Interview with Sachiyo Morimoto Japanese writer of the book Gender and Sexuality in Jamaica

This month we interview Sachiyo Morimoto Japanese the writer of the book “Gender and Sexuality in Jamaica”. Once a skeptic of dancehall culture now an advocate of the culture.


Q: How did you become interested in Jamaican and Jamaican dancehall culture?

My younger sister was a reggae promoter, and she intorduced me to reggae music to help her work as a reggae writer when I was about 17 or 18 years-old. But I had a difficulty to accept that I love the music and its culture until I reached around the age of 27, because I was a kind of skeptic about Japanese reggae fans who tried to become Jamaicans from thier love of its music. I was not comfortable that I wasn’t trying like them. But eventually I came to accept it and realized how I have been influenced by the music and its culture, how I’m interested in them. So it is difficult to tell how I become interested in Jamaica and its culture, because it was like I realised how deep I am into them after the many years of my career in the reggae industry. But its power and creativity have attracted me definitely.

Q: Tell us your perception of Jamaican and Jamaican dancehall before you visited Jamaica?

Please no offese. I had always imagined Jamaica is totally different from Japan: Men in marina and baggy pants with many gold accessories idol all day long. Women in batty riders with false tall hair behave rudely. I had imagined Jamaican people as lazy, not punctual, too easy-going, promiscuous people.

Q: How did you gain that perception?

Through stories from my friends, dancehall videos, stage shows, movies, and my personal experience as a translator/interviewer at concert settings in Japan. It was through Jamaiacan music culture. Nothing else. Because I had never read any books on Jamaica nor visited the country before.

Q: What was your perception after visiting Jamaica?

It has been totally changed. I thought Jamaican people are generally VERY hard working, professional, considerate with keen insight and manners, dignity and class.

Q: In your experience what do Japanese people view Jamaica and Jamaicans?

I think their view on Jamaica and its people are similer to the one I used to have before I visited the country. But please note. Many of them don’t know much about the country as I used to be, though there are more informations than before. Q

: I recently saw a video of a reggae party shot in Japan and was amazed how the dancing is similar to what you would see at a dancehall party in Jamaica Why do you think Jamaican culture is so popular in Japan? Is there something in the music, culture or people that attract the Japanese people to things Jamaican?

Why Jamaican culture is so popular in Japan? At first, in Japan, “Jamaican culture” means “dancehall” or “reggae” or “rasta” in most of the times, more than 99%. And I think we need to think about it differently.

There are some possible answers why Japanese love Jamaican dancehall culture. First, we also have similer outdoor dancehall culture named “Bon Dance”, even though it is only held during the summer time as a special event and there are fewer occasions than dancehall in Jamaica. However, it has something in common with Jamaican dancehall: it’s a free, outdoor community event which anybody (from the young to the old) can participate. And anybody can sing at a microphone, if he/she wants to. Traditional songs, original songs or anything. It is basically a site we socialize with neighbours from the same community, but visiters are also welcome. We just go and dance and drink! We relieve our everyday stress and enjoy. So I assume that the concept of Jamaican dancehall has never been so foreign to Japanese, because we have had “Bon Dance” culture for a long long time. The second possible factor is that some of the traditional Japanese music has an emphasis on drums. So we might have a gene to react to drumbeats. It just moves our bodies. Heavy baseline and bass drum patterns of Jamaican dancehall has a similarity with it, though of course the drum pattern itself is different from ours, but we also consider our drumbeat as our heartbeats.

It might be the hype that attracts young Japanese people nowadays to Jamaican dancehall. But I think Japanese basically love to dance, though we are more shy than Jamaican people. There is also a commercial factor, too. Japanese media, especially magazines and internet are reflecting Jamaican dancehall culture as “cool”. Young people are naturally attracted to the things which are considered “cool”. So Jamaican dancehall might be popular in Japan. It’s a fashion.

Also, there are some possible reasons why “reggae” and “rasta” are popular in Japan. But it gets long. So I talk about them when there is more space for this interview.

Q: When Junko won the Dancehall queen contest in 2004 Jamaica what was the reaction. You have had multiple entrants and winners since then.

Junko’s success as a dancehall queen definitely has inspired and encouraged many wanna-be dancers in Japan. It was like; “Even foreigner can become a dancehall queen?! Even a Japanese?! Then why not me?” It is so obvious that there are many more dancers after the Junko’s success. We didn’t have much in the 90s. And Junko has proved that a dancehall dancer can be a profession for the first time in Japan. It was big.

Q: Can you give our readers a quick synopsis/summary of your book?

It’s a book on gender and sexuality in Jamaica. The articles are consisted of contributed articles by Jamaican scholars, writer, dancehall artist, ordinary Jamaicans and me. We look at the theme from different perspectives, and all articles are very inspirering. We deal with sexuality in dancehall, homophobia, gender issues in Rastafiri, new male trend (feminine maleness) and male marginality in Jamaican society. I think it’s a well balanced book.

Q: Why did you think the dancehall culture was the a good place to start when writing your book on “Gender and Sexuality in Jamaica”.

