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The black ships - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
 
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Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 11:54 am
The black ships

[Edit the next day: the Timothy-Ayumi part of this story turns out to be of debateable veracity on several counts. The general points made later still stand, though.]

Marxy reports that J-pop superstar Ayumi Hamasaki has got engaged to her boyfriend Timothy, a Tokyo-based gaijin designer who's the son of graffiti artist Futura 2000. She's 25 and he's 20. She's Japanese and he's African-American. Marxy, who's always going on about Japanese racism, finds this news "fantastical" and stranger than fiction, but I don't think it's strange at all. The fact is, insofar as Japan is still a nation under American influence these days, it's black American influence.

The evidence that black cultural memes in Japan are stronger than white ones is everywhere. You just have to visit fashion districts like Harajuku (Takeshita Street throngs with black merchants) or Aoyama (where the youths sport rasta style), or take a trip to Osaka's Amerika-Mura (clue: this "American Village" contains America, but it's not white America). You just have to look at style leaders like Nigo and Hiroshi Fujiwara (both proclaimed by Timothy "totally next level" in his interview), or Japan's coolest and most attractive man, Eye Yamataka of Voordoms. Look at their style, and ask where their cultural capital is coming from. It's coming from black American glitz-and-ghetto culture, or Jamaica.

During my Hokkaido residency earlier this year I was staying in a house belonging to some "Japafarians". The place was stuffed with music and videos, all by black artists. Most of it was reggae, but there was some Sly Stone too. I never met my hosts (it was a sublet, they were wintering in Okinawa — co-incidentally the Japanese island with the most black people living on it, thanks to the military base), but I imagine them slyly stoned on ganja, watching for the umpteenth time the brilliant Jamaican reggae movie "Rockers" (I watched it several times myself).

When Zest Records in Shibuya closed down, Marxy commented that the death of this white indie outlet (a great place for finding music by Swedish indie bands) indicated that Japan was closing down its interest in eclecticism, in other cultures. "As Japan veers further towards neo-Nationalistic navel-gazing," he wrote, "that collective impulse to explore diverse historical sounds from abroad has faded." Yet he also mentioned (in passing) how well DMR, the hip hop record store just across the road from Zest, was doing. The only difference is that the "sounds from abroad" on offer at DMR are black ones. For those interested in cultural capital, the ambassadors for Western culture in Japan are now, increasingly, black. (We could argue that this is becoming the case for the bling-bling West too, but that's for another day.)

When I blogged about J-porn the other day, and someone joked that I should appear in one, I replied that the only foreigners I've seen in Japanese porn are blacks, and it's true. There are no flinty, blond John Leslie types to be seen anywhere. Of course, putting black men in your porn doesn't mean you're not racist. We're all racist, and will be as long as race continues to be a "difference that makes a difference". But this is a racism of admiration and emulation. To put it quite simply, there's something about black culture that many Japanese people want to buy into. If you ask me to hazard a guess as to why this is, I'd quote the black man who's just walked off with Japan's most eligible female: "If I had one complaint it would be that [Japanese] people are afraid, afraid to express their true feelings and thoughts. They hold back too much, You live once...make the best of it."

I also blogged this week about John Lennon. In his interview with Jann Wenner, Lennon reveals a perspective on America that's surprisingly similar, I think, to Japan's. Describing the first Beatles tour of the US, Lennon says: "When we got here you were all walking round in bermuda shorts with Boston crew-cuts and stuff on your teeth. And the chicks looked like 1940s horses, you know. There was no conception of dress, or any of that jazz, you know. We just thought "What an olde race! What an olde race!" It looked just disgusting! And we thought how hip we were, you know. You tend to get really nationalistic, but we used to really laugh at America. Except for its music. And it's the black music we dug. You know, we thought we'd come to the land of its origin."

Japan was famously opened to international trade in 1853 by a fleet of American warships under the command of Commodore Perry. They were known as "the black ships". Because they had guns, the Japanese had no choice but to accept their advances. But now they have more choice, the ships they're choosing to admit into their ports are black ships in quite another sense.

