Appointed As

Humanities Council


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


Princeton University

PhD Field of Study

PhD, East Asian Studies, Cornell University

Dissertation Abstract

"Niggers and Japs / Right-wing hip-hop and the black model minority in Japan"

Right-wing, nationalist hip-hop shouldn’t exist, but it does in Japan. This is the starting point – but this dissertation ends up ends up expanding into several forms of pop culture. By examining what “blackness” means in Japan, I work to challenge assumptions about what “black” music means everywhere.
I begin in 2015, in a Tokyo street, as an underground rap artist performs an anthem at a rally for a far-right wing mayoral candidate. Through a review of a handful of minor and major artists, I show that it is precisely because the Japanese hip-hop scene “respects” black people and is interested in black politics that it has become compatible with nationalism and the right wing.
I then step back two decades to 1995, to examine a hip-hop comic book written by a woman who simultaneously achieved two things: accidentally exposed an early Japanese hip-hop scene struggling with being labeled “black wannabes” by mainstream society (while their counterparts who performed “white” music were able to express themselves freely), and also helped the scene out, by launching the first successful Japanese hip-hop radio show.
I then move back another two decades to 1975, to examine the funk/disco scene. I focus on two comics: a “Black is Beautiful” feature that served as a catalyst for bringing the legendary Soul Train to Japan, as well as Golgo 13, a long-running mass market comic that interpolated James Bond into a sort of “Japanese Savior” that depicted Japanese as friends and protectors of black freedom fighters, from Nelson Mandela to activists in the American Deep South.
Finally, I look at GO, a landmark work of Zainichi (ethnic Korean in Japan) literature in the 2000s, to show that the anxiety over legitimating political art is also present in the left, and among Japanese minorities. I invert the concept of the “model minority,” arguing that black people serve a specific purpose in the Japanese popular and political imagination, whether left or right – with a reading of my own experience of being targeted by Japanese police as a potential criminal and targeted by a leftist group as a political spokesmodel, in the same week.