Check out Tokyo Interlopers, a local version of 'Humans of New York'

By Kirsty Bouwers

Meet Tac, 15-year-plus resident of Japan and the founder of Tokyo Interlopers, a project focused on telling the stories of Tokyo's non-Japanese residents. Think 'Humans of New York' (HONY) meets Tokyo meets foreigners, with slightly less regular updates than on the original – Tac has a full-time job to attend to besides this, after all. 

Tokyo Interlopers
Tokyo Interlopers founder Tac (right)

It all started as a hobby. Inspired by HONY, Tac started looking around for a Japanese version, and when he couldn't find a proper one, decided to fill the gap by creating one himself, gradually adding a professional photographer and a writer along the way.

There was only one caveat: this page would focus on foreigners in Tokyo and their experiences, as that was something he could personally understand. Tac finds that the capital's non-Japanese residents tend to be lumped together as a homogenous group, which is quite inaccurate.

'Not all foreigners are equal – there's a wide range of experiences, both good and bad. A white, blonde female experience is completely different from a Filipino male one. I had the desire to understand what people might be going through, and perhaps try and help them by showing them they're not alone.'

When Tac first came to Japan as an exchange student, he went into full-on Japan-loving mode, going as far as virtually wanting to be Japanese, but the ideal came crashing down when he entered the corporate world – in a local company to boot.

'No amount of university time would have prepared me for that, and it can be very unforgiving sometimes. It either makes you or breaks you, and I hope it made me in the end, but it's definitely not an experience I'd like to repeat,' he says.

Perhaps as a reaction to that, Tac seeks to document not only stories of those thriving in Tokyo, but also any hurdles they may have had to overcome to get there. 'I'm not looking to celebrate other people's misery – it's more about the victories, how people could thrive and achieve things afterwards,' Tac says.

'I guess it's also about showing people who want to come here that Japan isn't always paradise, and that you can have a hard time here too. It's not all rainbows and butterflies (thanks Maroon 5). Showing a range of experience is the aim – both good and bad, and not just the white perspective, for example.'

'I also wanted to break the stereotypes that exist about "gaijin" in the minds of Japanese who may not know that many foreigners, and show them who these people really are: more than just a foreign face. Perhaps help change the perception a bit, change the stereotypes,' Tac recounts. 

And what perceptions are he talking about, exactly? 'Just some of the more absurd ones about Japan itself or foreigners in general, like "only Japan has four seasons", or foreigners are always late, don't pay attention to detail, stuff like that. Negative prejudices that may hold foreigners back from thriving.'

'It feels as if we're often guilty until proven innocent. For example, me being Filipino, they'd expect me to be lax with things, always dancing or break out into song. I found a lot of people here actually expected me to be like that, and I constantly had to prove them otherwise. I try my best to not reinforce those beliefs.'

The ultimate aim of Tokyo Interlopers is for people, both foreign and Japanese, to connect with each other through the platform and celebrate their differences. 'Foreigners are part of Japanese society in the end, we contribute to society, we're not just here for nothing, and vice versa, the Japanese have a massive impact on our lives, they welcomed us and let us stay. It all boils down to diversity and living together. I'm just trying to bridge the gap a little,' says Tac.

The project has also had a personal impact on Tac and how he sees the world: 'I find I'm more accepting after starting it – trying to withhold my immediate judgement when I meet people, or at least making sure that I look beyond that before deciding whether I could be friends with this person. Get rid of the unconscious bias, so to say, or at least be more conscious of it.' Now that's something we can all get behind.

Interested in the project? Check out Tokyo Interlopers through Facebook, Instagram or their dedicated website

Latest news