Before I came here, I was connected with a black woman named Dana who had studied at JCMU years ago. One of the questions I asked about her experience was "What was it like being black in Japan?". She said, as I'd already heard, that I should expect some stares. "People will definitely be curious. You might as well be a unicorn."
She couldn't have been more correct. Take today, for instance.
First, on the bike ride back to Kumakuma. I came up behind a little boy and a little girl who were also on their bikes. I rang my bell to so I could pass them. The girl immediately moved to the side. The boy started to move to the side, but turned around to see who was coming. I kid you not, when he saw me he came to a complete halt, opened his eyes really wide and exclaimed "Sugee!"*. He continued to stare at me as I passed, repeating the phrase to his friend and chattering on about this marvel that was yours truly.
Second, coming out of Piago. I came out of the store and headed toward the bike parking area. I turned the corner to see an elderly lady who stared at me and said, "Heeee..."**. At least this lady was more polite than the kid. She greeted me with "Konnichiwa" as I passed by.
The elderly lady's reaction was like, Well, what do we have here? Hello. Whereas the little boy's reaction was more like "OHMYGOODNESS A UNICORN!" These weren't the first times that I've heard sugoi/sugei/hee/etc. said in my proximity since I've been here. To be honest, it doesn't bother me at all. It's actually funny to see how Japanese people react to me. Sometimes I forget, until a Japanese person comments on how well I speak their language with a little extra surprise in their tone of voice. Or until I notice someone eyeing me just a few seconds longer than they do other JCMU students I'm with. But I am foreign, and a particular kind of foreign at that. I'm black. And I can't expect locals to be used to seeing people who look like me. That's just how it is.
I might not belong here, but I'm here. And while I'm here, I'm sure that onlookers and I will continue to be amused by each other.
* "sugee" or "sugoi" are expressions used to address something impressive or unexpected. Their meanings differ depending on the context, but in this instance it meant "wow" or "incredible".
**"hee" is similar but much more subtle. It's more like "wow" or "I see" or "Is that so?"