Exploring the "Black Lifestyle in Japan" Video

29.11.11 ShaSha LaPerf 8 Comments


So I'm sure a lot of you have seen this video floating around on the internet.


The video has been making its way through black blogs sites and seems to have a mixed reactions. Some people think it's cool that young Japanese people have an interest in culture even if it through the aspects of hip-hop music. Others feel that Japanese people have no clue about black people at all. Watching the video gave me flashbacks of the time I spent in Shibuya. Ahh, the good old days! But I also found myself raising my eyebrows at a few things and in some parts found the video to be a bit misleading. And I wanted to discuss some of the more confusing things I found in the video. I'm not claiming to be an expert on this stuff, but I think the video needed a bit more context. So let's get to it! Note: This will be an image and video heavy post!

1. The definition of "b-kei."
The video describes "b-kei" as "black lifestyle," however I believe it's really more specific than that. "B-kei" originally comes from "B-boy" and "style" and generally refers to fashion. To be more specific it refers to fashion styles related to hip-hop, R&B, and reggae culture. I have heard of "b-kei" meaning using the word "black" instead of "B-boy" but it still referred to hip-hop, reggae, and R&B in the fashion sense. American brands like Baby Phat and Rocawear fell under this category along with Japanese brands like ANAP and LB-03. B-kei people are often looking at the fashion being worn by artists like Rihanna, Beyonce, Ciara, or Alicia Keys as they would appear in now out-of-print magazines like Woofin Girl and Luire:


Rihanna on the cover of Woofin Girl magazine

And let's have a look at actual b-kei clothing. Hina, works at a store called Baby Shoop, who actually uses the motto "black for life." I actually went to this store a few times while I was shopping around Shibuya 109, mostly because I was amused at the idea of it and what their idea of the "black look" is. It's one of the few shops in all of Tokyo that consistently uses black models in their ads (but use employees on their online store site). While a lot of the clothes are a serious case of trying to hard:

From the Baby Shoop online store


A lot of the other clothes are just plain shit you can find at any store. Case in point this shirt:


Is pretty similar to this shirt from popular onee-kei (adult women that that still follows gyaru styles) shop Cecil Bebe:



And another popular shop Loves Girls Market :


So it's not really clear was to what makes this shirt more "b-kei" then the shirts outside of the shop it's being sold at. I can see Beyonce or Rihanna wearing this shirt, sure, but I can also see a non-black person wearing this shirt as well. So the video doesn't really give a clear idea of what the b-kei fashion items are, but at the same time, the b-kei look is more varied then even those who like the style want to believe.

On the flipside, men's b-kei has a pretty standard look, which is supposed to be based off rappers like Kayne, Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne:

From b-kei fashion shop Street Fashion


But apparently they forgot the memo on the way rappers have been dressing recently:

For real?


LOL okay, okay, we know a lot of American rappers don't rock the man jeggings like little wear or are still into the baggy ass pants look. But in terms of male b-kei they're still stuck on the above style.


2. A clear understanding of the how B-kei works in the larger realm of hip-hop, R&B, and reggae in Japan.
Although I get that this is supposed to be a short segment, I think it would have made sense for the video to give some insight on hip-hop and the like rather tan spending a so much time showing Hina tan--seriously, most people know how tanning works. We didn't need an interview with the guy that works at the salon. Anyway, as I've mentioned at various times on this site, Japan has known about hip-hop, reggae, and R&B for a good 20 years or so. Although these styles from both American and Japanese aren't as mainstream as they were a year ago, there's still a set fanbase for them. However b-kei itself is really just a part of that world.  There are Japanese people that enjoy the same things as Hina, but aren't interested in the b-kei look at all. Just take a look at Japanese R&B artist Daichi Miura:


There are some exceptions though. Jero, rocked the b-kei look even though he's actually an enka singer:



Yep. That's a black guy singing enka. But not really the point of this blog post here. :P The point here is that there is a history behind to this stuff, and the segment should have put more effort into addressing it.

