The effect of “Obama” on my life in Yokohama pt. 2

This congratulations business had started back before the summer when Obama handed Hillary Clinton her hat and sent her packing with an unexpected (and unaccepted) loss. For several weeks that followed I was being congratulated by Japanese people. Granted, I often wore Obama paraphernalia, at minimum a button and at max an assemble.  So, it wasn’t so much presumption on their part as it was acknowledgment. Perhaps their way of saying that the person you supported was a winner so, by virtue of that, you are a winner, too. Sometimes I want to tell strangers who tell me congratulations that I’d wanted McCain to win just to see their reaction.

Whether they think it’s simply impossible for a black person to have supported anyone but Obama or for anyone to have supported McCain and thus the Republican Party and their foulness over the past 8 years, I have no way of knowing.

But, what difference does it make anyway, right?

Well, it makes a difference to me. It means that, unfortunately, I can’t really share my joy with them because they just don’t get it…

…And why should they be expected to get it? After all, America isn’t their country, so they shouldn’t be expected to understand a god damn thing that happens in the US. Anyone in their right mind wouldn’t expect anyone outside of America to truly get it, especially a people as devoid of political and social acumen as most Japanese are. Maybe I’m not in my right mind.

Don’t worry, though. I know, in my heart of hearts, I can’t really fault Japanese for their idea of what Obama means to African Americans, for missing the point entirely…I mean, from the outside, it probably looked simply like some kind of black bloodless coup d’ tat, like black people had finally come together, finally realized that in addition to the significant financial and cultural power we wield, we were also in possession of substantial political power and resources which we’ve finally used to rally behind a viable black candidate with cross-cultural and cross-racial appeal, foster his ambitions, amplify his message and succeed in undermining a status quo that has been in place for well over two centuries…

But, for some inexplicable reason, I really expected that an election of this magnitude would have a significant effect on my experience here. I thought, at minimum, the japanese would be stunned into rethinking their ideas about black people…and maybe they are currently. I mean, hell, I was stunned! My shock at the result remains almost as strong as it was on Election Day. 

I’m not totally bonkers though. I know any kind of radical change takes time. Hell, it took Americans all of 200 years to get it through our thick skulls. So, no, I didn’t expect that empty seat beside me to be eagerly occupied with Japanese people wanting to be close to the energy that produced a politician whose popularity here in Japan has no precedence. And, no, I didn’t expect that Japanese-free perimeter that surrounds me wherever I might find myself to shrink, filled with people just aching to breath the same air as I. Nor did I fully expect the Japanese political IQ to skyrocket over night.

I did, however ludicrously, expect  something. Some glimmer of the contagious hope Obama tried to spread around the world. It was my hope that this election would alter the Japanese predisposition towards irrational fear of my kind, perhaps reduce its intensity, bring it down to a more tolerable level. It was a secret desire, bolstered by a couple of my students explanations of Japanese behavior towards me.

While Obama was slugging it out with McCain and Sarah Palin. one student explained the Japanese position this way (I’m paraphrasing of course):

“We Japanese do not care about minorities.”


“Because we have no minorities in Japan…we are homogeneous.”

“What about the Chinese and Koreans? Ainu and Okinawans?”


“Anyway,” I said, letting that question drop. No Japanese has been able to answer that question. “What’s your point?”

” Minorities have no power, and we, Japanese, respect power.  American power has always been white. If the face of  power in America becomes black, I think it will have a strong influence on Japanese thinking about black people.”

“For example? Anything tangible I can look forward to?”

“If Obama wins, I think Japanese will associate power with black people and we will not fear you.”

That made sense to me. I only half-believed it but it was logical and rational, however as erroneous as associating us with crime, violence and disease based on movies, but I’ll prefer an error that favors me over an error that harms me any day.

“You don’t think it will affect how Japanese think of Americans as a whole? I mean, the black thing, I feel, is only a part of what Obama represents. To me, his ascension indicates an evolution in the minds and hearts of most Americans not just the ones of color. It would be the equivalent of say Japanese people voting for a half Chinese / half Japanese, or half Filipino / Half Japanese prime minister.”

“EE!!” You had to see his face.

Well, so far, my life in Yokohama has not changed a bit. And the behavior of the people around me has not altered a bit. Their behavior is just as xenophobic, offensive and ignorant as it’s been since I arrived here.

