Blatant appropriation of Hispanic culture by the Japanese

June 12, 2019 • 10:45 am

Reader Jane called my attention to this New York Times video about the appropriation of Hispanic “low rider” culture by Japanese enthusiasts. It’s not just the “bouncy” lowrider cars they’ve adopted, but also the clothes, the music, and the art.

It’s clear that the Japanese entrepreneurs do profit from this appropriation, but it’s equally clear that they respect the culture, downplaying things like gangs and drugs and “stealing” the appealing bits.

And what’s wrong with that? Not much, as far as I can see. This is clearly “appropriating down”, given the positions of the cultures in the American hierarchy of oppression, but it’s also a question of liking a culture and adopting what you like. This is the way the world works, and all the pushback by the offense crowd will not stop it.

The reporter summarized what is going on here: “It wasn’t a question of ‘either/or’ but of ‘more so and’.  That is, enrichment rather than theft. As one commenter said, “it’s culture appreciation, not appropriation.”

If the Japanese did this in the U.S., many Hispanics would have a fit.

61 thoughts on “Blatant appropriation of Hispanic culture by the Japanese

    1. Actually….I think it IS wonderful and can’t imagine why anyone would object! Tribalism is useful, especially if you’re an emerging species needing support.

      BUT…”cultural cross fertilization” can also be a rich resource toward understanding the joy of human life/arts/etc.

  1. Statement: Someone did something potentially involving race, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

    Q: Was the person white? y/n

    Yes: It’s racist/sexist/homo-transphobic/etc.

    No: It’s not. . . .

    Does this mean we are or are not supposed to call the cars “rice burners”? Asking for a friend.

  2. Hey, no fair discussing this topic without a little Low Rider by War playin’ in the background — which represents a cultural appropriation already, I suppose, since War was a black funk band. Though a respectful cross-cultural appropriation it was.

    1. And while I’m listening and watching, please bring me an unagi taco with nori for lettuce, umiboshi instead of tomatoes, and wasabi salsa. Please don’t forget my boilermaker with Corona Extra and a shot of saki.

      How about playing “Low Rider” while reading this informative piece (with great illustrations) about the history of low riding Funny that this is archived at The Museum of African American History and Culture.

      1. One of my favorite packaged sauces is Soy Vay teriyaki, product of a Japanese and Jewish “mixed marriage”.

            1. Saw a special screening last night of Martin Scorsese’s new documentary about Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review tour in the mid 1970s (Dylan’s most fecund period, you ask me). It’s fan-fuckin’-tastic, even if you’re not a Dylan fan.

              Looks great, sounds great, amazing footage. Dylan is hands down America’s greatest lyricist, but (even though I’ve seen him live a few times) I never before appreciated what a riveting, charismatic performer he could be. For real, no shit. See it if you get a chance.

              1. It’s on Netflix. Love Dylan, have almost all of his albums on vinyl AND CD, but was disappointed the two times I saw him live. Look fwd to seeing this.

              2. @Ken: I can’t wait to see that! Been looking forward to it for some time. But I have to disagree that the 70’s was Dylan’s best decade. Two of my three favorite albums of his come from the 60’s (I’m sure you can guess which two).

                @merilee: Dylan is notoriously mercurial. When did you see him?

              3. Once way back in his Christian phase (accidentally) and then maybe 13 years ago. He just kind of “called it in.” I took my then 20ish son, who had listened to and liked a lot of my Dylan, and most of the songs you couldn’t even tell apart. He just bent over his keyboard and basically ignored the audience. No emphasis on anything; no “how does it feeeeeeel”. The Foo Fighters opened and Dave Grolsch was great!

              4. @BJ:

                I’m guessing Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde — though the pair could also include Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan or John Wesley Harding or Nashville Skyline.

                When I say the mid-Seventies was Dylan’s most fecund period, I’m talking about the three great records, put out over a two-year period in 1974-1976, Planet Waves, Blood on the Tracks, and Desire. Add to that his heading back out on tour for the first time in almost decade (initially with The Band, then with TRTR). And on top of it all, his co-starring in (and writing the score for) Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

              5. I went to a Dylan concert something like a decade ago. Honestly, it was the worst concert I can remember ever attending, saved only by the great performance by Mark Knopfler before Dylan came on. “Called it in” would be a generous way of describing his (Dylan’s) act.

              6. I would probably just show up for the Knopfler part. Dylan doesn’t seem to care anymore. But hey, get that money while year can!

                @Ken: Of those three albums, only Blood on the Tracks makes my top 5.

