Dream of the Water Children: The Black Pacific

Aoyama Michi Music Video: My First Black-Japanese Amerasian Entertainment

Growing up in Japan in the 1950s and 60s, there were a handful of mixed-Japanese (haafu– as we are called nowadays) shown on television. Even more rare were Black-Japanese. I, as you know, use the term “Amerasian” to refer to most of us (not all) mixed-Japanese in the postwar period, as our identities were directly linked with war, the U.S. and Allied Occupation of Japan, and the globalized nation-making period where race played an integral part.  Issues of ‘haafu’ differ today, as Japan has been thoroughly divested of a direct relationship to war and occupation–although it is profoundly linked with the present-day idea and life of Japanese-ness.  For us mixed-Japanese Black Amerasians, the appearance and sounds of Black-Japanese entertainers was both an incredible surprise and joy, but also a reminder of the disdain people had for mixed-Japanese during that time. Of course there were some Japanese who thought it nice and normal, or good. But the majority turned away with a disgusting look upon seeing us.  Sometimes even our own mothers.

One of the strongest memories of mine, was seeing, for the very first time, a Black-Japanese “konkestsuji” (the pseudo-scientific term for haafu love-child) person on television, alone, without a plot. It was 青山ミチ Aoyama Michi and her song: 叱らないで Shikaranaide (don’t be angry with her), which was released in 1968.  Although she became popular with her first big hit in 1963, this, her third release, was the one I remember and was the first time I had seen her on television with an eye toward my identity.  When I was younger and saw her, I didn’t think of her as “different” but recognized her as “someone like me.”  (continued below the video)

 

When this song came out, I felt that she was singing about me.  When I met with a few of my other haafu friends, they felt the same way and we loved this song.

The song and the images of her on television, evoked many things then, and nowadays, many things to reflect on.
Noticing that Black-Japanese as well as many white-Japanese haafu, were more sexualized in Japanese culture in those days (and perhaps even now), is evident.

In many advertisements featuring Aoyama Michi, her cleavage and her legs were often prominent. However, there was a tendency to whiten her, to make her “less dark-skinned.”  As well, her hair was straightened to hide her “kinky” African-American hair. She herself, was admonished by many to look as white as possible to be accepted.  Back then (and even today in East Asia) these are words that ring true.  It should make us think of our society. Also, to think of how her life must have been, trying to make it in the industry. But it was not tragic or dark, just harder. There were many, including her agents, etc, who wanted her to succeed, knowing that life in Japan, in the public limelight, would be excruciating at times, but must be endured if we are to follow our dreams against all odds, within a racist, sexist milieu.

The song definitely had, as most songs do, different interpretations depending upon the listener.  This song was generally heard through two main meanings:  1) was that in the refrain, she says “Maria-sama.” So in relation to Christianity and the Christian minorities in Japan, this was also a song that they especially loved and could connect with the appeal to forgive the girl who does “wrong” in society and to not be mad at her.  Essentially a prayer to Mother Mary.  I knew some Japanese Christians at the time, who kept their beliefs secret for fear of being bullied, who loved this song, along with us haafu.

The other interpretation which my haafu friends and I interpreted this to speak to, is the Amerasian version. Many of the street kids that were Amerasian, whether white or black haafu, could relate to the constant desperations and exclusions and violence we often encountered from the Japanese folks around us, both other kids and adults. After being tormented for weeks, there would be a breaking point and fights would ensue (my friends went through this alot, whereas I would usually retreat into my room and not deal with others). After the fighting, the Amerasian kid, of course, would be  blamed for everything and be punished. The song reminded Amerasians of the nuns at Christian orphanages in Japan, who were most often entrusted with the Amerasians left behind by the American (and to a lesser degree the Australian and British) Occupying male soldiers and the beleaguered and enraged/depressed and/or shamed Japanese mothers. The lyrics pleading for the nuns to not be mad at that child for creating trouble.  It was not only about children. The same hierarchies and abuses continued (and still does today in most of Asia) into adulthood. This was a scene that was not only imaginable by the haafu living in Japan in those years, but us Amerasians lived through these moments over and over again.  Don’t be mad at her.  Don’t be mad at me, we’ve lived through unimaginable heartaches—as the lyrics go.

This is a memory, strongly imprinted in many of us Amerasian body-minds since the postwar.  It is a memory-emotion we wish we didn’t have, and as well, something we hold dear, as a reminder of what we have survived and unrecognized by others.  Translation of LYRICS – below:

叱らないで
青山ミチ
作詞:星野哲郎
作曲:小杉仁三あの娘がこんなに なったのは
あの娘ばかりの 罪じゃない
どうぞ あの娘を 叱らないで
女ひとりで 生きてきた
ひとにゃ話せぬ 傷もある
叱らないで 叱らないで
マリヤさま
あの娘が戻って きた夜の
外はつめたい みぞれ雨
どうぞ あの娘を 叱らないで
夢をなくした 小鳩には
ここが最後の 止り木よ
叱らないで 叱らないで
マリヤさま
あの娘の涙は うそじゃない
うそで泣くほど すれちゃない
どうぞ あの娘を 叱らないで
なにも言わずに 十字架の
そばへあの娘の 手をひいて
叱らないで 叱らないで
マリヤさま
That girl did not become this way
all by herself alone.
Please do not be angry with her.
She has lived all this time as a girl alone
and has scars that she can’t tell people about
Don’t be angry with her,  Don’t be angry with her Miss Maria.
From the the night out there where cruel rains fall
she has come back
So please don’t be angry with her.
This place is a final stopping tree
for a baby pigeon that has lost its dreams
Don’t be angry with her, Don’t be angry with her Miss Maria.
Her tears are not lies
She has no need for fake crying
Please don’t be angry with her
Without saying a word, please take her hand near the crucifixion cross where we are
Don’t be angry with her, Don’t be angry with her Miss Maria.

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