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Culture always seems to grow legs of its own. Regardless of how specific and niche you might think a culture is, it always finds a way to go where you least expect it.

Except “Where you least expect it” always seems to be Japan. For such a supposedly homogenous culture, Japanese people seem to wholly embrace new cultures all the time.

Japanese rockabillies

Don’t mess with these guys.

Take Harajuku’s infamous rockabilly dancers. Geographically, these guys couldn’t be farther from original the rockabillies, but give them an upright bass and throw them in Appalachia and they’d fit right in.

But when it comes to weird cultural crossovers, Japanese Chicano rap takes the cake for me. The same kind of Latino culture based out of southern California has found a foothold in Japan, inspiring clothing, music, and much more.

Chicano Hip-Hop Culture

Chicano hip-hop culture comes mostly from southern California, where there is a huge Latino population. During the 80s and 90s, South Central Los Angeles became a place with a dangerous mixture of crime and poverty. Out of this environment came a culture that was a mixture of hip-hop and Latino cultures.

Illustration by Tenmyouya Hisashi

The most obvious product of this culture has been the music. Some of it is gangsta rap, but a lot of it touches on day-to-day life and being proud of your heritage. And over time, Chicano rap has grown more and more popular, even outside of California and Latinos.

The music eventually traveled around the world and captured a small segment of the Japanese population, who have kind of adopted the culture without any reservations. Two parts of Chicano hip-hop culture in particular have become popular in Japan: the music, and the cars.

The Music

Of course, the most important part of Chicano hip-hop culture is probably the music. The rapping carries the message of the culture, telling stories and describing everyday life.

When the Japanese do Chicano rap, they still rap in Japanese instead of English, Spanish, or some mixture of the two; but the beats, the clothes, the look are all right.

The accuracy of their looks is kind of unnerving. All the details are right, from the lip liner and press on nails to the baggy clothes and facial hair. They’ve got it all down to a “t.”

But there’s more to the culture than the look and music. You cannot talk about Chicano hip-hop culture without talking about lowriders

The Lowriders

A huge part of the Chicano hip-hop culture is the cars. But not just any cars; for the culture, it’s all about the lowriders. You know, those old-school American-made cars that ride low to the ground and have hydraulics thrown in to make them bounce, lean, and everything in between.

And Japanese people, even outside of the subculture, have been embracing lowriders for decades. There are lowrider conventions in Japan, and a Japanese language version of the popular Lowrider magazine.

I think it’s hilarious to see these tricked-out lowriders bouncing up and down the street next to tiny, boxy, Japanese kei-cars.

Then again, the Japanese have a long-running tradition of modifying and decorating their vehicles. Look no further than the dekotora and dekochari phenomena of tricking out trucks and even bicycles, and it’s not hard to see why lowriders would catch on so easily.

Homage, Or Rip-Off?

When researching this post, one issue came up time and time again: is this ripping off Chicano hip-hop culture, or is it just an homage?

It’s easy to see the issue from both sides – it might seem that the Japanese are making a mockery out of another culture, but it’s just as easy to see it all as paying tribute. For some Latinos, it’s actually pretty cool to see people flying the Mexican flag and representing the culture halfway across the world.

What do you think? Is Japanese Chicano hip-hop culture a rip-off, or just a tribute? Tell me in the comments!

Read more: When East Los Meets Tokyo: Chicano Rap and Lowrider Culture in Japan

  • Yeah!

    No mockery at all. The Japanese / Chicano scene has been alive and well for a long time. Look up some stuff on Mr. Cartoon and you’ll see what I mean.

    This began with the lowrider scene, more than anything else.

    ~ fv

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    Some of the mainstream manga have some latino influence. See Bleach.

  • kurochiidesu

    Oh my people, they really are everywhere haha. I love being Mexican.

  • kurochiidesu

    Oh my god I turned into femKoichi. I’M FINALLY HOT, GUYS!

  • Jazmin Martinez

    I don’t find it offensive at all and I’m hispanic. it’s nice to see that other cultures enjoy mine. I like Japanese culture and even tho i can’t pull off cute i still try every once in a while when in the mood <3

  • Gbrlmireles

    As a Chicana I don’t think it’s ripping off, I think it’s just a culture they have chosen to embrace.. and if they like it, cool.If it were something like wearing traditional Mexican clothing as a fashion thing I might be more annoyed ( similar to someone wearing a trad. kimono for fashion.) I think a lot of Chicanos wouldn’t care either.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Dream come true!

