I’ve just (recently) come back from watching a screening of the film Hafu (ハーフ) in Warrington. The event was hosted by the Japan Society North West, attended by around 20 people and gave me an insight into race relations in Japan.
The reason I’m mentioning the film here is that Hip-Hop music often deals with complex social issues and Hafu made me think about ECD and some of his lyrics. Before seeing Hafu, I had planned to work on translating ECD’s tracks such as Ira Ira (イライラ) and Racist (レイシスト) racist whenever I got to them, prioritising songs I’d listened to first and had memorised parts of. Seeing the film left me with things to think about Japan and answers I hope to find in ECD.
I became interested in the film mostly because I have come to know quite a few families with parents from Japan and another country. I used to live in quite a small city, but I came to know of 5 children with parents from countries like the USA, Ghana and Jamaica. With the experiences that I’ve had in Japan, I always wondered what their lives would be like as they grow up. I understand things can be hard when there’s an established order and Japan is a country where the overwhelming majority of people are ethnically Japanese and there seems to be no distinction made between nationality and race/ethnicity. Differences are always emphasised and stereotypes seem to be held onto even deeper than in a country like the UK; or perhaps it’s just easier to see that in Japan? I know that people of mixed heritage aren’t seen as Japanese because people will make assumptions based on the way they look. It doesn’t matter if they were born and grew up in Japan, they’re still not seen as Japanese even after a long conversation. For me, people assume that I can speak English before I even open my mouth and it will be the same for them.
From some things I can understand in ECD’s music, he talks about racists and derogatory terms related to race used to describe people in Japan. I remember leading a class about cross cultural understanding and I showed the students some examples of discrimination from around the world. At the end of the lesson, the teacher said something along the lines of “its lucky there’s no discrimination in Japan”. I pointed out to him that as a foreigner I face discrimination. Then there are Chinese and Koreans who face discrimination. Perhaps there is no discrimination for you, but others do feel it. This omits discrimination (or stereotypes about and) related to people from Kansai, who are seen as more direct, Tohoku people who are seen as country bumpkins, people from Hokkaido, Ainu or Okinawans who are seen as not really being Japanese by some. Needless to say, I could have pointed these things out at the subsequent Hafu film discussion, but felt it best not to make a big deal at that event.
In the end, everyone agreed that these problems would happen everywhere as David from the film pointed out. I agree, but I think there also needs to be a discussion and exploration into why Japan treats non-Japanese the way it does. Why do children in playgrounds debate about paying with a child that looks different when they’re only 6 or 7 years old? Why do Japanese people assume every foreigner they meet speaks English? Why are there teachers who look at the faults of their students and blame it on their foreign blood?
I think I can find some answers and insights in ECD’s music. He mentions some interesting (in the context of what he’s rapping about) discriminatory words I can understand and seems to be telling stories related to race and discrimination. For these reasons, I feel he’s going to be an interesting artist to look into.