A Short Look At Blackface in Japan

22.7.11 ShaSha LaPerf 8 Comments

So yeah it's pretty clear that I have love for Japan. Lived there for 3 years, enjoy a bit of pop culture and will cuss Shen out in Japanese when he pisses me off over something. That being said, I'm also not blind to some of the crazy stuff they do. No I'm not talking about releasing hentai that features little kids doing sexy shit. I'm talking about shit like this.

A while ago I wrote about how I was not feeling the show Nita Negrita because the show had a Filipino actress in blackface. Well Japan has had their fair share of "WTF!? is that blackface!?" moments. So I've choosen some of the more "speshul" moments of blackface in Japan starting with what I think was the least offensive to the most offensive. And interestingly the picture I posted here not what I think is the worst.

"Black Girls" in Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl
This clip is a scene from a movie called Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl. I actually first spotted this clip on a black gossip site and without context it's pretty easy to see why people would get pissed off at this scene:

I'm sure you're thinking, "WTF!? This is the least offensive video!?" My initial reaction was that this wasn't funny and the makeup is definitely the most grotesque that I'd seen. And it's so over-the-top that I'm having a really hard time taking this seriously. But there's also something else going on in the video that if you don't much about Japanese subcultures, you may not get.

Honestly, I don't think the video is making fun of black people but "ganguro." Or "gyaru" or "yamanba." The name of these guys change a lot. Anyway I think it's specifically making fun of "b-girls" and/or "b-binba." There are many different styles with in the gyaru culture and b-girls basically are female versions of thugabees. They tan to look darker and wear heavy make-up. They get dreads, braids, afros, etc. and wear a lot of jewelry and hip-hop clothing labels. Generally they look like this:

Here outfit is from the store LB-03 a hip-hop clothing store in Japan.

And that's considered to be the fashion style of black women in the Us. But it goes beyond fashion. While these girls will know nothing about the Civil War, Hurricane Katrina, Alice Walker, or Maya Angelo, they can rap every word in a Lil Wayne song without even knowing English. They exclusively date black men and will befriend black women in the hopes of meeting them. Most of their ideas of blacks come from American pop culture like hip-hop videos and You Got Served. And the "I wish I was black," isn't all that made up, as proof of this Mixi group:

The title at the top roughly translates to "I Want to Be Black." The other highlight words are "They're muscles/bodies, they're groove, it's all cool!" and "Let's talk about how blacks are."

So when I watched the VG vs FG scene, it's clear to me that the scene is making fun of what those girls think black people are like. Like I said earlier the make-up and the whole scene is really over-the-top, but...have you seen the trailer for this movie?

Umm...yeah...Seems like the movie is making fun of a bunch of different subcultures in Japan as well as other "Japanese-y" things like school girls in uniforms and kimono. I'm not a total expert on Japan subcultures but given some context, I'm not as offended by this scene as I could be.

Barack and Michelle Obama
I'm not totally sure, but I think this scene is actually part of a seasonal Japanese variety show where "tarento" are separated into teams and have to impersonate some well-known people. The audience had to vote on which side did the best impersonations. I don't remember the name of the special, but I do remember seeing this while I was in Japan and I'm sure this show still happens. And this looks like a skit from the show:

I don't have issues with people that aren't black impersonating Obama. The people on this show actually impersonate others outside of Japan like the Chinese, Koreans, and white Americans. They've used tape on the eyes to make them more "slanty" for some Asian celebs or fake noses for some white ones. But seriously Japan have you not paid any attention to the president's skin tone? I could get fake ears, but there really was no need to put on the makeup here.  You can pull off an Obama impression without rubbing a Hershey bar on your face. Hell, they've done it before!

Don't even get me started on Michelle. This one fails because it's just lazy, and the magic show and bad Japanese puns sucked.

