Twan Stoffels, VICE, April 9, 2014
Dutch photographer Desiré van den Berg has spent the past seven months traveling around Asia. She lives in Hong Kong at the moment, but when she was in Tokyo, back in December 2013, she met Hina, a 23-year-old who works at a trendy Tokyo boutique called Baby Shoop. Hina’s shop has the tagline “Black for Life.” She describes its products as “a tribute to Black culture: the music, the fashion, and style of dance.”
Hina’s appearance is also loyal to what the Japanese call “B-style”–a contraction of the words “Black” and “Lifestyle” that refers to a subculture of young Japanese people who love American hip-hop culture so much that they do everything in their power to look as African American as possible.
I called up Desiré to find out more about her time photographing Hina and her gang.
VICE: How did you meet Hina?
Desiré van den Berg: She appeared in a documentary about B-style a couple of years back, which I happened to watch. This is what got me interested in the culture. It took a lot of effort, but I eventually got in touch with her on Facebook, through other B-stylers. I said I wanted to take photos of her, and she actually thought that was pretty cool. It was all a bit of a hassle, though, because Hina and the other B-stylers didn’t speak a single word of English. We needed a translator both to make an appointment and at the actual first meeting, too.
How does that work in terms of translating rap lyrics?
Hina speaks some English but not fluently. She does like to use some English slang when she speaks Japanese with her B-style friends, like finishing a sentence with “man” or using bad words like “motherfucker” jokingly.
Is B-style big in Japan?
No. It’s pretty small; you don’t really see it on the streets. You really have to look for it. According to Hina, it was bigger a couple of years ago–now there are only a few die-hards left in each city. It’s definitely not mainstream, and maybe still to small to even call it a subculture.
What do B-stylers like Hina mainly do?
Hina, for example, visits a tanning salon every week to darken her skin. I was surprised these tanning salons even exist, because in Japan it is a classic beauty ideal to have your skin be as pale as possible.
Just to be clear: Hina is 100 percent Japanese and naturally has pale skin. She is only dark because of the sunbed and the use of really dark foundation. B-stylers also listen to hip-hop, and visit special African hair salons to get braids or curly hair. These salons are usually found in Tokyo’s ghettos and are run by small African communities. Hina wears colored contact lenses: they are a lighter shade of brown to make her eyes seem bigger.
Do B-stylers get together, or does it mainly exist online?
There are special B-style events where primarily Japanese youth breakdance and dance to hip-hop and R&B. Even though the event attracts mostly Japanese people, you hear a lot of typical slang. I went to one of those events and had the feeling that all of a sudden everything had come together. I got the sense that it’s a bigger group than I’d imagined.