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Hip-Hop and the Japanese Culture Research Paper

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Updated: May 28th, 2019


The chronicle of the hip-hop music in Japan can be traced back to 1983 when following the arrival of Hiroshi Fujiwara in the country with hip-hop music versions.

This period saw the playing of hip-hops in the form of break dance in Tokyo, Japan. It was presented through live performances and films. At this time, people began to play hip-hops in discos though many of them could not understand it. They just liked its dancing moves. The Japanese learnt the art of hip-hop from a movie called Wild Style (Condry, 2007, p.61). When the movie became very popular, many artists who featured in it travelled to Japan where they performed as a way of promoting it.

From the African-American culture, the Japanese hip-hop music developed. The Japanese hip-Hop culture was greatly influenced by the African American style of soul dancing and break dancing. This made some Japanese fans of hip-hop darken their own skins by wearing afros and dreadlocks to look like the African-Americans (Wood, 1997, p.40).

Globalization, Political, and Cultural influence of Hip-hop Music in Japan

The culture of the Japanese was greatly influenced by Hip-Hop music. The hip-hop music emerged because of the global cultural changes that happened through interaction of people. Although the hip-hop music was first ignored by the famous music production houses in Japan, it found its way to the masses. The African-American break dancing style championed the desire by individuals to learn Hip-hop music besides taking part in it.

The Japanese culture was later influenced towards dancing moves that were not common in their music. The moves were so captivating to many since they made it easy for one to understand the music visually hence breaking the barrier of language expression. According to Condry (2007, p.62), break dancing formed the basis of the extensive globalization and acceptance of Hip-Hop music.

The prevalence of soul dancing in Japan in the earlier years also formed the basis for the wide acceptance of the hip-hop culture into the Japanese culture because soul dancing was common in the streets since most of the first generation hip-hop music artists in Japan began by street dancing. For example, artists like crazy-A performed on the parks drawing many fans to the Hip-Hop music.

Another influence of hip-hop music on the Japanese culture was the development of DJs in the 1980s. The DJs formed the first club of hip-hop artists in 1986.

Such clubs were never common in the culture of Japanese. The culture of the Japanese was also greatly influenced when some hip-hop artists began rapping in the Japanese language. During the inception of the hip-hop culture, many Japanese thought that it would be impossible to rap in their language. This was proved wrong especially the DJs. The problem of rapping in Japanese language was because it lacks stress accent. However, several rappers emerged and succeeded, for example, Sieko, Tinnie, and Chikado.

The eating culture and communication of the Japanese have also been influenced by the hip-hop music. According to (Schwartz, 1998, p.361), the Japanese hip-hop rappers majorly include topics on shopping, mobile phones, and even food. Since food has a cultural aspect, it is also affected by the culture. Mobile phones that feature so much in these songs are also important since they have influenced the culture of communication in Japan.

The cultural mode of dressing has been influenced by the hip-hop culture. For example, since the Japanese used to hear the hip-hop songs in clubs, which made them attracted to the western styles of music, they easily accepted the whole of the hip-hop culture. This included the mode of dressing that was adopted by the hip-hop artists. The mode of dressing included loose fitting type of clothes and even the use of graffiti to depict the culture on their clothes and even on the walls (Japanese, 2003, p.13).

The dressing culture also influenced the young fans to darken their skin in order to look like the African-American hip-hop artists. Others went ahead and wore dreadlocks and afros purposely to look like true African-Americans especially when dancing. Other Japanese referred to the people who decided to change from their original Japanese culture to the African-American culture as burapan. The inception of this kind of dressing also had a commercial effect on the economy of Japan.

Many young men and women who became fans of the hip-hop music bought the baggy Jeans, went for dreadlock treatments and maintenance in commercial centers, and even spent a lot of money in darkening their skin (Schwarz, 1999, p.361). There was also the development of a complete culture of hip-hop Japanese. This group wanted to change from their traditional culture completely to that of the African-Americans. They did not have any reservations.

They wanted to become complete burapans. The Japanese used to refer them as the blackfaces. Some of the black faces were the African-Americans that had long lived in Japan. Some of them thought that they would really change from the Japanese culture to adopt the African-American culture since it had already gained enough roots in Japan.

However, there were very few blacks in Japan, about 0.04% of the entire population. The advertising culture of the Japanese especially in the media was also influenced. Initially, the media houses in Japan resisted production and even popularization of the hip-hop music and culture. However, they came to accept and even adopt it in their programming especially when it became popular.

The hip-hop music artists were even used in advertisements. Other commercial companies used their photographs in advertising their wares. In fact, some commercial companies used the hip-hop artists’ voices on their commercial adverts on televisions and radios. This was a completely new phenomenon of the advertising industry in Japan. According to (Manabe, 2006, p. 2), the textual repetition of hip-hop especially its sound makes it appealing for advertising.

The political culture of Japan has also been influenced by the hip-hop culture. For example, a Japanese hip-hop artist commonly referred to as King Gaddra included reflections of the twin attacks of 11 September 2001 on the American world trade centre by terrorists. The step indicated the political relations between the Japanese and the Americans.