Celebrities Become "Rappers" To Confused Their Pets
I've never seen this show before but spotted these clips on Japan Probe. According to JP, it's part of a show titled Shimura Zoo and the purpose of this segment is to see if a dog can tell who it's owner is even if they change their appearance. So in one segment, they take an actress and make her into a male rapper.

yo dawg by peakfloods

A lot of Japanese variety shows have a sense of, "what is the point of this?" And this is another one of those times. It seems to me that the point of the experiment was to see if the dog could tell what the own looked like. Couldn't they have just given the actress a mask or a costume? Okay I did LOL a bit when the actress did the typewriter but the makeup and outfit really aren't needed for this experiment. And this was actually the second time they did this segment. Here's the first one:

yo yo facepalm yo by marlowalls

A boombox? Really? Seriously why are they specifically rappers? It was clear that despite the blackface in the Obama video, the guy was supposed to be one specific person, Obama. But here they just have a generic idea of a "rapper." This isn't satire or parody, just stupid, casual racism.

The Gosperats
The Gosperats was a group made up of two groups RATS and STAR, and the Gospellers. RATS and STAR were a Japanese doo-wop group who were already performing in blackface.

I can't decide what I'm more pissed off at. The fact that they're in black face, or the fact that they're performing "What's Going On" as a Live Aid song in black face? Seriously who the fuck does that!? Again this was also around the time Kubota Toshi was getting his feet in the door and he was able to make music without having to do it in blackface. And don't be fooled but the trumpet player (Nobuyoshi Kuwano) who's not wearing makeup. He seems to have a thing for being the only member in a group not in blackface:

Three Bicrees perform Motown hits from groups like The Supreme and The Jackson 5.

But it gets worse. In the mid 2000s they teamed up with R&B/acapellea group The Gospellers (who are often called "Japanese Boyz II Men" because of their harmony and music) to create the Gosperats.

For real? There's even a little black kid in the video! Again I'm really bothered by this because both groups really should know better. They've made a living off "black music" and here they are in blackface. I'm sure they think they're paying hommage, but hello, hommage doesn't need face paint. Case in point:

That's COLOR/DEEP by the way. Groups like them, Skoop on Somebody, Kubota Toshi, Hirai Ken, Chemistry, MISIA, DOUBLE, AI, Daichi Miura, etc. can all make good R&B music without face paint. I was a pretty big fan of the Gospellers until they joined in on the blackface. That was it for me.

So the Gosperats take the cake for me. There are actually other instances of blackface in Japan, but these were the more recent ones that I saw popping up. Despite these silly stuff I know that not all Japanese people are running around in blackface or ever thinks it's okay. While I think sometimes blackface is out of pure ignorace or satire, other times it's clear that they should know what they're doing is a hot mess. Japan has a rather complex history with blacks and Hateya over and The Blasian Narrative has put together a series of blog posts about it which I encourage you all to read.

And for those of you that plan on visiting Japan or living there, I'm not trying to scare you away from doing so. Just remember that you can potentially see stuff like this. I just wanted to show y'all that even though you can appreciate some cool things in Japan just remember that not everything happening there is super awesome.


  1. I think that Saturday Night Live did a better job of Obama. At least they know that he's light complexioned.

    After all of these years of us protesting this, some of them should know where Black people stand with Black face. It's crazy to see that no matter how light(in Obama's case) or dark a Black person is, everyone of us equates to having a Black face. I wouldn't doubt that a parody of Beyonce end up being in Blackface.

    I was also curious about "ganguro". The first time I heard about it was on Japan Probe during and interview with a AMBW couple.The wife ,Fidea( you may have seen the video), even questioned the people and their response was that they like Black people.

    Maybe some of these people want to homage to Black people/culture, I don't know,but it just seems that when it comes to it, it have to be in blackface. Honestly, I don't care what part of the world a Black person is from, I have never seen a Black person look like that. If they want to pay Black people homage, they should get rid of the Blackface skit and learn about us more.

    You have ignorant people in a cultures and with Japan,being the homogeneous country that it is, I wouldn't expect for some Japanese to totally understand to know everything about Black culture. However, I still look at Japan as the coolest country in Asia. That has always been in my system.

