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.
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.
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.
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
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.