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Ranzo’s vision is to inspire people to look beyond their cultural boundaries and repair the image of black people around the world.
He runs a Youtube channel called Black Experience Japan (BEJ), which interviews black people who have travelled to live and work in Asia. The aim is to highlight the wide diversity of their experiences and stories in order to combat deeply ingrained stereotypes and prejudice.
Originally from Jamaica, Ranzo currently lives in Japan with his family and he also runs an app-directory which identifies black businesses in Asia. Prior to moving to Japan, he lived in Canada where he left a job at his university to run a successful merchandising business. However, a chance encounter with a manager at the university changed his life. After telling him about her adventures in Japan, it reignited his desire to move to Japan. He explained:
“I always wanted to go to Japan. I had a conversation with my manager at the University job I worked at and it just happened that we had a conversation about Japan. She said she did this programme in Japan and she spent two years there.
“So I went home that very night and talked to my wife and she said she’d be down to travel to Japan. But the deadline was two weeks away, so we just caught it at the tail end. If I had not had the conversation with my manager, I would not be in Japan today. I’m a daredevil and I’m blessed my wife was down. We’re a match. I never knew BEJ would be known worldwide.”
However, making the decision to move to Japan wasn’t easy. Most of his customers were based in Canada and his family were skeptical about his decision to leave.
“I was fulfilling orders right up to the point when I had to leave, so I almost missed my flight. My plan was to run my business from Japan remotely, but the time difference weighed on me and missing the daily grind of business for the first six months, made me want to return home . The level of freedom I had in Canada was great and it was a wonderful experience being my own boss. I had a great clientele and I was planning on opening a store. But in Japan I missed the daily grind and I had left just as things started going really well in Canada.
“It was challenging running the business from Japan due to complications with fulfillment. However, as fate would have it, today I’m doing something that I’m really passionate about and it’s making a difference.”
As it happens, making the decision to go to Japan was to be one of the most significant decisions he has ever made and eventually resulted in the publication of the BEJ.
Although he could not have imagined what the BEJ would eventually become, he was motivated to document the lives of black people in Japan. His aim was to overcome stereotypes and highlight the contribution of black people in the country.
He said: “I never knew that BEJ would have grown into what it is today. When I started, I was doing live streams and vlogs. But people kept asking me ‘what is it like being a black person in Japan?
“When I first started vlogging, I got a lot of derogatory comments from racists online because they had this mindset that black people came to Japan to take from society.
“I started the BEJ to answer the question: what is it like to be black in Japan? And I wanted to go deeper to highlight who the black people in Japan are not just as black people, but as people. And thankfully, I think that’s something that we’ve been able to do.”
Today, given the spectrum of diverse cultures and individuality among the people that he has interviewed, the BEJ serves as an educational tool.
However, not everybody was onboard with his relocation to Asia. But he went anyway, inspired by his passion for success.
He explained: “My parents didn’t like the idea of me leaving to go to Japan because my business was working so well in Canada. When something is small then people may not see it. This is why it is important to see with your vision, not with your eyes. Having the ability to see what is not there is important, because others may not see it and discourage you. You have to live your life and decide the type of life you want to lead and just go after it.”
Ranzo’s aim is also to inspire people around the world to have their own overseas adventures and experiences. Although his own voyages did not always go as planned, he’s never looked back.
He said “Think about the life you want to lead. Understand that everything won’t necessarily make sense right away and you may not have all the answers. If you’re seeking for everything to be just right and perfect for you to make a move or take a leap, then it won’t happen. Just have an idea what it is you want to do. If there are certain things you need to prepare before you come or you need to get your life in order, do that and make a trip.
“The worst thing is to have regret. Often, we regret the things we don’t do rather than the things we did do. Even if you don’t have the exact job you want or the money, don’t let that stop you from taking the first step. You can always return home. You’ll never know where you’ll end up.”
One of the things that the BEJ has done successfully is it has created an open forum for people to get an inside look at the experiences of others.
It has served the dual purpose of inspiring black people to have their own journeys and non-black people to get an insight into the lives of those that traditionally are not featured prominently in the travel media.
According to Ranzo, breaking down barriers in this way can help to overcome prejudice and bridge the gaps to understanding. He added: “If people get to know each other as individuals and spend time with each other regardless of skin colour and have authentic, open conversations, we would find that we have more in common and we potentially might fall in love.
“Sometimes distance breeds hatred and misunderstanding. I believe my channel bridges a gap and helps people gain an understanding of those who are different from them and get an insight into the black experience.”
One of the greatest obstacles for many black travellers at the moment is the coronavirus. The virus has halted the vast majority of travel plans for millions of people across the world.
Although people have not been prevented from travelling entirely, most of us won’t be going on holiday any time soon. Even with some countries slowly emerging from the lockdown, travel still remains restricted.
For Ranzo, the lesson is clear: don’t procrastinate when it comes to travel – because you never know what is just around the corner.
He explained: “If you have a desire to travel just do it, because you never know. The world is changing and it’s changing rapidly. I’m pretty sure COVID-19 will change travel in some way, shape or form. If you have a desire, or opportunity, always say yes for the most part. That’s what COVID-19 has taught me – if there’s a place you want to go, do it and don’t waste any time.
“The moment you start overthinking something, you probably won’t do it. We need to see what the other side looks like.”
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