Foreign Cutz

By: Gerald Stewart

The Black-Owned Businesses Abroad series is a recurring installment of interviews, photos, videos, promotions, and/or article contributions covering black entrepreneurs making their way in a society away from home. This article is spotlighting Foreign Cutz, a barber shop in Yokosuka Japan.

I went to Cordell’s shop, Foreign Cutz, for a haircut and beard trim. I’m happy with the result and the quality of his work is immediately recognizable. After my haircut, I chatted with Cordell and another customer while he cut the next person in line. This is a bit of his story from the talk we had:

What do you miss most after being in Japan for over ten years?
“Being from Memphis I would definitely have to say fried pork chops.”

Cordell reflected fondly on spending time in the kitchen back home. Also being from the South, I asked a bit more about my favorite food: southern BBQ. Cordell said he can actually barbecue a bit and also feels comfortable in a kitchen.

So what made you decide to open a barber shop, rather than a restaurant or anything else?
“Well I got into cooking later on, and cooking for myself is one thing but it’s different to sell it to other people.”

How did you get into cutting hair?
“I got one haircut a long time ago and it was awful. I got it fixed by my cousin and became really curious about how to do everything.”

You have a picture with Nelly on facebook, are there any other celebrities or notable people you’ve cut?
Cordell has cut Nelly, Fabo of D4L, Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Gray from Empire, and Joey BadA$$.

What was it like working on them?
Cordell cut Nelly and members of his team in 2016. Nelly was personable and down-to-Earth.

Who was the most interesting person you cut?
Joey BadA$$ was the most interesting because he was “natural, real, and entertaining”.

Given your experience and clientele, what do you say to people who think the price is too high?
ig: @fadedU
That picture really says it all- “Look at the equipment. All that stuff, it factors in, and as a barber, you have to value yourself.”

Another customer there, also from the US, agreed that the price is not unreasonable. “Quality is a big factor. For many people, hair is your safety net, and if your hair gets messed up, it changes your whole image.”

Cordell agreed and shared stories of people he had known personally still trying to get a discount for a first time or a list of other reasons. “What I don’t understand is- people won’t go to Walmart or the corner store asking for a discount, so why would you come to my shop and ask me?”

The value Cordell places on his eye for style and experience is justified in his work. Having lived in six different cities in Asia, including three in Japan, I can say going to Cordell gave me the best and easiest haircut I’ve gotten abroad. A big part of that is my own lack of command of the local language. However, even with solid translation and multiple example images, it can take other experienced barbers three or four visits to get my hair cut and styled to my liking. This is probably due to simple differences in style and trends, but the result is that it can take me a solid two months to get what I might otherwise call my ‘usual’. The day I went to see Cordell I wanted to see what he could do with little suggestion. So I told him that I usually like a relatively short fade but I was open to letting him work. When the chair turned around, I knew that was a good choice. One feature I didn’t expect was that Cordell saw something I didn’t know about: He shaved just a bit of the top of my moustache which resulted in a visible separation between my nose and my facial hair which actually made the hair look fuller than when it follows its own lines.

Can you share your top tips for healthy, stylish hair?
“In this environment, depending on who you are and your hair type, keep moisturized. For example with newly locked hair, it’s pretty easy to maintain but you have to keep it moisturized. For black people, wash about three times a week, not every day, and depending on style wrap it up at night.”

Cordell also said he liked the pomade he recently started using, that he used to style my hair. It gave my hair a finished look, but without being so hard that I couldn’t still run my hands through it. Cordell used the “White Lightning” product by Mason’s Pomade.

How often should people be getting their hair cut?
“Every two weeks.”

Are there any do’s and don’ts for haircut day?
“Please, wash your hair. And don’t come in with product in it. It can mess up the clippers and make the haircut take longer.”

For those people that don’t have the time or money to get cut that often, do you have any tips to make a haircut last?
Shorter cuts are obviously going to last longer, and be easier to style. On top of that, Cordell recommends steering away from ‘hard parts’ and designs if you’re on a budget or can’t come in for a fresh haircut regularly.

On the other hand, if someone has some spare time and money to spend on their appearance, are there any style choices you like to work with?
“I’m really into fades, drop fades, high n’ tight, I just think something about it looks good.” Cordell mentioned he also likes to do designs, especially those that are unique or have some personal interest to the customer. “I had a guy in here the other day that wanted an ‘A’ in a circle cut in like the name of the performer, Anarchy. Designs really let me work on technique and I’m always on youtube thinking about what I can try next.”

What has it been like running a business here?
Cordell arrived in 2007. He got out of the Navy in 2014 and said he felt unsure of what to do next. While considering his options of using his GI bill for further education and also considering different jobs, Cordell was having a hard time.

