As in Germany, Japan was introduced to hip hop in the fall of 1983 in the movie Wild Style. The film is "the classic hip-hop flick, full of great subway shots, breakdancing, freestyle MCing and rare footage of one of the godfathers of hip-hop, Grandmaster Flash, pulling off an awesome scratch-mix set on a pair of ancient turntables." The popularity of the film led to many of the artists involved in it to make a trip to Japan to promote the film and they even performed in some of the department stores while they were there. Shortly after, Japanese took up breakdancing in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park, where street musicians gather every Sunday to perform. Crazy-A, now the leader of Rock Steady Crew Japan," was one of the pioneers of break dancing in Yoyogi back in the early 1984". Crazy-A organizes the annual "B-Boy Park" which happens every August, and draws a large number of fans and dozens of break dancing groups. This was all considered the Old School Era of rap in Tokyo. There was much of what they called Soul Dancing which helped the Japanese culture accept the street dance culture.
The rise of DJs was really the next step for the Japanese hip hop scene. Before 1985, there weren't very many DJs on the radio, but with the increase in the number that year, it led to the opening of the first all hip hop club in 1986. But despite the fact that DJing caught on rather quickly, it was thought that rapping wasn't going to have the same cache as it would be hard to rap in Japanese. Most Japanese music makes no sense to anyone but the Japanese themsevles. Nobody can understand a word they say!
Street musicians began to breakdance in Yoyogi Park, including DJ Krush who has become a world-renowned DJ after arising from the Yoyogi Park scene. In 1986 an all hip hop club opened in Shibuya. While interest in hip-hop in Japan grew some during the 1980s and early 1990s, the rap scene remained fairly small and rather marginalized. One reason for the rap scene to remain so small and a little bit less popular compared to hip hop is because of the fact that the Japanese language does "not contain stress accents and sentences must end with one of a few simple verb endings." Ito Seiko, Chikado Haruo, Tinnie Punx and Takagi Kan were rappers that emerged out of Japan at this time, and they proved to be rather successful.
The years 1994 and 1995, marked the beginning of hip-hop’s commercial success in Japan. The first hit was Schadaraparr's "Kon’ya wa būgi bakku" (Boogie Back Tonight) by Scha Dara Parr and Ozawa Kenji, followed by East En X Yuri’s “Da. Yo. Ne.” and “Maicca,” which each sold a million copies. This sudden popularity of J-rap, which was largely characterized as party rap, sparked a debate over ‘realness’ and authenticity between commercial and underground hip-hop artists.
An example of an underground attack on mainstream J-Rap is Lamp Eye's "Shogen," in which rapper You the Rock disses the more pop oriented group Dassen Trio. Writer Ian Condry argues that the rappers on this track are closely emulating the traditional macho posturing of rap, citing influences such as Public Enemy and Rakim The video reflects this image in its roughness and tone . Dassen Trio, and other pop rappers, respond to such attacks with the argument that their subject matter is more culturally appropriate and accessible for Japanese fans, and question the standards of "realness" put forth by underground rappers
With a lack of ghettos, culture wars, and with apparent racial harmony, Japanese youth consider hip hop the soundtrack to international fashion–baggy jeans, medallions, dread locks etc. Actual Japanese rap lyrics have a tendency to refer to mundane subjects such as food, cell phones, and shopping.Since 2000, the hip hop scene in Japan has grown and diversified. Hip-hop style and Japanese rap has been enormously commercially successful in Japan. In a 2003 interview with the BBC, Tokyo record-store owner, Hideaki Tamura noted "Japanese hip-hop really exploded in the last two, three years. I never thought there would be a time when Japanese records could outsell American ones but it's happening. Additionally, a huge number of new scenes have developed. These include “rock rap to hard core gangsta, spoken word/poetry, to conscious, old school, techno rap, antigovernment, pro-marijuana, heavymetal-sampled rap, and so on.” Tamura points to a shift in Japanese hip hop, when artists began to focus on issues pertinent to Japanese society, versus previous styles and subjects that were copied from US hip hop culture. For Japan, the style of hip hop was much more appealing than topics popular in American hip hop, such as violence. Ian Condry, on the other hand, focuses on an interplay between local and global hip hop within the genba of Japan. For Condry, Japanese hip hop was born out of simultaneous localization and globalization of hip hop culture, rather than a shift between the two binary factors.
