Osaka is second only to New
York in the hip-hop world — or so says the promo blurb put
out by Osaka city. Down on the streets, if the boast isn't true,
it isn't for lack of trying. KS meets some of the amateur kids and
some of the pros that make the Kansai street dance scene.
“Don't hold back … cause you woke
up in the mornin', with the mission to move, so I make it harder
… don't hold back …”
Tomomi Asaba and Ai Ueoka are moving now, and
fighter jets have not flown in formations as tight. Shoulders sway
in unison, dip in, out, move low as two eighteen-year-old fists
dart, swing, punch concrete in a breakneck series of moves that
actually look even more difficult than they probably are.
“If you think about it, so many people do,
be cool man, look smarter ... don't hold back ... and you shouldn't
even care, 'bout those losers in the air, and their crooked stares
The avant-garde, mirrored clearing that makes
up the side entrance of Namba's OCAT building is littered with boomboxes,
hastily-cast aside school books, canvas bags, mix CDs and amateur
dancers limbering up for a long night ahead. A phalanx of high school
girls strut to house music in the lower-right; a salaryman with
loosened necktie and cigarette squats and watches the girls; a breakdancer
looks up from a leg stretch to watch the man watch the girls.
No one, save for the mirror in front of them,
is watching Asaba and Ueoka.
“Don't hold back ... cause there's a party
over here, so you might as well be here, where the people care ...
don't ho —”
boom box roaring in front of them is flicked off; Asaba drags a
striped Polo sleeve across her brow as she is joined by Ueoka and
another dancer friend, 19-year-old Norio Kitano. “Four years
ago, I was really into sports; I kind of fell into [dancing], and
I've been doing it since then,” she says. “I just like
dancing, really. I like to practice.
I practice four hours a day! That doesn't really
leave a lot of time for studying, but” — laughing now,
as Ueoka and Kitano nod in agreement — “like I said,
I like dancing.
“And I'm here, I guess, because this is
the best way to see lots of different styles, lots of different
moves,” continues Asaba, who, along with Ueoka, is a member
of a five-girl dance troupe called Booooin. (Think of a really elongated
pronunciation of “coin.”) “If you want to learn,
it's good to see what the other people are doing.”
It is 8 o'clock at night, and at OCAT, and in
subway stations, and on deserted street corners, and in dimly-lit
parking garages, and in near-emptied convenience store lots, hundreds
of Kansai high school-ers, university students and part-time workers
have taken to the streets to breakdance, freestyle and pop and lock
as if their lives depended on it. Here now is what the Other People
Are Doing, a movement ushered in from the streets of the US and
adopted by acolytes who worship with the reverence of the truly
converted. (Or, depending on your level of cynicism, the truly young.)
Foreigners agog at just how adept the “shy
Japanese” are at the dexterous displays of hip-grinding that
are taken for granted back home illustrate another point: while
culture shock certainly entails seeing things never found back in
Britain or the States (silver lipsticked yamamba girls in Pikachu
costumes, for example), there is a also a level of astonishment
to be found in moving 3,000 miles and discovering that the fashions,
the music and the dance steps are exactly the same.
Street dancing has taken hold in Japan. For how
long, though, is a topic of considerable debate — particularly
because a lot of the dance steps are exactly the same.
“Hip-hop in Japan has already passed the
tipping point beyond being 'just another fad' and has already become
part of the cultural fabric, though I expect assertions to the contrary
to continue for at least a few more years,” Ian Condry, Assistant
Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies at MIT, asserts via e-mail.
“By early 1984, [the] first Japanese breakdancers
began in Yoyogi Park -— between Shibuya and Harajuku in Tokyo
— inspired in part by the US film Wild Style, which was shown
in Japan in 1983. Given that hip-hop dance teams have continued
to expand and develop over those 20 years demonstrates that this
is more than a passing fad.”
Though Condry casually notes that mainstream media
outlets may just be biding their time before they “move on
to the next hot thing,” he states that the true practitioners
aren't going away any time soon. “To the people doing hip-hop
dance,” he says, “it forms at the very least a stage
in their lives, and for some an ongoing career. Either way, it will
likely influence the way they approach the world for years to come,
and possibly, in some ways, for their whole lives.”
So back to OCAT.
“I dance because I have a dream: I wanna
be number one. I wanna be the number one dancer in the world,”
says 22-year-old breakdancer Shimpo 'Big Phill' Yasukuni. “First,
the number one guy in Osaka, and then, the number one guy in the
Shimpo, who tours the Kansai “battle circuit”
with his group, the 4th Dimensional Life Crew, describes a tumultuous
four years on the scene — “I battle every month. Two
years ago, I used to win all the time, but these days, not so often”
— but asserts reflexively that things have been on an upward
tick since he started in 2001.
“I used to watch the breakdancers on TV
in my mother's room — Sam from TRF, and guys like that. I
used to think 'He's really cool!' And I'd practice, and practice
— three hours, most days — in front of a mirror in the
Years of practice and time on the circuit have
left Shimpo lean, toned and wiry (with impressive rows of calluses
on his palms), confident enough to declare his plans for world domination
to total strangers, yet, perhaps not strangely, pessimistic enough
to come a hair's breadth away from pro-claiming doom on the sport
he loves most.
