Babylon East

By Marvin Sterling

Performing Dancehall, Roots Reggae, and Rastafari in Japan

BookPages: 304Illustrations: 5 illustrationsPublished: June 2010

Author: Marvin Sterling

Anthropology > Cultural AnthropologyAsian Studies > East AsiaMusic > EthnomusicologyAn important center of dancehall reggae performance, sound clashes are contests between rival sound systems: groups of emcees, tune selectors, and sound engineers. In World Clash 1999, held in Brooklyn, Mighty Crown, a Japanese sound system and the only non-Jamaican competitor, stunned the international dancehall community by winning the event. In 2002, the Japanese dancer Junko Kudo became the first non-Jamaican to win Jamaica’s National Dancehall Queen Contest. High-profile victories such as these affirmed and invigorated Japan’s enthusiasm for dancehall reggae. In Babylon East, the anthropologist Marvin D. Sterling traces the history of the Japanese embrace of dancehall reggae and other elements of Jamaican culture, including Rastafari, roots reggae, and dub music.

Sterling provides a nuanced ethnographic analysis of the ways that many Japanese involved in reggae as musicians and dancers, and those deeply engaged with Rastafari as a spiritual practice, seek to reimagine their lives through Jamaican culture. He considers Japanese performances and representations of Jamaican culture in clubs, competitions, and festivals; on websites; and in song lyrics, music videos, reggae magazines, travel writing, and fiction. He illuminates issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class as he discusses topics ranging from the cultural capital that Japanese dancehall artists amass by immersing themselves in dancehall culture in Jamaica, New York, and England, to the use of Rastafari as a means of critiquing class difference, consumerism, and the colonial pasts of the West and Japan. Encompassing the reactions of Jamaica’s artists to Japanese appropriations of Jamaican culture, as well as the relative positions of Jamaica and Japan in the world economy, Babylon East is a rare ethnographic account of Afro-Asian cultural exchange and global discourses of blackness beyond the African diaspora.View Less 


Babylon East is a vibrant ethnography that captures multiple levels of Japanese engagement with Jamaican cultural forms including roots
reggae, dancehall, and the spiritual movement Rastafari. . . . [An] impressive ethnographic and multisited contribution to the burgeoning field of Afro-Asian scholarship. As such, Babylon East will work well in courses dealingwith ethnomusicology, anthropology of race and ethnicity, and performing arts in diasporic contexts.” — Lorraine Plourde, American Anthropologist

Babylon East: Performing Dancehall, Roots Reggae, and Rastafari in Japan is theoretically complex in its treatment of transnational scenes, multisited imaginaries of race, sexuality, and class, and the “soft power” of popular culture in global capitalism…. It is a far-reaching and important book, which generates a sophisticated dialogue about understudied aspects of modern Japanese identity and global discourses of race.” — David Novak, Journal of Japanese Studies,

Babylon East is an important work in a growing portfolio of interdisciplinary music related research and amid the growing attention to music in ex-musical disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, psychology and even geography. It shows the power of music to transcend borders and societies, concepts of local, global and hybrid, and to facilitate the performance of social identity.” — Moshe Morad, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“[Sterling’s] ethnography is written with an elegant but straightforward fluidity, meaning it is accessible to not only Japanese and cultural studies specialists, but also to undergraduates and other interested readerships. Sterling brings together vivid descriptions and sophisticated thinking about music, language, performance, gendered politics and sexuality in an ‘embodied practice’ that functions effectively to form alternative identities for the Japanese reggae practitioners.” — Carolyn S. Stevens, Journal of Asian Studies

“[T]his book provides a wealth of ethnographic data gathered over ten years, situated in three overlapping genres of Jamaican cultural performance. Its skillful inclusion of social theory will help the most casual reader understand Japan’s incorporation of the foreign far beyond the overly simple “take the best and leave the rest.” Scholars, graduate and undergraduate students will find also great value in this text.” — Debra J. Occhi, Pacific Affairs

“Adroit and ingenious, Babylon East is an essential resource for scholars interested in the internationalization of the Rastafari, in cultural globalization, and in Africana studies.”
— Darren J. N. Middleton, Religious Studies Review

“Sterling writes in a style that makes his discussions accessible to non-experts. Babylon East makes useful and complex contributions to a number of discourses, including: work on popular music, globalization, gender, and race in contemporary Japan; work on Jamaican reggae and dancehall; and broader considerations of Blackness, race, and culture beyond the Black Atlantic, in Afro-Asia. . . . His work should inspire readers to learn more about performance and identity formation in Japan, the truly global spread of Jamaican culture, and other Afro-Asian articulations, performances, and identities.” — James E. Roberson, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“What happens when Jamaican Rasta and the musical and cultural styles affiliated with it, from roots reggae to dancehall, are taken out of the white-black binary and the Euro-Caribbean matrix? This is the question taken up by Marvin D. Sterling in Babylon East. Sterling spent more than ten years investigating Japanese involvement with Jamaican musical traditions, and his book testifies to the limitations of cross-cultural appropriation even in a globalized cultural scene.” — J. Gabriel Boylan, Bookforum

“Marvin D. Sterling sensitively portrays the wide range of Japanese reggae dancehall practitioners, from chart-topping stars such as Miki Dozan to underground pioneers such as Rankin’ Taxi, as well as Junko Kudo, the unlikely winner of Jamaica’s premier dance-diva contest. Along the way, we get to know the urban musicians who make up the traveling groups known as sound systems, as well as ‘Japanese Rastafari’ in the countryside. By considering Japanese youth who travel to Jamaica on journeys of self-discovery and the Jamaicans who sometimes look ambivalently on the explosion of the reggae scene in Japan, Sterling completes an engaging circle of analysis in this fascinating and insightful book.” — Ian Condry, author of Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization

“The globalization of Jamaican culture has inspired Rastafari devotees and reggae/dancehall fans worldwide to claim hybridized identities, as evidenced in the unexpected emergence of a ‘Jamaican’ subculture in Japan. Babylon East is a rich, energetically written ethnography that lucidly articulates the contradictory ways in which exoticized cultural difference is voraciously consumed in a nation that is decidedly ambivalent about accepting the physical presence of the racialized ‘other.’ Deploying the Rastafari trope of Babylon as the biblical beast of Euro-American imperialism, Marvin D. Sterling judiciously destabilizes East/West binary constructs, authoritatively delineating the complexity of the Japanese performance of Jamaican identity.” — Carolyn Cooper, University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica
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Author/Editor BiosBack to Top

Marvin D. Sterling is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University.Table of ContentsBack to TopPreface ix

Acknowledgments xiii


1. The Politics of Presence: Performing Blackness in Japan 

2. Music and Orality: Authenticity in Japanese Sound System Culture 

3. Fashion and Dance: Performing Gender in Japan’s Reggae Dance Scene 

4. Body and Spirit: Rastafarian Consciousness in Rural Japan 

5. Text and Image: Bad Jamaicans, Tough Japanese, and the Third World “Search for Self” 

6. Jamaican Perspectives on Jamaican Culture in Japan 



IndexRightsBack to TopSales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensingAdditional InformationBack to TopPaper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4722-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4705-7Publicity material

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