Happy Together

Lisa Rohel defines cultural citizenship as “a rubric or trope I use to coney novel processes of subjection and new modes of inclusion and exclusion.” Cultural citizenship tells its people was kind of sex is deemed “good” and “bad.” This is depicted many times in the film Happy Together where characters Wing and Fai struggle as gay individuals in a rigid society. The film opens on the scene in which Wing and Fai are lost on their way to see the falls in Argentina. The scene, representing a moment in the past, is set in black and white for the viewers. The men depart and go their separate ways. Wong uses cinematography effects to depict the streets and sounds of Argentina nightlife while contrasting it by bringing viewers back to the ideal scene of the falls. The falls, a place where lovers often meet, represents hope for the relationship between Wing and Fai. This hope is also represented in a lamp that Fai keeps even after the couple breaks up. The men struggle to succeed in saving their relationship but also struggle with their identity in relation to the family responsibilities. In Chinese society, and other Eastern societies, sons have a responsibility to marry a woman and produce children so they can further their family’s name. This puts pressure on gay individuals to choose between living a life that is their own and succumbing to the pressure society places on them and their families. In Happy Together Wing and Fai attempt to navigate these pressures even when far from home.

Cultural Appropriation in Japan: Black Lifestyle

It’s hard to draw the line between cultural appropriation and devotion when it come to the black lifestyle as shown through Hina in the video. While she says that “black people are so great and stylish” and that all the black lifestyle goods sold are “a tribute to black culture, and also to their music, fashion and dance” , it doesn’t take away from the fact that followers of this trend are doing so without knowing the history behind it.  Hina and other b-girls like her take in and idolize certain parts of the culture while neglecting to acknowledge and understand where the style originates from. Similar to the Japanese rappers mentioned in Condry’s article, these certain adoptions lead to a “misappropriation and misunderstanding of black music, culture and style”(p.638).  There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a part of a culture different from your own, but when you’re only taking it at face value its disrespectful to those who struggled for years to create what you see today. Condry later goes on to mention that “Japanese youth… should take the time to try and understand where others are coming from, just as white fans must consider the appropriateness of their own uses of hip hop slag and racial epithets”. (p.644) Educating yourself will lead to true understanding and acceptance of black culture as opposed to just looking like it.

Admiration for Different Cultures

In Black Lifestyle in Japan (VPRO Metropolis, 2011) shows Hina who is into “B-style”. She is an an example of cultural appropriation or devotion to b-style; simultaneously, she represents admiration for all-around black cultures that are different from Japanese ones.

Similar to the cultures in Japan, we Korean like a pale skin and even there are many medical procedures to have bright skin in South Korea. 10 years ago, a Korean female singer became popular because of her fashion style that follows African American in the states. This had a huge impact on women and fashion industry in Korea, so almost a lot of women in South Korea tanned their skin and pierced on their bodies. As Ian Condry mentions in his article, people considered “blackness as hip, sensual, and rebellious” (640). That is, not only did this syndrome disobedience to the traditional beauty standard but it also means the resistant to Korean cultures that have always the same beauty standard.

In East Asian cultures, in comparison to Western cultures, there are not many standards for beauty. As we can see in Takarazuka, women in East Asia tend not to reveal their individual identities. Therefore, black cultures give women freedom to express themselves and identities to opposition to the society. In this video, Hina said “black people look so great and stylish.” Hina and people who imitated the singer in Korea seemed to pursue both fashion style and their spirit.

Ian says that “Hip-hop creates a space for questioning race and power by laying bare the constructedness of racial identity” (665).  According to him, hip-hop cultures are especially related to specific race black, which leads people change the mind to blacks who are freer than Japanese ordinary girls.

B-style in Japan

In the short video, Black Lifestyle in Japan, we focus on the life of a girl named Hina, who is known as a “B-style” girl. Hina works in a high-end department store, and her B-style influences seem to be black female music artists, as we see her watching and commenting on a music video with one of her friends. She says “Black people look so great and stylish.” She and her co-workers at Baby Shoop repeatedly point out aspects of “African American culture” that enhance one’s appearance. For example the deep tanning makes the girls look slimmer, and the clothes are bright and colorful. It is these constant references to the materialistic aspects of black culture, and the lack of will to understand the deeper, more traditional aspects, that lead me to believe that, in this particular case, the embracing of b-style seems to be a shallow cultural misappropriation.

