I’m Rachelle Moscova from Newark, New Jersey. I’m 28 years old and I live in Nagasaki Prefecture, in Unzen, a city known for its array of welcoming hot springs and its eponymous active volcano which greets me every day like a friendly neighbor. I’m a third-year high school Assistant Language Teacher here on the JET Program.
“Why Japan?” is a question I frequently get asked. The long road here began very typically with an interest in anime, dramas, and video games that developed into an appreciation of the language and the culture. My household has always been multilingual; among me and my family members, we can speak English, Haitian Creole, French, and Spanish (and now Japanese). When I realized that I could grasp the meaning and pronunciation of some Japanese phrases spoken in the shows that I watched, my interests became something I wanted to seriously pursue. I double majored in Literature and Japanese Language in university, applied to the JET Program upon graduation, and was accepted upon my second attempt two years later.
I came to Japan with no expectations, and ended up lucking out with teacher housing in a neighborhood full of some of the friendliest and most helpful people I’ve ever met. I’m also within walking or biking distance from all of the basic requirements necessary to my daily lifestyle. Even with the extremely low language skills that I was able to express in my first year, people went out of their way to make me feel welcome. At my current and much more fluent level, three years later, people still go out of their way to help me.
As a Black woman in Japan, I am extremely visible, especially in my little town in the countryside. Everywhere I go, people stare. While walking down the street, I can make eye contact with every single driver passing by, along with their passengers who turn around to get a second look. This actually happens. When people actually stop me for conversation and find that I can speak Japanese, I’m always faced with the usual questions about where I’m from, what I do, how old I am, etc. Sometimes, however, I have had to explain the multi-faceted composition that is my identity in ways that I’ve never had to before. I’ve had to explain what kind of woman I am and why my hair and skin are the way they are. I’ve had to explain my race (Black), my ethnicity (Haitian), and my nationality (U.S. American).
Some days the experience of it can be extremely draining. Sometimes I find myself frustrated to the point of exhaustion. These are questions I’ve never really had to answer before. As I said I’m from Newark, one of the Blackest cities you could ever come by with a Haitian community that has always allowed me to walk a few blocks to buy a heaping plate of griot and fried sweet plantains. I could turn a corner and get my hair braided for under $200 if I wanted to. No one needed to know who I was or what I was made of. They either knew my family or they knew my block. However, having already been labeled by all the things that I come from, there was never much space for me to grow and mature as a woman through my own definition.
One of the biggest reasons for my traveling across the world to live alone for the first time in a mostly homogeneous country is that I needed to find myself. I needed to learn more about who I am and how best to articulate that. Those questions that I tend to get asked in the most unexpected of times, while sometimes exhausting, have also made it so that I have never felt more strengthened or empowered because, in being pushed to define and explain so many of the things that I am ultimately comprised of, I have gained more clarity about myself than I’ve ever been privy to before. I’ve never known so much about where I come from before I came to live in Japan.