are later 20s or even early 30s, like me. So, I’m really happy that you’re actually going.
JAX: Thank you. I feel like I’m super late going there, but I’m also kind of glad that I’m going during this period as an adult, because now I have all of these highly weeby misconceptions out of my [audio cuts out]—
JAX: —I had in high school, thinking, “I’m gonna go to Japan, and it’s not gonna be a racist country or anything like that, and I’m gonna fit in and people are gonna” [audio cuts out]… Not going in with those blinders on. So I actually am grateful to be going later.
AMELIA: I can totally understand that. We’ll get on to Japan and weeby misconceptions soon, because we’re gonna be talking to Minami. But first of all, Lizzie, if you’d like to introduce yourself and your experience?
LIZZIE: Okay. So, yeah, as I said earlier in the mini-intros, I identify as Quechua Mestize. If folks don’t know, Quechua is an indigenous group of people that live in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Argentina, I think, as well. “Mestize,” it means “mixed race” even though the word is such a very loaded term. It derives from “mestizo,” which is the actual word, but I’m using a more gender-neutral term of it. But I’m not gonna get into that term because there’s literally class lectures on it. So, I’ll leave it at that. That’s my background.
And I started learning Japanese officially when I started university, but I was very much introduced to it by watching anime, reading manga back in the day when Toonami on Cartoon Network was on all the time. That was my first introduction to anime, so I’ve been watching anime for a really long time, as well with cartoons. And so, because I’ve always loved storytelling, I think that was my best introduction for stories taking me seriously as an audience at a young age. And that just sparked my interest in learning the language on my own.
And after university, I’ve studied the language independently. I still haven’t actually been to Japan because I haven’t been able to afford it, but I’d like to go, now that I’m older and I have a lot of the annoying misconceptions out of the way about the country, so, if I ever get a chance to go, I think I’ll be able to enjoy my experience there a lot better and be able to catch a lot of nuances I probably would have missed when I was younger.
I didn’t really have that much of an issue with folks reacting to me learning the language. I mean, a lot of my elders didn’t really understand why I would be interested in a whole different culture than my own. It’s just what it was. So, I’ve been able to find—I think, for the most part—better friends and better community out of it.
AMELIA: That’s such a good point, though, because that’s actually something that I’ve dealt with as well from complete strangers. We all know the “Where are you from? No, where are you really from?” conversation, and I get that quite a lot from quite a range of people because I don’t look completely associatable with one specific identity.
So, I get it a lot from South Asian people, of course, but also from people of South American origin and also people from the Mediterranean. So I get quite a range of people asking me “Where are you from? No, where are you really from? What do you mean, ‘England’?”
So, I ended up in conversations where I was talking about what I did that started off with people trying to establish my race. And then I’d say, “Oh, I’m doing Japanese studies.” And they would be like, “Why are you doing Japanese studies? You should be learning Bengali.”
And the presumptuousness of that has always rankled with me, but I’ve heard it a few times. “Why are you doing that? There’s no point. You should be learning something that’s closer to your own culture, your own ethnicity, your own roots,” even though, at this point, I have so much more of a connection to Japan than anything that is tied to my actual ancestry.
We’ll come back to that, though, because I really want to introduce Minami, especially since we’ve been talking about all the misconceptions that we have going over there as little anime and manga fans and Minami’s kind of living the nerd dream in some ways.
MINAMI: [laughs] Yeah, so I’m Minami. I am also Black. I mean, my family is from Ghana, so West Africans. They immigrated to America, and I was the only one in my family who was born there. But I majored in Japanese in college. That was the first time I actually learned Japanese, but of course, as many of us, my introduction to Japan and everything was through anime and manga, specifically Sailor Moon.
In third grade, I always liked to draw. And so, my homeroom teacher was like, “Oh, there’s this new animation from Japan,” and I watched and I was hooked. It changed my life. But I never really got the chance in high school or any time before college to study Japanese, so it was really once I entered college that I actually studied it, majored in it, and I went on the JET program, initially for two years. I was just gonna do two years and not come back, and now I’m in my ninth year. [laughs] In Japan. [laughs] So, yeah, my mother has given up. [laughs]
MINAMI: So, the main reason I think that I’ve stayed here so long is really I have been chasing this dream to become a mangaka in Japan, which is everyone’s dream, I think.
MINAMI: As you can see, it takes a very long time. [laughs] But having been here so long, I did do JLPT. I passed N1. I had to do that four times before I passed N1. Ironically, the last time I was so fed up I actually didn’t study, and then I passed, so whatever.
MINAMI: But right now, I work at a mobile game company that puts out mobile otome game localization stuff. I do direction, translation, lots of different stuff with that. And then, on the side, I am drawing my manga, and I actually just submitted one into Hana to Yume, so I’m waiting for the results of that, which I will know next month. But yeah, it’s just been a really long journey, but it’s a lot of fun, and I’m probably not leaving for a very long time. [laughs]
AMELIA: [Laughs] Entirely fair. And I just wanna point out, because I’m not sure everyone’s aware, but you actually studied manga in a Tokyo design school, further education school.
MINAMI: [crosstalk] Yeah, I studied—
AMELIA: So, you’ve had quite a different experience from the rest of us.
MINAMI: Yeah, around my third year or so, I decided to go to a… I guess you would translate it as “vocational school.” I went to a school in Harajuku. It’s called Tokyo Design Academy, TDA, and I studied manga there for two years.
And all of my teachers were—As they taught, they were also mangaka themselves, so, really, I was learning from people who already knew the craft. Yeah, I am so glad I did that because it completely opened my eyes and taught me so much. There were so many terms and everything. I’m sure people know a little bit more because of series like Bakuman and stuff like that. But yeah, there’s just a lot that I think people aren’t aware of that goes into manga and how the entire process is.
And I think that’s the thing that a lot of people might not be prepared for when they’re like, “Oh, I wanna become a mangaka in Japan.” [laughs] And then there’s also the difficulties of staying in Japan and then also wanting to do art, because you need a visa to be here. And that has been one of the things that’s always been a struggle. So, definitely, definitely there’s that.