60CommentReply


(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 11:20 am (UTC)
Again with the Marxy straw men army...

Well, I'm glad I provoked you into an interesting essay, but I had no idea that Timothy is "African-American," nor do I know if that's actually the case just because you've said it. That wasn't the reason I was surprised in the first place. I was more shocked over the Queen of mainstream Avex corp J-pop matched up with the Crown Prince of International Street Culture.

Marxy


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 11:37 am (UTC)

"We will show the world that friends can disagree, move beyond disagreement and work in a very constructive and important way to maintain the peace," Mr. Bush said.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand


lecabinet
lecabinet
le cabinet des lettrés
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 11:46 am (UTC)

John Leslie? That would be interesting porn.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 11:54 am (UTC)

Ooh, he's changed his image since he made "Best Little Whorehouse in Hong Kong", I see!


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adfny
adfny
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 12:16 pm (UTC)
what a facinating crock!

skimming along the surface, like the strainer on a week old bath, momus once again comes up with a serving of filth.

The youth you cite are far too few to mean much. Ask em about what burakon means to em, (you dont speak Japanese tho), or ask those guys on Takeshita (I doubt you speak Akan either). I'm gonna go with commerce over culture here.

BTW, read up on Perry and his minstril band.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 12:26 pm (UTC)

...the only foreigners I've seen in Japanese porn are blacks, and it's true. [...] Of course, putting black men in your porn doesn't mean you're not racist. We're all racist, and will be as long as race continues to be a "difference that makes a difference". But this is a racism of admiration and emulation. To put it quite simply, there's something about black culture that many Japanese people want to buy into.

In this case, could that something be their gigantic penises?


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17x17
17x17
17x17
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 12:52 pm (UTC)

i hear japanese man have a smaller ones ;)
maybe thats why there is so many blacks in j-porn 8)


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cherry_cakemix
cherry_cakemix
växla mellan hopp och fruktan
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 12:34 pm (UTC)

your post reminds me of years ago when my x was in tokyo with on-u sound and phoned back to the hotel to tell the boys he'd found an ital cafe and no one would believe him!


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adfny
adfny
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 01:53 pm (UTC)

that would have been around 91 right? Damn I wish I coulda seen those shows. Saw Adrian Sherwood DJ at Yellow Room this year but it was nothing special. African Head Charge's two shows here this year were very good. If you like AHC seek out the new live CD from the summer show.


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sarmoung
sarmoung
The Empire Never Ended
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 12:45 pm (UTC)

"Japan was famously opened to international trade in 1853 by a fleet of American warships under the command of Commodore Perry. They were known as "the black ships". Because they had guns, the Japanese had no choice but to accept their advances."

This does read rather like the translated captions in the Yasukuni museum! Do you really believe that the presence of a mere four warships (nine on his return in 1854) was sufficient for the Japanese authorities to capitulate? A sufficient excuse, for sure, but hardly a credible threat against the nation. Mind you, if they actually had looked like this:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

(from a recent MIT exhibition Black Ships & Samurai)


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stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Thu, Dec. 8th, 2005 09:03 am (UTC)

Not to mention that the Japanese had been using firearms and explosives for a couple of centuries by then.


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scola
scola
Scola
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 12:58 pm (UTC)

Though I think this Timothy fella is certainly not a caucasian, I'm not sure just how african american the guy is either. From the photos I've seen, Futura 2000 is a pretty light skinned guy if he is african american... and from looking at him, I wouldn't be surprised if he were of mixed race. And having seen a photo of his son on this page...

http://www.thebrilliance.com/thebrilliance/interviews/13th/interview.asp

...I would say that his son likely has a Caucasian mother. Not that this totally undermines your argument, but it is worth noting.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 01:26 pm (UTC)

I think you're right that he's of mixed race. It's hard to find pictures of him, because even on his website none of the snaps are captioned. But I'm pretty sure this is him.

Even given the ambiguity, I think it's interesting and telling that he's chosen to play up rather than down his blackness in Japan... and that identification (and the cultural capital it bestows) has now taken him to a powerful (and pleasant!) place in Japanese society.


