There has always been contact between cultures. Japan is no different.
Of course, contact with traders and forming relations with people from all countries of East and Southeast Asia was always happening. Contact with Russians and westerners were also common.
Beginning in the 15th century, contact with Europeans and Americans intensified with the colonial project in motion. Music, food, fashion, and all other matters of life were learned and traded.
In the postwar, American jazz and popular music became almost mandatory when the U.S. occupied Japan. The introduction of “Black music” began with Commodore Perry’s white sailors doing blackface for the Japanese dignitaries. There were also nights when black slaves, some of whom spoke several languages and were better educated than their white “owners,” also sang and danced with new Japanese friends during their stay in Japan.
Rhythm and Blues and “soul” music also became an interest for many Japanese in the postwar period, along with the other forms of music. Since the U.S. military was segregated, there were districts in Japan where the Black soldiers congregated and partied and had their way. Cultures along the lines of American black soldiers developed around those districts around the bases and camps of the U.S. occupation soldiers. Even as the soldiers left and segregation ended in the military, those cultures remained strong for awhile. As everything changed and disappeared, certain traditions of Blackness and black music continued in certain clubs in certain cities. Today, many Black soldiers find those places, while others are gone forever.
But R&B, soul, funk, hip-hop, rap and other forms of American urban black culture has a stronghold in Japan.
One of the modern male singers who have popularized Japanese cultural translations of black soul music, is 久保田利伸 Toshinobu Kubota, who began in the 1980s.
As per the usual in Japan, from the war period through the 1990s, black-Japanese mixed race people’s heritage was hidden, in order to not bring up people’s racisms. In most cases, however, there would be the rumors and innuendos. Some who knew, would torment those people, while others welcomed them with open minds. Still others may hate or love them, but embraced the “new” music that was different from the normalized, homogenized Japanese pop music that was proliferating in Japan in the 1980s and 1990s. Kubota was a welcome difference. His background is relatively unknown till this day, but it is commonly rumored that he is mixed-black Japanese, born in Shizuoka, Japan. But others understand that he is not mixed-black. I am not sure myself. But his music speaks for itself. For Japan, I think he is absolutely, no question, the best male representative of R&B and hip-hop and reggae music in Japan.
He debuted as a professional in 1981, but in 1986, his first single was released. From then on, a steady rise in popularity and sales and the rest is history.
He has done quite well in small markets in New York and Los Angeles singing R&B in English. He remains The Male Icon of J-R&B (Japanese R&B).
Below, first – A recent nice piece called “Wednesday Lounge”:
“Cry on Your Smile” – was one of Kubota’s early beautiful ballads. This video from 2012 sees him reviving it for his fans:
“La La La Love Song” – his first huge dance hit from 1996 and the song that made me like his stuff: