Is Japan Admiring The Culture Or Is This Blackface?

Dutch photographer Desire Van Den Berg was surprised when she stumbled upon a trendy boutique in Tokyo called Baby Shoop.  The shop adorned a tagline, “Black for Life” and featured styles that were reminiscent of hip-hop culture in America.  Young adults who remain loyal to a movement called “B-style” often frequent the shop to find products that represent Black culture.  Whether it comes from music, fashion or dancing, this subculture of young Japanese people explicitly admit that they love American hip-hop and all that it encompasses.

This phenomenon was first documented in a film that swept across the Internet in 2011.  The documentary triggered controversial reactions from all over the world in a matter of days.  Some critics of B-style expressed concern over racial implications while others applauded the young adults for their appreciation of hip-hop culture.   The documentary highlighted a young lady named Hina who works at Baby Shoop and serves as an embodiment of the growing trend.  She explains that B-style is a tribute to hip-hop culture and that it comes from a respectful place.

Hina tells interviewers that she began her transformation into this subculture when she started to get frizzy hair in high school.  As she flipped through a copy of Source Magazine, the vibrant images of big hair, gold chains and African Americans resonated with her.  “When I looked at Black artists, I found them very cool.”  Now she frequently takes trips to New York and idolizes American singers like Ciara.

In a culture that has long valued tradition, it’s easy to understand how some Japanese parents feel about B-style.  Hina’s mother explains that she often wonders if her daughter is taking B-style too far.   She worries that the obsessive tanning could lead to skin cancer or other serious ailments.  She finds solace in the fact that Hina still attends school regularly and that she is a young woman who is finding herself.  Her mother explains, “Sooner or later it will get boring.  When you are young you can do these things so I say, you do what you want.”

Although North America and Japan are vastly separated geographically, their young people have found common ground when it comes to appreciating all that is encompassed in hip-hop.   Japanese youth watch music videos and read American publications in hopes of more inspiration for B-style.  It’s also important to note that these young Japanese people are rejecting anime culture, which has largely dominated this region for generations.  While this subculture is still quite small, there are a plethora of B-style events that attract Japanese youth while giving them an outlet for their own expression.  The movement has even inspired local artists to try their hand at rapping as they come together in Tokyo.

The trendy shop Baby Shoop aims to be a central hub for everyone who appreciates hip-hop culture.  The employees freely admit that their products help Japanese youth reject mainstream Japanese beauty standards.  Instead of the traditional glorification of pale skin, young women take time to darken their skin in hopes of appearing sun-kissed.  With daily trips to the tanning salon and extremely dark foundation, some young women spend a lot of money to get their desired look.  These young women also adorn complex cornrow hairstyles, beads and vibrant nail designs that they obtain from small African shops usually found in Tokyo’s ghettos.

The popularity of B-style has inspired new apparel brands that hope to serve a growing market.   Many of the clothes feature popular hip-hop lyrics like Kendrick Lamar’s line, “Bitch don’t kill my vibe.”  It’s also important to note that many of these young Japanese people are not fluent in English although they have taken time to master American slang.  While it’s impossible to tell if this trend is here to stay, it’s incredible to see how hip-hop strikes a cord in the unlikeliest of places.


Ness White is a 26-year-young Black, lesbian, journalist, writer, poet, musician living in Philadelphia, PA. Born and partially-raised in Southern California before living in Washington State and Upstate New York, she has been something of a traveler her entire life, readily observing and striving to connect with anything and everything on her journey's path. So far, no connection has been as intense, as indelible as hip hop. For Ness, hip hop is more than a genre. It is a way of living with the body, emotions, mind, spirit all experiencing its core. In essence, it is a way of being in the world. Through her writing—using the page as a stage—she performs like an MC, capturing your attention with style, swag before touching your soul with the heart of her words. Read them and go where she has been, then take her with you on your own journey.

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