What It’s Like to Be A Woman of Colour in Japan
"I am very proud to be someone who is of Indian descent and from Tokyo. Realizing the journey my parents made in the 90s now makes me feel grateful and humbled. There's a lot of funny questions that come with being a Brown girl in Tokyo. Anything from people asking me where the best Indian restaurant is, to why was I born here if I’m not half Japanese." - Ameya, Ikix Studio
Living in Japan as a foreigner, or Gaijin, has not always been described as easy. An extra layer of complexity is added when you are a woman of colour navigating the country by yourself, where foreigners make up only 2.5% of the entire population. Being a minority in any society around the world comes with its own unique set of experiences, but one which is less explored is that of women of colour in Tokyo.
This is something that documentary-maker and creative Amarachi Nwosu picked up on when she lived in Tokyo herself, and it motivated her to create a film which shares the voices of others that have faced similar experiences there. Following on from the success of documentary ‘Black in Tokyo,' the Forbes-under-30 director has produced and directed ‘Women of Color in Japan’ with her media platform, Melanin Unscripted, which works to champion complex identities and cultures from around the world.
‘Women of Color in Japan’ aims to recognise how three creative young women from diverse backgrounds navigate life and culture in Tokyo. Though the country is futuristic and pioneering in many fields, some would argue it still has some way to go in terms of its treatment of women and those that do not fit the status quo. Sharing their stories include Uzochi Okoronko, a Nigerian-American stylist, teacher and lover of vintage fashion; Ameya, a Japan-born photographer, filmmaker who is of Indian heritage and Tiffany Cadillac, a DJ, singer and producer who is half Jamaican and Japanese. Together, these creative young women strive to challenge the narrative, whilst working towards more social inclusion, equity, and representation in Tokyo.
For Amarachi, the documentary came from a place of necessity. Following the racial reckoning faced by the world in the past few years with the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-Asian sentiment, she wanted to generate conversations around racism in different parts of the world. She expresses, though, while “Tokyo is known for being homogenous, I met people from all over the world that helped me grow as a storyteller and an individual.”
Below, Aneya and Uzochi share with us some of their experiences and insights.
What was your experience in Tokyo as a woman of Indian descent? Did it shape and impact your artistry and creative practice?
Aneya: I am very proud to be someone who is of Indian descent and from Tokyo. Realizing the journey my parents made in the 90s now makes me feel grateful and humbled. There's a lot of funny questions that come with being a Brown girl in Tokyo. Anything from people asking me where the best Indian restaurant is, to why was I born here if I’m not half Japanese.
I don’t think being Indian shaped my creative practice, I think being a minority shaped my creative practice. Living in multiple countries, seeing the world at a young age taught me there is suffering in many different spaces and that there are many great stories that exist outside the mainstream that are yet to be uncovered. I think this heavily contributed to my love for filmmaking, documenting and taking photos.
How would you describe the creative scene for the WOC in Tokyo?
Ameya: I think women of color in the creative scene in general in Tokyo, especially during the pandemic, is very small. Everyone kind of knows each other, or is two degrees of separation from each other. So when you talk about the creative scene for women for color it's even smaller. The opportunities for women to come up, or to be behind the camera is slim and there is a lot of gate-keeping involved. I have rarely worked with women of color in Tokyo partially because there’s not a lot of women of color in Tokyo in general, and thus fewer involved in the creative scene. However, I think their voice and vision is absolutely needed and should be welcomed more.
What was the reason behind founding Ikix Studio?
Ameya: Ikix Studio was founded as a space to create and explore stories that Sam (co-founder) and I felt like were important to us. We wanted to independently create content and put it out in hopes that people would be able to learn about various socio-political issues.
How would you describe the fashion culture in Tokyo?
Uzochi: Many people dress mostly conservative, with a few people who are interested in high fashion and also a small portion of people who have more of a cult style such as punk, goth or rockabilly.
Are there any Black owned brands / shops you would recommend?
Uzochi: None here in Tokyo, but a black owned brand I like wearing is K Label, they have really good loungewear and ship internationally.