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nickdoro
nickdoro
donnie dunzo
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 02:37 pm (UTC)



from http://www.blackshipsandsamurai.com/compsite/core_encounters_west.html:

From the moment he first stepped on Japanese soil in 1853 to present the letter from President Fillmore, Perry also sought to impress the Japanese with authentic black men. “On either side of the Commodore,” the Narrative tells us, “marched a tall, well-formed negro, who, armed to the teeth, acted as his personal guard. These blacks, selected for the occasion, were two of the best-looking fellows of their color that the squadron could furnish.”




Also:
In Japan (as well as elsewhere on the voyage to and from Japan), Perry’s favorite entertainment was an “Ethiopian concert” featuring white men playing the roles of “Colored ‘Gemmen’ of the North” and “Plantation ‘Niggas’ of the South,” and singing such songs as “Darkies Serenade” and “Oh! Mr. Coon.” Although the Narrative dwells on the “delight to the natives” these performances gave, it remained for Japanese artists to preserve them for posterity.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 03:01 pm (UTC)
Respect!

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5250971845178619832&q=musume


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 03:26 pm (UTC)

I'm just back from lunch at the Japanese deli, where I flipped through the December issue of Relax magazine. Now, this is hardly a magazine known for its negritude (it's not Egg, after all), but it was very striking that anyone who wasn't Japanese in the mag's pages was almost inevitably black. Here are some snaps I made of the mag, which this month covers the Black Eyed Peas in the music section, has black men modelling watches in the ads, and runs six pages of fashion featuring a black model with the biggest afro I've ever seen posing beside Japanese temples.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 04:53 pm (UTC)


That doesn't really mean anything Nick. Its just consumer culture.-Jed


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tassellrealm
tassellrealm
XWSF Tassell
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 05:17 pm (UTC)
Black Ship White Ship

Yet another semi-frozen groping toward an understanding of Third Force.

This is beginning to look like a permanent installation.

So many gates, so many gatekeepers.


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pigpog
pigpog
DJ Meatmachine
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 05:47 pm (UTC)

japanese buying into black culture; white people buying into black culture--what's the difference?


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 07:17 pm (UTC)
Popular Culture

There is a difference between appreciating US popular culture -- which is a minstrel act of black athletes, musicians and comedians -- and actually wanting to BE black. The suburban kids (wiggers, as some call them) with Fubu threads and affected Ebonics are buying into the culture. But do they want to move to the hood and do all the stereotypical things to go along with their stereotyped affectations? Hell no.

This discussion reminds me of the fairly amusing pro- and anti-Japanese obsession the US had in the '80s. They were buying the Empire State Building and beating us in the capitalist game. At the same time such stereotypical concepts as the samurai/ronin were making their way -- fairly admiringly -- into cyberpunk and suspense fiction. Where is that obsession now? (other than you, Momus, in whom it is alive and well)

Just a fad.

(are eastern Europeans still obsessed with cowboy culture?)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 07:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Popular Culture

Well, Romania has become the latest wild, lawless frontier where the Wild West flies prisoners to have them tortured outside EU jurisdiction. So yes, in a sense.


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0260clothing
0260clothing
zero to sixty
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 07:37 pm (UTC)

Momus, when you have the Relax, Futura, and Nigo-influenced view of Japan, you see Japan infulenced by African-American culture.
From those perspectives, You'll see it today, yesterday, last year, and probably years from now. Those folks are heavily into that stuff.

What about the flocks of kids borrowing styles from Sid Vicious and Marc Bolan and the whole Vivienne Westwood obsession? There are just as many girls who try to look like Snow White as Beyonce.
Why do so many focus on customized Air Force Ones, Bape and "artful noise rock" when it comes to Japan??
It seems that the bulk of your view comes from the same glossy-magazine-sources; it reminds me of "Lost in Translation."

I'd tend to agree with your perspective if it didn't begin from news about Futura's Timothy and Hamasaki Ayumi.

Am I wrong? Perhaps my view just as incomplete...

-Jenny


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Dec. 7th, 2005 07:42 pm (UTC)

Maybe "completeness" can only be approached by looking at anomalies one by one.


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