And then also, I’d like to mention… Everyone’s referring to me here as Minami. Of course, that is not my real name; that’s my pen name. And I’m not Japanese, so why do I have a Japanese pen name? And the reason really is because I am trying to be published here. I am trying to debut in Japan, but I’m not trying to debut using my identity as the reason why they would be interested in me.
So, just not to put so much focus on me as a non-Japanese person, that’s why I’m using a Japanese pen name. It’s not really particularly because I wanna be Japanese or anything, but there is a lot of baggage that comes with people’s perception of people who are not Japanese here, so that’s my way of fighting against that.
AMELIA: And do you think that actually being a Black woman in particular has had any impact on your experience there? We talked about this a little bit in your interview on Anime Feminist way back in like November 2016 or something. But I know you’ve since been working to become a mangaka; you’ve interviewed with a lot of editors at this point. That’s just a standard part of the process, right, where you take your work to editors and they review them and give you feedback?
MINAMI: [crosstalk] Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, that’s something that every aspiring mangaka in Japan does. It’s very easy to do. You basically call them and set an interview and you go. And in my case, my real name, my last name sounds vaguely Japanese, actually. [laughs] So, every time I make an appointment, I use my last name because that’s just how you do it here. And I’ll walk in. I’ll meet them, and a lot of times they’re like, “Uh… okay?” [laughs]
I think the thing that I feel the most when I’m meeting people in those interviews and also just meeting people for the first time is that a lot of people’s perception of the foreigner is not really a Black person, let alone a Black woman. There’s not that many Black women in Japan or, at least, not that many high-profile Black women in Japan, so a lot of times they really don’t know what to make of you.
And I think that can be a little bit… It’s a little scary, I guess, for certain people. It’s also just like, well, you know, this is a really new thing. “Does this person even know what they’re doing? Are they lost?” [laughs] There’s a lot of that, actually.
MINAMI: [cautiously] “Do you know that you are here?” [laughs]
MINAMI: I’ll give them my manga—or this has happened in other situations where it’s not even manga-related—and they’ll be like, “Do you understand Japanese?” And I’m like, “It’s written in Japanese, and we are having this conversation in Japanese, so I’m not…”
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Oh, my goodness.
MINAMI: So, there’s a lot of that. [chuckles] And I think it’s a lot more when you’re not even in that category of “Oh, a foreigner is this blonde white woman” or whatever, you know?
MINAMI: And so… yeah.
AMELIA: I actually had this experience when I studied in a Japanese university. There was one time when they rounded up a lot of the exchange students to go visit a high school in Japan, and each class was assigned a person to spend an hour or two with them and just answer some questions about their country, that kind of thing. And I walked into my assigned room, and they were like, “This English girl is coming,” and I walked in, and the whole class’s faces fell.
MINAMI: Oh, my goodness.
AMELIA: And it made me so angry. It was just an extension of things that I’d already been experiencing. And don’t get me wrong: there are advantages here, too. I appreciated the fact that people didn’t try to speak to me in English a lot of the time, because I’m brown, so I kind of had the double-take effect, where I walk up to people and they don’t clock until I’m within three feet, and they suddenly they do a Goofy-style “Uh, whuh?” and turn around. [laughs] See, I really wanted to represent that visually with my face, but you can’t see me, so hopefully the audio version did the job.
But they just do this big double-take, and it means that people would come up to me from behind and say, “Excuse me,” wanting to ask the time or directions or something; I’d turn around, and they’d be like, “[gasps] Never mind,” and walk away.
It’s a mixed bag, but I did appreciate people not trying to speak to me in English. A lot of the time they couldn’t identify what language would be most appropriate, so they’d just default to Japanese and I would do the same, and that was much simpler. And any time I was with white friends, they would be a beacon for “Please teach me English” kind of pleas.
MINAMI: [crosstalk] Oh, my goodness. Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely.
AMELIA: [laughs] So, that was a way I benefitted. But at the same time, I felt like I spent the entirety of my university period stuck in a situation where… It wasn’t a spectrum. This is the thing. There were two distinct beauty ideals when I was at university. And there was one of the docile Japanese girl, and then there was the other of the beautiful blonde white woman. And I was nowhere.
And that was really, really hard for my self-esteem while I was at university, and I think I kept trying to fit into different boxes. I kept trying to make myself a bit cuter and thought that I could go more towards the Japanese beauty ideal, and then give up on that and be like, “Okay, I’ll just be my foreign self and see what happens there.”
And it’s not like I tried lots of dating or anything; I did actually have a Japanese partner for a while. But even just being around those beauty standards, whether you’re looking for a partner or not, immersing yourself in beauty standards that you cannot possibly fit into 24/7 for years is really rough on you.
MINAMI: [crosstalk] Oh, my goodness. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s interesting, actually, because I think I’ve seen a lot of change in the way that I’ve seen myself and the way that I approach that particular topic in the way that I speak Japanese. [laughs]
AMELIA: Oh, yes, absolutely.
MINAMI: Like what you said, there was a certain point for me, too, where I was really trying to— because, yeah, you don’t really fit into any category. You’re not really particularly… In Japan, when I first came there was, what I thought was: oh, actually what’s different here is that for most Japanese people, it’s either you’re Japanese or you’re not, so there’s not really as much of “You’re Black, you’re this, you’re that,” is what I mistakenly thought.
But then the longer I stayed there, the more I realized: oh, actually there is kind of a hierarchy within that category of non-Japanese. And when you’re a Black woman, you are not at the top of that hierarchy, let me tell you. And so, when I was trying to make myself more appealing, more feminine, more whatever, then I would try to affect my speech patterns; but the thing is that, naturally—I do identify as a woman, but I’m not super, super feminine—I’m pretty rough with the way I speak in English.
MINAMI: And the longer I’ve been in Japan, the more I’ve realized that the way that I prefer to speak is very rough, actually. [laughs]
AMELIA: Yes, me too! [laughs]
MINAMI: So, I won’t be like… I think a lot of feminine speech patterns in Japanese will be like, “Sou na no?” or something like that. And sometimes I’ll use that, but there’s a lot of “n da,” and “Tabete kudasai,” I probably wouldn’t say that, like “Hayaku tabero yo” or something like that, like “Kue!”
