Dancehall music is a descendent and cousin of reggae, and it is often regarded as the direct predecessor to rap. In Jamaica and the West Indies dancehall is king, and has been since the 1970’s, but it’s reach, while garnering some international acclaim and recognition, has not infiltrated the world nearly as much as rap and hip-hop. It has grown in popularity in the US, UK and Canada, all destinations for Caribbean ex-pats. But Japan?
Although Japan’s census data does not gather information on ethnic groups, it is safe to say that there is not a significant West Indian population living in Japan. So why has Jamaican culture spread across the world to this Asian country? Marvin Sterling, a Jamaican and Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, theorizes several points. Jimmy Cliff’s seminal movie “The Harder They Come” was, for many Japanese, the first point of contact with reggae culture. Bob Marley’s visit in 1979 came with much publicity and fanfare, and interest grew until its peak in the early 90’s.
According to Sterling, interest in Jamaican culture waned in Japan by the late 90’s, but dancehall came into Japanese consciousness in 1999 when the Japanese dancehall crew “Mighty Crown” beat a fully Jamaican lineup of opponents to win World Clash—a major dancehall competition in New York City. Dancehall’s popularity in Japan skyrocketed from there. In the summer of 2001 Miki Dozan’s hit “Lifetime Respect” had a long run on the Japanese charts, with both the single and album reaching the Top 10 charts. Even today, the popularity of dancehall continues with about 300 sound systems (aka crews) in Japan, which outnumbers the amount of sound systems in Jamaica. Granted, Japan is larger than Jamaica, but it still speaks volumes. The subculture of dancehall in Japan is clearly passionate, and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
See for yourself. Press play and experience the unexpected success of dancehall in Japan.
Image source via Highsnobiety