  • Vega

    I am divided. I want to yell, “they are ripping us off!” but at the same time, I want to walk up, throw a head pump, and give some respect for identifying with us.  How do Japanese people feel when they see a westerner wearing a kimono or yukata? Are they pleased or amusingly mocking the foreigner?  

    I guess it all depends on the way the person represents the style.

  • Yeah!

    True, if there would have been a sombrero in there somewhere this thread would have a completely different mood.

    Otherwise, I can’t see anything offensive about this.

  • Brandon Inoue

    Japan has that strange way of paying tribute to other cultures.  They mean well but sometimes the sensitivity knob is a bit on the low side.   

    The knob has to be that low in my opinion.  It wouldn’t be from the Japanese perspective if it wasn’t.

    I love how American characters in Japan have American flags put all over the place.  No disrespect towards America is intended but it always gets a real chuckle out of me.  I also feel good that they’re incorporating someone of a different culture into that media (even if it’s a bit on the stereotypical side).

    The African American side of it can be a bit on the hard to swallow side sometimes though.  Bobby Ologun, Bob Sapp, and the Gosperats taken at face value show the naive side of the Japanese cultural lens.  However, if Beyonce’ can go on SMAP X SMAP and laugh with the audience at Shingo Katori in blackface as an MC Hammer ripoff, I think there’s no harm meant.

    When Japanese people pay tribute to an outside culture things can get a little strange.  Things don’t turn out like the original culture believes they should.  They can call it an inferior imitation or stealing their identity all they want, but people will like what they like. 

    I think the Chicano rap helps round out Japan’s music scene.  In the mid 90s, DJ Honda released a statement saying that rap was pretty much nonexistent in Japan despite being incredibly popular during that period.  His justification is that Japanese rap isn’t hardcore enough and takes too much cue from J-pop.  At the time he was right.  I wonder if he’s happier about it now. 

    Turning the mirror the other directions, we have many Otakus and Weeabos who do kind of the same thing with Japanese culture.  Is Seremedy any less Visual Kei than any other band?  Is Jero just posing as an Enka singer or is he the real deal?  Did Teen Titans steal the Anime feel?  How about them California Rolls?  Did American car companies ripoff Japanese designs?  What about Korean car companies (yeah that’s a long story for another article)?  Are Chicanos ripping of Japanese people by being the cooks in the back of restaurants (deny it all you want, you know it’s true)?  Is anybody else with a full body Japanese style tattoo ripping off the Yakuza or paying tribute to them (I hope for their sake paying tribute)?  Where does Taco Rice fit into this? 

    Are low riders considered Chicano Dekotora? 

    (Pardon my usage of the word Chicano.  I’m not sure how to use the different terms for it all)

  • ですこ

     I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. I was lost in your avatar… ♥

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Oh man, do you have a video of Beyonce on SMAP X SMAP? That sounds . . . wild.

    I’m always a bit skeptical of people trying to define what is hip-hop or rap, or imposing specific guidelines on it. Obviously Honda is a bit of an authoritative figure but hip-hop, as I understand it, has always been about working with what you have and seeing regional differences as a point of pride.

    But you could probably write a dissertation on what is and isn’t hip-hop.

  • AP

    Yeah sure… Cool carrying the Mexican flag and everything… But, they think that all Mexicans are good for nothing hoodlums…. Or at least that is the idea being represented here. If you ask me this is sad. It is sad that another culture picks up the negative side of another culture.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alexandra-Franco/896075564 Alexandra Franco

    Yeah… not one of our best styles. On one side its good that they like a style from another country, but to be honest not all mexicans find the chicano style as a respectable bunch. 

  • SusiePlummer

    I love the Harajuku dancers. They’re so hilariously rubbish, and look entirely like they’re not bothered about being there, even though you know that’s really their whole life!

  • Kiriain

    BRB Asking all of my chicano friends whether or not they think it’s offensive.

    I have always found hydraulics on lowriders to be silly. Especially when the bounce both of the front tires. It looks like a dog that jumping up and down, begging for a treat.

  • elisabel

    I think when it’s done out of understanding, appreciation, and responsibility, it’s a tribute. We also can’t rule out that it may have at least started out as self-identification: if a Japanese kid grew up in Cali around chicanos (which means Mexican-Americans) who were cholos (the type of thug or gang member the Japanese rappers in these vids are emulating; not all chicanos are cholos!) it’s possible that he or she came to identify strongly with that culture, and took it back with him to Japan. I’m Hispanic but I grew up in a predominantly Black city and received an Afro-centric education in Detroit Public Schools, so even though Black people may probably never think of me as part of the Black community, I feel that the the Black urban experience is a very important part of me.