              7. Last time I saw Dylan was in a jai alai fronton in Broward County in the ’90s, playing on the same card as Carlos Santana. He was deep into his phase of reworking and re-arranging some of his old tunes then. Sometimes to the point that you wouldn’t even recognize a song until the last couple bars. You’d be like, wait … that was Desolation Row?

                Bob had another great three-record run late in his career — Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, and Modern Times — but that time around it took him damn near a decade.

              8. “…but that time around it took him damn near a decade.”

                He should tell his secret for such swiftness to George R.R. Martin.

  3. Cultural appropriation isn’t just ok, it’s a great thing. The Beatles appropriated “American Negro music”, Wolfgang Puck appropriated Thai food, Italians appropriated Chinese food, Normans appropriated French culture (which had appropriated Middle Eastern religion – maybe not a great thing), Chicagoans appropriated NY pizza and turned it into a casserole…

  4. It is not surprising the Japanese kids did this. They had done it before with earlier American culture of the 50s. If you went to Japan in the 70s and 80s they were in the streets with the black leather jackets and slicked back hair. They had all the clothes and music to go with it.

    The bad guys or gangster part of it was left out because Japan has their own mobsters and no body wants to fool around with them. That would be off limits.

    1. Now hakujin (Westerners) are into Yakuza tattoos Will they cut off their fingers, too? I read (BTW, not in Wikipedia)that in Yakuza culture a portion of the little finger is lopped off to atone for some transgression, so these tattooed hakujin should chop off their little fingers in expiation for their cultural appropriation.

      1. That seems kind of dangerous! I did some research a few years back on Russian criminal tattoos (I’ve got the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia v. 1-3) and those are ones you do not wear if you have not earned them. They would cut them out of you if you appropriated.

        1. That’s the way to deal with cultural appropriation! If Westerners with yakuza tattoos visited Japan, perhaps they might be atoned whether they want to or not. These transgressions ought to be punished by lex talionis. I just googled the phrase to make certain I’d spelled it correctly and find a “lex talionis” tattoo. I wouldn’t have that inked anywhere on my body.

        2. I watched a documentary associated with the film Eastern Promises about the tattoos in that film and how much research went into them. Seems they got everything right. Very good movie, although Vincent Cassel trying to do a Russian accent annoys the shit out of me.

          1. Was it called Mark of Cain? I watched that one but cannot remember if it was associated with the film. I did read the Mortensen only wore the tattoos offset once- and when he did the entire crowd in a restaurant vacated. Serious business, that. I enjoyed the film very much as well.

            1. I honestly don’t remember the name. I do remember that they discussed how the tattoos told the person’s “story”: what crimes they’ve committed, organization/hierarchy, etc. So, when you went to prison or something, people would already know your story just by seeing your tattoos.

              I think I also remember them saying that it was Viggo Mortensen who started doing all the research on the tattoos and sent a book about them to Dravid Cronenberg, and that’s how they became such a big part of the movie. It apparently wasn’t in the original script, or at least not as heavily (again, I saw this a long time ago, so these are just my recollections). Maybe the excellent tattoo ceremony would have been in the film at all without Mr. Mortensen.

              1. Fascinating stuff. If you are still interested I would highly recommend the Encyclopedias. They were a project started by the son of a long time prison guard, who knew and understood the culture and realized it would die out along with the prisoners of that era. He worked with the Russian govt, the inmates, the gangs, etc to collect photos and the stories of the inmates. Some of the iconography is just stunning. There was a fair amount more antisemitism than I had expected (along with other racist themes). I think the one that stuck with me the most was an inmate who had been born in prison, their mother arrested and given life for stealing a loaf of bread, and then was going to die in prison as well for some other petty crime. Funny, I don’t actually remember the image of that tattoo right now, but I do remember those words.

  5. Masaaki Suzuki, founder of the Bach Collegium of Japan, is one of the world’s foremost exponents of the music of J.S. Bach.
    Needless to say, nobody in the classical music world complains about “cultural appropriation”. On the contrary, Maestro Suzuki has received several Bach awards.

    Earlier still, a European named Paul Gaugin spent 10 years in Polynesia and appropriated —but why go on? The whole offense culture
    shtick about “cultural appropriation” is too stupid, and generally inauthentic itself, to merit attention [However, I draw the line at the appropriation of NY pizza by Chicago, which offends me deeply.]

      1. Yea, verily; and only someone whose native language is Old English should be allowed to use the word ‘forsooth’!

  6. It’s an example of Japan’s culture which has enshrined “appropriation” as a national ethos since its collision with the Western world and reforms of the 19th century during the Restoration. They are very good at it and makes them wildly successful. Like many other Asian countries, though, it somewhat obscures their xenophobic and nativist bent that showed themselves in many ugly ways in its recent history. They have not been stress tested like the Western Europeans they like to emulate.

