Hip-Hop Japan

Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization

Hip-Hop Japan

Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 11 illustrations, 4 figures Published: November 2006

Author: Ian Condry

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies, Music

In this lively ethnography Ian Condry interprets Japan’s vibrant hip-hop scene, explaining how a music and culture that originated halfway around the world is appropriated and remade in Tokyo clubs and recording studios. Illuminating different aspects of Japanese hip-hop, Condry chronicles how self-described “yellow B-Boys” express their devotion to “black culture,” how they combine the figure of the samurai with American rapping techniques and gangsta imagery, and how underground artists compete with pop icons to define “real” Japanese hip-hop. He discusses how rappers manipulate the Japanese language to achieve rhyme and rhythmic flow and how Japan’s female rappers struggle to find a place in a male-dominated genre. Condry pays particular attention to the messages of emcees, considering how their raps take on subjects including Japan’s education system, its sex industry, teenage bullying victims turned schoolyard murderers, and even America’s handling of the war on terror.

Condry attended more than 120 hip-hop performances in clubs in and around Tokyo, sat in on dozens of studio recording sessions, and interviewed rappers, music company executives, music store owners, and journalists. Situating the voices of Japanese artists in the specific nightclubs where hip-hop is performed—what musicians and fans call the genba (actual site) of the scene—he draws attention to the collaborative, improvisatory character of cultural globalization. He contends that it was the pull of grassroots connections and individual performers rather than the push of big media corporations that initially energized and popularized hip-hop in Japan. Zeebra, DJ Krush, Crazy-A, Rhymester, and a host of other artists created Japanese rap, one performance at a time.


Hip-Hop Japan is . . . an informative book that empowers English-language readers to judge the merits of Japanese hip-hop from a standpoint of greater knowledge.” — Paul Jackson, Daily Yomiuri

Hip-Hop Japan shows us the importance and joys of sympathetic commitment to and participation in micro actions as well as of lucid and vivid writing. A gekiyaba (super bad) book.” — Hosokawa Shuhei, Social Science Japan Journal

“[Hip-Hop Japan is] a thought-provoking work that forces the reader to re-examine their notions of globalization by considering the places where culture is produced: the genba. For it is through the genba that foreign hip-hop is made into something local.” — Jeffrey A. Dym, Canadian Journal of History

“[A] book engaging enough to appeal to hip-hoppers, anthropologists and even to the common reader. That is no small achievement.” — David Cozy, Asahi Shimbun

“[A] well-research study of race, gender, prosody and praxis in Japanese hip-hop. . . . [T]he author’s resistance to pleonasm and his love for his subject matter make the book as useful for a general audience as for the academy.” — Brian Howe, Paste

“For anyone interested in how Hip-Hop arrived, spread, and is currently treated, in Japan this is a very informative read.” — Adam Bernard, EIAL

“The book attractively combines a careful combing through of other material on the topic with a reader-friendly amiability and marked loyalty to the artists interviewed. Hip-hop Japan may technically be an academic work in Asian anthropology, but non-academics interested in the subject can approach it and be fairly certain to find plenty of material in its pages to inform and even entertain them.” — Bradley Winterton, Taipei Times

“Anyone that’s interested in—or just plain baffled by—Japanese pop culture will be happy to have Condry’s book demystify one of the country’s most complex subcultures.” — Max Herman, XLR8R

“From New York to Rio, from Nairobi to Tokyo, hip-hop, more than any other musical genre or youth culture, has permeated nations, cultures, and languages worldwide. Essential to the contributions by anthropologists and hip-hop scholars on the globalization of hip-hop is Ian Condry’s Hip-hop Japan.” — Melisa Riviere, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“Ian Condry’s engaging and intimate ethnography of Japanese hip-hop performance is both a vivid portrait of a local scene and a subtle analysis of how media forms circulate among such locales in the process of cultural globalization.” — Rob Efrid, American Ethnologist

“It is compelling work. The ethnography is strong, the result of a sustained period of fieldwork in the genba, and the theory unfolds nicely from that fieldwork. . . . Condry is at his strongest when writing about rapping.” — Ian Maxwell, The Australian Journal of Anthropology