Hip hop was thought to have originally become popular in Japan because the Japanese people wanted to imitate African-Americans. The Japanese would hear these rapper's music spinning in clubs, exposing to them a small, narrow view of West Coast hip hop. It was not only the music they latched onto, however. They came to love the entire hip hop culture, including the loose-fitting clothes, graffiti writing, and break dancing. Some Japanese hip-hop fans would even go to tanning salons to darken their skin, and style their hair in afros or dreadlocks in order to imitate the "cool" looks of African-Americans, although they are ridiculed by others, including other hip-hoppers. This style is called burapan - "the name given to the fashion sensibilities of all black wannabes." The term, though, has a derogatory history, combining the Japanese word for prostitute - panpan or pansuke - with "the abbreviation for burakku (black)." Therefore, a burapan is literally "a woman who prostitutes herself for black men." Although the word has come to describe a trend of dress and culture modeled after African-Americans, it is inherently problematic because of its origins. The soundtrack of Wild Style was marketed in Japan as a cassette with a book of photos-scenes from the film, neighborhoods, breakers, graffiti, etc.-Japan's hip hop contributions have been perceived by many to be based more on appearances than anything else. Lacking ghettos, culture wars, and acknowledged racial disharmony, Japanese youth relate hip hop as the soundtrack to international fashion. Blackness, as embodied in Africa medallions, baggy jeans, even $500 dreadlock treatments and skin darkeners, is a commodity on the streets of Tokyo.
A subculture of hip-hoppers who subscribe to the burapan style are referred to as blackfacers, a reference to the blackface style of makeup used in minstrel acting that began as an imitation or caricaturation of American slaves in the South and ex-slaves in the North. One Japanese pop group, the Gosperats, has been known to wear blackface makeup during performances. The appearance of these "Jiggers" has shown a growing popularity with the hip-hop subculture in Japan despite what can be viewed as "racist" ideological tendencies of the country towards African-Americans. There are roughly 50,000 African Americans in Japan; which is approximately .04% of the Japanese population . Although such an insignificant percent of the Japanese population is African American Japanese subculture is very much accepting of African American culture. For many rebellious Japanese youth it provides an outlet for "coolness" and a chance to express themselves outside the box. However, some Japanese fans of hip-hop find it embarrassing and ridiculous that these blackface fans do this because they feel like they shouldn't change their appearance to embrace the culture. In some instances it can be seen as a racist act, but for many of the young the Japanese fans it is a way of immersing in the hip hop culture the way they see fit. For example the Japanese hip hop group SOUL'd OUT is extremely imitative of African American culture. One specific thought that comes to mind when looking at SOUL'd OUT is their appearance. Their wardrobe undoubtedly reminds one of African American fashion. Even as Japanese hung Sambo (racial term) signs throughout the city, they were undeniably attracted to black music and style. Before hip hop, the Japanese had embraced jazz, rock n roll, and funk. It is important to note however, despite the seemingly racist tendencies toward African Americans and the simultaneous embrace of black culture, the Japanese have a very different construction of racial ideology then the US. Whereas the white versus black dichotomy typifies the racial system in the US, the Japanese construct their identities in terms of nationalism. Rather than identifying strongly with a color, Japanese tradition speaks to a homogeneous society that places foreigners in the "other category." Because of this context, "jiggers" and the young teens who wear blackface rebel by embracing individual identities that are different from the normIn fact, blackfacers (especially the females) seem to embrace their assumed skin color, and black people, tending to party where "natural" blacks go. especially black American soldiers and Africans who moved to Japan. The use of blackface is seen by some as a way to rebel against the culture of surface images in Japan. Blackface is used as a way to connect with African-Americans and the hegemonic racial structure that exists in the United States. Japan is seen as a homogenous and insular group, and the use of blackface shows that the youth of Japan are not only concerned with Japanese issues, but issues on a global level. Those partaking in blackface are "ordinary high school and college kids" and they pursue African American "blackness" with great passion. Their dedication to this "blackness" is evident through their dedication to even more underground American hip hop acts such as the Boot Camp Clik, as they appear almost obsessed with all things that are "black".. In the same respect for "many young Japanese devotees of black culture, the blackfacers are decidedly uncool" Blackfacers are described by other hip hoppers as "fools, or as not cool" But all of this doesn't matter. It is said that the Buraoan style is on the downswing. Mikako a fashion analyzer says that "the 'cool' that my friend at the nightclubaspired too wouldn't be 'cool' for very long"
