Creating a new space of recognition for black women in Japan

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Text and photos by Serah Alabi

The restrictive notion of what type of black person deserves to be respected, or fought for under the brand of the diaspora, tends to be exclusionary. It is time to widen the racial and geographic parameters of people of colour, especially black women living in Japan.

When I moved to Japan the inconspicuous voices of black women I quickly noticed, were not an individualistic ideology, but a collective struggle for their emancipation. Their accomplishments and voices have been overlooked around the globe, and therefore this year I opened up a conversation on black women in Japan and how they are creating a new space of recognition for themselves and others. 

Touching on topics such as representation, identity and diversity of the black heritage in Asia, the discussions connect black women from all nationalities and those who are sharing their stories, cultures, ethnicities, languages, backgrounds and experiences in Tokyo. This is supposed to further educate people on black cultural individuality and interpersonal experiences – and presents an opportunity to celebrate and immortalise their contribution while highlighting the necessity of black women’s voices to movements such as gender equality. I hope to create a more transnational culture where all of the diaspora can have a voice by creating more platforms for us by us. 

Note from the editor: Serah Alabi is an author and photographer that moved to Tokyo two years ago and plans to return to London in the near future. In cooperation with the event agency Bae Tokyo she was holding the exhibition “Black & Beautiful: Black Women’s Voices in Japan” at the UltraSuperNew gallery in Harajuku, Tokyo. For her project, she photographed the following five women to give them a platform where their stories can be shared and heard. Each of them has a unique voice that speaks to many individuals of the diaspora and beyond.

Aisha Karim

When she was 23, Karim entered the world of beauty pageants. Getting increasingly interested and becoming more involved with the process, Karim used pageants as a way to share her story with her Japanese audience as a mixed-race woman living in Japan. Through her advocacy, she wishes to expand her platform to other girls facing the same struggles she had. 

Bukky Adejobi

Adejobi is a Nigerian born Canadian who’s been living in Japan for approximately six years inconsistently but made her last move to Tokyo in 2017 to pursue her dream of connecting the Japanese and African fashion industry. She is the co-founder of Awatori, an agency that creates a system that better helps African designers to penetrate the Japanese market – and the Japanese designers to enter the African market. 

Emiko Najima

Hair is the most obvious indication of our heritage and it is the attribute people seem to notice first. Najima started braiding in order to style her mix-raced daughters’ hair. It was important to her that her daughter embraces and loves the versatility of her hair in a society that would later see her as different. She has been braiding the past 20 years now and organises workshops to educate and help other Japanese with biracial kids to bring out the best in Afro hair.

Ouli Gueye

Gueye was born in Senegal and has been living in Tokyo for the past ten years. She is passionate about building up people and communities. She loves creating spaces for people to find homes away from home, which is much needed in Japan. Gueye wants Africans in Japan to not just go through the motions, but to thrive and make the best of their time there.

Tamika Okiawa

Okiawa, is an Afro-American woman, who has been living in Japan for the past eleven years. She has been cosplaying since she was eight years old and wants to widen the conversation for people of colour in cosplay.