Furthermore, I didn't expect the video to cover this area, but despite the fact that people into b-kei think blacks are cool, they do get that what they like is specifically coming from black rappers, singers, and the like. What they see rappers doing in videos is pretty what they think rappers do, not what black as a whole do. Japan definitely isn't the well verse black culture and community. Hell we still see cases of blackface on Japanese TV. But most b-kei people have an understanding that albeit their idols are black, they get that Halle Berry and Denzel Washington are not the same as Nicki Minaj and Rick Ross. Honestly I don't think they really even care about people like Will Smith unless he's in Woofin magazine. Of course the majority of Japanese people are learning about blacks through pop culture, so yes they probably wouldn't know who Ludacris is before they'll know who Marcus Garvey is, and that is a much larger problem dealing with how much access Japanese people actually have to blacks outside of a music video. Ironically, I'll say the people with a more ignorant view of what blacks are like are people that have little interest in b-kei and the like. I doubt anyone in b-kei culture had anything to do with the stuff made in this video:


Unless you really put yourself in the world of b-kei (like going to certain clubs, making friends with them, dancing, buying Luire magainze, etc), I think it's safe to say that when you visit Tokyo you really won't be bombarded by b-kei lovers expecting you to shuck and jive for them. Hell, if a Japanese person approaches you and asks you if you carry a gun, it's more likely because you're American and not because you're black. At any rate, there is a fair amount of ignorance coming from b-kei because they can be narrow-minded in what they like, but they still have enough common sense to know that not all blacks are alike.



3. Tanning in B-kei culture.
Ahh yes, the more polarizing segment of the video is the scene with Hina getting a tan to "look blacker." Honestly I was bit thrown by this because this was the first time I'd seen tanning as a "must" for B-kei style. The video implies that white skin is still vary desirable with Japanese women, and I did see truth in that while I was there. I did see commercials for skin lightening cream, and remember some women under paraols at all times and others wearing special sleeves to protect their arms from the sun. However I also think the video makes it seems like the main people tanning are those into B-kei. The video should have noted that tanning certainly isn't new and is actually more apart of gyaru culture which is still popular (though the term of women and men in the gyaru culture tends to change). There is a specific style of gyaru known as B-binba and b-gyaru, which mixes general b-kei styles with general gyaru styles:

From here. She's got the hat AND the glasses!?

I'm sure there are people than happen to be into b-kei and are tan. Some of my friends that followed the style were tan do jobs (most of the were freetas) and outdoor sports, but didn't seem to be tanning just for the hell of it.

Now hair is a whole different story. I will say that's probably one of the more consistent things in B-kei that wasn't really addressed much in the video. It's not that difficult to find hair shops in Japan that will do black hairstyles like braids, afros and the like, and Japanese people pay a pretty penny for some of these ghetto faboluous looks:

From the Soluna Hair salon


Yeah, even I have to admit that shit is a hot nippon mess.


5. Explaining an "adventurous black night."
Seriously, I don't know what the fuck that means myself. Since Hina and her friend mentioned clubbing, I'm guessing this is considered a "adventurous black night." Actually I LOLed when I heard that. I honestly don't think I'd heard that phrase before. I don't remember my J-friends ever saying, "Hey, we're going out to have a black night tonight!" either. But this phrase is actually being said by the host and not Hina and her friend. Maybe they didn't have a better way to end the segment? Either way I think it just sounded silly to me. #shrugs


