The Hip Hop Impact on Japanese Youth Culture

By Liu, Xuexin | Southeast Review of Asian Studies, Annual 2005 | Go to article overview

The Hip Hop Impact on Japanese Youth Culture


Liu, Xuexin, Southeast Review of Asian Studies


I. Introduction

This paper explores the hip hop impact on Japanese youth culture with special reference to the ganguro (1) phenomenon among Japanese teenage girls. Ganguro has been identified as a new fashion style (2) imitating certain hip hop outward physical features, such as blackened faces and necks with shimmering makeup, blond or white hair, boots with solid platform soles, and bright colored tight miniskirts. As commonly recognized, such an imitation is in fact an open expression of individuality, freedom, and sexuality.

Three assumptions underlie the current study: (1) Ganguro as a new fashion style reflects the global influence of hip hop culture and affects Japanese youth ideology. (2) Ganguro is more than a new fashion style among Japanese teenage girls; it is an explicit expression of self- identity of those who attempt to depart from traditional Japanese cultural values and social standards. (3) Ganguro as a subculture is in conflict with mainstream Japanese culture, and although this subculture may not spread to the whole Japanese younger generation, it has socio-cultural and ideological significance in Japanese society.

Unlike most previous studies of the hip hop impact on Japanese youth culture, (3) especially the ganguro phenomenon, which remain at a superficial level of observation and description, this paper explores the sources of such an impact in order to explain the nature of ganguro and its roots of conflict with mainstream Japanese culture. The research project relied on the direct input and feedback from some young Japanese students about their understanding of ganguro. Sixty-six participants from two Japanese universities involved in this research project were given a questionnaire covering the most relevant questions regarding the issues under investigation. In addition, this research project involved several organized discussions among some African American students about their views and attitudes toward ganguro girls. The research findings provide sufficient evidence in support of the assumptions.

II. Hip hop culture as a mode of expression

During the late 1970s, the streets of the inner city of New York witnessed the birth of a dynamically expressive verbal art form known as rap music. Spawned from within the rich African American socio-cultural continuum, this art form became known as the verbal expression of a youth culture. Originally thought to be a passing trend, rap music has remained at the forefront of a contemporary pop culture called hip hop. (4) "'Hip hop' is the total expression, in attitude, dress, dance, graffiti art and music of an ever growing African-American youth subculture which challenges the status quo and moves them into a crucible for change"(Marriott, 1990:1). (5) Through rap music, African American youths have developed a mode of expression that is quintessentially their own.

Rap has become the language of the urban street culture, and youth across the nation have followed its lead. With a "blend of reality and fiction, rap is a contemporary response to the pleasures and problems of black urban life in contemporary America" (Smitherman, 1997:1; Rose, 1994:2). (6) Rap is referred to as "rhythmic American poetry" (Sager, 1990: 78). (7)

After two plus decades, this hip hop culture is still a very present and most popular expressive art form. Its survival is due in part to the fact that hip hop is a representation of an indigenous socio-cultural form of a rich African American tradition. This strong tradition functions as the background for rap artists to dramatically voice their concerns about issues that speak to the young urban African American population (Bernard, 1990:1). (8) From its inception, hip hop culture with its socio-cultural influence has made an indelible impact on the African American community and American society as a whole. One of the most significant reasons for hip hop culture's acceptance and appreciation by the general American population is that more and more young Americans find socio-psychological self expressions, thought provoking verbal dexterity, emotionally involving content and outward physical expressions as saliently conveyed within it. …

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