Noted in Joe Wood's article,"The Yellow Negro", "Japan in the eighties seemed a lot like America in the fifties." In other words, the socio-economic conditions for white American middle-class children (white negroes) in the 1950s and their Japanese counterpart (Japanese blackfacers) in the 1980s allowed unprecedented cultural deviance to occur. It is the wealth and prosperity characteristic of these demographic groups at these specific points in time that can lend us understanding to when, why, and how one culture can most fluidly assimilate into another. Ironically, both cultures adopted black cultural practices in the midst of a post-war boom. In the case of Japan, the ‘Japanese Miracle’ gave many middle-class families the financial padding necessary for such diverse consumerism. Rebelling against the conformity and homogeneity of Japanese society, Japanese blackfacers took it a step further by uniquely adapting the physical look of black culture by literally tanning their faces to seem more ‘black.’ To Japanese hip-hop fans and to Japanese culture, the hip-hop phenomena severely influenced Japanese youth. Japanese hip hop is just an animation. It mimics only the style of American hip hop, not the meaning. Some critics of Japanese Hip Hop believe that it simply follows a long line of Black music that ultimately gained popularity through a different ethnic group mimicking the music. The “Elvis Effect” occurs “when white participation in traditionally black avenues of cultural production produces feelings of unease.” It occurs whenever a white person attempts a historically black art-form, is discovered to critical acclaim, and this is what leads to that art-form receiving widespread commercial acceptance. Aside from Elvis Presley, notable examples throughout music history include Dave Brubeck, Eric Clapton, and Eminem. Many critics believe that this concept is relevant to Japanese and other forms of global Hip Hop. If listeners first discover Hip Hop through a Japanese artist, there is the fear that they will never bother learning about Hip Hop’s origins and simply continue to listen to strictly Japanese versions of the genre.
Rhymes were also added to Japanese hip-hop by altering the basic structure of the language by eliminating the final auxiliary verbs in raps and instead placing key words at the end of lines. Additionally, to make Japanese work in a rhyming setting, the rappers will change the language in any which way they can by using "slang, derogatory terms, regional variations, gendered variations, and bilingual puns" so that "more hip-hop" means the creation of "more Japanese." . This lends itself to the Japanese being able to express themselves in mature lyrics as they seem to find a way to express themselves and "create" new language that does not inhibit their rhyming. As such, Japanese hip-hop music is often praised for its mature and culturally relevant lyrics
English phrases were also put at the end of lines where a Japanese word could not be found to fit. This made rhyming in Japanese far easier and also helped Japanese rappers create raps that fit into common rap patterns and allowed Japanese rappers to express themselves in a more Japanese style, both in basic language and in regard to themes, of which many common themes, like the concept of social responsibility versus emotional needs, are not easily translated.
In order to explain the “rhyming” method in Japanese Hip-Hop, we need to answer the followed question. What is rhyming? During late 1980s and early 1990s Japanese thought they needed to define “rap” before they define “rhyme” in this concept. Rappers like mc Bell and Cake-K explains that rap is not just singing, it is talking but with rhythm and melody. Mc Bell goes on saying that it can not be a rap without rhyme. He states that “in a measure, you need words ending with the same sound.” For example, he said, “three rhymes in a measure is called three-link rhyming.” As explained before, the “English” language sounds so cool in rap that the Japanese rappers usually adds the typical phrases such as ‘check it out!’, ‘say ho!’ and ‘Goddamn!’ According to Sh hei Hosokawa, those phrases are incidentally added and “the phonetic quality of black verbal expression is sometimes adopted” as well. He also notes that in Japanese Hip-Hop, the “semantics matter, yet so do phonetics” and he add to his point that “meaningful wording” is a big part of the rap, as well as the “playful rhyming”.