4. The debate over appropriation, blackface, mockery, and appreciation.
Of course a video like this is going to have a vary polarizing affect on people. Some people thought it was cool that Japan was looking up to blacks and saw this as a sign of flattery while other said this was blackface or mockery.  I'm not sure that I would deem this as blackface or mockery though. Blackface has little to do with admiration as it's often used for laughs or in the case of say ... to fuel pity. I do think Hina really likes what she thinks is "black" culture. She doesn't see this as a Halloween costume and I certainly don't think she wants to be laughed at. And we don't know how if this is just a trend for her or something she will genuinely keep up with years from now. I do think this is probably a gross case a ignorance and misappropriation. For some people there's still a lack of understanding of how hip-hop, R&B, and reggae came to be and that there's more  to it than a cute outfit in a video. More people into b-kei could spend some time learning about blacks through other avenues like reading something outside of Word Up! (though I do understand that resources in Japanese are limited compared to what's in English). But I don't think of this is blackface. I would like to have seen interviews with other people, especially blacks living in Japan that see this on a daily basis. Or if would have been nice to if Hina has been asked what else she really knows about black culture outside of Source magazine.


Well that's it. I commend Metropolis TV for discussing b-kei because it is one of the few Japanese subcultures that rarely gets discussed. Seems like EVERYONE knows about gothic lolita but are shocked to hear about seomthing like b-kei. I was pretty amused at the video, but wish they would have gone a little deeper. Granted I did put a generalization or two in there, I hope I cleared up a few of the things that can easily be seen as something crazier than it really is. And since I don't have a better way to end this blog post, here's a video of a blasian kid talking about his dreadlocks:



8 comments:

  1. As a whole, I don't think that there a many countries that know about Black people and it's culture. Maybe a little of MLK or Malcolm X, but no more than that.

    I remembered visiting Spelman College, then on to Clark Atlanta Univeristy. There were some Arab students there. I don't know if they came there as visitors or as students. I admit, a part of me wondered why they( if they went) there? Most of the Arabs I know attend mixed or mostly White universities/colleges. It's not that I didn't feel that they shouldn't attend a HBCU. As a matter of fact, I think thought that it was a great idea for some non-blacks to do that.To go to a HBCU means that they will learn true Black history and not just about the most well known figures of Black history.

    I just find it very annoying when people equate Black culture to hip hop. Don't get me wrong, it does play a significant role in terms of our historic musical genre,but as a whole. that isn't all of Black culture.If I were to come across a Japanese or any other non Black who wanted to learn about Black culture ,hip-hop would be the LAST thing I would show them. only because that is what too many people relates us as coming from it. I would educate them to our Black library, museums. Then I would expose them through out communities( again I would go to the upper crust side first only because most Blacks are also related to " ghettoes")..in general I would just expose them to the truth about us.

    There may be some Japanese who may not want to have anything to do with Blacks because of racial prejudice,but there are some who may not sincerely know a lot about Blacks. I remembered looking at a clip about an African woman who married a Japanese guy. One of the things that shocked me about her discussing her in laws was how she said that they never seen foreigners..let alone Black people.

    As advanced as Japan is, it still seem weird how some haven't exposed to people of different backgrounds. Some people wouldn't expect it,but I do admire the Japanese about one thing, whether they know or not know Black culture, they seem to acknowledge us more.

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  2. It's weird, because I just recently did a blog about that video with Hina. However, mine isn't as detailed as yours is, lol.

    As for what @M said, I agree. There are a lot of countries with various of nationalities who try to be "black" and go by what they see in the media. And it's surprising that the man's parents had never seen a black person before. That's very shocking to hear.

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  3. @M: I can understand the black woman's in-laws not seeing black people. The foreign population in Japan is still only about 3-4% most of which is Asian. If you aren't living in a city like Tokyo or Osaka, you can go your whole life without ever meeting a foreigners, especially if you're in the older generation. Hell, I lived in an area of Tokyo that was almost like a rural area even though it was Tokyo! But I was the only foreigner that I saw living in the area. Even some spots in the US are like that. I went to a PWI and it was mind-boggling to meet the number of whites that have never had interaction with blacks until they went to college. I found this to be more disturbing than in Japan--mostly because they tended to say really stupid shit. Then again, I didn't even meet a Japanese person until I went to college, LOL.