Famous Hip-hop Japanese artists and their perspectives on various issues

Many individuals and groups do Hip-hop music in Japan. These individuals and groups have different perspectives in their music. For example, the major group of hip-hop music in Japan is the Rhymester, which takes various dimensions on its approach to issues. The group tackles global issues and also matters of philosophy and politics. The group has done many songs that act as inspirational songs to most of its fans.

For example, the song, “I improve myself only the wonderful” by this group motivates its fans and other listeners to believe in their abilities and even to keep improving on their lives until they become wonderful people. This has had a positive impact on the people of Japan especially those who love the hip-hop music since it teaches them to be self reliant, self-confident, and a high self-esteem. This group also takes a political dimension in its songs.

For example, it has sung some hip-hop songs that have lyrics that condemn the government of the United States for attacking Japanese cities during the Second World War. They blame this government for the massive loss of lives that happened and even the witnessed enormous destruction of property. According to these songs, the effects of this heinous act are still felt in Japan today.

Japanese artists have also involved the group in the fight for the quality of hip-hop music in Japan while at the same time working to forge collaborative performances with other groups in hip-hop music. For example, it worked with Funky Grammar Unit, a hip-hop music group in the 1980s. King Giddra is another major hip-hop music group in Japan. This group is also a pioneer of the hip-hop music in Japan having been in the hip-hop field since 1993.

Some of its members had a deeper drive into hip-hop having lived in the United States, for example Dube Shine and Zeebra. This group developed and made use of the hip-hop music in tackling social issues in the country. For example, the group attacked the government due to its failure to provide jobs to college and university graduates in the country.

It also took the social issues of negative advertising and the overly depiction of sex in advertising. This affected the children of the Japanese people negatively. The group also used the hip-hop music to condemn other social ills like the depiction of violence in mass media. The group’s songs blamed the much-publicized violent episodes in televisions in the media since violence could be cultivated through mass media.

This was a long milestone for the parents since their children had fallen victims of these negative uses of the tools of mass communication. According to (Manable, 2006, p.1), the first album by King Giddra improved the style of rapping that used the Japanese language. The songs also encouraged the youth to speak out about the problems that they faced in the country instead of keeping quiet and suffering in their homeland country.

This group was a great source of inspiration not only to the hip-hop fans but also to many young Japanese. There are also famous individual hip-hop artists in Japan. One of such artist is Dobo. He is among the first artists of hip-hop in Japan since he plunged into the hip-hop music in the 1990s. Dobo is said to imitate the African-American style of hip-hop.

The claim explains why other Japanese hip-hop artists dislike him. Dobo is disliked for his mimicking of the old African-American hip-hop. Hence, he does not promote the growth of the hip-hop music style and industry (Condry, 2007, p.23). Dobo stands for originality. He does not believe in the composition of other styles of music into the hip-hop style.

According to him, the hip-hop music style is rich and sufficient. It should not be disrupted. There is also another artist of the hip-hop music known as Toshinobu Kubota. This Hip-hop music artist is the one who began the soul music in this county. He uses pop and reggae in his hip-hop songs, which is his distinguishing characteristic. He became famous in 1986 when he released his winning album, “shake it paradise.”

He also uses the African-American style, which has made many upcoming hip-hop artists reference his work and attitude. He has made many artists of the hip-hop music to turn to the incorporation of the reggae, funk, rock and roll, and other styles that have deep expressions of African-American music styles.

Kubota has also changed and developed rap songs rhyming patterns, which has been seen as an enrichment of the common poetic culture of the Japanese people. In his hip-hop songs, Kubota has really fused both the African-American styles with the Japanese culture, which has made the hip-hop songs grow at a higher speed besides having it accepted by many people in Japan. The Japanese people have now been able to identify with the hip-hop culture since Kubota has incorporated their culture into it.

Their accent and poetic sounds are therefore featured in the hip-hop music. Kubota has revolutionalized the entire hip-hop music industry to meet the needs of the Japanese people especially the less privileged and the marginalized groups (Blow, 2003, p.19). For example, he has used his hip-hop songs to prevail upon the Koreans who live in Japan and the Burakumins to use the hip-hop music as a tool of voicing their problems and experiences to the government and the world at large.


In conclusion, the hip-hop culture became popular in Japan in the 1980s. Since then, this style of music has experienced tremendous growth. It has been used by many Japanese to express social, political, and cultural messages. The hip-hop music has been seen as a globalization issue in Japan since it was able to overcome the resistance of language and acceptance.

There has been a significant development and growth of many hip-hop music artists in Japan. Others have become very wealthy through the sale of hip-hop music albums. The culture of the Japanese has been greatly affected by this music including the mode of dressing, eating, and even hair styles. Today, the hip-hop music has incorporated poetic and rhyming styles of the Japanese language. This has made it more acceptable in the country.

Reference List

Blow, K. (2003). Blow Presents: The History of Rap (I). The Genesis. Web.

Japanese, Z. (2003). HippuHoppu. Web.

Manabe, N. (1958). Globalization and Japanese Creativity: Adaptations of the Japanese Language to Rap. Ethnomusicology, 1(50), 1–36.

Schwartz, M. (1999). Planet Rock: Hip Hop Supa National. In The Vibe History of Hip-Hop. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Wood, J. (1997). The Yellow Negro. Transition, 73(73), 40.

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