“I was working contract jobs and it was actually my wife’s idea to open a shop. I was mobile before opening this shop in November of 2017 and I was constantly running around to different places. I just remember one day I passed out. I guess I was dehydrated and I woke up in the hospital and the first thing I thought of was ‘Where’s my equipment? What time is it? I have to get to my next client.’ And the nurse looked at me and was like ‘you’re not going anywhere.’ My wife did a bunch of stuff for me preparing for this and I was just so grateful. The one thing I was worried about going from mobile to having a shop was ‘are my clients going to follow me?’”

Cordell said all but one or two of his clients did decide to come to his shop, and at least one of those exceptions started mentioning booking an appointment soon.

Have you noticed any big differences between your experiences and those of non-black expat business owners?
Cordell said that he hasn’t had any bad experiences in the shop or while he’s actually working.

“But outside of the shop I do have stuff that’s said get back to me, but I don’t let it bother me. For example a customer had someone ask who cut her hair and when she told the guy about me he said something like ‘oh I’m going to take all of his customers.’ But she just said ‘Yeah, good luck with that.’ And that’s what I think about it too.”

On the topic of entrepreneurship in general, Cordell said he has a contact who isn’t a Person of Color that is something of a mentor to him.

“He owns a chicken spot and some apartment buildings and other things. He gets cut here and he encourages me to diversify. Our businesses are different so there’s not a direct comparison. But one thing I remember he told me was to be like a spider -if one leg gets cut off, you should have other things going on so you still have more to rely on.”

Can you recommend any other resources, sites, or contacts for black expats?
Cordell mentioned that he is actually going to be participating in an episode of Raw Urban Mobile, a podcast about life in Japan.
Check out the show and look out for his episode at

If you’d like to be a part of the BOBA series, leave a message in the contact section of the blog.

Follow Cordell on Facebook @Foreigncutz
Address:2 Chome−43 Yokosuka, Kanagawa,Japan
Phone number:070-2190-1361

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Becoming an Expat

By:Y. Shinnell Copeland

The first time I told my friends and family that I was moving to China many people were ecstatic. I’ve always expressed my desires for living abroad so when it came to my dad…he tried to deter my enthusiasm my recanting all the dangers happening in Asia at the time. However, after realizing that his efforts were futile he helped me book my tickets.

I think a big fear for people of color who decide to take the plunge into living abroad, is the idea that they’ll be alone. Many make the move to experience something new, find new opportunities, some even in the pursuit of a “less” toxic environment.

I’ve found one of the best resources for meeting like minded people, to actually be through Instagram. I’ve met alot of great women and have also had women moving to Asia (especially China) referred to me. It feels great being able to help someone. Three years ago, when I was preparing to move abroad, I didn’t have anyone to advise me.
Behind a lot of vivid pictures of beaches and life many seem not to need a vacation from, are genuine people, enthusiastic in sharing the good and “real” side of living abroad.

When I moved to Shanghai, China, I was pleasantly surprised to have another, black, female coworker. I didn’t expect to have one. She has connected me to literally hundreds of other black and brown expats and even other expats who are not people of color. They added me to groups that had people who could help me find hair products, great places to eat or even someone who were free during my random schedule to go shopping.

The Expat community, especially in Shanghai, is one of the densest and unique I’ve come across through my travels. I have truly made my transition into being a black expat here. It’s been one of the best decisions of my life.

If you are a POC and thinking about moving to Asia, here are some pieces advice:

1. Start decluttering your life & be open.
Don’t pack more than you can carry. For me, I use two checked bags and a carry on. Regarding decluttering that goes for your mental and spiritual well being as well. Don’t anticipate moving to another country and expect to have the same “luxuries” you would at home. Traveling in general is a very humbling experience, especially when you find yourself trying to order vanilla ice cream not knowing that “vanilla” doesn’t translate.

2. Do some research but don’t overwhelm yourself.
You can spend literally hours on the internet trying to find the most informative post on what to expect in your new city or new country. I did this but don’t do it! At the end of the day everyone has a different experience abroad. However, knowing whether or not you will need a VPN to access the internet and social media needs is something pretty useful to know. You don’t want to be scrambling at the airport before your flight trying to download one.

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3. Use social media to connect.
This is actually very important, like I’ve mentioned earlier. The best way to have your questions answered is to ask them directly. Many expats are still connected via Instagram and are usually willing to help “induct” newbie’s into the expat club.

4. Don’t skimp on grooming purchases.
Don’t expect to find all of your daily hair and body products abroad. I personally like to pack my favorite toiletries and hair products in “semi” bulk before traveling for long periods of time. If all else fails, and your nerves and anxiety begin to completely take control of your life, at least you’ll smell fresh and be well groomed.
Most importantly, keep your expectations low and your spirit and enthusiasm for life high. Moving abroad is a big deal so the best way to go into it is to enjoy the process as well.

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Follow Y. Shinnell Copeland on Instagram @elleisfab and check out her site Elle is Abroad.

