Embassy of Japan in Kenya



Embassy of Japan in Kenya also has been accredited to Eritrea, Seychelles and Somalia

Font Size

Are Japanese Africans or Vice Versa

Mr. Peter Ongera

A picture is displayed.


My name is Peter Ongera from Kenya.I run African Homestay and Safaris, an African cultural tourism agency that links up tourists who want to LIVE(home stay), STUDY (cultural and educational)and WORK (internship and volunteer)in Africa with local hosts in rural villages and towns.

It was in March 1994(as a student at Egerton University), after a trip I made to Kita Kyushu, Japan during Ship for World Youth Exchange programme that I got into my business by accident. In Japan I lived with a Japanese family (the Sakamoto’s) in their home and I picked the home stay business concept. My agency links up tourists who want to Live, Study and Work in Africa with local hosts in rural villages and towns including in slums.

As a social entrepreneur and consultant I believe that Africa can eradicate poverty through sustainable social investing in education and skills (especially information technology) transfer and partnerships with companies, governments and communities. Africa has all the natural,human tools and resources to overcome poverty.

Are Japanese Africans or Vice Versa?

My stay with Japanese people in 1994, by courtesy of the Japanese government, enabled me to conclude that the Japanese culture and African way of life have several things in common.

After exchanging cultural views with the Japanese during my home-stay with Kunimi Sakamoto's family and aboard the Nippon Maru Ship for World Youth for 45 days, I found that Japanese and African cultures compare well. Despite the fact that there exist over 200 ethnic groupings in Africa with cultural and linguistic differences, one can still talk of an African traditional culture.

During my cultural mix performance aboard Nippon Maru Ship during SWY 1994 (Peter Ongera – center)

African and Japanese ancient histories show that hunting wild animals with bows and arrows and gathering wild fruits and vegetables were practised in both societies. African history records the Dorobo of Kenya and the Hottento of South Africa as hunter-gatherer communities. There existed traditional metalworking, tanning, canoe-making and weaving industries. The use of stone implements, production of earthenware containers for cooking and food storage was part of African and Japanese society.

The two socieites were organized into kingdoms or fiefdoms and civil rivalry was evident. African kingdoms had clashes just like those of the Minamoto and Taira. The Maasai believed that all cows belonged to them, so they fought and stole cattle from other societies. African religions, like Shinto, had their roots in animistic beliefs, with local temples for household and local guardian gods. Africans worshipped the gods of their ancestors much like the Japanese, by making offerings, animal sacrifices and prayers.

African and Japanese festivals are both linked to agricultural production. Prayers are held for good harvests and thanksgiving made for good yields. Dances, music and games were staged during festivals and new produce was offered to the gods. African music and dance was informative, educational and entertaining. Wrestling, like sumo, was very popular in Nigeria as a way of choosing leaders or winning brides and personal pride. A wrestler was expected to be a "cat" whose back never touched the ground. Games started with rituals as a sign of purification and blessing, like the salt thrown in the dohyo. The music of stringed instruments, drums and bamboo flutes accompanied the events. Folk songs were classified according to situation and function. Local brews like saké were part of the meals during festivals and ceremonies. One needed to master ceremony rituals, as is the case with the tea ceremony. Raw and cooked foods were eaten. Thanks were given to the ancestors and the host before and after meals.

African traditional houses were made of mud and wood with thatched roofs. Materials were fitted together using ropes and bark. Africans used mats for sleeping and sitting on. There were no beds, although some communities like the Turkana of Kenya sat on small stools made of wood. Painting on walls and floors conveyed certain ideas. Skins from animals were used as clothes, tied in a unique way like the obi ties a kimono. Skin slippers like zori were used on rough ground and in the bush.

Certain plants and animals, in the African context, had special meanings. The owl was seen as a sign of misfortune and bad luck or death. Some trees were believed to be the homes of evil spirits, like the loquat tree in Japan. The hare was shown as clever and mischieveous; the elephant as stupid and the hyena as arrogant and stubborn.

Apart from being kind and humanistic, Japanese and most African languages have similar forms and structures. Some words like the exclamation "ee!" have the same meaning in Japanese and Kiswahili. Kiswahili, spoken in East Africa, is one of the most widely spoken African languages and is used in international media, including Radio Japan. Words with similar pronunciation but different meanings are used in both languages, "juu", "kata" and "mimi". The use of "yes" and "no" is similarly ambiguous in Kiswahili and Japanese; communication is indirect and proves confusing for non-native speakers.

The family as the basic unit of society is the same in Japan as in Africa. Traditional Japanese and Africans lived in extended families with relationships ruled by a rigid heirarchical system with strong parental authority. Fathers were respected as the head of the family, and married women were expected to respect their parents-in-law. Displays of affection like kissing and embracing were not made in public. The division of labour was gender-based, women were tied to the household and gathering chores and were never regarded as equal to men.

Although Western culture has invaded both our societies, our cultures remain similar.

Peter Ongera