    Japan is pretty advanced, but I think the larger issue is that lack of things available in Japanese. In Japan people are required to learn English to a certain point, but many of them don't retain it afterwards. For fun, I tried to find books, and movies, by black authors on Japanese Amazon.com and while some did exist, they were English. Something like The Color Purple is already tough for some English speakers because of the dialect, so I can imagine that it would be difficult coming from a person who's learning it as a second language. LOL but I was surprised that even the Tyler Perry movies didn't have Japanese subtitles! But what WAS available in Japanese? You Got Served, The Playas Club, 8 Mile, The Bodyguard, Dreamgirls, etc things related to rappers or singers. But I don't know how much of that is really the fault of Japanese companies or American companies. I even tried to just Google in japanese to see how much into I could find out about black history in Japan and the findings were slim.

    I think people that genuinely want to know about blacks will want to look outside of hip-hop anyway. But I think a lot of people don't want to put the effort into doing so, especially if it's not in their language. They would have to really put the effort into doing research or meeting people and some people are just too lazy to do it.

    @Panda: I've seen this video really causing a ruckus on sites like Clutch magazine which is why I decided to write about. It took me a long time to really get this out too because I wanted to cover more, but have trouble explaining things. :(

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  4. Thanks for the insider info on what b-kei! This is all news to me. How very telling that the video presenter focused so intently on the tanning, as though it were just the most bizarre thing on planet earth to darken your skin. Shows a serious preference for light/white skin is par for the course. Thank goodness (for me and other BW like me) there are Asian men who don't really care about or focus on the skin shade.

    I about died from LOLing when I saw her 1996 braids though!!!! That took me way back.

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  5. Shasha,

    You're probably going to laugh at me for this,but I'm almost shocked that ANY Black themed movies are there, Japanese or English. I didn't think that movies like those would make it there.

    I agree with you about some Americans of not knowing certain things. I went to Tennessee and met some White guys who said that they really came from the mountain. Friendly as they were, they said that it was their second encounter with Black people. I almost fell out in disbelief hearing that. It was definitely baffling to hear.

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  6. @joyful: LOL yeah, I remember seeing some girls with braids like that when I was in Japan and I was like, "Whateva! I was rockin that look in middle school!" Those type of braids are still crazy popular in Japan I think along with conrow extenstions. The funny thing is, I would see ads for those hair salons but never went to them because I didn't think they could actually deal with the texture of "real" black hair. I went to a hair salon owned by a black man, though my stylist was Japanese--she'd lived in the South and learned how to do hair there. Now I wish I had went to one of those random Japanese shops just out of curiosity.

    @M: Outside of hip-hop and R&B CDs it is a bit trickier finding other black media. LOL honestly I didn't know there were black movies in Japan until I watched The Playas Club on network TV. It was in English with Japanese subtitled and I sat and watched the whole movie out of amazement that this was actually airing on Japanese TV! I think the Boondocks also aired in Japan but on cable. Dreamgirls had a big release but I'm betting that's because Beyonce was in it. But in general, you had to go to large franchise places like HMV or Tower Records to find those You Got Served and what not though. I don't remember finding those things even in rental stores.

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  7. Good one! I really like all the pictures. Thanks for sharing. I am going to share this link with some of my friends.

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  8. I lived in Japan both as a student and as an employee of a Japanese corporation, but this was over 20 years ago. Reggae, Jazz, R&B and Hip-Hop were already becoming popular, and some clubs in Tokyo reflected this. My own kids are now interested in Japanese culture (no surprise), and we came across the B-Kei trends and that video about a year ago. Thanks so much for adding more perspective to what's going on. Next year is the 30th anniversary of my first having lived in Japan, and I'm trying to take my whole family to Japan and to do some events, as well as kick off my web series in Japanese that introduces Japanese people to African-Americans through children's literature and Black history (my effort is on GoFundMe - please ask if you're interested). Your comment in 2011 that there are still not enough materials in Japanese about Black American cultures and history caught my attention. Has it gotten any better over the 2-3 years since you posted that?

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