  7. Japanese have been taking flamenco classes in Andalusia for decades.
    And in Switzerland we have manga festivals where Swiss kids dress like their favorite manga characters.

    1. American warbling traditions trace back to African Pygmy and Bantu tribes… yodeling in other words. Country and western music will never be the same…
      However the yodeling exponent Wylie Gustafson learnt his tricks from the Swiss masters 😁

  8. One of these days someone is going to appropriate offense culture and the shit will really hit the fan!

    1. Offence Culture is a US thing, so whenever a non-USer takes offence they are clearly culturally appropriating.

      The rest of us should stop culturally appropriating US Offence Culture and Race Obsession.

  9. This is wonderful cultural appropriation, because it honors and celebrates the appropriated culture. Tens of thousands of North Germans invading Oktoberfest in cheaply made fake Lederhosen and Dirndl, now that’s a different story!

    I would say that appropriation is at the core of culture itself, which relies so much on social learning and imitation.

    1. That’s the entirety of culture! (A fact which cultural appropriation warriors don’t understand.)

  10. Unfortunately Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere and appropriated the whole damned thing. A high number for Native Americans killed by the Europeans bearing various diseases is 60 million. Survivors are more often than not found living on reservations which (at the time) were lands not wanted by the occupying Europeans. Wokists are complaining about things and issues about which they know next to nothing or worse know the wrong things. They appear to have no useful lives and exist only to be irritable and irrational. As an anthropologist I know that humans have, for hundreds of thousands of years begged, borrowed, or stolen ideas from one another just as they do today. To whine about it today is to demonstrate vast ignorance of how humans function and adapt to circumstances.

  11. If the Japanese did this in the U.S., many Hispanics would have a fit.

    Personally, I wouldn’t expect the outrage (in the US scenario) to be correlated with any ethnic group, but instead with ‘ctrl left’-iness. Those that are would complain, regardless of their race, background, social status or whatever. And those that aren’t would wonder why the ctrl lefties are making a mountain out of a molehill.

  12. As said eqrlier, the Japanese are cultural appropietors par excellence, they are really good at it too. Viva the Japanese!

  13. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

    There is no such thing as cultural appropriation.

    Appropriation is theft. Theft is taking something which belongs to someone else, thereby denying them access to it. You cannot steal culture. It’s conceptual nonsense.

    Furthermore, culture is, by definition, behavior which is copied. If it isn’t being copied, it isn’t culture.

    Lastly, to a first approximation, zero of the people who complain about “cultural appropriation” are members of the culture in question. They have no right to complain even by their own standards.

    Actual members of the cultures being copied like the copying. For example, Japanese people like when westerners buy and wear kimonos. Especially the companies that manufacture them, because Japanese people themselves hardly buy them anymore – they’re too busy donning western clothes.

  14. Hot off the presses: Mexican government accuses fashion designer Carolina Herrera of cultural appropriation for using Mexican textiles.

    She’s from Venezuela.

    Lordy! Don’t they have anything better to do, like worry about Donald Trump and all the migrants? Maybe it’s a kind of governmental psychosocial ‘displacement’.

    1. The term “melting pot” is actually now considered highly offensive by the same people who constantly whine about cultural appropriation.

      I’m not joking! It really is.

  15. But are they appropriating American hispanic culture, Phillipine Hispanic culture, Mexican Hispanic culture, Brazilian Hispanic culture, Puerto Rican Hispanic culture, Cuban Hispanic culture, possibly even Spanish culture, or some other variant?

    It’s really really important to know which one, because if someone from the wrong Hispanic culture complains about this, they’re equally guilty of cultural appropriation, aren’t they?

    (Does ‘hispanic’ = ‘latino’? I really could never figure that out. Or am I a Bad Person for not knowing?)


    1. >> Does ‘hispanic’ = ‘latino’?

      No. Hispanic means descended from people of Spain. Latino means descended from people of Latin Romantic countries (Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, etc.).

      All Hispanics are Latino, but not vice-versa. Brazilians are Latino but not Hispanic.

      1. Ah, thanks. I did wonder about Brazil (Portuguese, and all).

        Somehow I don’t think of the French as Latino, but then I guess they’re a mixture like most nationalities. The Normans are not Provençal.


        1. For the purposes of social justice, you only ever hear Latino (well, now it’s “Latinx” because Latino is a gendered word and that’s vewy vewy bad). Hispanics are too often white.

  16. I’m not sure which is more tiresome: people whini ng about cultural appropriation or people whining about people whining about cultural appropriation. As Nike says, just do it.

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