Black Passenger, Yellow Cabs

Author's Notes
My review of Stephen FD Bryan's memoir about his time in Japan. This was admittedly difficult to write, as it deals with some sensitive issues about racial stereotypes.

Black Passenger, Yellow Cabs is a more than fitting title for Stephen FD Bryan’s self-termed erotic ethnographic memoir. The book chronicles Bryan’s sexual exploits during his seven years as an English teacher in Japan, Japanese girl by Japanese girl, one by one, two by two. A acknowledged sex addict, Bryan narrates the numerous affairs he had in Japan from an explicit—if not sometimes superficial—perspective: The majority of the chapters are named for each woman he sleeps with, almost as if he wants readers to keep a running count of his exploits.

There’s his Japanese teacher Karin, the half-Japanese, half-Dutch Janelle—who does not catch Bryan’s fancy because of his “yellow fever”—and his wife-to-be Shoko, just to name a few. Sure, there are bits and pieces in there about what it was like to be an English teacher, how it felt to meet parents and descriptions about life in Jamaica and various Japanese phenomena, but the majority of it is focused on the girls.

While readers interested in the fine art of picking up Japanese women may learn a helpful thing or two (speak English even if you aren’t sure your target speaks the language; they will most certainly be flattered by the fact that you think them cosmopolitan (!))those looking for a comprehensive and well-substantiated analysis of Japan’s sex culture should look elsewhere. Perhaps that was not what it was meant to be and I am being unfair by reviewing this as a somewhat academic text, but Bryan’s citations of news articles and statistics, though few and far between, make the book feel somewhat research-based at times. That said, Bryan provides a plethora of interesting tidbits about Japanese culture and formulates a theory about how the many women who are eager to sleep with him are so because of their past experience—he concludes that these women suffer from low self-esteem, perhaps a result of childhood trauma. It’s hard to take his claims seriously though, because they are nestled between chapters boasting how many orgasms he was able to coax out of his newest play toy and how he balance multiple affairs simultaneously.

If you can look past the blatant racism that Bryan demonstrates in the book (he pride fully refers to himself as a Negro because “black does not require capitalization in print, to which I take great offense,” but maintains a somewhat consistent usage of the age-old “yellow” slur when referring to Asian girls), and that many of his universal conclusions are based merely on personal experience, then you will see the true beauty of this book. It is the story of a Jamaican man who followed his sexual cravings to Japan in 2001, satiated them, and returned to America in 2008 to wed his Japanese wife. If you can ignore the fact that many of the chapters are play-by-play descriptions of how he managed to get a certain girl into his bed that leave no detail up to the imagination—and little more than that—then maybe you too will believe Bryan when he says that he is not attempting to brag about his sexual expertise by narrating his tales, but is instead trying to show how easy it is for people to initiate relationships.

Black Passenger, Yellow Cabs is the story of a black passenger who rode in multiple cabs until he found the best one. It takes readers through Bryan’s seven years in Japan and explains how, out of all of the women he slept with, his wife was the one. It describes a man’s fight to understand Japanese culture and why things work the way they do in a non-euphemistic way, and above all, it is honest. Bryan shows no shame about his addiction to sex with Japanese girls and speaks objectively about the girls he sleeps with to fulfill his desires, which is what makes the book so disagreeable yet engaging all at the same time. True, there were times when I was disgusted by Bryan’s seemingly insensitive behavior, but others when I completely empathized with him, when I empathized with his very true statements about underreported sexual harassment and the subordination of women throughout Japanese history. If you have the time for it and can stomach reading about the sexual exploits of another, Black Passenger, Yellow Cabs is a intriguing, honest read about a rarely discussed topic that dares to go where few books do.