Cultural Competence: Racism in Japan

Hello fellow bloggers and readers,

Click-> Black Slurs to see black slurs. Link provided at the end.

Today I will be writing about something very close to my heart. If you haven’t guessed it by the title yet, it is racism in Japan. If you have been following my blog for a while:

  1. You may remember my post about Racial Asian Slurs.
  2. If we have managed to talk about this, you may remember me mentioning my opinion on race and how I don’t believe it exist.
  3. Thank You for staying with me.

As a black male, there are a lot of things that could easily upset me when it comes to “racism” or in my own words “Ethnicism”. (Noun. An emphasis upon ethnic identity.)

If you have gotten to know me, you’ll know that not a lot gets to me, but this is a different story.

A lot of things are usually tossed up to ignorance and then left in the air, but when are we going to start actually educating instead of just telling?

There is a subculture of Japanese called Gyaru(ギャル) Also known as Ganguro(ガングロ). Ganguro, is defined as an alternative fashion trend among young Japanese women that started in the mid-1990s and can be identified by a dark tan, white make up around the eyes accompanied by various colors. (Typically looks ridiculous to me)

Ganguro originated from Japanese folklore of ghost and demons depicted in  kabuki and noh costumes. Since then, it was redefined by a youth that wanted to rebel against the traditional Japanese fashion trend of pale skin, dark hair and neutral makeup.

This is where the problem arrives. Per the description and history of ganguro, it was not intended to be any form of racism. It was merely intended to be a fashion statement of individuality, but….and this is a huge butt…when Japan was essentially all Japanese people, this would have been okay. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is okay, it just would have been less of an issue, or overlooked if Japan wasn’t starting to open itself up.

Many of you may (or may not) know that Japan is still a relatively closed off country, with a very strong assimilation mentality and ability. Japan is one of the few countries I have ever seen take different aspects of various cultures and make it in some way, uniquely Japanese.  That does not mean that it is not a problem, it merely means that the Japanese are ignorant to the problem at hand because no one is there to remind them about it.

While in Japan, there has been an incident of black-face that has hit me, and several of my friends fairly hard. (Take note, not all of us are black, and yes this is necessary information.) The black-face incident is an issue for me, but what really gets to me is the ignorance of the people about it, and how little people are willing to teach about it.

Now, this could be played both ways. Essentially, anything that is not unique to a culture could be considered cultural appreciation, but it could also be considered cultural disparagement. For example, hip-hop is stereo-typically linked to Black Culture; however, it can be seen in K-pop and J-pop. Hip-hop dance, etc, etc. All typically linked to black people. In the US, it is a stereotype that all black people can dance (not really angry about this one…just saying), but it’s not true. However, other cultures that use hip-hop based instrumentals, or perform hip-hop dance can be seen as appreciating black culture, or insulting it.

As you can see, there is a very fine line between what can be classified as offensive and non-offensive, but having an idea of where to start usually helps in the comprehension of cultures.

I am all for cultural appreciation, especially considering that I incorporated various parts of East Asian Culture into my personal life, however I do not pretend to be Asian. I merely think some aspects of Asian culture work hand-in-hand with my own culture (not just black culture…just saying), therefore making it cultural appreciation.

Basically, I am stating that there should be a learning experience with these events and incidents. Do I think the Gyaru/Ganguro culture is racist? I do not, but there must also be knowledge of sent messages versus received messages. If I dressed up as a samurai, painted my skin pale and basically pretended to be stereo-typically Japanese, I am very sure it would offend someone.

Links and Sources


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