Dreadlocks and Dajare: Localization and Globalization in Japanese Reggae/Dancehall

At the Yokohama Reggae Festival, which featured mostly Japanese artists and attracted sell-out crowds of 30,000, a Jamaican DJ told me, “Japan must be the biggest reggae market in the world.” Indeed, Japanese reggae and dancehall have grown from an underground scene to commercial success, with large festivals around the country and recordings topping charts.

Noteworthy is the global nature of Japanese artists’ engagement with the genre. Mighty Crown and Junko Kudo have won international contests for sound systems and dancehall queens respectively in Jamaica. Many Japanese artists live in Jamaica for long periods and maintain ties to the Jamaican scene, picking up dub plates, holding recording sessions, and organizing Japan-based concerts for Jamaican artists.

This close association with Jamaica has led some artists to adopt not only a musical style close to the original, but also behaviors at odds with Japanese norms, such as a coarsening of the voice to approximate Jamaican vocal timbre or an adoption of homophobic attitudes. Others assert their Japanese identities through references to Japanese comic arts or traditional music.

Drawn from interviews with leading artists and managers, this paper discusses the development of the Japanese reggae/dancehall scene, exploring the history of its reception in Japan, the business infrastructure that made it commercial, and the redefinition of authenticity in each genre. In particular, I will address the schism in the community regarding homophobia, the use of the Japanese language, and references to Japanese culture to assess the selective fusing of Japanese identity with Jamaican culture.