MINAMI: That’s just the way that I speak, and it’s probably partially because I am pretty otaku, as well, and a lot of otaku women also don’t have the most feminine manners of speech, but… [laughs]
AMELIA: That is one of the most rewarding things about learning Japanese, I find, is when it gets to a point where you can really decide how to present yourself in the language. That’s awesome! When you get beyond that and you start naturally expressing yourself as you are.
MINAMI: Yeah, I feel like speaking in Japanese is localizing yourself. [laughs]
AMELIA: Oh, that’s a good line. [laughs]
MINAMI: Yeah, I’ve always approached it that way. The more confident you get into it, the better you are at adapting yourself so you’re the most accurate version of yourself for Japanese people.
AMELIA: Yes. That’s a really good line. I’m gonna use that. [laughs] Okay, I want to step it back a little bit because we’re talking about the end result of being in Japan, but going way back to when you’re just learning, and especially learning independently… And I know, Lizzie, this conversation first came about because you and I were talking about going to Japanese learning meetups and the experience there, and I know you had quite a negative experience. Am I right?
LIZZIE: [crosstalk] Hooo, where do I start with that? Oh, yeah, because one of the best ways to learn a language is actually putting yourself out there, which is originally kind of hard for me since I’m an ambivert. I’m selectively extrovert or an introvert, and that one was a big one. And, yeah, for the most part, it was not very good. One of the things that I noticed right away in most of the meetups I went to was that there was intense yellow fever.
[Someone hums dubiously]
AMELIA: Let’s just define “yellow fever” for the people listening.
LIZZIE: My understanding of the term is like folks who have this… They exoticize and they fetishize, in particular, East Asia—in the context that we’re speaking about, Japan. They have certain ideas about how Japanese people are like. In the case of Japanese women, I often found that a lot of the men preferred Japanese women because in their mind they’re more docile. And all these other really creepy things. So, yeah.
AMELIA: And I want to, just before we move on from this… Yellow fever is a term that I have heard some people object to because they say that the term itself is problematic. I don’t deny this.
At the same time, I think it sums up very well what we’re all talking about, which is where somebody—let’s narrow it down—where cisgender men who are not from Japan have a specific interest in Japanese women or East Asian women because they feel like looking that way will attach them to certain characteristics such as being docile, such as being sweet, such as being submissive and obedient, that kind of packaged image.
There is a long history of representing Japanese women in this way—and East Asian women as a whole, but in this particular context speaking just about Japanese women—and so, the term yellow fever has been used for a long time to sum this up. But if people do have specific concerns, we would love you to raise this with us in comments and we can have a dialogue about it.
But for the moment, yeah, yellow fever is something that I encountered so much at university, so much while living in Japan, so much while attending meetups. And the way that men who are not from Japan would fetishize women who are from Japan, it’s really hard to take.
LIZZIE: And I know we’ve been talking about particularly white folks who are often prioritized and their behaviors when they’re abroad and whatnot, but I guess in my case I want to be more specific about how men of color acted in a lot of the meetups I was at.
I would hear one of my ex-friends—who for a lot of reasons we had a really bad falling out, and it relates to this—about how oftentimes he would go into some of those spaces and say, “Oh, I prefer Japanese women. They’re so obedient compared to Bengali women,” and he would start listing all the things that are wrong with particularly Bengali women. And it was such a mess to hear because I didn’t know he was like that until we got into these spaces. And then I started hearing about his behavior, how he would go to other meetups for other languages, but not particularly to want to learn those languages.
And that’s just one experience, but other than that, I’ve seen it so many times. And, yeah, it’s never been really that great. And they would hog time with the speakers, and I understand because native speakers are on a time limit to how long you can speak to somebody and then switch over. But it was always interesting for me to see how often… I remember the committee for one of the language exchange groups made a conscious effort to talk to the Japanese women in particular to make sure that they would come to them for any grievances that most likely would happen after every meetup.
Yeah, it was really gross, and I often found the way they handled things was not really that adequate. And, of course, then we can get into the dating thing. I was not really there to date anyone, but a lot of folks who wanted to learn either language would often… “What’s the best way to do it? Get a partner.”
AMELIA: [sighs, frustrated] That is advice that people actually give. I got told that so much. And especially when I had a Japanese partner, it was so frustrating to have our relationship reduced to that.
JAX: Here’s something I can [unintelligible due to crosstalk] question as far as the whole dating and everything, because I know we’re talking about the fetishization of Asian women, which has been a problem for centuries and centuries and centuries. But my question is, what about for women who are fetishizing the men?
And I’ll go ahead and [audio cuts out] I’m listening to Lizzie talk about the men of her culture and how they fetishize Asian women, and that is so prominent in the Black culture, too, to the point where it’s absolutely disgusting. I’m listening to her talking and I’m just nodding my head like, “Yes, it is gross. It is not okay. It is disgusting.”
And then I’m listening, and then I had to check myself at one point because I’m just like, “Well, wait a second,” because at one point I had to learn to stop fetishizing Asian men, and this took a lot of unboxing on my end, especially, being a fan of anime and growing up in an environment where, to be perfectly honest with you, I have a longstanding fear of Black men. I had to learn to get over my fear of Black men, from seeing them as this outside, constant threat based on my experience as a Black woman just in general.
And so, when I started getting into anime and manga, I looked at it and I honestly started to idealize the characters to the point where “Oh, my God, this would be a good person. Look at this prince in this manga.” Even though I know it’s totally not real, I got sucked into it on the highest weeb level you could where I’m just like, “Okay, Asians are the absolute standard. Black men ain’t shit. White guys, eh.”
And then at the same time, I started realizing, “God, I hate being fetishized as a Black woman! What must it feel like doing the same thing to these Asian men?” And it’s so interesting because once I caught myself doing it, I kind of backed off from dating Asian men because it’s just like, “Okay, am I with you to fulfill an ideal or am I with you because I actually like you?” And I really had to get over this issue.
And at the same time, being so immersed in anime, manga, culture, stuff like that, I wasn’t particularly appealing to Black men, particularly being a Black girl nerd. For some reason, there’s still this stereotype that Black women aren’t nerds and that we are constantly coming down on Black men for their video games and we’re doing extreme shit like pulling out their video game cords or something like that. And the worst part is it comes from Black nerds, Black male nerds! And I’m listening to this, and I’m just like, “Are you being for real right now?”
