I recently had the pleasure of interviewing another blog hero of mine, Loco in Yokohama. In this interview we talk about everything from his books, to being a foreigner living in Japan to teaching in Japan and more. Loco really went all out on this one; I just hope I didn’t question him to death. No matter who you are, I really think you’ll be able to get something out of this interview. Read on, comment, ask questions, and share! (Trust me, you’ll be glad you did )
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Who you are, where you’re from, and where you went to school?
My name is Baye McNeil aka Loco in Yokohama. I’m originally from Brooklyn New York. I attended Long Island University where I studied English and Communications.
2. How long have you been in Japan? Why did you come?
I’ve been in Japan since 2004. I came here initially to escape from the toxic post traumatic atmosphere in NYC at the time following the darkest moment in American history, 9/11. I stayed for the food and for the love that I found here. Now, I remain here because Japan is basically home.
3. How has Japan changed in the time you’ve been here? Has it changed for the better? The worse?
It hasn’t changed much overall. At least the people haven’t. There are some people that I deal with personally that i believe as a result of our friendship and sharing of ideas have changed, as have I. But in general i don’t sense any changes of note. There’s a lot of new construction though.
4. Do you think you’ll live in Japan forever?
I doubt it. But I’d like to always have a place here that I can visit whenever I need to get my Japan fix, good food, hot springs, a worry-free and relatively safe environment, and other amenities easy to overlook if you’re not paying attention.
5.What are the three biggest benefits to being a teacher in Japan?
A- Lots of freetime. B- Being around essentially the best people in Japan (the kids) all day C- Having the opportunity to see the positive results of my presence in this land play out on a daily basis, through the astute minds and hearts of kids.
6. What are the three biggest challenges to being a teacher in Japan?
A- Incorrigible kids who I have absolutely no authority over.
B- Trying to get by on the meager wages, usually requiring me to supplement my income with private teaching or other part time gigs, or, in my case, by writing and selling books.
C- As a writer who writes about his everyday experiences, it’s a challenge to live in and fully experience the moment without being distracted by the writings I’m constantly composing in my head for future use, and missing out on the full impact of the present.
7. What grade levels have you taught as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) here? Do you have preference?
I’ve taught them all, elementary, Junior high and high. I don’t have a preference really. I’m not crazy about pre-teens though. I can’t take crying, nor the raw fear reaction some of them have at my appearance. But on the other hand I’ve found they are the most open-minded people in Japan.
8. The American school system vs. the Japanese school system, which is better? Why?
Neither is better. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Both make efforts to propagandize kids, and mold them into the type of productive citizenry that will be beneficial to the survival and the prosperity of the State…which is often pretty awful to watch, but understandable. A bunch of free thinkers running around is dangerous to any government, whether democratic, fascist, communist or parliamentary.
I hadn’t noticed how potent this propaganda was until I came here and ironically became a “part” of the system propagating it. But, I refrain as much as I can from reinforcing ideas I don’t personally agree with, same as I did in the US. My influence here is rather limited anyway when it comes to what the kids in these schools learn, so that’s not so difficult. I do what I can do to help them see the many flavors of humanity and that while these flavors may appear to be different from their own, that they are essentially the same and equal (something I think the current system does a piss poor job of doing) and if they walk away from the school having fully understood that relatively simple notion then I feel like I’ve done my job. English ability is not my highest priority as a teacher here.
9. You’ve had a well-respected blog for quite some time. How long have you been blogging?
For five years. Actually six years if you count the blog I had before I began “Loco in Yokohama” back in 2008. I had a blog prior to that dedicated to the ascension of then presidential candidate Senator Obama. I followed his campaign very closely.
10.Why did you start Loco in Yokohama?
I felt at the time that there was a deficit of blogs that seriously focused on the issues that affect all non-Japanese here, to one extent or another. I found blogs that dealt with discrimination in Japan, but those focused primarily on those well-established and easily recognizable acts such as the occasional banning of foreigners from certain establishments, rampant housing discrimination and job discrimination. To me those were like low-hanging fruit, and they simply did not impact my day-to-day life in Japan. I’d rarely run into those issues. Only twice in ten years have I been denied entry into a place of business or been blatantly discriminated against. No, what troubled me were the paper-cut discriminations, tiny acts of criminalization, ostracization, humiliations indignities, etc., that on their own are manageable, bandage-able, but over the course of time, slowly but surely bleed non-Japanese trying to build a life here something awful; these little issues that many non-Japanese living here somehow ignore or forgive so readily, for a myriad of reasons, are the things that concerned me the most. I felt strongly that they needed to be addressed for they were, quite frankly, driving me nuts, hence Loco in Yokohama. I also wanted a platform to showcase my writing with the hopes of attracting an editor or publisher and kicking in the backdoor of the publishing process, waving the .44. In other words, on my own terms.
