Japan has been known to be a very insular country, but as of late Blacks–African Americans and Africans–have been making their mark on the country, despite lingering stereotypes. Blacks are finding that the Japanese are willing to do business with them as well as accept them as entertainers.
Take Dante Carver, for example. The 33-year-old African-American is the most popular television personality in Japan.
There is also a popular blog for blacks in the country – Sista in Sendai – that offers resources and an outlet for a growing number of blacks living in Japan.
There is a former professional wrestler and American footballer, Robert Malcolm “Bob” Sapp, who has made a major name for himself in Japan as a pitchman. Sapp currently has an MMA record of 11–6–1, mostly fighting in Japan. He is well-known in Japan, where he has appeared in countless commercials, television programs, and various other media, and has released a music CD, It’s Sapp Time.
And not long ago fitness guru Billy Blanks took his Tae Bo exercise phenomena to Japan with great results.
On top of this, the most popular enka singer (traditional Japanese music) is African-American. To say Jero White Jr. (who goes by just Jero) is hot in Japan is an understatement. He is a mega star in the country. It seems it was his grandmother who first exposed him to enka singing and loving the music so much he made it his mission to move to Japan and perform as an enka singer. Now the 25-year-old is considered one of the best in the country.
But of course, Jero is not the only singer that is hot in Japan. While Shota is actually Japanese, he recently teamed up with R&B singer Joe to do a duet. “Including myself, Joe is like an R&B icon for many Japanese Black Music listeners and music lovers,” says Shoto. “For many of them, Joe might have been their introduction to American R&B music. Why did I decide to work with him? It is because I really like him.”
For Joe, he says he appreciates the love of his music from Japanese fans. “I love performing in Japan, so much so that I return every year. From the very first time I performed there, the reception has always been warm and friendly. They really have an appreciation for R&B music,” he says. As far as the enka singer, Shoto also has praise. “Jero is wonderful! Because music is a universal language, everyone can sing different kinds of music and become happy! I also sing enka (Japanese folk/soul music) when I go to Karaoke bars, too!”
On to Carver, perhaps one of the best-known faces in Japan: he recently signed a deal to be the spokesperson for Japanese mobile phone company Softbank, one of his countless endorsements and television appearances.
The Softbank deal made him a household name. According to CM Databank, a Japanese marketing research company that tracks the country’s top television actors, Carver ranked as Japan’s number one television commercial star.
But when he first went to Japan, family and friends thought it was a bad move, especially since he did not speak the language (he is learning). “Friends of mine kept talking about their experiences. But over a very short time, I just had to see for myself I guess. Plus, people around me weren’t too positive about my desire to act in Japan,” he recalls. “It was always, ‘you know you’re not Japanese right?’ and ‘I heard they don’t like black people/foreigners’ or ‘But you don’t speak the language’. But I felt it was good timing and a great life challenge.”
A graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University with an international business degree, he initially worked for an insurance company. But when he had the chance, he pursued his lifelong dream of acting pursue a childhood dream to try acting–in Japan.
But breaking into the Japanese acting market wasn´t that easy. “It took persistence! I went on 121 auditions,” he explains. “I spent $130 once to take a train to Tokyo for work as an extra. I took chances again and again. Shortly after, I was contracted.”
Still, Japan does not have a global reputation of being very welcoming to outsiders. “Like home, stereotypes and tunnel vision can be strong. I try not to let it get to me,” notes Carver. “If I did, I’d never go out and do things. How did I get past this? You can never really get past it. It is like saying racism doesn’t exist. Instead, move forward and/or past it. Energy can be spent more creatively. You deal with racism with a smile. Again, I can do better things with my time. Here, either people like you, love you, respect you, or wouldn’t bat an eye in your direction. It’s like being back home. People are people. I’m a people person.”
He credits his success to his own persistence and positive thinking. Says Carver, “I guess part of it could be because I’m a pretty positive person. I have high energy and focus even when I’m not working. I try to make the most of everything I can. Never know what could come out of it.”
He has much more planned in Japan. “I just filmed an indie over the summer here in Tokyo. It’s a dramedy with a twist called ‘Pancakes’.”
Although he has become a success in Japan, he has not ruled out Hollywood. “I would love to break the bank again- in Hollywood. I’d love to do a great TV series and/or movie. I love the entertainment world.”