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Tia stands in front of a Japanese shrine

By Tia Blassingame

Okay, if you look like me you probably started singing that song title and know exactly where I got it from. Perfect, because it has been playing in my head all week! This is truly a different world. Right now, I am at a homestay with my onēsan (pronounced ohnay-sahn) and her family. That term right there is already different vocabulary for you I’m assuming. Onēsan is “older sister” and a “homestay” is when you stay overnight (or more than one night) with a family. In basic “Tia terms” (that’s me), I’m at a sleepover with my sis and her fam. Let me backtrack a bit...


October 7, 2022 – The Departure

Waking up early the morning of October 7 so that I could get to the airport on time, I was so excited I felt I could float on air all the way to Japan. After years of preparing and waiting, I was finally on my way! God’s promise was finally being fulfilled. My sister-friend Marci and her mom drove me to the airport, prayed over me, and then escorted me all the way to the TSA security line. They hugged me and said, “We can’t go any further with you.”

It was at that moment the beautiful dancing butterflies in my stomach deserted me and became stones of doubt, anxiety, and fear. WHAT was I doing?! There I was, an African-American woman that nine years before had transitioned from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Atlanta, Georgia. As if that move wasn’t scary enough, I was now transplanting my entire life across the world to a place where there aren’t many people who look like me—Japan! I thank God for my friend, for her mom, for the TSA agent who told me she was proud of me, and for the stranger that stopped to hear what was going on as I stood frozen in line in tears. She hugged me and told me it would be alright.

After I grabbed a quick breakfast and made a few quick calls to say goodbye (my dad being the main one), I boarded my flight. We departed from Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson Airport October 7 at 11:20 a.m. EST, and I landed in Tokyo’s Haneda Airport October 8 at 2:20 p.m. JST. (When the US is on Standard Time, Japan time is 13 hours ahead of Atlanta, so to my body, it was now 1:20 a.m.!) This was it. I was here . . . JAPAN.

Looking out a plane window at Japan

The Arrival

From the moment I stepped off the plane I felt like I was in a new world. The airport departure procedure in Japan is so technical, but efficient. Not just that, as I looked around, I was the ONLY brown person in sight. I remember trying to explain to someone how I was going to be the oddball, the “other.” They looked at me and said, “We’re all the ‘other’ because we’re all foreigners to them.” My response was, “Yeah, but I’m the OTHER other.” It’s very hard to explain to people that are not brown or considered a minority in their own country how different and potentially difficult that feeling of being different is.

For example . . . I just happened to be on the same flight as another teammate. When we landed, we ended up going through the whole departure process together. People would give her the “you’re different” look and keep moving. Then they would see me, give me the look, and practically break their necks because they never looked away.

I saw this especially in kids on the train. At one point my teammate finally saw it for herself. There was a young man on the train who couldn’t stop staring. It was comical because he was not a small man and kept trying to hide behind a pole so he could stare at me. As he got off of the train he didn’t stop looking. He walked backward and even pulled his camera out and aimed it at me. I was tempted to pose . . . but I didn’t. I was too tired from traveling to find my Philly girl response. It was then that I had to have a pep talk with myself:

Tia, being different is not a bad thing. You are here to represent the Creator. He created you with purpose and for a purpose. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

I will say that I have been here for four months now and it still happens.

My City, My Friends, My Home

Well, they put this big city girl in a rural agricultural city: Yonezawa, Yamagata. All of my fears, worries, and the horror stories I’ve heard about being black in Japan have turned out to be not as major as I thought. I will say that may be because of where I live. While it has been a bit difficult getting used to a slow life in comparison to living in a busy city, I can absolutely say that the people here take good care of me. And while they are curious about my differences, they are kind. Remember in the beginning when I said I was doing a homestay? That’s because it’s so cold in Yonezawa right now that the pipes in my house froze. My big sis (by the way, she adopted me as her sister the first week we met) told me to come stay with her family since temperatures are below freezing this week.

Speaking of curiosity, when I’ve had children ask about my hair or why my skin is brown, I take their questions as opportunities to talk to their inquisitive little minds about the beauty of differences. However, this journey hasn’t just been about me being embraced; I’ve had the opportunity to learn about this culture and the beauty of it. Currently, I’m taking Japanese language lessons, and I’m also learning how to play the taiko drum.

My journey has been amazing, and it’s just the beginning. The best is yet to come!

A group of people standing in front of a Japanese taiko drum

Tia Blassingame


Tia Blassingame Tia Blassingame is originally from Philadelphia, PA in the USA. She is passionate about God and God's people. She is excited to work with the people and churches of Yamagata as together they display God's love in action throughout the region.

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