11. Blogging and authoring a book can be two very different ways to communicate with an audience. The writing styles for each can also be quite different from one another. Which style of writing do you prefer?
Actually I only have one style of writing. I was never a traditional blogger, in the sense that I created content to be digested quickly and easily, like bite-size snacks of information and entertainment. I’ve always written full course meals with dessert entrees and a fine wine to wash it down. I think my first post was almost 2000 words and over the past five years I’ve averaged about 1000 words. Not exactly the best strategy for building an audience on the internet as it stands, but I write for my own purposes as much as I do for my audience. So, readers of LIY came to know what to expect from me: Long thoughtful, cathartic, hopefully entertaining and enlightening posts on mostly serious and pertinent matters worthy of the wordage and respectful of the reader’s time investment.
12. What are three of your favorite blogs on the internet?
Honestly, I don’t really read blogs that often. Occasionally something will catch my eye and I’ll get into it, or I’ll make the rounds solely to support bloggers who have supported me. And that’s not to say that there aren’t some really entertaining, thoughtful and well-written blogs out there. There most certainly are. Off the top of my head my favorites would be my girl Corinne at: www.alwaysleavingthingsunfinishe.blogspot.jp. She’s the shit!! Ashley over at Surviving In Japan has so much useful information about life in japan that you really don’t need to look anywhere else. And, of course, there’s my second book’s editor’s blog, which is perhaps the most incisive blog on the Japan blogosphere, Orchid 64′s incredible: www://1000thingsaboutjapan.blogspot.jp/ But, to be absolutely honest, I spend so much time writing, editing, and promoting my books that I don’t really read many blogs at all. I know that sounds selfish, and I am selfish. I think a certain amount of selfishness, in the best sense of the word, is required to accomplish the things one wants to accomplish in life, especially if you’re shooting for the stars like I do.
13. When you did you discover that you had a passion for writing?
Oh, must have been a kid. Writing poetry for girls and such. Then in high school I wrote a kickass horror movie.
14. What inspires you to write?
Pain, joy, love, hate, and a profound and inherent desire to teach and share ideas.
15. Who are your three favorite authors of all time? Why?
Zora Neale Hurston: Her book “Their Eyes Were Watching God” does it for me every time. Just brilliant in every way.
James Baldwin: His stories are told in the voice and in the way that I want to tell my stories. He is a genius, and it comes through in his attention to the details and his ability to achieve literary truth through being honest with himself.
Toni Morrison: Toni Morrison: To say I shoot for the stars is to say I shoot for her. They all are stars, really, but Toni is the epitome!
16. What is “My Name Is Loco and I Am A Racist About?”
It’s my effort to share my sincere thoughts and ideas with the world about race, and how I came to have these thoughts. It’s my racial history, from childhood through Japan. It’s about the greatest gift Japan has given me, that being it has forced me to come to grips with and resolve the racial conflict that has been waging inside of me my whole life, but I chose to ignore. Life in japan made continuing that policy of leaving well enough alone quite impossible. It’s about the journey that brought me to that revelation.
17. You recently released your second book titled “Loco in Yokohama.” How is this book different from the first one? What can readers expect to see?
On the surface, the new book is about teaching and living in Japan. Beneath the surface I’ll leave it to the reader to see what it’s about. Comparatively, it’s a fairly lighthearted romp through the challenges and rewards of living the life we lead here. I think I would have been in remiss to ignore the stories that fill my every day life with such joy and adversity. I know they’re great, and like I said, as a writer, I feel compelled to share them.
18. When you published these books, the blog already had a strong following, what inspired you to write both of these?
I’m a writer. Writers write with the intention of being read by as many readers as possible. And I’ve always wanted to be a published writer. It was a dream of mine since the days of reading Encyclopedia Brown, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries when I was a kid. I couldn’t get enough of those books and knew someday I’d tell my own stories, in the book format. Now I do.
19. If you could sum up Loco in Yokohama in a haiku, what would you write?
A flower known as Loco in Yokohama Sits in my window
I find that no matter where you live, or where you go, when people are different it can trigger some really weird social responses. I know it can be quite true in Japan:
20. What does being African-American in Japan mean to you?’
It means that instead of the humanity you have in common with all humans being readily accepted and acknowledged as the matter of fact that it is, it must be somehow verified or testified to. It means being the object of fear, at varying levels, wherever you go. It means being subject to stereotypes being applied to you, and having to endure people responding to the stereotype as your proxy, whether it be beneficial or detrimental to you, while the real you has front-row tickets to this foolishness.
It means being challenged in ways you never imagined you’d be challenged and learning things about the essential you that, in the long run, can help you uncover things about yourself that you might not have ever uncovered without this adversity, and can potentially make you a much better human being. A helluva gift, especially for a writer, I gotta tell you! I’ll always owe Japan a debt of gratitude for that!