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  • Diaspora Japan

Yasmeen Octavia (pt. 2)


So you moved from Takamatsu which is several hours away from Tokyo to Saitama which is like thirty minutes north of central Tokyo.

Exactly. But after a while I realized that I was living in Japan but I wasn’t really meeting Japanese people; I wasn’t really socializing with people or doing anything that was outside of work. And even when it tried, yes I had access to nichome (LGBT district) and access to gay people but it was always just drinking it was never anything more than that.


What was stopping you from creating these more casual relationship with queer folks here?

I want to say it was my work hours, mostly. I was working from 1 or 2 PM to 9 PM during the week and then on the weekends, on Saturdays, it was from 7 AM until sometimes 5 PM. And I think after a while, I could make art on my own and that was great—I could reconnect with my art and I was pumping out art again because I had these mornings free. So that was great.

But after a while I felt isolated. People don’t realize it but when you’re working that schedule, everyone else is on a 9-to-5 schedule. And like, no one is trying to hang out on a Tuesday morning. And at different points I had Sundays and Tuesdays off or Sundays and Thursdays off but then my employers were like “Hey, we’re going to start having Sunday classes and they’re going to be the same hours as the Saturdays.”


At first I was like “Oh shit that’s my only day of freedom and like freedom to be with other people.” I was OK with it first and then I was just like there’s no way I can do this in the long run—but I kept doing it. And then they were like “Your hours are going to be 10 hours on Saturdays and Sundays.”


And I was not comfortable with that. And at that point I had been with the company for two full years and they were treating me and a couple of other teachers who are new as if our personal lives didn’t matter, as if we were just doing this for money. I don’t get why people think that.


It sounds like they’re treating you as if you were disposable, especially considering that they expect a high level of performance and loyalty from you.

Exactly. And it wasn’t even an option. It was like, “You’re going to do this.” So I gave them like a nice professional email about why I’m not comfortable working 10 hour shifts with only a 30 minute break. And they tried to say think of the money and “Oh well we have to have you do this because nobody else is going to do it.” And so I just gave my 30 day notice.


Two questions: first, what was the ethnic background of these administrators? And second, do you think that being black and being perceived as female had any bearing on how you were treated?

It was an American woman and a British man who ran the company. But I want to say that the fact that I was young and that I didn’t have kids, they definitely felt like they could just have me do the most.


One thing that is been pretty common and consistent since I moved to Japan, well honestly I don’t remember it happening at all in Shikoku and I don’t know if that’s because people in a polite or because there are just fewer people there, but is soon as I moved to Saitama I noticed that tons of people would look in my direction, stare, laugh, make comments. Just really rude things.

And it’s always directed at my body, my afro, or just the fact that I’m black: pointing out my skin tone, my ass, my tits, just like harassment.


And that was really intense for a while. And the best way to handle it was to learn how to respond to it in Japanese. And I’ve definitely raised my voice with some people who I have seen being really rude.


Most people have the perception that everyone is really polite in Japan.

It’s definitely a stereotype here that people are polite, but I don’t think that’s true at all. And this has never happened to me in the states, but as someone who is non-binary going to the restroom has never been an issue for me. And this has happened to me a bunch of times where I go out shopping, like when I go to a Loft or to an Isetan department store. And always dress like, I don’t want to say rough, but I’ll be wearing like a choker or all black or heavy make up because that’s how I roll and I remember women freaking out when I enter the bathroom. Like, checking to see if is the women’s restroom when I was coming in.


It’s just so weird having huge tits and being seen as a woman but also being seen as a man because I’m dark skinned and I’m tall. Which one are y’all trying to make me be? Because this is very awkward.


Thankfully I’m in Japan, but what if the woman was scared or felt like they were in danger because there was a big black person in the bathroom? What if they did mistake me for a man and called the cops or something? Thankfully that didn’t happen, but it’s so bizarre.


Here’s the thing, being seen as a woman or man bothers me. But not being seen as a woman or being seen as a man because I’m in a country that desires to be super pale or super thin. A country where you’re a woman if you’re petite but a man can be tall and dark skinned. It bothered me for a really long time, and it still bothers me, that I was being seen as a monster. It’s a little better in Tokyo, but still happens.

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