On a visit to Tokyo's trendy Shibuya Ward several years ago, I came across a Japanese teenager dressed from head to toe in baggy hip-hop wear, one of the first "B-Boys" I'd ever seen here. Still relatively new to Japan, I was curious about whether this young man represented some growing awareness of black America among Japanese youth, and as an African-American myself, it was an issue close to home.

I couldn't help asking him: "Say, have you ever heard of Malcolm X?" I was referring, of course, to the black political activist memorialized in the Spike Lee movie and easily the most influential figure in modern black America after Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Nope," he said.
"Are you, well, curious about anything related to black culture?" I persisted.
"Nah, not really," he said, and looked away.