Black Women Thrive: Interview with English Teacher Ayana Wyse

English teacher Ayana Wyse
Whether you're facing uncertainty or simply a little nervous, sometimes in life you have to just go for it like Ayana Wyse did when she made the decision to move to Osaka, Japan nearly five years ago after she started learning Japanese on her own while still living in Brooklyn, New York.

"I decided to live [in Japan] after months of studying because I wanted to try a new life, learn the language in the country and was inspired by my friend who lived in Japan for a few months."

Actually, before moving to Japan, Wyse had some experience being out of her element and changing her scenery stateside in New York. After growing up in a predominately White area in the county of Westchester, New York, she was happy to move White Plains, the more diverse area of the county. Nonetheless, her Black peers were well aware of her less divergent background. 

"I was excited to...experience a new [high school] with new people and more diversity. When I went there though, many of the Black people teased the way I talked...I still made an effort to befriend mostly Black people so I didn't have to stick out so much any more although now I'm back to being one of the few Black again [in Japan]."

Although Wyse's peers might've felt she was not in touch with Black culture, in reality, Wyse and her older brother—five years her senior—grew up being educated about her Caribbean and by extension African roots as her father is from Grenada.

Like other kids of the 90s, Wyse and her older brother also enjoyed Japanese pop culture in the form of anime. Rouroni Kenshin; Tenchi Muyo; Pokemon; Digimon; and Yu-Gi-Oh! were a few of their favorites.

"My brother was interested in anime first with Dragon Ball and I with Sailor Moon. At the time, I didn't know it was from Japan." 

Later, Wyse began to learn about other aspects of Japanese culture, and became particularly interested in geisha and samurai. Eventually, she studied at two colleges. However, she majored in Communications rather than Japanese. 

"First I went to Seton Hall...[which] had a good track and field team which [I] entered in...I transferred to University of North Carolina in Charlotte after two years for a better track team."

At UNC Charlotte, Wyse majored in Communications since there was no Japanese major. However, she changed her mind about working in media after she graduated. Two years after graduation, she took inspiration from her childhood best friend who worked as an ALT (assistant language teacher) in Japan for six months, and from her brother who was studying Brazilian Portuguese when she began to teach herself Japanese after college.

"It was the year 2010 in January [that] I made a New Year's resolution to study a new language because I saw my brother learn Brazilian Portuguese and I worked at a cafe in NYC where the owners spoke English and Hebrew, and the cooks were Spanish. Everyone being able to speak more than one language made me jealous, so...I tried to fix that by learning Japanese on my own."

Wyse drew further inspiration from her childhood friend's then boyfriend who suggested she apply to teach English in an eikaiwa 英会話 (English conversation school) or as an ALT. In the end, she chose to work at an English conversation school and interviewed in NYC. Eventually, she found a job in Osaka, Japan. Her family supports her, although her father was initially a little skeptical about the move.

"My dad...always says [Japan is a] "strange land". He did encourage me to come to Japan, but he probably didn't think I'd stay for so long. My mom, if she were alive today, I think she'd also encourage me, too...my brother has visited me here in Japan."

These days, Wyse works mainly as a kindergarten teacher in an English immersion school. She also teaches adults on the side and occasionally helps out in a local bar.

"I got [my bar gig]...in December [2014] to get extra income to help save for [a] trip to Jamaica...The bar is in my neighborhood and I always passed it with curiosity. One day after buying groceries, I saw someone I know in there and I stopped to talk to them. Turns out a new event was gonna happen there monthly called Jamaica Night...after talking to [my friend] for a bit I said I'd go home and put my groceries away and join the event."

Wyse spoke to the owners and was shortly hired. She enjoys the laid back, local atmosphere as she doesn't have to make many drinks. Interestingly, the bar also offers freshly made, locally grown organic food. 

"Many of the vegetables come from South America or other countries," Wyse said. "The owner started out as a coffee seller with his own coffee bean farm in an Okinawa island. He still does that along with his bar, a cafe, [and] his small farm".

Wyse would like to start her own business in the future, but for now she continues to work while enjoying Japanese culture and connecting with like-minded people. She is especially familiar with the reggae scene, but grew tired of it at one point. She finds that most Japanese people in the scene are mainly attracted to the surface aspects of it, like the dressing or dancing. Furthermore, many are only familiar with Jamacian music. Her ex-boyfriend was a Japanese guy solidly ensconced in the scene, but they since broke up.

"I do still know some good people in the reggae scene, but I'm not going to events as much anymore [because] it just feels awkward to me now. Especially since they barely dance! Just face the DJ and MC and listen like...they are at a classical music concert [laughs]".

Although Wyse no longer spends much time at reggae events, but she does flex her creative muscles through her YouTube channel and Facebook group, Black Creatives Japan. On YouTube, she makes videos primarily about her experiences in Japan and daily life there. Months ago, she was invited by married couple and popular Japan vloggers Rachel and Jun to film her opinions on being a Black person living in Japan for their short documentary. 

"I took it on because I wanted more black [YouTubers] to get exposure...and also hoping it'd inspire others". 

Her Black Creatives Japan group is also inspiring, and offers a safe space for Black creatives to share ideas and their work as well as find others to work on projects or just create together casually. 

Black Creatives Japan is a closed Facebook group
for Black artists, musicians, photographers, etc. in the country.

The Black Creative's cherry blossom viewing party in Osaka.

Since its creation less than a year ago, the group has grown to almost 300 members. Naturally, members live all over Japan, so there are local events created for the members to meet up in person. Recently, Wyse and some members met for a hanami(花見)or cherry blossom viewing party in Osaka.

Osaka. Well-known, but arguably not as popular as Tokyo in the northern part of the country. Nevertheless, Wyse is happy she chose to live in the south since, although a large city, Osaka doesn't really have a "big city" feel.

"Osaka seems to fit my personality more. I'm not a city girl. The people in Osaka are more laid back, warmer and the food here is good along...Tokyo is the opposite. According to many of my friend's experiences in Tokyo I felt that if I had lived there I'd probably dislike living in Japan like I did living in Brooklyn. Not sure if I'd even give another area a shot...in Osaka I was able to comfortably live and see Japan for what it is and that each area is different."

Wyse isn't sure if she'll stay in Osaka forever, but she feels certain she won't return to the States to live. She worries about racism, and possible stomach bugs!

"The racisms has gotten way too high recently, and I'm worried about who will be president next. Also, growing up I always had stomach problems, and [after] coming to Japan I swear I don't have [them] anymore. When I visit...the States during the holidays and eat out, I get those weird stomach problems. I may move to Ghana if I decide to leave Japan [laughs]".

Hanayanaa (YouTube Channel)
Black Creatives Japan Facebook Group

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