So, when it comes to my experiences with dating and stuff like, my question is, how are interracial relationships and stuff like that looked at with a foreign woman with an Asian guy? I’m honestly not going over there trying to date, but at the same time, I don’t wanna fall into the trap of “Okay, I’m in a new culture. I’ve learned to stop exoticizing and fetishizing Asian men and stuff like that.” And if I do date while I’m over there, I wanna know how that is seen, because I know I [got] a lot of shit for it over here.
Even after I stopped fetishizing and exoticizing Asian men and stuff like that and I started dating the person for them, I caught a lot of hell for it, just being a Black woman and dating outside her race, period. And of course, that hell would largely come from Black men. And that’s the interesting standard I notice when it comes to cisgender men, just in general, is that it’s okay for them to date outside their race, depending. Like it’s expected.
For the Black woman, it’s seen as one of the biggest taboos: you cannot date outside your race. You’re either—what’s a popular term here?—bed wench or a jezebel or just crazy-ass, slavery-ass terms pertaining to Black women who will date outside of their race in general. And the stigma is so bad that you just don’t see it with white men or Black men or just men in general.
So, this is just something that I was very curious about: in Japan, what it was like for you as women of color to go through this experience.
AMELIA: I think that’s a really important point, actually, because my experience has been that there are people with fairly surface-level concerns on both sides, and if those kinds of people end up together, they deserve each other. That tends to be my view. So, you have non-Japanese women who go to Japan looking for Asian men, and if those Japanese men are also looking for non-Japanese women for the same kind of level of reasoning, good. Have fun. Have kids together. Enjoy each other.
JAX: Yeah, no, that terrifies me. That absolutely terrifies me, being viewed in that way. That’s something that genuinely concerns me, because I don’t—
AMELIA: But I don’t think it’s something that you end up in. I think that it is something that you can spot quite early on; but I’m gonna defer to Minami on this one because you’ve been in Japan for many years and seen this play out a number of times, I’m sure.
MINAMI: Yeah, I do actually agree with what Amelia said, that a lot of times those couples who are interested in those surface-level “I wanna date a foreign girl,” “I wanna date a Japanese man,” usually they’ll find each other and… Yeah, you know, whatever, have fun. [laughs]
AMELIA: Have fun.
MINAMI: A lot of times, it won’t work out because in the beginning it’s fun, but then the further they get into it, a lot of times for the non-Japanese girl, she’s like, “Oh, wait, there’s all these other Japanese things about him that are super annoying. I don’t like that.”
And then, on the other hand, he’s like, “Oh, she needs to be more Japanese. This is not working out.” And so, a lot of times that might not go well. Or they actually end up having to really learn about each other.
LIZZIE: [ironic] Oh, gosh! How dare you suggest that?
MINAMI: [crosstalk] Oh, my goodness. [laughs]
AMELIA: The audacity!
MINAMI: In my case, I was in a relationship with a Japanese man for about a year. And, I mean… Hm.
MINAMI: It’s taken me a really long time to break down our relationship, what happened in that year, actually, because in some senses, I feel like he did see me in a certain way that I don’t think he should have seen me as.
It’s hard for me to describe because it wasn’t super obvious. It’s not something that you would see in a movie or something where the problems here are just right in your face. But for example, he said—because we were actually pretty serious—he said kind of early in our relationship, “If we got married then we had children, if we had a boy, I would want him to look more like you, and if we had a girl, I’d want her to look more like me.”
MINAMI: And honestly, when I was told that, it was just a bizarre statement that… I don’t think I had enough energy to process it! It was way later when I was like, “What the…?” [laughs]
And we never talked about it, but I’m pretty sure that he was going about it as “If it’s a guy, then you want him to be big and strong like a Black man! And if it’s a girl, you want her to be more feminine and whatever like a Japanese woman.” Which is weird because you’re dating a Black woman! But kind of weird stuff like that happened every now and then.
But for the most part, I think the longer we were together, the more we viewed each other as ourselves. But essentially there were certain aspects of ourselves that we couldn’t just—it just didn’t work out, and that’s why we broke up. But the thing is that a lot of people, if you tell them, “Can you name a Black woman?” they’ll be like, “Beyoncé.”
MINAMI: And so, all Black women are gonna be like Beyoncé or Whoopi Goldberg or something.
LIZZIE: Ah, God.
MINAMI: Because of media! Because of media. And also, something that I think is interesting is that if you look at the way people are dubbed in Japanese media and subtitled—not just dubbed, and subtitled, but particularly dubbed, because then you can hear the tone of the voice and everything—usually if there’s a Black woman, she’s gonna be given a much more mature-sounding voice than a white woman. This always happens.
I’ve been on and off of TV just doing random stuff because it’s a really stupid dream of mine of being on TV in Japan because I love it. But there was one time… Most of the time, when I’ve been on, I’ve actually just talked, but there was one time just for this thing that I actually was dubbed over. And there was another segment which had a white woman in it, and she was given this really cute voice. It was a very moe voice. And on the other hand, I was given this super—I don’t even know—okusama voice.
AMELIA: Oh! [laughs]
MINAMI: I was introducing myself like, “Hi, I’m Minami” or whatever. And I watched the show live on TV, and it was like, [Assumes a jaunty voice] “Hi, Amerika-kara Minami yo!” [Returns to normal voice] And I was like, “I would never…”
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Wow.
MINAMI: Very mature, older lady-sounding voice. And I was like, “Okay…” But I think it’s because of a lot of those media representations of Black women. We’re not really seen as cute. The most positive you’ll get is sexy.
AMELIA: Right! Thank you. I think that’s a really great point, and that’s something that I totally experienced, as well. I rarely get “Kawaii ne.” It’s always “Sekushii da ne” or “Kirei da ne.” Which, these are compliments; they’re nice. But you do notice the contrast. I remember there was this one time at university where a Japanese guy came up to me at one point and was like, “I want an international marriage,” just out of nowhere.
LIZZIE: [crosstalk] That is bold!
AMELIA: That was kind of his icebreaker. It turned out he wanted me to set him up with my blonde friends. And that was the way it was. I was sort of a non-entity in that picture.
