What’s the Deal with Japanese People and Latin Music?

May 10, 2019 | By

The experience of the people who managed to introduce tango, reggaeton, mariachis, and spicy food in a completely different culture is extremely interesting. But it is even more interesting in Japan, where quietness and sobriety have sculpted for centuries the character of this culture. The Latin American migration has touched thousands of Nipponese, who have developed an intense passion for the wiggle of Latin music, now many spoil themselves in the enjoyment of a good reggaeton and hardcore perreo session, take dancing lessons at the rhythm of Caribbean salsa or melancholic Argentine milonga, while they sing rancheras or hum bossa nova.

Some of these Japanese or their children returned to their land and brought with them the acquired taste for rhythms with cheerful airs that invite a sway of the hips. There is even a word for this fusion of cultures: Nikkei, and the Japanese or Latin Nikkei are proud of their heritage and take the best of both cultures.

There is a Japanese reggaeton group, called ‘Los Kalibres’, a group that performs in ‘japoñol’ and consists of three children of dekasegi, who arrived as teenagers or children to Japan and now dominate both languages. And although their lives have nothing to do with the American ghettos that they emulate with their clothes or the warmth of the Caribbean that they incite in their songs, they have managed to express their reality as children of the mix.

This is reflected in their lyrics in a kind of a hybrid slang between Japanese and Latin Spanish, using verbs such as ‘gambatear’ (commonly used by the Nikkei community in Peru) or expressions such as talking to the ‘chacho’ (a deformation of Japanese Shacho, head of the company). The other side of the coin is the Japanese who came to Latin America and were captivated by the culture, and when they return home, tried to keep alive a little bit of the Latin heat in the Japanese archipelago.

Their history cannot be simpler: they fall in love with music (for example, Mexican), learned to interpret it with devotion and make a business of it. This is how you can find something as unlikely as a group of mariachis in the yellow pages of Tokyo. Since the third foreign minority with a high presence in Japan is Latin American, this eccentricity makes some sense. Even in karaoke bars, Latin songs or Spanish versions of bilingual artists have big popularity.

However, the Latin music didn’t travel so far to satisfy a small minority of migrants, it’s there to gratify the palate of the Japanese public that finds Latin American culture (music, gastronomy, language) exquisitely exotic. Maybe in a counterpart to how the average Westerner may feel attracted to sushi, ninjas or the rich Japanese mythology. The most interesting thing is that not only are satisfied with consuming the Latin culture that comes in the form of music or theme restaurants, but they are so in love that they produce their own Latin music with a technique as good as that of the musicians on the other side of the Pacific.

It’s an interesting phenomenon as Japanese musicians play Latin American songs or adapt them to be Japanese songs. So is possible to find examples like Lisa Ono, who sings bossa nova. Or the ‘Orquesta de Luz’, a Japanese salsa band, and the singular ‘Estudiantina Komaba’, a group that plays llanera music from Venezuela. Others decide to dance. Mostly, middle-aged Japanese who, after their workday, inject a dose of Argentine or Caribbean in their dance lessons. Although they learn more than dance in their classes, they lose the fear of touching and, after the protocol “gomen ne” (apology), little by little they escape dancing from the Japanese rigidity.

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