[practicing at OCAT now] likes hip-hop,” says Yasukuni, with
more than a hint of exasperation in his voice. “All they're
trying to do is be cool. It's like, hip-hop in Japan, they gotta
have a form — like, a textbook or something. 'Hip-hop has
to be like this;' 'Dancing has to be like that.' They all watch
the same [music] videos, and they think the videos are cool. And
they all practice the same moves and the same basic techniques;
they see a move they think is cool, pretty soon, every-one will
be doing it.
“Like, they don't really feel it, right?”
he continues. “I look at a lot of the people out here, and
I don't feel anything. Just people trying to be part of the scene,
trying to be cool.”
Irony, pacing close behind, checks Yasukuni momentarily.
He stares into the distance. “Well, yeah,” Yasukuni
says with a chuckle. “I guess I used to be one of them, too.”
The filching of ideas by one or another culture,
of course, nothing new; hip-hop music itself, of course, has borrowed
liberally from everything from fusion jazz to drum and bass to Hindi
pop over the years. Still, for the sake of growth and movement (and,
perhaps, a rather strong sense of inner pride), many local dancers
express a fervent desire to start leaning away from strictly American
“A lot of us learned from watching videos
and stuff on TV,” Asaba says. “That's true. A lot of
people see the videos on TV — B2K, Beyoncé, or who-ever,
and are really influenced by them. But then, in the future, you
see always seem them reaching out and trying new things.”
“They adopt some of the ideas,” Kitano
murmurs. “They learn a lot from the videos, and that kind
of hurts originality. But, in a few years, I think Japan will start
developing its own unique style. That's the thing that's really
going to keep dance in Japan popular.”
Others echo the sentiment.
five years — if hip-hop dance does grow in Japan in five years
— then people have to start their own styles instead copying
what's already been done,” Yasu-kuni says. “I went to
America for vacation and saw the breakdancers on Hollywood Boulevard.
They don't just practice moves they learned on TV; they're out there,
trying new stuff! And if [Japanese dancers] are real about it like
they are, innovating and trying new things, then even in five years,
most of the people you see here tonight will still be around. Otherwise,
you know, they'll get married, have kids, find jobs, turn into salarymen.
“Two years, I pretty much stopped dancing
because I had a girlfriend. We broke up; I started dancing again,”
“It's not a fad for me; I wanna turn pro,
be the best in the world. I can't live without dancing in my life.
It's everything to me.”
“Sometimes I ask myself, 'Is there a hiphop
scene in Japan?'... (In dancing) There was this incredible interest,
almost infatuation, and it soared, then it peaked, and then it disappeared
. Boom! Just like that.” DJ Krush famously recounted the rapid
rise and death of the previous dance scene in Japan for The Bomb.
After this nearly fatal blow the scene retreated underground and
was perceived dead by the mainstream press.
Years passed and slowly passionate individuals began to resuscitate
the remnants. Now it has grown to the point that it has the potential
for the first time to move internati-onally. One company has acted
as a catalyst for this unprecedented growth and currently dominates
the scene more than any other, Angel Dust HIgh Performance (ADHIP).
According to popular belief the 'Angel Dust' in
the title is a thinly disguised drugs reference. In fact it is an
abbreviation of the Angel Dust Breakers Crew, an important Osakan
breakdance/bboy crew that was established in the mid-80s. The 80s
was an important time for dancers, especially breakdancers. For
the first time the dance had moved out of its underground, ghetto
roots and was being accepted. Spearheaded by the Rock Steady Crew,
streetdancing reached the cinema and international attention. It
wasn't long before over saturation resulted in an inevitable backlash
against the culture. Few dancers survived the sudden change of fates.
The Angel Dust Breakers front man Machine Harada, and a local DJ
called Tee were two of the notable ones.
Their first event was very small in scale, a team
dance competition called Dance Delight that took place in club Antenna.
The event attracted 12 teams, a reasonable attendance for a new
event. Encouraged by this DJ Tee and Machine organized a further
two events that year. As the events became larger, the company ADHIP
was formed. Using their own money and various sponsors (Including
much later the international giants Virgin, Technics and Panasonic)
they introduced a monthly magazine and regular dance events to Osaka,
branching out from team competitions into solo and freestyle events.
From these humble origins ADHIP has become the only company that
solely makes its income from street dance promotion and events in
The growth of ADHIP can best be judged by looking
at its flagship event, Dance Delight. Using the official entrance
statistics the success of the company is revealed. In 1992 the event
was only held in Osaka. Three events were held a year attracting
an average of 16 teams to each event. In comparison, this year three
events were held: Osaka, Tokyo and Japan. The Japan Dance Delight
further subdivided into five events (North, South, East, West and
Center). One hundred and fifteen teams took part in the Osaka and
Tokyo events and Japan Dance Delight boasted 193 teams.
Unlike America where dancers can earn respect
by dancing in open circles and nightclubs, most dancers in Japan
earn a reputation by winning competitions. Dance Delight and other
ADHIP events have been a vital way of proving the advantages of
each school's individual style. Winners have come from a wide variety
of backgrounds. Recent winners have encompassed everything from
the angular 'popping' to the energetic 'freestyle' dance styles.
The vast majority of winners have made careers off their victories.
Some are even able to make a living by winning the huge prizes some
events offer (Previous prizes have been worth over ¥170,000).
Finally the future of the dance scene looks stable.
Dance Delight is now so big you could see Dance Delight TV on satellite,
watch Dance Delight videos (There are currently over 20), go to
an ADHIP night out, read the free or subscription magazine, meet
international dancers sponsored by ADHIP, or enter an event. When
asked about the future DJ Tee simply smiled, “Do an event
every month and ... do so many other events.” Simple as that.