    What I mean by responsibility is that in the case of subcultures that have seedy undersides, such as cholo culture, people need to understand that it’s not just all empty bravado and fun and games, and that there are real consequences for the things presented in these culture’s manifestations. Just as its important for young Blacks and Hispanics to keep in mind that gangsta rap and reggaeton represent just one possible lifestyle, people from outside of these cultures, especially ones that don’t have the social inequality and injustice that are often brought up in these types of music, need to understand the reasons why someone would be driven to think that the only hope for their future is to become the next great MC or do better than Tony “Scarface” Montana (both things I’ve actually had said to me by students in poor Black and Hispanic neighborhoods). I don’t think it’s possible to truly pay tribute to cholo or gangta culture without realizing that for some people “the game” isn’t just prancing around on stage and being witty with words, it’s a matter of life or death.

    Hmm, I hope that made sense. Ahahaha….

  • elisabel

    *gangsta

  • http://twitter.com/blackbrich Dave

    All this time I’ve been listening to hip-hop like that and I didn’t make the connection. I just thought, oh west coast music, because it was so funky(Sounded like Dr.Dre’ish). But the picture gave it away.

  • Cris

    That lipliner makes her look like she’s been eatin’ chocolate.

  • PandaXpress22

    I think a homage :D

  • Devon

    lowriders in Japan they got their own car show
    http://www.japansugoi.com/wordpress/lowrider-japan/

  • Guest

    If my Mexican/El Salvadorian friend can watch anime, eat sushi, dress in Gothic Lolita, and call it a tribute, they can do the same.

  • Guest

    And Jrock – I forgot she listens to Jrock.

  • Guest

    I went to school in (a less yuppie part of) Brooklyn, and I still have many friends from there. Most agree that the kids in suburbia don’t really understand the circumstances that produce rap and similar music.

  • TripMasterMunky

    Someone needs to supply me with a download link to some of these group’s albums…

  • http://espo.in/ Jonas

    I would definitely not call it a rip-off. But if it was, well, in that case pretty much everyone rips off everyone.

    Chicano culture is pretty minor in Japan, you should have a look at the reggae/dancehall culture, that stuff is thriving. Especially in the summer you’ll see scantily clad girls shaking their booties to music with overly used air horns all night long at every other club.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Evolutionary-High/1836707697 Evolutionary High

    Did it occur to you that they’re Latinos who grew up in Japan?

  • Cirkuloasesino

    I sell large amoutn of chicano rap and i own a record label called Cirkulo Asesino Entertainment if anyone is interested in purchasig cds or doing features with my artist let me know. We have Kartel de las Kalles , Mr. Yose, El Trafikante, LA mexicana, mafia de las Kalles, bodka37, diamantone and more..  emil me at cirkuloasesino@yahoo.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/julian.avila2 Julian Gallo Negro Avila

    I have to say it’s an homage. It’s nice to see that Chicano culture getting some respect. In this country we don’t even exist

  • mimi

    I’ve seen alot of Japanese guys wearing clothes like what chicano/chicana wears and they look stupid. I’m not against japanese but I really think it looks stupid.. Im half japanese and been living here in Japan since when I was 14. and my husband is hispanic.. and yeah there’s a bunch of latinos here like everywhere but not enough to actually influence alot of Japanese youth’s… I’m pretty sure they got influenced when the chicano rap songs boomed. like a couple of years ago.. mr.capone-e and etc..

  • MEXICANA13

    ohhhh hell no the piont of Chicano rap is for CHICANO’S MEXICAN , SPANISH NOT NO FU*CKING JAPENESS OR CHINESS SHIT !!!!!!!!!! IM SO OFFENDED

  • MEXICANA13

    IM JUST SAYING
    FUNNY SHI*T

  • Jose Medina

    yea but just Spanish words nothing rap.

  • Luvu Really

    Interesting Japanese are imitating “Chicano” music which is an imitation of Black American music.

  • caliside1 .

    I don’t think japanese much closed to latinos. They rap like blablablaaa they dont know even how to speak spanish or english. Why not listen the native chabacano from mindanao philippines they are zamboangeños. They are the only latin people in asia who speak broken spanish CHABACANO. Chabacano words came from mexicano. Try to research zamboanga city. And they are called the primos of mexicanos or latinos. And some rapper from zamboanga city who rap like chicanos or spanish. I think this is much interesting to know and to recognized the culture of CHABACANOS. Viva mexicanos y latinos!

  • Khan

    Да ниче так ) репчик)