Culture shock

Culture shock of a black man leaving Japan for Charlotte


Tracy Jones and her family recently moved from Japan, her wife’s home country, to Charlotte.

Moving to Japan from the United States was like living in space. In Japan, I floated in zero gravity. To be weightless is to be hypersensitive without the constant fear of real danger.

I lived in Tokyo, Japan for nine years until my family and I moved to Charlotte. We landed here in September. Anticipating the culture shock that lay ahead, gravity felt like an imminent presence.

But life in the cosmos has other effects on the body. Symptoms include isolation, exposure to radiation, and increased anxiety due to inhabited environments with people who treat you like an alien or alien.

The American media machine had already deceived the Japanese about black people. In 2017, foreigners represented 1.9% of the Japanese population. Of this total, Americans accounted for 3.7%. Black Americans are only a fraction of that percentage. They told them we were stupid and scary and dangerous, but cool. My unrelated connection to Japan’s language, culture and nationality made me an outsider, a lone outsider orbiting the exclusive inner world my wife hailed from.

In Japan, some people were determined to befriend me despite my reluctance, while most believed in black stereotypes. True to their civility, they watched me closely and kept their distance to avoid embarrassment. In space, I would learn that the world is not according to white men who enslaved black people and waged war against other countries in the name of democracy.

America’s lies are as long as its walls are high. Unless you travel to other places, you can’t see over it.

For me, the United States was Earth, a planet of sentient beings whose myriad colors are too vast to sort and categorize. Leaving my country nearly a decade ago, I thought I was putting my life in the listless hands of the unknown.

On arrival, an earthquake. Initially, a pandemic.

A week after reaching Tokyo, it seemed the city had gone radioactive. On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake shook northeastern Japan, generating a tsunami that engulfed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing a triple nuclear meltdown. Waves 128 feet high had stretched their mouths from the sea to devour six miles of land along the coast. The Great East Japan Earthquake moved the entire island 8 feet further east.

Suginami, Tokyo, March 11, 2011, the day a 9.0 magnitude earthquake rocked northeastern Japan. Courtesy of Tracy Jones

It was the day my wife and I were supposed to get married, but we postponed. Nearly 20,000 people died.

Just as a terrible tragedy took place on my planned wedding day, nine years later we would leave Japan amid the coronavirus pandemic that would, at the time of this writing, kill more than a million people in the world.

“America will not be as we experience it through the media”

Little did I know that I had grown accustomed to living in the land of the rising sun until I realized that I would no longer have access to the tranquil view I had from up there looking down. I couldn’t ignore the presence of a sociopathic madman who ruled my country as I returned. I thought of recent videos of police beating up protesters fighting for black lives, reminding me of my southern dad calling them “cracker cops.”

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Tracy Jones and his wife on their wedding day in the Suginami district of Tokyo, Japan. Courtesy of Tracy Jones

In Japan, it is legal for police to racially profile and harass foreigners, especially if they are black, but these incidents vary depending on the circumstances. Since there are no laws against hate speech, right-wing groups march all over the country, proudly preaching separatism and maintaining the purity of Japanese blood (which does not exist), although fanatics armed brandishing their mortal fantasies are absent.

“Oh, I think they know. I’ll talk to them,” my wife said of our long-lived plants that started dying a few days before we started leaving our apartment. our trivial sentimentality, the constant airing of snuff films showing unarmed black men being murdered impressed our impending future.

“America won’t be the way we experience it through the media. You’ll see,” I told my wife. Three weeks after we arrived in Charlotte, an unarmed black man, Jonathan Price, would be given a taser and would shoot a Texas police officer in Wolfe City four times, killing him.

In Japan, when Trump declared “America first”, I looked at the United States through my porthole. I expected to see him transform into a tentacle-throwing space creature while chanting “Try Jesus”.

It was early September when my 7 year old son said, “Do you know why October will be scary? »

Because we’ll be in America and I could get shot? “I do not know why ?” I said.

“Because it will be Halloween,” she said.


Run, play – then a warning

Spending the night for the first time in our apartment in Charlotte, we received an ominous warning. My wife was cleaning the bathtub while our daughter was discovering her new home, running and playing. She was a kid, just kidding.

We heard a “bang bang bang”. Our floors and walls vibrated. Our neighbor below us was tapping on her ceiling. “Hey, please stop running and stomping,” I said to my daughter. After midnight, when my child had already been asleep for hours, the knocking continued unprovoked as if to say, “You’re not supposed to live there.

“What is that?” asked my wife. I told him I thought the downstairs neighbor must have thought we were making too much noise.

Tracy Jones’ wife and 7-year-old daughter in front of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte. Courtesy of Tracy Jones

My wife researched and found the Fair Housing Act, which describes sounds coming from our apartment as normal, not excessive noise. “We don’t do anything,” she said.

The beatings occurred at random times, day and night. Apparently, our downstairs neighbor called the police, stating that she was hearing “disturbing noises” coming from our apartment, like something nefarious was going on, but when the cops arrived and knocked on our door, we we weren’t there.

A late night food run

On our second night in Charlotte from Tokyo, I went to Carolina Ale House for some late night food. Everything was closed. The streets were dark, but I kept seeing police cars parked on the side of the road.

As I walked down East 4th Street, I saw a large crowd of silhouettes on the street blocking cars. The collection of bodies draws near. I started backing up my car. “Black lives matter,” I hear them sing. It was almost midnight and they were blocking traffic. I saw a white woman on the street yelling at someone in a car. I can’t say I approved of his tactics, but his passion was needed. “We’re going to get you out,” a white man told me, holding a Black Lives Matter flag. I saw young black men, some on bicycles, wheelies in the middle of the street.

The demonstrators drove past my car. “Stay safe,” I said, lacking the enthusiasm to raise my fist and shout revolution, I was an exhausted dad trying to get food for my jet-lagged family. Still, I was stunned. Even though for years I hadn’t participated in protests, watching these young people breaking out of curfew, disrupting a sleepy town, inspired hope. I’m at home.

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This story was originally published October 16, 2020 8:30 a.m.

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Tracy Jones has a head full of bullets with butterfly wings and a pocket full of mountains. Passing through Tokyo, Japan, he is a born-again American, writer, photographer, and proud husband and father. He writes for Huffpost, Bandcamp, Tokyo Weekender, LA Weekly, MoCADA, and produces The Microscopic Giant.