Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Minzoku madness: Hip hop and Japanese national subjectivity
by Morris, David Z., Ph.D., The University of Iowa, 2010, 268; 3409808
Abstract (Summary)

Japan is currently undergoing a subtle but pervasive social upheaval, a period of broad structural reform and soul-searching triggered by the rigors of the collapse of the hyperinflated “Bubble Economy” of the late 1980s. As the nation confronts the irretrievable loss of that economic mass delusion, it is turning instead to the reclamation of a quality of life sacrificed for much of the 20th century to national ambition for first military, and then economic pre-eminence. Historian Jeff Kingston has claimed that the ongoing changes, ranging from the reduction of working hours to the institution of freedom of information laws, have been equal in magnitude to those following the Meiji Restoration and Japan’s defeat in World War II. Arguably, they represent the long-delayed fruition of postwar democratizing reforms.

This dissertation examines the use to which Japanese have put American forms of popular music, particularly hip hop, in grappling with these changes. The influence of African-American music in Japan has been strong since the 1920s and 1930s, and came to full flower during and after Japan’s surrender and subsequent occupation. African-American music – not just jazz, but rock, funk, and soul – eventually became a ‘music of resistance,’ connected to events such as the student protests that marked Japan in the 1960’s, indicating the symbolic power of what black America represented for Japanese youth, over and above the political or military might of America as a nation.

Hip hop, which reached Japan in the early 1980s and entered the mainstream by the mid-1990s, has shown the continued power of African-American sound and imagery in Japan. The uses and meanings of that power, though, are ambiguous. Hip hop in Japan today often means Japanese artists who imitate African-American styles and sounds. This imitation has been criticized by international commentators, condemned as contextless cultural theft and a testament to Japanese insensitivity on matters of race. Key artists in this mode are overt nationalist authoritarians, their aesthetics reinforcing their support for revisionist histories and the revival of militarism. Other contemporary hip hop musicians, though, resist uncritical imitation, grappling with their relationship to hip hop’s origins. This aesthetic self-reflection resonates with Japan’s ongoing ‘quiet revolution,’ and many such artists share skepticism towards authority while embracing risk, difference, and social change. It is tempting to oppose their self-reflection as the positive corollary to nationalist authoritarianism, but both are driven by a similar relationship to abstract symbols, detached from their contexts by the forces of cultural globalization.

This dissertation follows the daily lives and viewpoints of hip hop artists in Tokyo and throughout Japan, from some of its most successful to those just starting their careers. It tracks their music-making processes and their practices of cultural adaptation, and places them within the larger context of Japanese society. It describes how an art form from far away has come to reflect the very unique contours of the new soil to which it has been transplanted.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Havens, Timothy
Commitee: Mcleod, Kembrew, Ryang, Sonia, Scruggs, T.M, Wittenberg, David
School: The University of Iowa
Department: Communication Studies
School Location: United States -- Iowa
Source: DAI-A 71/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: African American Studies, Asian Studies, Communication
Keywords: Hip hop, Japan, Nationalism, Psychoanalysis
Publication Number: 3409808
ISBN: 9781124075433