Blerd (Black nerd/geek) culture has always been a part of my life. While most of my knowledge of Blerd culture was through my own curiosity, my dad was a Blerd too. Growing up being fascinated with Star Trek and cowboy culture, my dad wanted to educate me on a variety of geeky activities. When I branched on my own, I found video games and soon after the discovery of anime.
My parents were delighted, while my grandparents fascinated, about the Super Nintendo, a machine from Japan, and its functionality of making buttons move characters on screen at home. Alternatively, my parents couldn’t understand my anime love of Sailor Moon, DragonBall Z, and Cowboy Bebop. However, this fascination with video games and anime was only the beginning of my fascination with Japanese culture as I began to get into karate, learn about samurai, read about the Edo period and discover even the intricacies of shibari bondage. I was becoming an otaku (non-Japanese person in love with Japanese culture) and I began to set my sights on going to Japan.
My wish was finally granted on a college graduation gift from my parents and grandparents who had understood my deep love for Japan and its culture. From the moment I landed in Japan, the bombardment of being a Blerd in Japan hit me. The shifting advertisements, the fashion, the buzzing of Tokyo station and all of the neon lights wrapping me in their shine. Surprisingly, I found no racism in Japan, but many people were fascinated and wanted to take pictures of my Blackness. Therefore, I was able to instead reflect in peace and learn more about traditional Japanese culture as a Blerd on my way to Kyoto.
Kyoto had a feeling that brought about woodblock paintings of various depictions from Japanese history. Kyoto is the old capital of Japan with geishas you may occasionally spot in the Gion districts, cherry blossom trees and a plethora of temples and bamboo trees. As such, it’s where you go if you want the more countryside view of Japan. This reminded me of many anime filler episodes or heavily Edo-inspired video games that took place away from the city. Thus, Kyoto is far more historical and idyllic than Tokyo, but it is still part of the process of Blerd culture. To expand, there were many school groups with Sailor Moon outfits trying to learn about Black culture, zen gardens for reflection before a Dragonball spirit fight, and the haunting images from the anime, Barefoot Gen, in the Hiroshima Museum. All of this made Kyoto hold its own in regards to Blerd culture.
Upon return to Tokyo, some of the true aspects of Blerd culture came to life in three specific experiences around the districts of Tokyo. The first was in Akihabara. As the electronics district of Tokyo, it plays up otaku and Blerd culture tremendously. There are six-floor arcades, gatcha machines with little toys, cosplay girls handing out fliers, three-story anime shops and stacks of electronics. It’s Blerd heaven and I truly had raucous laughter to myself throughout my entire walk through the district. I think if I could pick any true place on the planet a Blerd would want to be it’s Akhibara as it is the foundation of all Japanese geek culture that has come to America.
The second experience is split over several districts, but it involves some of the oddities that all Tokyo natives know but foreigners might not. The Shibuya crossing, Harajuku street and Kabukicho. Shibuya, which is the setting for the video game Persona 5, has this insane almost eight-way crossing that is legendary for seeing people traffic at its peak. Meanwhile, Harajuku street has Japanese hip-hop meets makeup cosplay girls from Gwen Stefani’s Love.Angel.Music.Baby album days. There’s also Kabukicho, which provides all the quirkiness and Yakuza-controlled inspirations for the Yakuza video game series. While the average American doesn’t know this information, these are iconic places to get your Blerd culture on with photos and nightlife in Japan.
Lastly, I went out in Yokohama with a Japanese guy I knew from high school and his friends. We had a great time eating traditional Japanese food: sushi, tonkatsu, plum wine and more. It was a defining Blerd cultural experience for my taste palette – an important aspect of Japanese cuisine. As such, I have truly fond memories of Japan and hope to visit again one day with a friend or partner to share the enjoyment of being a Blerd in Japan.