But maybe this post is a little premature. Maybe the idea needs time to sit, like a freshly baked apple pie needs to sit on a window ledge cooling in the breeze, or the way Lasagna and homemade Potato salad and Fried Chicken always taste better on day 2.


11 Responses to “The effect of “Obama” on my life in Yokohama pt. 2”

  1. February 3, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    I hope day 2 is better – but I think we are all holding our breath to see how effective Obama will be in office – he overcame a lot of obstacles to get elected – but that was just the very beginning – he has a lot of work to do – we need some big time intervention – so give him some time to make an impact – he’s now in the “what have you done for me lately” phase and I am sure he’d like nothing more than to serve us all a big fat slice of apple pie.

  2. 3 Lee
    February 3, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Hey, at least Japan hasn’t banned a bunch of foreign foods like Italy. I’d hate to lose Mos Burger!

    Seriously though, I know what you mean. Japanese people as a whole are crazy about their psuedo isolationism. There’s hope though, the younger people I’ve met aren’t as bad and I didn’t meet anyone that openly wanted me to get out of the country. Though I’m sure the veterans I photographed during the Yasakuni protests last year wanted me to leave.

    Not race related, but culture related: I’ll always remember telling my friend that my family owned firearms. He look terrified and shocked. I’ve never killed anything with them, I lived on a farm. We shot bottles. I don’t think that possibility even crossed his mind.

    I’m interested in what the young generation of Japan does. Very interested.

    • February 3, 2009 at 9:50 pm

      Thanks for the shout Lee!
      Yeah, I work with kids all day everyday and I agree they have potential…if they don’t listen to their parents which would be kinda anti confuciian (-:

      let’s hope for the best though


  3. February 4, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Japan is a shame for many. They just don’t care.

  4. February 5, 2009 at 7:44 am


    I wanted to add about my comment yesterday; you did a good writing job on your thoughts.

    I enjoyed reading the reality of livin’ in this country.

    Most people overseas have not a clue how it is here.


  5. 7 Vin
    February 5, 2009 at 8:27 am

    Japanese attitudes towards minorities are pretty much the same as the Chinese (and other self-titled “homogeneous” Asian countries). Your race is your nationality. Unless you’re a minority, in which case you’re considered sub-human. In other words, their attitude towards race is firmly stuck in the dark ages.

    Posing the question of the half-minority Japanese Prime Minister to make his head explode is a nice one. I love posing questions like that to ignorant people.

    I know it’s hard for you to not be sensitive about race while living over there and suffering these behaviors on a daily basis, but I think expecting the Japanese to become more open minded about race is likely to drive you to insanity.

    • February 5, 2009 at 8:34 am

      I agree completely Vin-san
      Chinese sound like a treat too (-:

      Still I want to go to Shanghai and hong Kong
      Yes I love to see exploding heads…just call me a scanner. It’s one of my useless acts of retaliation

      Thanks for the shout


  6. February 5, 2009 at 8:30 am

    Thanks james, well it’s my goal to give them a clue if they’re interested.
    I certainly appreciate you tasking out the time to drop me a line (-;
    Don’t care is pretty strong, don’t you think? I prefer to think of it as flagrantly unaware (-: It just sounds better


  7. February 7, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Well, I will tell you a quick story now. This morning after teaching a class, I went to the front door to see who it was. The first thing I heard coming outta a 40 something salesman(?) was “Kawaii!”. I looked at this person with a smile. If he was trying to sell me something he failed miserably. I get this reaction from teen women in groups (usually). I have had to defend myself with the Paris Hilton types with one remark.”Dosh tah noh” or” Nanii-kah” which usually works.

    I had no idea that Japan would be like this when I came here. It doesn’t matter where I go in this country, I hear it everywhere. The kids are brainwashed to be like this. I heard a mother pointing to her baby at me in a carriage, “Abani.” Kinda upsetting to see and hear that.

    Ya know what, I ain’t African American either. I am just minding my own business here with a puzzling thought.


  8. February 8, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Okay, I am on here again today, if you don’t mind.

    In Japan,there are ignorant people out there who are hiding up their hate and ageless spite in negativity with fake smiles.This is all in the attempt to try to hide the legitimacy that OBAMA is an inspirational man who is going to change the world we live in.

    We know, this is all evidenced within the newspapers and global television. Racism exists in Europe,Canada,Australia, and other nations too. Obama is the man with the will to create something better than ever before.

    Average Japanese people know this, but have no way of communicating it.

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