It seems Hina misses the true culture of black people by only taking interest in famous, media based consumption of “black goods” by basing her beliefs off of music videos. Ian Condry views hip-hop consumption in Japan as a way of not only seeming “cool” but also “bad.” There is a rebellious aspect to hip-hop which Japan has adopted. He also says that most J-pop hip hop is stripped of any racial nuance. I feel like it would have been beneficial for the viewers to be able to follow a second “b-style” individual, and not only be influenced by Hina, who focuses on the materialistic and simply for the sake of being different aspects of b-style. The misunderstanding of hip hop, its roots, and all of black culture can lead to strongly biased stereotypes and unfortunately a largely negative view of the culture and those who embrace it.

Hina & Cultural Appropriation…Maybe

I think it is more so a devotion to b-style than cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation has a widely negative connotation. I think cultural appropriation is when you take a part of a culture that is not your own. For instance, the bindhi is a significant part of the Hindu culture; it is a red dot that married women wear. Often times, Americans, or others unaware, may wear the bindhi and unintentionally devalue the cultural significance of the bindhi because the people who wear it are unmarried and are utilizing the bindhi more so to look cool than to appreciate the culture. Cultural appropriation is if you do not know the significance of an aspect of the culture that you are embracing and, whether it be intentional or not, are mocking it. It is difficult for me to answer this question because I think that cultural appropriation can be argued, especially depending on the intention of the individual. For instance, Hina may not have done any research on black culture and the significance behind certain styles. However, she finds it cool, which is why she tans often, dresses much like the celebrities in the black lifestyle magazines, and has a lot of tattoos and piercings. Her mother does not deem it to be an issue; she implies that this is a phase for Hina & to do this while she’s young. Hina means well, but she may be inadvertently disrespecting the black culture. This relates to Kinsella’s piece on ganguro. People use self tanning creams and tanning salons. They use pastel colored eyeshadows and lipsticks. Some say that this is mocking those who are dark skinned, while others say that these folks are merely having fun and appreciating others who are dark skinned. Also, I think it is interesting to note that it is mostly women involved with these activities. Does this say anything? Are men more comfortable in Japanese culture? Do women enjoy exploring other cultures? I’m not sure but I thought it would be interesting to bring this point up.

Dark-Skin is In: B-Style and Cultural Appropriation in Japan

itsokay

The conflict of appreciation over appropriation is a constant one in my life. As an African-American in the US, I am exposed to numerous media mentions of black-this and black-that. What we’ve read about b-style started to seem different that the usual generalizations, but this Metropolis video made me think otherwise. While the girls in the video aren’t expressing b-style as a sort of “anti-Japanese” aesthetic as Sharon Kinsella writes of, something about them rubs me the wrong way. The lifestyle aspect of the trend threw me off from the start. Much of Hina’s talk revolves around the clothing, dark skin, fashion, and cool of black culture. She claims that b-style is a dedication to such, and therein lies the problem. Cultural appropriation is the adoption of aspects of a culture without regard to it’s history or the origins of it and that is exactly what I see out of Japanese b-style. Appropriation isn’t always done out of malice. Unfortunately, those who enjoy a culture can appropriate just as much as anyone else. Changing your skin color, braiding your hair, and picking out some new clothes does not make me feel more connected to you in any sense of the word. What’s wrong with enjoying the artistic elements of the culture in your own skin? Hina’s mother even claimed it to be a phase for her daughter, and didn’t get upset because “she goes to school…she’s not dying from cancer, so it’s okay.” Rather than find myself upset at b-stylers, I’d love for them to read up or listen to their hip hop idols and discover the origins, struggle, and serious work that was put into making the hip hop community that they adore.

Misinterpretation leading to stereotype

Hina, who appears as a B-style girl in the video seems to be really admired with black culture. Thus, she wears like one of the girls in 50 cent music videos who she finds “cute.” She seems to be devoting lots of things such as tanning once a week and tattooing. However, if I am asked that if I think that she is appropriately absorbing the Black life style, I’m not sure. From what I had watched from the video, it seemed that the way she learned the B-style seems to be through the media (music video and etc) which has a lot of exaggeration to attract people.

