Stay Kawaii Stay Woke
It was an unreal moment when I discovered that I would be doing a Field Trip series with Play Too Much! Their cinematography is always spectacular and the musicians they choose are super talented. But it was also nerve-wracking for the same reasons; the panic soon kicked in when I realized I had no idea what to commit to tape. Or what outfit to wear.
I decided to perform “Comfortable,” the closing track and most personally meaningful song on my recent EP , which I recorded in Tokyo during a trip home to Japan last year. The track closes out the record with a back and forth dialogue between myself and Japanese singer-songwriter Unmo. I had originally sung the verses in Japanese but I ended up scrapping those sessions– I like having a Japanese influence hover over Exitpost as a tribute to my Japanese side, but I know that I can’t own a culture which is not entirely mine.
I was born in Tokyo to a Japanese mother and American father and much of the creation of Nami was about exploring my heritage. I use a lot of Japanese samples and instrumentation, but avoid using Japanese song titles or lettering. There are already too many (mostly non-Japanese) artists who appropriate Japanese characters for their own ends– here are just a few examples.
The news that white actress Scarlett Johansson would be playing the lead role in the Hollywood adaptation of the Japanese manga phenomenon Ghost in the Shell has intensified the cultural conversation around the appropriation of Japanese culture, as has the recent discovery that they tried to make her look more Asian. Oof. Whitewashing of Asians in Hollywood is nothing new (see Breakfast At Tiffany’s, the recent Dragon Ball Z movie or “quarter-Chinese” Emma Stone). Yet the conversation around Japanese appropriation in music or design is a quiet one, a save for Gwen Stefani’s arm candy. In 2004, I was probably too young to know what appropriation was. It feels gross to keep seeing this trend constantly happening in music, 19 years later, and to say nothing.
Aleks Eror, writing for Highsnobiety about fashion’s objectification of Japan, put it well:
“The impenetrability of Japan’s culture and language, its foreign abstractness to the typical Western eye often leads to reductionistic interpretations – think misspelt kanji and visuals such as koi fish that are overdone to the point of utter kitsch.”