If you interested in being featured in the We Are Abroad section of BMV, send an email to

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Beading Dancer

The Black-Owned Businesses Abroad series is a recurring installment of interviews, photos, videos, promotions, and/or article contributions covering black entrepreneurs making their way in a society away from home. This article is spotlighting Beading Dancer, an alternative lifestyle brand based in Japan.

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How would you describe your business?

Beading Dancer is an alternative lifestyle brand. We make products that help the body, mind and spirit. At the moment, our products are jewelry, skin products and digital artwork.

How did you decide to start selling your line of personal care products?

In 2009, I made a simple design from a book and my friend encouraged me to sell them. She also suggested I try different designs…the rest is history.

How do you feel that making these goods has affected you and society around you?

Making these items is a form of therapy and sharing for me. I notice that some items have a specific person for them…it’s like there’s an attraction. I feel good knowing that my products help someone and I think they change people’s thoughts around skin products/ jewellery.

Have you been surprised (either positively or negatively) by any reactions to your products or your business?

My items have no frills or extra stuff,so, people seem surprised that you don’t need so many things to make something nice and simple.

If someone wants to come to Japan to live and to work, what are some key pieces of advice you would offer?

Know yourself and your limits, because if you aren’t careful, you might sell your soul for two pieces of gold.

What is one thing you want people to know about Japan, Japanese culture, or your experience of Japan?

Being in Japan gave me the break I needed from Johannesburg and helped me look at my business in a different way. Also, I was able to engage with suppliers,unlike back home, so I’m grateful for that.

Please share anything you’d like to about your products, your business, or yourself.

My most popular products have been beaded earrings because they give you just enough pop with almost any look. I think people should use more natural skin products. I started making salves as natural alternatives to petroleum jelly. My hope or wish is for black people/ Africans to realize that they deserve good products and to let go of getting cheap products to save a buck. We are beautiful.

If you’d like to be a part of the BOBA series, leave a message in the contact section of the blog.

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Black Women in Japan 2nd Annual Convention: Empowering the Mind, Body and Soul

The Black Women in Japan Convention was an event that touched my soul. I walked in feeling excited, but anxious. For some reason, I was nervous about my outfit. I didn’t know if I was dressing for “the cookout” or for “church”. However, I walked out feeling like a powerful and enlightened being, almost superhuman.
The convention began with introductions by the women who made this convention happen. One of the founders, Avril Haye-Matsui, opened by saying “You’re at home. You are around sisters.” As she spoke, the room was silent. Eyes were widened and ears opened when Avril told us the importance of the convention and where we hope to go from here.

Avril Haye-Matsui

The Importance of Black Women’s Health

Throughout the convention, there were different workshops focusing on mental health, physical health and self-care. I had the opportunity to attend the Mindfully Me and the Be Your Own Advocate workshops. The Mindfully Me workshop was led by Kisstopher Musick. She has an MS in Psychology and has worked in the field for over 20 years. During the Mindfully Me workshop, we discussed how to describe ourselves more objectively than subjectively, self-care and the importance of black, female mental health in Japan. The ability to talk about mental health with other black women was incredible. It’s hard living in a homogeneous society, especially when your community is underrepresented. Having a woman like Kisstopher guide us through this discussion was helpful.

Kisstopher Musick

The Be Your Own Advocate workshop was led by Florence Orim, M.D. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss physical health and tips on how to navigate the Japanese healthcare system. Also, we had an opportunity to ask questions about our current health situations. I’ve only been in Japan for about six months and I am still learning about my health insurance and the healthcare system. Regardless of the amount of time I’ve lived here, Japanese bedside manner and ways of discussing health are different. I learned that I wasn’t the only one who had inhibitions about visiting the doctor. Dr.Orim taught us that getting a second opinion and communicating with doctors are necessary. After leaving both of these workshops, I felt more confident and comfortable about making decisions regarding my health.

Professional Development

One of my favorite aspects of the conference was how balanced it was. There were workshops about health, fitness, spirituality and professional development. I attended the Easy Product Photography workshop. It was led by Tia Haygood, a professional photographer working in Tokyo. Tia taught us about how to take photos of products, how we can improve our photography and budget-friendly equipment we can use. Although I take a lot of photos, I still found this workshop helpful. I was able to learn about what items work best for food photography and product photography. Plus, we got a chance to practice shooting photos and received feedback from Tia.

The Next Steps

The last day of the convention was the most difficult for me. I wanted more time with these courageous, smart and beautiful black women. I truly believe that being a black woman in a foreign country is special. Not all of us have the opportunity to live abroad. However, living abroad as a black woman can be challenging. When you are a black woman living abroad, sometimes you feel the need to represent the whole black female population. If you mess up, someone is going to remember and it could affect the next black woman they meet. After that weekend, I feel less of a need to carry that burden. I know that my sisters represent us well.

If you’re a black woman in Japan or considering moving to Japan, you can contact the group on Facebook @ black women in Japan (bwij). You can also follow the group on Instagram @BWIJ.

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