For BCJ's next feature, I interviewed Louis Kwame Boston aka Jaja; a long-term expat in Japan and the owner of Black Radio. With two other business under his belt and a humble upbringing, I felt it was a wonderful opportunity to share his story. Ready to get started?
Could you let our readers know a little bit about you? Where you are from, how long you been in Japan and what lead you to living in Japan?
My name is Louis Kwame Boston. Kwame is a Ghanaian name. It was given to me by my father. Jaja is just my nickname. My father is Ghanaian and he went to Sierra Leone to live and my mother is from Mobay (Montego Jamaica) and she was also in Sierra Leone. There they met and I was born in Sierra Leone. That is where my humble beginnings started out. We used to go to Ghana and Jamaica once in a while but most of the time I stayed in Sierra Leone in my early years. I’ve been in Japan for about 20 years and I came here after I studied fine arts.
You can see some of his works in his office like the one above.
Fine arts? Wow, I had no idea. What did you want to do with your art degree?
After I studied in art college, I was thinking about going to Jamaica to do some exhibitions or to go to Canada because my elder brother and sister lived in Canada. I was thinking of going there to do some African art exhibitions. The thing is my father is all about knowing your own roots. That's why he named me Kwame. He’d say, “You shouldn’t forget your roots”. So I was more into spreading African art and showing what African culture is all about.
At one point, Jaja’s sister had come to Japan for half a year and told him how she could hardly see any Black people around for weeks. She expressed to her brother that this could be a great place to share their culture through his art.
That was the first motivation that actually brought me to Japan.
Seems like your sister influenced you greatly.
Yeah, she said ‘you have to study Japanese if you have to communicate your culture to Japanese people’. So I found a Japanese school, started studying Japanese. Although, the art exhibitions I came to do were brushed aside for a while since I decided to learn the language. That’s how coming and staying in Japan started out. After I finished Japanese school and I was able to read and write Japanese a little, I decided to do something else.
So, no more art. What did you end up deciding to do?
I decided to study in business law in a university in Japan. I enrolled in Kinki University (Kindai now) and studied business law for four years. After that I was offered a job in a Japanese real estate company. I just went in there to brush up my skills in international business. That is how I kept adjusted in Japan. After working there for maybe 3 or 4 years I decided to stop and started my own company. I was just tired of the Japanese corporate system and the way they think. It is that group thinking and the way you can’t move over certain limits in the company. I say it’s all BS. You could work there for like 15 years and never get into the next level. So I said to myself I’m going to hit the streets and start my own thing.
I understand that feeling. How did you go about starting?
I started my first company at home. I started building bilingual websites, graphic designs and a little bit of video editing and I was also booking artist for wedding gigs. I bought a PA system so I could take them to the bars and restaurants and set up an event for them. I also designed the flyers. After about 10 months I started to rent a small space in Shinsaibashi because I was going around all these gaijin (foreigner) bars and Japanese restaurants to talk business. There I started a small magazine called Blackan, coming from the words Black and Kansai. That was maybe 8 years ago.
Blackan was a magazine first! That is new to me. What was the content like in the magazine?
The magazine had features and was a pocket sized magazine. There was no Facebook at that time so it’s features would introduce events going on in Kansai especially Black events, Hip Hop, RnB, Gospel and events going on in certain bars and clubs. I was using it to also support my business. It was like killing two birds with one stone. I published the magazine monthly in English and Japanese. It was out for about 4 years.
Sounds like a good run. Did you start your other companies at the same time?
Yeah, while I was doing all of that, I was also thinking about doing a patois (aka patwah) school. What actually motivated me to start the school was the room next to my office was empty. I borrowed that room and started a patois school. I decided on patois because I used to teach English and it was kind of boring. English is just a normal thing so I wanted to do something different. Also, because Jamaican patois is connected to reggae music which I like and it’s a part of my culture. African music as well of course but reggae music was more popular in Japan. Many people were asking “Oh I wanna know what’s in this song” or “I wanna chat patois” So I said ok I’m going to open a patois school. Nobody has ever done it before in Japan. I tried it out and it was a big success.
Nice, Nice! Another success.
Well, I had that school for about 4 years or so. Then I switched it to just an online business. So while I was doing the school, I stopped doing the magazine because the economy in Japan was really hard to get adverts. Then I changed the patois school to an online school where people can go online and pay a monthly fee, download PDF files and listen to the audio and stuff.
So after all that is when you started the radio station?
Right. I started thinking about getting things rolling in a different way - in a more digital kind of way. So that’s when I started converting the Blackan magazine into a radio station. I was using the same room I was using for the patois school. Changed it up and got some PA stuff in there. Since I know both PA and computers I just put both together and was able to have a radio thing going on.
Could you tell the readers what kind of radio station Blackan Radio is.
Blackan radio is a platform where musicians, business people, creative people can come together and link up and be able to advertise their crafts. DJs can come and connect with their fans as well as artists and singers. They can advertise their CDs, their gigs – it's just a platform where we as Black people are be able to express our culture or get a voice that can reach out there. At the same time use it (radio) to promote my business.
This is your third business, right?
Correct. Just before I started Blackan radio I started a different type of business which is an exporting business (KCC International Ltd). I am exporting Japanese used cars, parts and tires which is my main job now from Mondays through Fridays. On Saturdays we have shows on Blackan radio.
Incredible. What advice could you give someone (a non-native Japanese) who wants to start a business in Japan?
One, you have to have a vision. Before you hit the streets have a clear vision of what you want to do, how you want to start it out and how you want to run your business. Number two, if you want to start a business in Japan a least know how to speak basic Japanese because you will hit some walls out there if you don’t speak Japanese unless you’re an English teacher. You can learn more on the way when you start your business but before you start know at least the basics. For my business right now, I use a lot of Japanese. Number three, don’t be afraid to take chances. Don’t wait till you have everything in your hand before starting. As long as you have the basic things get out there and hit the road and do what you gotta do. If you have a strong passion for what you want you will definitely attract the things that will make your business better. This will also attract the people that will give you advice or help you get your business going smoother in terms of clients or partners and stuff like that.
Noted! Do you have any business or personal goals you'd like to share with the readers?
My main thing in life is to be a better person in all aspects. Just improve myself every day and show love and give love. The more love you give the more comes around.
Blackan Radio broadcasts every Saturday via BLACKAN.TV, Ustream and Facebook Live. 1st Saturdays of the month is Reggae music, 2nd Saturdays are for Hip Hop, 3rd Saturdays are for interviews with DJs and artists, and 4th Saturdays are for House and KMC Vibes (a talk show that also does interviews). You can also check out archived radio shows and DJ mixes via Soundcloud. To get even more direct updates, download the Black Radio app via iTunes or Google Play.
Black Creatives in Japan