So, I actually had a relationship with a Japanese guy for like three years. And I look back now and I feel really fortunate, because he was somebody who wasn’t really concerned with conformity and he was very much like “I like you for you,” and I never had the issues with him that I have seen play out time and time again.
So, the pattern that Minami just mentioned, of the woman thinking “Oh, no, actually this is a bit too Japanese for me” and the guy being like “I need you to be more Japanese,” I have seen that play out so many times. And usually it’s very early on. Usually it’s quite obvious that things aren’t gonna work.
But sometimes it works in a specific context, such as an exchange year; a year abroad. And then, as soon as you get out of that and into the real world, that’s when the pressure starts hitting and that’s when people start cracking under it.
LIZZIE: It’s interesting you bring that up, because I saw a lot of what you’re saying in the language exchange groups I was at. There wasn’t a lot of people of color in a lot of the exchange groups I went to, so I noticed very early on that a lot of the speakers, while very nice, would often really prefer to speak to white folks. The Japanese dudes would want to talk to the girls, very blonde; and the girls with the guys. And that’s where they normally would be seated at, and there were times where I was just left alone to my own devices.
So, yeah, I’ve heard really wild stories about how dating played out long after my time in exchange groups. I remember some of the Japanese women I knew would tell me about how “Oh, that’s how they got their boyfriends to pay everything for them, learned enough English and then left.” So, I was like, “Okay…” I’m like, “Okay… At least you got money out of it. So, you do you! Take advantage of that, I guess.”
But after all that, I just got really turned off from going to language exchange groups because I was also mostly afraid for my safety, too, because of the ex-friend I mentioned earlier. Like, he would still show up at those meetings long after myself and other folks collectively took him off of Facebook and whatnot. I didn’t want to deal with that again because the stalking and everything, so let’s not—ugh.
So, yeah, after that, I’ve been turned off from going to any of those things and just mostly staying at home, learning by myself, reading, listening to music.
MINAMI: Yeah, unfortunately, even in Japan, there’s a lot of exchange groups and stuff like that, and I have made it a rule for myself not really to go to those anymore because there’s a certain type of person who tends to frequent those places. It’s a lot easier to practice Japanese and everything when you’re in, well, Japan, so I can afford to do that, but it’s kind of unfortunate that outside of Japan that kind of attitude still persists, so it’s not really a comfortable space to be in.
AMELIA: But I think even in Japan, certainly I’ve seen the idea of English conversation practice or English language teaching is highly racialized, and there are ads that go out specifying they want white teachers.
LIZZIE: Yes, oh, my gosh!
AMELIA: I don’t think it’s super common, but it does show up, and people are just like, “Well, you know.”
LIZZIE: I have a story to share about that, actually; not for myself. But one of my friends, who’s a teacher and was teaching abroad in East Asia for a while, she was applying for a position in the Philippines. And to give context, she’s brown from El Salvador.
And, oh my gosh, she told me how literally straight-up, the employers for that told her they’re looking for white Canadians; they’re not looking for someone who’s with Latina heritage, who’s plus-sized, et cetera. They literally told that straight to her face, and it was so awful. Some of the colorism that I’ve heard that she went through while she was teaching in East Asia was really awful, and it sounds similar to everyone else I’ve heard from who’s had that similar experience abroad.
AMELIA: Yeah, absolutely. And I know there’s a way—you can teach English cash in hand, basically, in Japan. It’s quite simple to do. But there are people who go do that specifically to try and date people, so you might have… a client will invite you to dinner and that kind of thing, and it’s not what it seems. So, I think the connection between English conversation teaching and dating and racial awareness… I think there’s a really strong connection there, which people just kind of accept in Japan because it’s been that way for so long. And, as Minami says, the media representation is pretty… uh…
MINAMI: Yeah, it’s sparse.
AMELIA: It’s not great. It’s not great. There was… Oh, my goodness, what was the name of that show? Okusama gaikokujin. Does it still exist?
MINAMI: Wasn’t it based off of the manga? I don’t think the manga’s still going on, but the show is definitely.
AMELIA: I think it was based on Bewitched. So, Bewitched, I think the title in Japanese is Okusama wa Majo.
MINAMI: [crosstalk] Oh, I didn’t even put that together.
AMELIA: And it’s My Wife Is a Witch or The Wife Is a Witch. And they made it My Wife Is a Foreigner. And so, it’s this whole TV show about Japanese men and the women that they married.
On the plus side, it was so great to see so many couples, interracial couples in Japan, where the woman is the non-Japanese partner. On the other hand, they do these dramatized retellings of these women where they were children and stuff, and I remember there was one in particular—I think she was Croatian—and they showed a dramatized reconstruction of her when she was at school taping up her eyes to make them look more Japanese.
MINAMI: Oh, my goodness.
AMELIA: [sighs] And so they’d show these women in a clownish way in some ways, but they would also have these women speaking on screen in Japanese and these men talking about their relationships with their wives, and so it was such a mixed bag for representation; but certainly when I lived in Japan, that was the closest you got.
There was actually an English woman on TV at one point, and I remember being like “That’s amazing!” because the closest you get otherwise are half-Japanese people with English parentage, and they’re people of color, but it’s not the same experience as I’ve had, and I think those intersections between your cultural background and your racial background and your Japanese ability, it all gets completely lost in Japanese media. It just gets completely wiped over.
MINAMI: [crosstalk] Yeah. I mean, one good thing… I can see a bit of a change happening. I wouldn’t say necessarily that I’m seeing more Black women or nonwhite women on TV. It’s still kind of sparse, but even seeing foreigners on TV and they’re not really reduced to that goofy panda-slash-gorilla status… For example… So you know the context of this, I am a big tokusatsu fan. I really like Kamen Rider and Sentai and stuff. I won’t start on that because I’ll go forever.
AMELIA: That’s another podcast.
MINAMI: Yeah, that’s another podcast. But recently, in the past few seasons, I see a lot more foreign actors playing parts in these shows, and these shows are for kids mainly, but in the most recent one, that’s police themed, the police chief is a Black man.
LIZZIE: Oh, wow.
