Face up to Blackface in Japan

Time to get a bit heavy for a minute.

Japan, there are so many things I love about you, like Taiko and Katsu Curry. But we need to have a little sit down about this one right here.


This is in response to an upcoming performance on national television by the J-pop groups Momoiro Clover Z, and Rats and Star and who are notorious for performing in blackface.

For the people who understand, especially the thoughtful, conscientious Japanese like my many friends, thank you for your spirit of open-mindedness and cooperation.

For the others…

Please just don’t.

I get that you like cosplay, but I gotta tell ya, I’m really not that interested in your impression of me, because honestly it’s kinda messed up.

Going through the comments on the net I have, to my bafflement, seen many arguments in defense, dare I say in support of Japanese Blackface.  Let me break down what’s problematic about them.

  •  Japanese don’t have the same history, they don’t know any better. 

Bzzt. Not buying it. There is this skill we humans use when we haven’t had an experience, but want to try to understand what it must have been like for someone else.

It’s called empathy.

So this defense is really not a defense at all, because all you’re saying is that the Japanese are so lacking in empathy they can’t tell when they’re doing something incredibly offensive.

Which, incidentally couldn’t be further from the truth. In my years of experience here, it’s become clear to me the Japanese pride themselves on being able to practically mind-read. They’re very good at picking up social cues. There’s even a buzzword for those who can’t: KY, or Kuuki Yomenai. It means someone “can’t read the atmosphere”.

But if the Japanese needed some help walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, they could always think back to how it felt when Chinese actresses played the lead roles in Memoirs of a Geisha, or what if felt like to watch Katy Perry prance around in a half Chinese-half Japanese “kimono” at the AMAs.


I refuse to believe that, in 2015, all of Japan is so “KY” about blackface,

  • It’s not racist, it’s just offensive. 

Oh, well that’s alright then.


  • It’s an homage. They like black people. 

From Merriam-Webster online:

Homage (Noun). “Something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of another.”

Some homage.

Maybe, just maybe, if the very artists you are homage-ing would be horrified by what you’re doing, it’s not an homage!

What the hell? You don’t get to tell people “this is our homage to you and by God you’re gonna like it.” That’s not how to homage peeps.

Mockery (Noun) “An insincere, contemptible, or impertinent imitation”

That sounds like a much more fitting definition for Japanese blackface. Paying homage to musicians or a people you claim to like, without bothering to acknowledge the dark history of what you’re doing, sounds pretty insincere to me.

  • But you’re wearing a yukata in your profile picture you big old hypocrite.

I am, and I look pretty cute if I do say so myself.  What I didn’t do is my parody of what I think Japanese people are while I was wearing it. By that logic Japanese shouldn’t be wearing t-shirts and jeans.

  • This is Japan. They can do whatever they want.

Oh, absolutely. There’ll just be consequences that’s all. This stubborn mentality is what’s holding Japan back as a world power, in my opinion. This is the same mentality prevalent in the archaic business practices, in the three hour meetings that eat up time and resources, in forcing subordinates to stay at work until their bosses leave, even if that’s not until ten to midnight.  What people don’t realize is that there’s so much more at stake here than just “making the blacks happy.”

If Japan wants to be taken seriously as a world power, hosting the Olympics etc., they need to respect other cultures. If they don’t, the international media will rake them over the coals, just like they did Russia over their treatment of gays. Not necessarily because black lives matter (which they do), but in making Japan look bad, they get to make themselves look good.

Again, I will say there is much to love about Japan. I don’t think all Japanese people are horrible, ignorant dinosaurs. I have a lot of wonderful friends and students who make a great effort to understand me, and give me lots of hope and love for this country. But like in every other country, there are some unscrupulous people who just want to make a buck, regardless of their disrespectful actions, and the damage they’re doing to their country’s reputation.

Foreigners living in Japan shouldn’t be enabling.  Like staging in intervention for an alcoholic friend, if we really have love for this country, we have a responsibility to speak out about things like Japanese blackface.



2 thoughts on “Face up to Blackface in Japan

  1. Pingback: Black Faces, Japanese Spaces | Jaya in Japan

  2. Pingback: My Thoughts on Japan’s Half-Black Miss Universe | Novel Metropolis

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