  2. That stuff is messed up; the video of blackface Asian girls talking black was downright embarrassing. I mean, seriously, they think black people care about having everything be the COLOR black?

    I think you brought up a good point about the lack of exposure to real black culture and people in Asia. Fact is, the easiest cure for a racist is to meet other people. In college I met people a lot of cool (and not so cool) people of all different backgrounds.

    Unfortunately, Asia still remains highly homogeneous. But ultimately, it's unlikely that you'll arrive in Asia and have people treat you like shit based on your race. The media there is no more indicative of real life there as Hollywood is of actual American life.

  3. The odd thing I find with Asians making offense remarks or actions towards Blacks is that they take what they believe to be something of the Black culture and market it. I'm speaking mostly about Korea and Japan when I say this. Having a soulful voice and the ability to dance somehow makes you have black qualities. I'm not sure if you know Tae Yang (from Korean boyband Big Bang), but I heard he has the nickname "Black Man" with his R&B voice and smooth moves. It's suppose to be a compliment, but it can't help but sound a bit offensive.
    Also, I remember reading something on a Japan-related English site about a Japanese guy who dressed up in blackface, with fake ears and nose, pretending to be Obama, and going to Obama, Japan. Seriously? Is all I could think. However, sometimes I think it's more ignorance than racism in Asia.

  4. Black face is a profoundly racist thing (((IN AMERICA))), however, American history is NOT everyone else history, therefore we should not scream racism automatically when other cultures do black face, when whites in America do black face, we know that it is hate fueled, because that is how it began. The Japanese etc, to it with respect, whites can only do it with disrespect.

  5. @Matrix History doesn't change if you're on a different continent. They're doing it out of ignorance and without concern for it. And THAT'S disrespectful.

  6. @matrix - Black face is a profoundly racist thing anywhere -- not just in America. Just because other countries did not have America's history, does not mean that it isn't racist if other cultures did Black face; of course its ignorant, but its also racist, as long as you're non-Black. Unfortunately, I've experienced and even seen blatant racism against Blacks when in both South and East Asia -- of course, many countries don't exactly have "open arms" when it comes to foreigners in general, but if we're on the topic, I have to say, yes, they are still being racist even if they aren't from America.

    Honestly, I don't care if you're an Asian, white American, asian American, white European, hispanic European, or hispanic American... regardless of your race, nationality or culture, black face will never be done with respect. It will always be disrespect out (as @Anonymous wrote) of ignorance and lack of concern of our race done by people who simply either don't know, or don't care.

    Although, I have to disagree with @Anonymous - history DOES change if you're on a different continent: Which is probably why blackface might make appearances through the media more easily today in countries outside of America, because non-Americans, most likely, simply aren't aware of the repercussions or offense from Blacks they are making. I'm just a little more glad that more Americans know how derogatory blackface is in recent years, but I just want this knowledge to also reach out to continents like Asia, Europe, etc. so it doesn't happen and so they know why its offensive, since a lot of (continental) Asians and Europeans have probably rarely, if ever, met many Blacks in their life (let alone other races outside of their own) and might have no understanding or/nor concern for us.
    Off the topic a bit, kind of funny thing, in an area I've been in South Korea, some kids actually thought people of races with very dark or very light skin were the result of using products, and not their actual skin color, as if the very dark or light color could wash off in the shower!! Although, the entire area never had any foreigners as I was told, so I suppose I understand a little... ha ha ha! Kind of interesting, but its definitely an uncommon theory I've heard from kids about foreigners, lol!

    BTW, to the blog owner: You write really concise and informative posts while being impartial and not digressing from the original topic which a lot of bloggers seem to do these days; great post and thanks for the information you've given of Japanese people, I really do love learning about perspectives of foreign people on many topics, including this one! Also, sorry for the long comment (I love to write, too)!

  7. Can some one tell me what the first pic is from