Last week, popular Japanese idol group Momoiro Clover Z tweeted out the picture above to promote their upcoming collaboration performance on Music Fair with the doo-wop group Rats & Star. You can guess what happened next, right? The photo was deleted from twitter, Momoiro Clover Z’s management released an “I’m sorry you were offended” apology and Music Fair cancelled the blackface performance.
Unfortunately, none of these things happened.
The tweet is still up, no apology has been released as of this date and the blackface performance is still set to air on Music Fair on March 7th. Instead, the backlash Momoiro Clover Z has been facing has mostly been coming from the online, non-Japanese media. After the image was first posted, tweets from New York Times reporter Hiroko Tabuchi and Wired writer Daniel Feit caught the attention of 2ch, a popular Japanese online messaging forum not known for it’s cultural sensitivity and tact. While the 2ch reactions were a mixed bag as usual, lots of commenters could see how this was unacceptable. “Even in the 21st century, it looks there’s a backwards group of people doing a minstrel show,” wrote one 2ch commenter.
Therefore, it’s not such a surprise that Momoiro Clover Z cancelled a screening and press conference of their movie The Curtain Rises with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) scheduled for February 23rd. No mention of the blackface incident was made in the email, which raises suspicions. While it’s clear here that someone in Momoiro Clover Z’s management realizes that the blackface incident is not a good thing, we can’t help but be suspicious that this cancellation was a tactical move from their management to try to wait out the blacklash storm in hopes that it will go away. After all, Japanese entertainment has had a long history of blackface without any ruckus. Why should things be different this time?
Blackface has been a recurring thing in modern Japanese entertainment, particularly for comedic variety shows. And not once has there ever been any acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Essentially, Japanese entertainers have always been able to get away with blackface without any damage to their careers whatsoever. Let’s look back at some of these incidents, starting with Momoiro Clover Z’s blackface partner-in-crime, Rats & Stars.
Rats & Star is a Japanese doo-wop group that has been parading around as a blackface minstrel show since 1980. Their group name is a palindrome, reading the same forwards and backwards, and symbolizes “rats” raised in the less affluent parts of town that could, by singing doo-wop music, reverse their fortunes and collectively become a “star.” Ever since 1980, Rats & Star has been releasing album covers and making television appearances where they have dressed up in blackface.
This group has doing blackface for over thirty years and getting away with it. You’d think the younger generation would have learned that blackface, just like yellowface or brownface, is a dehumanizing, degrading and racist caricature of a group of people who have suffered because of racism and is therefore unacceptable.
Except, they haven’t. Here are five recent incidents of blackface in Japanese entertainment.
1. Popular boyband group ARASHI did this blackface impersonation on a variety show. Despite this blackface incident, they still remain one of the top Japanese boyband groups today.
2. Here’s Sayaka Akimoto, a former member of AKB48, doing a Michael Jackson impersonation. Akimoto “graduated” from AKB48 years later, out of her own volition and not because of this incident.
3. Japanese “urban” singer Jasmine made her debut with “Sad to Say” in 2009. On the back of the single cover was blackface. Her second album was released in 2013.
4. Chara, a popular 90’s singer who still releases music to this day, had this image on the back of her fourth album Happy Toy.
5. This variety show performance in 2010 had half black/half Japanese enka singer JERO performing with a comedian in blackface. Yes, some entertainers in Japan have the nerve to do blackface in front of a black person’s face.
So yes, there is a serious problem about blackface in Japan that is worth discussing. It’s 2015. Blackface with no repercussion is unacceptable.
While the Momoiro Clover Z and Rats & Star blackface performance is a terrible thing overall, we feel the slightest sliver of hope at the steadily growing blacklash. This is the first time that blackface has caused any sort of response from the perpetrator. We can only hope that the backlash will grow louder. After all, Momoiro Clover Z’s and Rats & Star’s blackface performance is still scheduled to air on March 7th in Music Fair. Isn’t it time to put a stop to this?