When we first saw the Black is Beautiful collaboration opportunity arise, the question wasn’t whether we should participate or not, but rather how our participation might be received, especially as three non-black, non-Japanese in a country that likes to think it is homogenous. Questions regarding race and equality are sensitive topics here (meaning they are usually avoided entirely), making the task of communicating them through a beer collaboration with its roots in the Black Lives Matter movement even more difficult. Despite the inherent difficulty, we still saw this as an important opportunity to raise the question of what it means to be different, and whether those who are should be treated differently because of it.
Japan is not without racism or discrimination, whether against those of African descent, from neighbouring China or Korea, or those who simply do not fit the commonly accepted norm of being “Japanese.” For those who feel otherwise, we suggest that you consider the plight of the Ainu, one of Japan's indigenous groups, or more pertinently here in Kyoto, the burakumin, descendants of an outcast group at the bottom of Japan’s feudal caste system. If that is still a stretch for you, the three of us would be happy to describe experiences where we have been rejected from being able to rent an apartment or be approved for a credit card based solely on our nationality.
Please keep in mind that being a minority is not always related to being of a certain race, ethnicity, or social background. Overweight children, career focused women in high-level management positions (or those who aspire to become one), and people who look “foreign” despite being born and raised in Japan are all examples of groups of people who are often the targets of intense bullying or ostracisation in Japanese society. Is it because they are bad people, or because there is something inherently wrong with them that they are treated this way? No. It is solely because the people around them can not accept these superficial differences that they are labeled as societal outcasts.
For our supporters and customers, we understand if it seems hard to relate to this conversation or the initiatives behind the collaboration. We do hope, however, that our participation makes you consider what it means to be a minority and whether people from these groups should be treated any differently. What does it mean to be a minority? What would it feel like if I were a member of a minority, and how would I like to be treated? These are just some of the questions we hope our participation in this collaboration will lead you to ask yourself. Doing so will certainly allow each of us to be more accepting and tolerant of people who appear to be different, and the more people that can do this, the more accepting of diversity Japan can become.
In line with one of the ideals of the collaboration, we have decided to donate proceeds from this beer to the "Legal Rescue Squad” run by the Kyoto Bar Association. This legal defense fund provides support for those seeking legal representation who otherwise may not have the means to afford it. Their activities are wide ranging, and they represent those who have been wronged due to their nationality, gender, social background, age, or physical disability. It is our hope that this donation will help people from a wide variety of backgrounds receive justice when the society around them has been unable to accept their “different” nature.
Ben, Chris & Paul
Co-founders of Kyoto Brewing Co.