MINAMI: And everyone’s a little bit goofy in tokusatsu, but he’s not more extra than everyone else. [laughs]
MINAMI: He’s basically on the same level as everyone else. He kind of likes bonsai and stuff like that. He speaks in Japanese. He doesn’t have all of these crazy Americanisms and stuff like that. He’s just a character. He’s allowed to exist as a character who’s not Japanese, and I think that’s really cool.
AMELIA: That is so cool because the representation of Black men on Japanese TV…
MINAMI: Oh, Bobby. Oh, Bobby.
AMELIA: Bobby, I think is the—oh, Bobby—who makes—for anyone who’s not familiar with Bobby, I can’t remember his last name, but he’s—
MINAMI: Bobby Ologun.
AMELIA: Thank you, thank you. And he has made a caricature of himself on Japanese TV, and he’s made a name for himself that way. And you have white men doing this too. I’m thinking of Pakkun, for example.
MINAMI: But Pakkun is way more… You know when you’re watching Bobby, versus Pakkun. Pakkun’s character, he’s allowed this dignity that Bobby doesn’t have.
AMELIA: Exactly. No, that’s exactly my point, is he makes himself a caricature of the white guy who doesn’t speak Japanese so well and isn’t that adorable. Because when you hear him speak Japanese normally, his Japanese level is way better than he actually appears on TV.
MINAMI: We’re talking about Bobby, right?
AMELIA: Sorry, no, Pakkun. Pakkun.
MINAMI: Well, Pakkun, on the other hand—
AMELIA: He’s allowed to do it and it looks cute, and it’s cute because it’s just him making fun of himself being a foreigner who’s not completely native fluent. whereas Bobby digs into the racial element of it, and he’s sold himself in this way, and that’s so hard to watch.
MINAMI: There was a special, years ago, where they did this dokkiri, surprise candid-type thing on his children where literally—I’m still offended by this years and years later—his daughter… At the time, she was five or something, quite small, and they made her believe that her father had turned into a gorilla.
AMELIA: Oh, no! Wow.
MINAMI: And I was like, “Are you serious?” But the thing is that he did this.
AMELIA: Yeah. That’s it.
MINAMI: Also, slight correction because Pakkun’s a little bit—there’s a number of white talent personalities on Japanese TV, and I’d say Pakkun is the one that actually he comes across quote-unquote “the smartest” because they always talk about his Harvard education and they’re always talking about how good his Japanese is and everything.
And there’s a few other people who—ah, God, what’s that guy?—David Spector is the one who’s more like… recently not as much, but in the beginning, he was like, “Ha ha, I’m a goofy white dude.” And he actually said in an interview, he’s like, “They see us as pandas. Well, you know what? If it makes me money, I’m gonna be a panda.” And so, a lot of people will go into that.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] And as a white man, he has the liberty to do that without it reflecting poorly on all white men. Media representation is a massive topic. And it’s interesting, actually, that you say that.
I just remembered when I was on my year abroad and I had this Black friend. When we were out one day, these Japanese obasan, they just surrounded her, these women, and they’re like, “Can we take a picture with you?” And she was like, “Am I in a zoo?” That was exactly how it felt. They were taking pictures with her because she was Black and that was it, and they’d never seen a Black person before up close in the wild.
JAX: So, because I work with a lot of Black artists who have been to Japan, one of our best artists, Mikhail, went over there, and while he was in the airport… Now Mikhail isn’t even five feet. He’s a short kid with short dreads and one of the biggest sweethearts I have ever met; biggest heart ever. And I believe he was mistaken for some random Black celebrity that was so far removed from what Mikhail looks like, that you might as well have been confusing Channing Tatum and, I don’t know, um… Morgan Freeman. That’s how extreme [audio cuts out].
JAX: I’ve gotta ask him what person it was, but it was just so crazy to think. And then another one of our artists went over there: Nik, who is just real big into Final Fantasy and has worked with Square Enix and everything like that, went over there one time. And he said he had never been hit on by so many Japanese women so fast, because he was there for a couple of days, I wanna say, and he was the sole center attraction because he didn’t look like the typical—
Can I ask? What is the stereotype of Black men in Japanese? Because from what I have seen so far, just in the media, it’s that they’re bulky, there’s usually some kind of hip hop or [audio cuts out] slang to them, possibly dreadlocks, possibly a fade, possibly 53 golden chains. So, how are Black men viewed in Japan? Because whatever that stereotype was, Nik was getting the attention because he was the opposite of it, I mean just the direct Black Goth opposite of it.
MINAMI: Yeah, basically what you’re saying is right. Black men are seen as being big—and all of this is actually in general really positive—they’re big, they’re cool, maybe they’re a rapper. Basketball player. [Chuckles] All of this stuff. There is that image of Black men. So, a lot of times, if I think about it in levels of desirability, if you’re just gonna simplify it to white people/Black people, at the top is white men; under them, is Black men; then it’s white women; then it’s Black women.
JAX: Oh, so it’s like patriarchy here, pretty much. Got it.
MINAMI: Yeah. [laughs]
AMELIA: Yeah, but that’s interesting in itself.
MINAMI: I have definitely felt that. Probably the toughest time is when I realized that that was how it actually was. And now, I’m more like, “Okay, whatever. This is the world.” [laughs]
JAX: There is something I wanna ask you, just from being a Black woman, and I wanna know if this has ever happened to you just because of how Black women are viewed sexually. Has anyone ever approached you and sexually stereotyped you based off the whole stereotype that Black women are sexually aggressive and et cetera, et cetera in bed. Has that ever happened while you have [been living] there?
Because I know it’s happened to me here a lot and I don’t know if that’s the case in Japan or it’s just how you’re viewed or if that’s just something that’s—I don’t know, I can’t think of the right word for it. But have you ever had that experience while being in Japan?
MINAMI: Well, um… I’ve had a lot of creepy experiences walking home. But I’m not exactly sure if that’s because I’m a Black woman or because I’m a foreign woman. I’ve had situations where a guy will approach me while I’m walking home at night. It’s always at night. And one time, some guy, he took my hand in his, and we were walking, and I was like, “Okay, need to go back towards the station,” because I don’t want him to know where I live and he was struggling to speak to me in English, and eventually he just says “I want to make love to you” out of nowhere.
