On July 27th I had the pleasure of interviewing a man from Ivory Coast, west Africa who has been living in Tokyo for seven and a half years. His name is Guy-Perol Mandoumou and he works in Tokyo as an accountant.
In his own words, Guy is a part of the third wave of Africans who are living and working in Tokyo. The first wave came over in the early 1980’s. These people often got involved in construction and manual labor jobs.
Many Africans who come to Japan today do jobs like this and related to the construction industry. This has a lot to do with the stigma attached to African people, in the minds of many Japanese. To be Black and from Africa, you probably have super strength.
The second wave, who came over in the early 1990’s gravitated toward the entertainment industry. Many of these people were performers. Their business ventures included things like bars and night clubs.
Finally, the third wave who came over in the early 2000’s, came to Japan to study. They are recently coming out of school with degrees in various areas and with a firm knowledge of Japanese language and culture. They are now joining Japan’s workforce as educated professionals.
In talking to Guy, his persona presents an interesting dichotomy. He is obviously a sharp thinker but he acts in muted tones. He is very steady with everything he does. He is also very personable. He seems very reserved in his demeanor but he is always very acutely aware of everything in his surroundings.
I asked Guy to promote his Africa festival which is coming up in a little less than one week. He and his team are working around the clock to handle last-minute preparations. This is its third year in existence. It will be held in Yoyogi park where Tokyo holds most of its cultural events. It will feature music, arts, food, performances and various other forms of culture from all over the African continent. This link gives more info about the Africa Festival. We also spoke briefly about the African Business Seminar and business cooperation between Africa and Japan.
Over the course of the interview, there were two questions that I asked Guy and his answers still stick out in my mind. First I asked him what brought him to Japan. He told me he wanted to try something different as opposed to going to France or the U.S. as his peers were doing. That kind of raw adventurism is something I find remarkable. Second, I asked him to tell me something he really enjoyed about the life in Japan.
When he answered this question, I could hear that he was speaking from the heart; from his inner voice. I was talking to the real him. Anyone who has visited Japan would agree that Japan is at the pinnacle of modernization for countries in the industrialized world. As modern and technologically advanced as they are, they are equally Japanese. They cling fiercely to their own culture and traditions, their values and ways of looking at life and the world.
Guy expressed a deep admiration for this trait in the Japanese; for the affinity they have for their own culture. This is an ideal that needs to be adopted by, not just people in Cote d’Ivoire, but nations all over the world. We all need to, as he put it “hold on to our roots as we move forward.”