I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Baye McNeil, the man behind the über-popular Japanese website Loco in Yokohama. At least, I think he was sitting down, since we were talking via Skype. Anyway, I was. I’ve got this new couch, and boy is it comfy.
Ken Seeroi: Thanks for joining me. Should I call you Loco, or Mister Yokohama?
Loco in Yokohama: Ha, either is fine!
KS: Great, let’s just go with Mr. Loco. So I understand that you’ve written a new book?
Loco: Yes, Loco in Yokohama. it’s my second book, packed full of humorous and provocative stories of Japan. I want to challenge people’s ideas of what it’s like in Japan.
KS: So what’s it like in Japan?
(At this point I’m thinking he’ll just tell me and then I don’t have to buy the book.)
Loco: Well of course, lots of highs and lows.
KS: Okay, give me your top five things.
Loco: Let’s see . . .
Loco in Yohohama’s Top Five Things about Japan
1. The ramen’s really good
2. The onsen. Being able to go to hot springs at any time is great
3. The girls–at least looking at them, since I’ve got an incredible girlfriend
4. The customer service
5. The safety
KS: Yeah, I’m really into the whole not-getting-shot thing we’ve got going on here. Okay, so how about the lows?
Loco: I thought we weren’t going to talk about them?
KS: I lied. I do that sometimes.
Loco: Well, the public. You know, the stress.
KS: Like how?
Loco: Like when I walk down the street, people jump off the curb to get out of my way. There’s constant objectification and criminalization. At the ramen shop, the cafés, on the trains, wherever, the seat or space near me is always the last to be taken. Half the people who do dare come near you have some agenda.
KS: Yeah, I get that, but probably not as bad, since I’m, as they say, white. Now in your first book, Hi! my Name is Loco and I am a Racist, you talked about your experiences as a black man in Japan.
Loco: Yes, I wrote my first book for the foreigners here. It dealt a lot with race issues, both in the U.S. and Japan.
KS: So what’s that like in Japan?
Being Black in Japan
Loco: It’s like nothing I’ve never experienced before. The daily onslaught of microagressions. I grew up in New York–you know, and it’s as close to a melting pot as America gets–so my upbringing couldn’t prepare me for the daily barrage of fear and aggression. It’s mind-boggling. People here are just unintentionally offensive at all turns and oblivious of this in most cases.
KS: I feel that, but I don’t think they’re that oblivious.
Loco: I’d like to think they are. It makes Japan a livable place. Convincing myself that they are oblivious allows me to forgive them, the way you’re able to forgive children when they act up. I know it’s condescending and I hate condescension, but it’s the most effective coping mechanism I’ve come up with to get through the day here without taking offense. But, from speaking to people here, I know it also has a lot to do with their image of what it means to be “black.”
KS: What’s that image?
Loco: Aggressive, strong, prone to violence . . . all the negative stereotypes. Some not so negative ones too, but the general reaction is fear. But here, you just gotta roll with it.
KS: Now you’ve been in Japan for a long time, right?
Loco: Since 2004. I was living in New York when 9-11 happened, and the whole city was sort of in post-traumatic shock, so I decided to visit a friend in Japan. And of course I loved it, so I moved here and worked at an eikaiwa for 3 years. Then in 2008 I moved to Yokohama. Been here ever since.
Studying Japanese and Living in Japan Long-Term
KS: Do you currently study Japanese?
Loco: I gave up on it. There were no benefits and no incentives.
KS: I can understand that. So do you plan to stay here long-term?
Loco: I’ll probably go back, but not to New York.
KS: What about your girlfriend?
Loco: She’ll go with me. She’s a keeper.
KS: Why not stay in Japan forever?
Loco: Because of the attitudes and behavior of the general public. While I think living amid such hostility has made me stronger in many ways, it’s also done some serious damage. I hope it isn’t irreparable damage though. I often wonder if I’m even fit to live anywhere else at this point.
KS: So tell me about this new book, Loco in Yokohama.
Loco: I’ve written a really good book. I think people who read the first book are gonna dig this one too. It’s much more lighthearted and hilarious. It focuses on my day-to-day experiences much more than the first, but speaks to a greater purpose. This book’s for everyone.
KS: What’s in it?
Twenty-seven chapters about relationships, challenges, teaching and learning, and how loco it is up in the schools here. I think the foreign teachers will identify with what I’m portraying, but also anyone who just wants to be entertained by really great stories. It gives a peek inside the secret window of Japan. But the stories about teaching English are just the subtext.
KS: Sounds great, honestly. Any final words about Japan?
Loco: Nothing I haven’t already said in 10 years of interacting with people and building relationships, 6 years of blogging at Loco in Yokohama, and in my two published works.
KS: Fair enough. Thanks for your time, Mr. Loco.
Loco: And thank you, Mr. Seeroi.
After we hung up, I got off my comfy couch and got a beer, because I never drink when I’m working. Fortunately, I don’t work very much. That really helps. I also found a wedge of smoked cheese in the fridge door, which was a surprise. Like, did I even put that in there? Where does such mystery food come from?
“Hell of a nice guy,” I thought, as I sat back down to watch some Japanese TV. “But why is it that all the best people end up leaving Japan?” Then I drank some beer, ate some mystery cheese, and watched this show where a TV crew was running up to “foreigners” on the street and interviewing them about Japan.
“Nah, probably just my imagination,” I concluded, and changed the channel.