Without such genba acknowledgments, artists would disappear from the scene. Conversely, the business success of some rappers is not rejected but seen with a touch of envy, especially if they manage to go frequently to nightclubs like Zeebra in order to sustain their networks and keep up to date on the latest trends.
Before the turn of the new millennium, genba served as a places where Japanese hip hop colture was created and born. In the city of Tokyo, between the youth shopping districts of Shibuya and Harajuko, there was created a genba – a fathering point for youthful fans and performers. Traffic was stopped, and people and artists were able to perform and express themselves outside in this very public arena. This area became known as “Hokoten,” short for ''hokosha tengoku, which means “pedestrian paradise.”  It is said that here more than anywhere else in Japan in the 1990s, one could see the interplay and parallel between music and fashion .
Thumpin’ Camp has been one of the most memorable and largest hip hop events that occurred in Japan. July 7, 1996 is an unforgettable day for many rappers, as well as the fans; about four thousand people attended the show. Males were more attracted to this hip hop scene than females; thus, about 80% of the audience was male adolescents. Over thirty rappers, DJs, and break-dancers from the underground scene performed in the show. This event touched many young individuals who were passionate about hip hop. The Thumpin’Camp show left a remarkable memory in the hip hop history in Japan.
Japan boasts a variety of clubs, which, although they are "open to all races...the kind of music played depends on the race of the next largest racial group." That group, of course, being next largest to the Japanese, who can be found at each of the different clubs. The clubs that only play hip hop and reggae are those clubs that are attended mostly by blacks. Interestingly, in the clubs which are frequented by Japanese people and those which white people attend, you find that there is an even proportion of race and gender. In these clubs, you will generally find equal amounts of Japanese men and women, and a fairly even proportion of racially different men and women. However, in the hip hop clubs, "almost all the men are black, and almost all the women are Japanese". Often in the hip hop cubs, you will find that the Japanese women darken their skin, and get extensions and cornrows, in order to attain that "natural" black look.
As aforementioned, genba is agreeably one of the most prominent and core place for hip hop in Japan, there is however a visible shift and spread/increase of Japanese hip hop venues. Among these are clubs, crowds on streets and many more. According to Ian Condry, in his book he outlines the idea and fact that, clubs have become one of the most convenient and top promoting places for Japanese hip hop. Great Djs and turntable-lists use clubs to as venues to not promote other rappers, by that spreading the hip-hop culture, bring and promote new songs and their own hip hop work. Referring to some sources such as , the above named source is a Japanese hip hop forum that also focuses on clubs in Japan. The above source also services proof of Dj and upcoming artists naming places, clubs, Street gatherings of where they are going to be so as to promote their work or any artist they are interested in. The above all in all justifies the view that Japanese Hip hop venues are not just genba but have rather taken and shift or taking a shift into a variety of places such as the ones named above.
Another major group of Japanese hip-hop is King Giddra. They are one of the few pioneers of Japanese hip-hop. They began their hip hop careers in 1993 and felt hip-hop was needed in Japan. Group members ,Zeebra and K Dub Shine, both of whom had lived in the U.S., were convinced of the necessity for hip-hop to be about issues of social opposition. They used hip-hop to address social issues of the time, such as: the inability of college graduates to find employment and the media overload of advertising sex and violence. They also “challenged youth not only to recognize the difficulties faced by Japanese society but also to speak up about them.” King Giddra also wrote a song called "911" which carried a distinct anti-war message and drew parallels between the bombing of Hiroshima and the attacks of September 11. A video with translation can be seen on Youtube Their message and hip-hop was accepted by the people of Japan because they received commercial success and eventually led to their solo careers.