Because dancehall has been a site where existing masculinity and feminity clashes to create a new perspective on gender and sexuality in Jamaica. There is no doubt that when you see the trend in dancehall, you will see what would happen next in Jamaica in general. The first Caroly Cooper’s article is a well known one in Jamaica and among the people who are interested in Jamaican popular culture. But I assume that most of the Japanese have never read it, though her discussion was ground-breaking in the early 1990’s. So I put Carolyn’s famous discussion on dancehall as the first article to show dancehall is the site which gives us many hints to think about gender and sexuality in Jamaica.

Q: Do you think your book will help to change the perception of Jamaica and Jamaicans in Japan?

Yes. All the book reviewers have written that it has changed thier perceptions already. And I’m getting the similer feedback from oher readers. I’m really happy about it.

Q: If someone told you that Jamaican Dancehall music and dancing is the most uncivilized part of their culture how would you respond?

I think I would ask his/her definition of the word “civilized” at first. And I would explain how insightful it is.

Q: Since you published your book on “Gender and Sexuality in Jamaica” alot has changed in the Dancehall and Jamaican dancing culture. Are you aware of the “daggering” dance moves that are not practiced in Jamaica? What are your thoughts on this?

I passed through 4 dances last night, but “daggering” is still getting the most forward. “Daggering is still there. It will continue for a while, until we find something new. Because people love to dagga! (smile) Personally, I’ve never into “daggering”. I think it is a violent, a kind of foolish trend.

But at the same time, it is VERY interesting. I have to tell you! I’m looking at daggering as one of the dance moves. In my view, it doesn’t have much sexual implication. It is about hype. It is a way for people to get hype. Just take a good look at it. Do you think it is sexually arousing? It is too acrobatic. Rub-A-Dub is more sexually arousing. And listen to the daggering songs well. They are too cheerful, aren’t they? So “dagga” is just a way to get hype. And dancehall has a tradition to do/sing something very explicit and extreme to excel others. In sexual terms, it is nothing new to sing about “pum pum” and “anaconda” anymore. So people wanted more explicit and more extreme something. And it just happen to be “dagga” this time. But at the same time, I think “daggering” is a kind of disguise for people who don’t have much sexual appitite towards male/female counterparts. Sadly(?), there is a social, cultural expectation for men to conquer (and inpregnate) women as many as possible to be regarded/respected as “real man” in Jamaica. And Jamaican women are expected to be desired by men sexually. It is considered as thier pride as a woman. But somehow, I feel there are less sexual tention in Jamaican dancehall nowadays. People seem to be less interested in sex than before, spontaneously. But Jamaican society and dancehall culture has a tradition to expect them to be sexually active. So they are using “daggering” as thier disguise to hide thier real less interest in sex, or I think so. What do you think?

Q: Recently there has being reports of the health hazards of the daggering style of dancing. If it becomes popular in Japan do you see the government stepping in to avoid health issues?

No. Reggae/Dancehall is big in Japan. But it is not that big yet. So there won’t be a goverment intervention. Even when it gets a mainstream popularity, I don’t think they would do that. It is a background difference. Reggae and dancehall is not just a popular culture anymore. It is a “national cultural product”. So there might be more governmental interventions in Jamaica.

Q: Who is your favorite reggae artist?

I appreciate them all, really. But if I have to choose one, it’s definitely Tarrus Riley. He is just wonderful. And Super Cat.

Q: When you visited these various parties in Jamaica researching your book did you take part in the dancing?

Of course, when the vibes hit me!

Q: You have included quotes from interviews with a few reggae artists in your book. Which artist was the most interesting?

I think I only used Ce’Cile’s. Have I quoted more?

Q: You wrote a book Japanese to Jamaica patois dictionary. How difficult was that project?

Patois is a fluid, creative language. There is no designated rule to spell them. There is no designated grammatical rules, either. Meaning of the words are varied. And it is constantly changing. New words are born nightly. Some words become not used anymore. It’s very fluid and creative. But it is difficult to show them to Japanese readers.

Q: Do you get to practice your patois while in Japan?

No. I didn’t have anyone who spoke patois, nor English. I just kept listening to Jamaican music and watching videos.

Q: Have you visited Jamaica since you wrote your book?

Yes. I’m residing in Jamaica now.

Q: What other projects are you working on?

I’ve been working on a next translation book on Jamaican music. Also doing interviews with reggae/dancehall artists and writing articles for Japanese magazines.

Q: If a Jamaican is visiting Japan and would like to experience the Jamaican culture what would you suggest they do? Where should they eat and go for entertainment?

I recommend them to go to dances, read reggae magazines, and watch movies/films/DVDs on Jamaica. Even in a small city in remote area, there is at least one Jamaican food restaurant. So I think it is easy for them to find out where to go. I cannot garantee the quality of those entertainment/foods though. Because that is one of the reason why I’m living in Jamaica now.

Q: Thanks for the interview. Do you have any final thoughts?

I really thank you for your interest in my book. It is really worth reading, if you are interested in Jamaican culture. I have a confidence in my selection of contributors. They are just wonderful. Just pick up and read it. You can purchace it at Sangsters Bookstores and Novelty Tradings in Jamaica. Mail order is also available. As long as you are a man or a woman, you won’t be sorry. Thank you.

About the author

Xavier Murphy