MINAMI: And I was like “Okay, we’re gonna end this” and stuff. And there was one time, too—and this wasn’t even by a man; it was just by another foreign woman, but probably Southeast Asian, but I’m not exactly sure where—I was at the laundromat, and she came to me and asked do I have a job, and I was like, “Uh, yeah, I do,” and she’s like, “Is it a day job?” And I was like, “Okay…” I think maybe she thought that maybe she could recruit me for nightlife stuff. There’s been weird stuff like that, but to be honest, the way culturally things are, I don’t think people will straight-up approach you and—
AMELIA: Proposition you.
MINAMI: Yeah, yeah. It doesn’t happen as much. A lot of times, it’s like they’re going to… I don’t know. It’s a little bit complicated. [laughs]
AMELIA: Yeah, it’s totally complicated. I’ve had a couple of experiences. Not [as] a Black woman, obviously, but as a foreign woman who is not white, I had one experience where I had just arrived in Tokyo or Osaka—I don’t remember which—and I had a suitcase, and I was clearly very tired. And this guy offered to give me directions because I was looking lost.
And that happens in Japan. You just look lost and somebody will spring up to offer you directions. It’s very convenient for someone like me with no sense of direction. And after he’d shown me where I needed to go, he was like, “Would you like to have a drink?” And I was like, “I’ve got a suitcase! I just got off a 19-hour flight. Come on.” So I said no and I was just so startled. He was this middle-aged salaryman with glasses and stuff. And I was like, “This is such a stereotype right now.”
AMELIA: It was just so bizarre. And that hadn’t happened to me before, but I have had people who—There was a time when I was in Japan for my year abroad, and this guy invited me to something, knowing that I had a boyfriend. And I didn’t see an issue with it. I didn’t have quite the cultural awareness then, despite living in Japan. I didn’t have the cultural awareness then that I do now, and I didn’t realize the significance of being alone with a guy who is not my boyfriend at a date-looking event.
So, I think I’d made some comment about how I wanted to see the sakura, and he’s like, “Oh, I can take you,” and I didn’t think anything of it! And then while we were out, he tried to hold my hand and stuff. I was like, “What are you doing?” [laughs] It just came completely out of nowhere for me.
But I have noticed, as well, that the views of fidelity and the views of monogamy and views of relationships in general get massively distorted when you bring language exchange abroad into the picture. And I’ve known a lot of Japanese people come to England and have been like, “Yeah, I’ve got a girlfriend” or “I’ve got a boyfriend, but, you know, I’m only here for a few months, so whatever.” And that has absolutely been the case vice-versa.
And that expectation being placed on me because I was an obviously non-Japanese person in Japan is more likely what happened there. But I was there for the full year, and I had been with my boyfriend at that point for something like two years, so there was no way that that was remotely relevant, as far as I was concerned. But apparently that expectation was placed upon me.
MINAMI: Yeah. But I think the whole “Do you wanna go for a drink?” and stuff, that’s gonna be the way that people approach you mainly. So, it’s not super, super aggressive like “Sleep with me now.” When the guy was like “I want to make love with you,” that was probably the worst I’ve ever…
AMELIA: I can’t even imagine that. And Japanese people, as well, tend to be more open saying things that sound quite blunt in English that they would never say in Japanese, which can be really awkward.
MINAMI: Yeah, weird stuff. Some weird stuff at night when you’re walking home. But, yeah, that was probably the weirdest that I’d ever been told.
AMELIA: Okay, we are towards the end now of our hour, I think, so just to wrap it up, I’d like each of you to think about if you give any advice to any younger women of color or nonbinary people of color who will be perceived as women, what advice you would give them for learning Japanese in this context. So, Minami, I’m gonna start with you. You’ve probably been asked this a million times anyway.
MINAMI: [laughs] Well, yeah, the first thing is just don’t be afraid. Learn Japanese. If it’s through a textbook or if it’s through a class or whatever, just learn it first. But I do think that if you can, even if it’s just for a really short amount of time, try to make it to Japan and practice it, because I think right now there’s just not a lot of visibility of, not just Black, but nonwhite, non-Japanese women who speak Japanese, and there’s definitely not a lot of us in Japan.
And so, I think it would be wonderful if there was more… Right now, I’m trying to eventually be published in Japan, and honestly you would think that I would meet someone who is doing the same thing in Japan, and I have not seen a person in years. And I would love to see more people— A part of the reason why I wanna do this so badly is so I can show that you can. But the very first thing that you need to do is to learn Japanese. That’s just number-one priority.
AMELIA: And I would say that there have never been as many tools as there are now to learn Japanese independently. It’s incredible to me. I often think about how much better I would have done in language classes on my degree if we’d had things like WaniKani today. I just think, “Anyone who’s at university right now and doing a Japanese degree, you have no excuse.” [laughs]
MINAMI: And also, sometimes people look down at the reason why you’re learning Japanese and stuff like that or the means, and I don’t think that’s really a productive way of thinking. If you like that idol game and you are learning Japanese so you can read that story, you do that. You do that. You let your Best Boy teach you Japanese.
MINAMI: Don’t be afraid of it. Because I’m seeing a lot of people doing that, and I think it’s actually pretty cool, because it doesn’t matter the initial reason; it just matters how you use it when you have it.
AMELIA: Yeah, totally. I mean, I did an entire Japanese degree because I wanted to be able to understand anime without the subtitles. That was my complete motivation when I started.
And actually, the stigma that you find when you tell other English speakers about this or the kind of the baggage that gets attached to it, that doesn’t really exist in Japan—unless somebody spends a lot of time with people learning Japanese as a second language and so they’ve built up conceptions about it. To your everyday Japanese person, that stigma’s not there. They’ll just be like, “Cool, do you know One Piece?” That’s how they’ll respond.
MINAMI: They will literally say that. They will literally say that. [laughs]
AMELIA: So, speaking of independent learning, Jax, what would you recommend? What advice would you give?
JAX: I know there’s a big dub-versus-sub thing going on right now and that’ll always be a thing, but I would definitely say, do not look down on subtitles. The only thing that worries me about subtitles is they might not be entirely accurate when translated.
