Bobby Ologun was born as Alaji Karim Ologun on April 8th, 1966. Throughout most of his professional career, however, he insisted that he was born 1973; it was only until later in his fame that it was discovered that his Nigerian passport says 1966.
Ologun claimed that the Nigerian government frequently misreports birth dates and his professional profile on his website maintains that he is born 1973 (this, however, may be a comedic act considering his profession).
Ologun was born in Ibadan, Nigeria and graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Ologun, the third brother in a family of 31 siblings, is a heavily family oriented man and well loved among his large family and community. An appearance by Ologun on a Japanese tv show gives a unique glimpse into his private home life in this video (unfortunately, the show is in Japanese without English subtitles for non-Japanese speakers, but his experiences can be generally understood through the video footage provided, regardless of language).
In 1988, Ologun, after hearing promising stories of Japan on his father, visited Japan on a business trip for his father’s company, and decided to stay in Japan.
11 years later, Ologun married his wife whom he met in Japan, Kyoko Konda, in Nigeria. Ologun became a naturalized Japanese citizen, and due to Japan’s laws, he chose to take on his wife’s last name to become Bobby Konda (he nicknamed himself Bobby, after singer Bobby Brown, although when exactly this happened or if he legally changed his name is unclear). He currently has 4 children (although some websites say 5). He often appears on Japanese television with his children.
Professional Career || Comedian
He was discovered in 2001 by a TV scout and by the end of the year was featured in popular skits in Japanese comedy shows such as “The Funniest Language School” (other funny clips of his appearance in this show in Japanese can be found here, here, and here). He went on to be a recurring feature guest in a handful of Japanese comedic shows, and wrote and starred in an autobiographical film titled Moon Dream.
Professional Career || MMA Fighter
In one of his early shows, “Sanma’s Super Karakuri TV”, he would try out different jobs in which he had no previous experience in and inspired by the Bob Sapp vs Taro Akebono match in 2003, he asked to try judo. From there, what began as a joke became a reality; he trained and in 2004 fought competed in the K-1 Dynamite show (the very show he was inspired by) and was nicknamed “The Strongest Amateur”. He eventually fought Bob Sapp in a very popular match. He also had a character created after him in an MMA video game (although most of his moves are somehow comedic in nature).
Comedian || Controversial Perpetuation of Racism in Japan
In his comedic career he is known for humor by gaffing, where he, although being able to speak Japanese fairly fluently, pretends to be nearly incompetent, making foolish, embarrassing mistakes, while acting extremely clumsy, unaware, and usually bug-eyed. He followed Bob Sapp (previously mentioned MMA fighter) in Japanese comedy, who was a large African American professional fighter who would appear on Japanese comedy shows as a foreigner whose emotions would control him and force him to lose his temper and throw and break objects around him, often making animalistic grunting noises.
Ologun would, in a culture where politeness and respect are fairly valued, intentionally mispeak in a manner that would lead to crude, or jokes of disrespect. Some examples are: saying “Usagi Sensei” (rabbit teacher) instead of “Hoseki Sensei” (Teacher Hoseki); saying “hentai” (pervert) instead of “tensai” (genius); and saying “kancho” (enema) instead of “kincho” (nervous). I have to admit, watching Ologun on tv as a child was extremely entertaining! However, a lot of his actions, including dressing up as a gorilla to scare people on tv, bugging his eyes out, pursing out his lips in an exaggerated manner, and pretending to be far less intelligent to the point of possible mental retardation, has had some push-back from the public, specifically, black men in Japan.
Much of the previously listed attributes to his “character” when he is on tv, mimick that of outdated stereotypes of black people being extremely low in intelligence. This stereotype is clearly seen in minstrel shows, and some of the archetype minstrel show characters resemble Ologun in a disturbing manner. One blogger who is an African American teacher in Japan writes on being called “Bobby” by all his students merely for his identity as a black man in Japan (his name is Donald). He writes on his blog article titled Why Japanese Students Call Black Men Bobby?:
“So for all of you African-American male teachers with low haircuts, you may get the “Bobby” treatment at some point or another. Even if you don’t look like him, your brown skin is going to connect you two, at least in the kids minds. Is it annoying? Yeah, it can be.”
The controversy lies in that Japan’s foreign-born population is roughly 1% and the black population is extremely small, (so much so that there are articles written on the life of being black in Japan including: What It’s Like Being Black in Japan, The Japan Guy), so although intended for humor, Ologun’s skits and appearances may contribute toward racism toward black people in Japan, or more likely: a misrepresentation. Of course, Ologun is but one man to try to fight centuries of racism and xenophobia on an international scale, but it would be difficult to argue that his actions help the average black man in Japan. He does however, have many appearances not as his character, where he is still fairly funny, but drops the “playing dumb” act. Regardless, I consider it progress to have considerably well known diverse representation on Japanese television, and hope to see more in the future!
I did all my research on a college campus, so as a result, I was hindered by the school’s well-intended internet filter. Since roughly half of my research was in Japanese (since English searches brought little information, or poorly translated and incoherent information), many of the websites I tried to use were Japanese. For some reason or another, many of these were marked as “Inappropriate” by the school’s filter. That being said, there are many more entertaining videos, pictures and articles out there to research Bobby Ologun on. I personally do not think Bobby Ologun perpetuates stereotypes or racism in Japan, but it did strike a chord with me to read multiple blog posts and comments by black men in Japan who shared similar stories as Donald’s mentioned earlier. Growing up in an extremely diverse city in the United States, it is difficult for me to understand an entire country with such a largely homogeneous population. Therefore, Bobby Ologun being Bobby Ologun in another country (say, the United States) may not have nearly as large of an impact as Bobby Ologun in Japan. Additionally, worth noting is the culture of humor and comedy shows is very different from that in the U.S. as is the history of racial tensions (especially specific to a black/African discrimination). 🙂
Upon revisiting my post, I found a handful more of bloggers who note the same observation mentioned earlier regarding Ologun’s success from embracing an outdated stereotype. These blogs include: Stereotypes and Speaking Out II, Stereoptype of Black People in Japan, Possible Racism? (Bobby Ologun on the Housou wo Soshi Seyo), and Japan Is So Frustrating Sometimes (which has the gorilla clip I was unable to link successfully). These blogs vary in condemning Ologun, praising Ologun, and simply questioning Ologun, but may help interested readers form their opinions. I agree with many of these blogs which praise Ologun for finding his specific niche (and honestly for being a very funny man and a hilarious father) while mildly reprimanding the avenue in which he has chosen.
Works Cited & Consulted