Japan’s J-Style is for Real

Published On November 9, 2016 | By Greg | Culture, Japan, Opinion

Japanese hip-hop has expanded more recently with some songs getting a lot of publicity on YouTube. Even though people were already aware of the Japanese being heavily influenced by black culture, these songs showed plenty of people including myself who didn’t know much about their style, that they do try to be like U.S black hip-hop artists.

When doing research on Japan’s hip-hop, I almost always see results about black culture, B-boys, B-girls, and B-style. B-style is literally a “contraction of the words “Black” and “Lifestyle” that refers to a subculture of young Japanese people who love American hip-hop culture so much that they do everything in their power to look as African American as possible.

It has been interesting to see that people find the Japanese attempts to show respect to blacks in hip-hop to be so offensive. It’s also interesting to think about whether they’re actually being disrespectful to blacks or are trying to make their own culture that is heavily influenced by blacks. It shouldn’t offend them, but it is understandable if Americans find it weird.

First, Americans find it weird that the Japanese artists copy Black hip-hop artists actions in videos and clothing. It’s different to see people from another country copying you. Next, as weird as it is, it’s not fair to say Japanese artists shouldn’t tan to appear black, have dreadlocks or curls, and wear a lot of jewelry.

Curly hair and dreadlocks should be something anyone can have without it being a problem. In addition, getting their hair done in that fashion takes a lot of effort because the youth “visit special African hair salons to get braids or curly hair. These salons are usually found in Tokyo’s ghettos and are run by small African communities.

Wearing a lot of jewelry shows wealth and in all cultures, people will wear a lot of jewelry if they can afford it. Getting chains and pinky rings might be more black culture, but it isn’t insulting if the Japanese copy them.

Lastly, Americans tan a lot as well and don’t get criticized for it. Everyone has the right to tan if they want to. Some people see the Japanese copying the blacks as an attempt to be like the best, and in their opinion, black hip-hop artists are the best.

Some say that the Japanese youth are trying to show respect to blacks, but there will always be people who doubt them. They should try to find different ways to show their appreciation, but at the same time, we should not force a group to change to change it’s ways.

Trying to have the same skin color and hair styles seems weird to us, but maybe to them part of being like the best is also looking like them too. In Japan, a woman responded to a question about if people in japan believed it was inappropriate and she responded saying that “not in Japan, but in most comments underneath videos on YouTube you see fierce reactions. Many seem to feel the Afro-American typecasting is all wrong.”

Vice.com photos of J-style youth

Another issue people have is blackface. This to me is more offensive and something that the youth in Japan stop. In a lot of cases, it seems like the youth don’t know about the history for blacks in the United States, so they aren’t aware that their acts are pretty racist.

Iconic Japanese music ensemble RATS & STAR and “girl idol” group Momoiro Clover Z recently appeared together on a popular television program sporting “blackface” makeup, sparking a debate about whether the practice can be deemed racist in Japan.

I question whether they know or not because there were slaves in Japan, and even though they thought they looked and were interesting, they still know they were mistreated globally.

The youth in Japan is interested in black culture, but should stop acting how they do. Since so many people find it offensive and people can’t really tell if they respect blacks or are being racist, that they should not do it at all. In general, hip-hop should definitely continue, but the extra things like clothing, jewelry, and the constant tanning to look black should stop.

(This article was written by Kyle Padmore as part of the Global Hip Hop Cultures class at Trinity College Fall 2016 semester.)