“Lucidly and accessibly written, Ian Condry's Hip Hop Japan offers a dynamic analysis of the cultural processes that have produced the simultaneously globalizing and localizing aspects of the hip-hop scene (s) in Japan. . . . The book's strength lies not only in thorough ethnographic commitment, depth of analyses, and methodological integrity, but also in the concrete and wide-ranging set of specific suggestions Condry makes-from advocating how better to critique the essentialist discourses of Japanese uniqueness to suggesting a new marketing strategy for the music industry.” — Marié Abe, Pacific Affairs

“Overall, Ian Condry has written a fine account of hip-hop music in Japan which can be aimed at any academic or general reader—especially if they have an interest in Japanese culture. He provides meaningful case studies of established artists. . . . This book is certainly the first of its kind to tackle such issues, and for that it is most welcome.” — Shara Rambarran, Pop Music

“Through a nuanced discussion of the relatively short history of this phenomenally successful musical form, this work shows the limited use of such polarities as global–local, national–international, domestic–foreign, and Western–Japanese, as well as the usual contrasts between the little-guy musician and the corporate powers creating him and his market. . . . The strengths of this book lie both in the novelty of its analytic strategies and in the vivid and telling descriptions of place: the reader feels the heat and the thudding beat of the club in the early dawn hours.” — Merry White, American Anthropologist

“With Hip-Hop Japan, Ian Condry may accomplish what most of us in Japanese studies aspire to but too rarely achieve: so ambitious and expansive is his agenda, and so ably does he pursue his argument, that he may earn a readership and intellectual influence that compels other anthropologists of globalization with no particular interest in Japan to cite his work.” — E. Taylor Atkins, Journal of Japanese Studies

"Ian Condry's wonderful Hip-Hop Japan . . . is as intellectually engaging about cultural globalization as it is an impressive introduction to Japan's vibrant rap scene." — David Leheny, Daily Yomiuri

"Ian Condry's years of contact with the main players in Japanese hiphop allow him to create a keenly observed oral history of rap in Japan from its very earliest days, and the story is longer and more complex than might be expected. . . . Hip Hop Japan is initially academic in focus, but Condry has done his research in clubs and the studios, and as a result it's of considerably wider interest." — The Wire

"What comes over most clearly is Condry's clear enthusiasm for his subject and dedication to his cause. He foregrounds his study with a detailed history of post-war Japanese pop from jazz via Beatles copycat bands through to the birth of hip-hop in the early 1980s. . . . The result is comprehensive and highly readable." — Rupa Huq, Times Higher Education

“I found Hip-Hop Japan fascinating. Ian Condry writes with both authority and intimacy. Taking on the movement of musicians, CDs, soundtracks, graffiti, breakdancing, fashion, racialized culture, style, musical genre, lyrics, and history from the United States to Japan, he offers a groundbreaking transcultural study of popular culture explored through an ethnography of the local.” — Anne Allison, author of Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination

“Ian Condry’s book moves masterfully between ground-level observation of the Japanese hip-hop scene and sharp insight into the global flows of cultural influence. His analysis of the urban spaces in which Japanese hip-hop culture unfolds is fascinating and smart. So, too, is the book’s careful mapping of hip-hop’s place within the complex history of Japanese popular music since World War II. Condry is one of the handful of writers breathing new life into popular music ethnography with lively, evocative writing and a firm grasp of contemporary cultural theory.” — Will Straw, author of Cyanide and Sin: Visualizing Crime in 50s America


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Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Ian Condry is Associate Professor of Japanese cultural studies in Foreign Languages and Literatures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Visit Ian Condry’s website.

Table of Contents Back to Top
References 235

Index 247

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Hip-Hop, Japan, and Cultural Globalization 1

1. Yellow B-Boys, Black Culture, and the Elvis Effect 24

2. Battling Hip-Hop Samurai 49

3. Genba Globalization and Locations of Power 87

4. Rap Fans and Consumer Culture 111

5. Rhyming in Japanese 134

6. Women Rappers and the Price of Cutismo 164

7. Making Money, Japan-Style 181

Conclusion: Lessons of Hip-Hop Globalization 205

Notes 221
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3892-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3876-5
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