Dabo is one of the first hip hop artists in Japan. He sprung to the scene in the 1990s and has fame all over Japan. He is the first Japanese artist to be signed to Def Jam Japan. He is also disliked for his style of hip hop which is said to be imitation of African American Hip Hop. Many Japanese musicians feel that artists similar to Dabo are just mimicking what they see in American hip hop and is not unique in any sense.
Another influential rap artist in Japan is female rapper, Hime. In her music, she employs a strong message to empower women in Japanese culture. Many of her songs combat the common stereotype of women in Japanese culture. She calls herself “the voice of the Japanese doll,” in attempts to challenge and reinvent stereotypes that label women as quiet and obedient. Another common stereotype used to degrade women in Japan is the term yellow cab, which is used to describe a woman who is sexually provocative or whorish. In her song, Yellow cab, Hime cleverly deconstructs the derogatory connotations of this term. By contextualizing yellow cab as defining a woman who is in the driver’s seat, Hime transforms its meaning in attempts to empower Japanese woman.
Another influential artist in Japan is a male singer Toshi Kubota. Toshi is a Japanese singer who is originally from Shizuoka, Japan. Toshi is known as the pioneer of soul music in Japan. His music styles have varied over the years, from pop-oriented sounds through to reggae and soul. Toshi made his Japanese debut in 1986 with the album, Shake It Paradise. His popularity peaked with his award-winning 1990 release, “Bonga Wanga.” Toshi’s albums have consistently sold over a million copies each in Japan. According to a reading from the yellow negro, some Japanese artist have made reference to profound attraction to black music and style. They have embraced jazz, rock 'n' roll, funk, and other forms of African American expression.
Additionally, Hime has revolutionized the rhyming patterns in rap songs by embracing traditional Japanese poetic forms such as tanka in her song “If the Peony Stands.” In her use of this intricate form, she embraces and fuses Japanese culture with traditional American hip hop styling. Hip hop is also an outlet for Japanese minority groups such as Burakumin and Japanese Koreans to express their experiences. Jin Black is a rapper who writes about his life in a Burakumin neighborhood.
Ian Condry, an associate professor in the Japanese Cultural Studies Dept at MIT, is a cultural anthropologist who specializes in contemporary Japan. He has covered Hip Hop in Japan since its inception into the genre. His fieldwork started in 1995-97 and he has published many articles revolving around Japanese Hip Hop.
Hip Hop and black culture has had an undoubted presence in Japan in recent years. Wood explains,“..noted facet of Japanese culture: its profound attraction to black music and style.” These “Yellow Negros”, a.k.a “Jiggers” have embodied the ideas of “blackness” and advocate for the black race. From the way they dress (fashion) down to the way they talk (language). While their intentions are good, their representations haven been mistaken as imitation. Ian Condry speaks of this issue heavily in his article, “Yellow B-Boys, Black Culture, and Hip-Hop in Japan: Toward a Transnational Cultural Politics of Race” when he explains, “The spectacle of young Japanese spending lavishly on “dread hair” and tanning salons is perhaps the most striking expression of hip-hop devotion in Japan, and for critics both in the United States and in Japan it symbolizes a misappropriation and misunderstanding of black music, culture, and style.”
Artist Banana Ice released a song in 1995 called “Imitation + Imitation = Imitation,” where he put these “blackfaces” on front map, criticizing them for their mis-representation of their identity. While on the one hand, these blackfacers feel that they are bringing more to the culture and representing for a greater cause. On the other, they have been perceived for the all the wrong things. Hip hop on a global level has been an unifying force for countries, but it should not allow for imitation or the need to “copy”, rather only to bring diversity.
