Why Do Japanese Students Call Black Men Bobby?

By Donald Ash | Articles

ボビー!ボビ-!ボビーオログン! From the very 1st day working at a Shogakko, my children would always call me Bobby. Day after day after day I would hear “Bobby!” When I enter a classroom or walk down the hallway. For my first two weeks I was confused. “Why do my Japanese students call me Bobby?” I had two other African-American teacher tell me the same thing happened to them. So I guess the better question is “Why Do Japanese students call black men Bobby?”

“Are they having trouble pronouncing my name?” Nope, that wasn’t it.


I asked one of my teachers using my bad Japanese. The teacher told me that it may be Bobby Ologun that the kids are referring to. After doing some online research, I found out the Bobby Ologun is a wide-eyed, Nigerian-born TV celebrity who also does mixed martial arts. I had never hear of him before. But as soon as I looked up the picture, I instantly recognized him. How many Nigerian, Japanese celebrities are on TV? My guess is not too many.

The reason I bring this up is because I went to Saturday Interac training and met a fellow African-American teacher.

We talked for a bit and he asked me if any of my kids call me “Bobby.” My eyes widened with the surprising realization that I wasn’t the only. I’m pretty sure many male ALTs with any kind of African roots (Nigeran, Sudanese, African-American, etc.) must encounter the exact same thing. In the kids eyes, I must look like Bobby Ologun. But in reality, I truly don’t think so.

My photo:

Bobby Ologun’s photo:

Here we are, side by side:

Why Do Japanese Students Call Black Men Bobby
Why DO Japanese Students Call Black Men Bobby

I remember early in my Japan stay, another African-American teacher said that people would always call him Bob “The Beast” Sapp (the former Pride fighter). The guy looked nothing like Bob Sapp. For starters, he had hair, and he had very light skin. It’s funny how that connection still comes up anyway.

So for all of you African-American male teachers with low haircuts, you may get the “Bobby” treatment at some point or another. Even if you don’t look like him, your brown skin is going to connect you two, at least in the kids minds. Is it annoying? Yeah, it can be. But the way I handle it, is to let my kids know that my name isn’t Bobby, but Donald. As long as the kids are genuinely learning and enjoying what I teach, this becomes a minor issue.


About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

  • Nanami says:

    mmm.. -tilts head- I don’t see it. You aren’t even in the same end of the darker skin tone ranges. However, I agree with you that if it helps.. It helps.

  • Roger Starkey says:

    Have you seen any of his K-1 fights?

  • Roger Starkey says:

    That’s enough said. Any man who would go into the ring against Grace is enough of a fighter. The thing was, he had just appeared on TV a few months before jumping into K-1, which really surprised me when he got KO’d by Sapp.

    • Donald Ash says:

      Yeah, I wouldn’t want to go against any of the Gracies. I was a little surprised that Bobby was able to last so long against Royce. Royce is a legend and all, but he’s not as effective as he used to be. The Sapp KO was a bit surprising for me, too.

  • Anonymous says:

    Just as some westerners see all japanese as looking the same, the opposite occurs to japanese.

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