And to be perfectly frank with you, my main motivation, aside from getting around in Japan, is to be able to read so much of the backlogged doujinshi that I’ve collected [unintelligible due to audio quality and laughter] I just wanna read! And I’ve literally been stockpiling this stuff, so that is one of my primary motivations. It’s not, “Oh, well, I’m going to Japan in September, so I’d like to be able to know how to get around and get to my hotel room.” No! I have a 13-, 14-, 15-year goal here in comics that I wanna read.
JAX: I’ve held on to those. God, Google Drive is such a blessing. But hold on to those motivations, for real, because it just made me so happy to hear that the stigma of why you wanted to learn Japanese, especially if it was for nerdy reasons such as this, is not there in Japan. It’s so refreshing to hear. It’s comforting, because definitely here there is that stigma where you’re just like, “Well, I learned it because this,” and they’re just like, “Oh, that’s…” They judge you.
So, I would say to younger listeners especially: don’t worry about what your family thinks about it, especially. You’re still Black regardless of whether you learn a different language, if you like Japanese culture—because in the Black community, they tend to revoke your Black Card for shit like that.
So, don’t let that get in your way, because I’m sorry, but Minami is living the dream! I have been so gassed this entire podcast. I’m like, this is unreal! So, please, you guys could be like her one day, so please just keep learning.
AMELIA: That’s great. Lizzie, how about you?
LIZZIE: Yeah, I totally— Oh, gosh, where do I start? My advice is that you will find community. I know everything we’ve said about our own personal experiences is probably a lot to take in, but I promise you that you will find folks who will get you, who will understand you and who will understand your motivations of learning a language.
I fell out of it because of all my own negative experiences, but thankfully through meeting other like-minded people like in this podcast, for example, and seeing more trans and queer content come out from Japan, has really motivated me again to really get back into it and try to be fluent one day. Yeah, I think that gives me a lot of hope.
And whatever interests that you have, reach out to those sources. That way, you can learn it at your own pace. You won’t entirely be able to avoid negative experiences, but I’m hoping that at least the journey to learning Japanese for you will be much more pleasant. So, yeah, keep going at it.
AMELIA: And I think for me, my advice would be mostly on the psychological side, because I spent years unpacking self-image-related issues that I had built up from doing Japanese at university and from living in Japan at a time when I was still developing thoughts about myself.
And I would say, try and resist the pressure of beauty standards. Try and acknowledge them. Try and be aware of when you are doing something because you feel the pressure to do it, because you’ve seen a lot of Japanese shows where this is how women look and this is how women act, and therefore if I want to be a desired woman, I have to look like this and I have to sound like this and act like that.
Just try and be conscious and stay critical of the media that you’re consuming and the impact that it’s having on you. It is so much easier said than done, I do appreciate. And just try and keep a little bit of distance there, and recognize that actually through learning Japanese, as Minami said—love this line—it is a way to localize yourself.
And that’s just not in terms of how you use the language. That is in terms of when you go to Japan and you have this blank slate in a new culture, and you have a real chance to try out a new version of yourself. And just be conscious of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it and what feels good and what feels right and what feels authentic to you. I think that’s really important. And just have fun with it.
We’ve talked a lot today about differences, but actually, one of the greatest lessons that I learned from studying Japanese was how similar you are to people on the other side of the globe. And actually connecting with Japanese women who feel the same way as I do about the same things that I do, that has been incredible. Getting Japanese friends who will be able to express themselves—because you can speak Japanese, you can actually have proper conversations on a level—and they can talk quite openly about things like race, like gender, like their thoughts on relationships, things that are very difficult to do when you’re speaking in one language that’s a first language for one and a second for another but to very different levels.
I think that it can be much harder to connect with people and have those conversations. It’s not impossible. You can go out to Japan with pretty basic Japanese and have some amazing conversations, often over drinks. I’ve absolutely seen this, experienced this, but that experience of being able to have a proper conversation with somebody that you think you might not have been able to have if you didn’t speak their language, that feels so good, and it does really teach you that, as Lizzie said, you can build community anywhere. And that community, when it comes, will be international by default. And that is quite a special experience to have.
And it was so restricted and gatekept for so many years, and in the 21st century, they’ve really started breaking down a lot of the obstacles to becoming a competent Japanese speaker, to being able to travel to Japan, to being able to build those connections and those communities. We have so many more avenues to do this now than we ever did before, and the more women of color, people of color who take advantage of this, as Yasmin said, the better. The visibility is really important.
Having role models in your own community and being a role model is important, so I hope that anyone listening to this who is learning Japanese and who has questions, I hope that you feel comfortable approaching us. All of our Twitter accounts are gonna be in the show notes for this. And it’s absolutely something that we’d be willing to do a follow-up podcast on, I think, just speaking presumptuously for absolutely everyone here. I think that we’d be willing to do a follow-up and dig into specific topics, so if there’s anything that’s interested you, please do step up and say, and we’d love to hear from you.
So, I’m just gonna wrap this up now. Thank you so much to you all for joining me for this. It’s been such an interesting conversation, and we have actually gone a little bit over.
So, you can find more Anime Feminist work at www.animefeminist.com. You can find us on Twitter @AnimeFeminist. You can find us on Facebook, facebook.com/AnimeFem. We have a Tumblr, animefeminist.tumblr.com. And we have a Patreon, patreon.com/AnimeFeminist.
We are paying everyone for their work. This is what the money for Anime Feminist goes to. If you go to our Patreon page, you’ll be able to see a really clear breakdown of how much people get paid and who gets which money and when, and it’s all very clearly laid out so that we can be truly transparent.
But we do need more. We’re still not quite breaking even. We are so close. We’re something like $134 away now, and I’m like, [inhales sharply] “Let’s just get to the end!” So, we are aiming for $2,000. If you go to our page and we’re still not there yet and you can spare $1 a month, it adds up. It really does. And if you can spare $5 a month, you get access to the exclusive Anime Feminist Discord server, where we can have conversations like this in a safe environment. So, if you go to patreon.com/AnimeFeminist, please send us what you can to continue our work.
So, thank you so much, again, to Jax and Lizzie and Minami, and if you’ve enjoyed this conversation, I would recommend that you check out the interview that we did with Sakai Minami, on Anime Feminist back in November 2016 or something like that. We’ll make sure there’s a link in the show notes. Or check out the Michiko & Hatchin podcast watchalong that the rest of the three of us are doing.