Part of the problem with the blackface culture lies in its inability to fully represent the essence of hip-hop in general. Aside from commercial rap that is produced to advance capitalist endeavors, the majority of global hip-hop has been utilized as a medium to express discontent with various political agendas and socioeconomic frameworks. Blackfaces however make little, if any, effort to utilize hip-hop as a conduit of political expression; instead they choose to imitate what has been presented as the norm in hip-hop culture. Although this demonstrates admiration for Black culture and may flatter many hip-hop artists of color, it furthers the impression that blackface culture is not a genuine version of hip-hop but rather an attempt to imitate what is considered "cool". These notions are supported by the overwhelming percentage of blackfaces who have no idea as to any of the conflicts that have propagated the transnational pervasion of hip-hop. Between copying fashion styles, tanning, and hanging out recreationally in areas populated by Blacks while simultaneously possessing almost no knowledge of any struggle endogenous to hip-hop culture, let alone addressing the problems within its own society (a characteristic of all hip-hop cultures), the culture surrounding Japanese hip-hop has many strides to take before being accepted as its own authentic and unique culture.
In many subcultures that exist in Japan that is seen to be “cool”, Wood explains that the Ganguro or “black face” are considered an embarrassment and “uncool” by many hip-hop and black culture supporters in Japan. Those opposed to the blackfacers' principle of physical and cultural imitation of black people feel that, the point does not lie in painting or darkening the skin complexion but rather participating in the elements that represent hip-hop such as graffiti-writing, break-dancing and adapting hip-hop fashion. In a sense blackfacers are seen as fake, and “unreal.” As for females, involvement in the black-face subculture started in mid 1990s as a desire to emulate the popular, sun-tanned Okinawan singer Amuro Namie and fashion models like Naomi Campbell, and other hip-hop artists like Lil’ Kim and Mary J. Blige.
Based on the Japanese critique of the black-faced subculture and the type of characters generally portrayed in Anime (white people with blue eyes and upturned noses) there are African Americans who come to Japan that believe that Japanese people really want to be white. . But anime like "Samurai Champloo," that clearly fuse Japanese culture with African-American Hip-hop, emulates how African-American culture is valued and celebrated in Japan, and how much color does not matter if what you have to offer (in this case, Hip-hop) is "cool." As a result of the Japanese "cool" standard, Samurai Champloo has gone to be a great success in Japan and the U.S., exemplifying how a Japanese story can be told through African-American Hip-hop.
In “Yellow Negro,” Joe Wood, an African-American man goes to Japan in search for understanding of this blackface, or burapan, culture. He finds that in Japan, there exists a struggle to be cool, to stand out from the multitudes of sub-cultures that exist. Visiting a bar in the Roppongi night-club area, known for clubs which play African-American music, Wood saw the struggle between the African club owners whose business profited off the black music, African-American soldiers stationed in Japan, and the burapan teens struggle to identify themselves with black culture. Wood learns that sub-cultures of teens who tan themselves black are not considered cool; he wonders whether they perceive themselves as coloured. Eventually, Wood finds that the burapan kids do not identify as black, their interest is in the fashion and music but has nothing to do with the black struggle.
One reason Joe Wood hypothesizes as the reason that ganguro gained popularity is that Japanese youth see themselves growing up in a very homogeneous culture. In order to separate themselves from everyone else and gain a personal identity, they go beyond what is considered normal or previously accepted. Although this is in fact not true of Japan, it is said to be believed by many Japanese citizens, including a high percentage of the youth. This is in part due to Japan’s strict emigration laws in the past..
One of the propelling factors of the explosion of hip hop onto the music scene in Japan is the fashion aspect. At hip hop nightclubs, often owned and run by Africans, one would find clubbers wearing hip hop clothing typical of American youth such as oversized shirts, Tommy Hilfiger jeans and baseball caps. This macho look is even found on the women . In Tokyo you are most likely to find the latest fashions amongst the youth including burapan, the black wannabe fashion. Shibuya, an area of Tokyo, is the center of youth culture in Tokyo and where hip hop’s growing presence can be most experienced . In Shibuya, one will find many stores offering hip hop clothing including Bathing Ape Clothing Line also known as Bape. Bape has been worn by Pharell Williams and other popular hip hop artists of America. The hip hop clothing available in many of these stores can be very expensive. Hip hop fashion is now also popular in the suburbs although not everyone who wears the baggy pants and oversized NBA jerseys is into hip hop music, some are only following the latest trends. Hip hop’s presence can definitely be seen on the youth of Japan as they use their clothing to express their attitude and lifestyle .