In Korea, there are also people who respect Black lifestyle, who are mostly rappers. However, there was one incident that shows the misinterpretation of Black lifestyle. Which was the “Diss battle” between the rappers. The start of this battle was actually pretty pure, it started as one rapper wanted to bring and acknowledge audience with the “Diss culture” of American Hip Hop to Korea. However, the power of media was too strong since most people in Korea now think of diss battle or swearing first when they hear the word Hip Hop.

Misinterpretation of one culture and devoting to it can lead to a danger of making a certain stereotype which counts to Hina as well. The way she dresses and wants to live like B-style is her own free will, but she first has to be acknowledged if the information she got from the media about B-style is correct before making any judgement. Just like Chibikuro Sambo dolls which can be looked as a representation of stereotypes that Japanese people had. The scariest part was that the dolls were made for kids to “not grow up as racists(Creighton, p.222).”

Hip Hop in Japan

After watching the video I believe that Hina dresses the way she does as apart of her devotion to b-style. In the video it is clear that she does not simply dress in b-style to act cool or pretend to be African American, she simply relates to the lifestyle. Hina works at a department store that sells b-style attire. Hina tells viewers how much she loves her job and feels at home there. I believe that it is because it is here she feels most comfortable with herself away from the judgement she feels outside the store.  In Ian Contry’s article “Yellow B-Boys, Black Culture and and Hip Hop in Japan” he states “Hip Hop is an Afro-diasporic cultural form which attempts to negotiate the experiences of marginalization, brutally truncated opportunity and oppression within the cultural imperatives of African American and Caribbean history, identity and community.” However, Hip Hop has evolved and now encompasses these specific racial issues. A great of popular Hip Hop music focuses on club culture. It is for this reason that I believe Hina is not attempting to differentiate herself from traditional Japanese beauty ideals to make a go against her native culture but instead is dressing and behaving in a way that feels true to herself. Hip Hop music was meant to be relate to those to identify with the messages being conveyed. So why would embracing and increasing the number of Hip Hop fans be seen as negative thing?

B-Style: Black Influence in Japan

The video Black Lifestyle in Japan, follows a young woman named Hina who embraces the African American appearance. Fascinated by the hip-hop culture, she starts going to tanning salons, braiding her hair, and getting piercings and tattoos. Her dramatic transformation from a pale Japanese girl to a tanned gyaru shows her devotion to Black-style. However, this devotion seems to end here. Hina and her friends were fascinated by the fashion sense of African women; saying that they looked “cool” or “like a barbie.” This tells me that Hina was only drawn in to B-style for the fashion tread and not for the Black culture.

In Ian Condry’s article, “Yellow B-Boys, Black Culture, and Hip-Hop in Japan: Toward a Transnational Cultural Politics of Race,” he explains that some Japanese adopt the African American culture without accepting the responsibilities. “Japanese youth who express an interest in another culture should take the time to try to understand where others are coming from, just as white fans must consider the appropriateness of their own uses of hip-hop slang and racial epithets, even when intended as signs of inclusivity” (Condry, p644-645). Although Hina is influenced by the Black culture, she never mentions her study into it in the video. She is solely into B-style because of the fashion appeal. This presents a problem for Black culture as there will be people who appropriate it without attempting to contribute to or understand its struggles.

B-Style Devotion

B-style is a culture of young Japanese people who love American hip-hop so much that they want to look as much like the African Americans they see. In my opinion, from watching the video, I do believe that this is devotion. In the video, it says that B-style is a “tribute to black culture and also to their love for music, fashion and dance.” This is similar in a way to when an American is drawn to a specific type of band that wears all black clothes and is considered to be ‘gothic’. They are interested in this way of life and want to explore and be able to express themselves how they want too. There is nothing with wanting to look and act like someone or something that you admire. Hina also says that in the early years of primary school she developed very frizzy hair and with this she had to find a way to manage it, and in her later years she discovered B-style and started to focus on it more. Also, as many may think that her mother is outraged about how Hina’s appearance, she actually supports her very much. She says that Normal mothers may find it too much, but she goes to school and that when you are young you can do these things, so she tells her daughter to do what she wants. In “Yellow B-Boys, Black Culture, and Hip-Hop in Japan” Condry says that “racial homogeneity” is something that is very big in Japan. With this being said, I think that having a devotion to B-style is a very good way to explore different cultures than your own, and be able to learn and respect a culture that you may not be so familiar with.