HaNaYaMaTa and Cultural Appropriation — The Good Side

Monday, September 29th, 2014

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HaNaYaMaTa | Fireworks

Did I gush about HaNaYaMaTa enough when I should’ve been talking about Glasslip? No? Well here’s another tidbit that gives me another reason to love it: it has very nice things to say about cultural appropriation — or, rather, why the Japanese don’t seem to mind it.

What exactly is cultural appropriation? Well, it’s not exactly easy to describe, and people have a hard time pinning down what is and isn’t cultural appropriation. But it’s more or less this really messy thing where people get upset when you take parts of a culture you don’t belong to for your own benefit.

It’s a kind of racism, basically.

Most of the time, you hear about this with companies making a profit or when a pop star does something. The two biggest examples I can think of are when Victoria’s Secret did a Native American-themed lingerie lineup and when clothing lines slapped an image of a Hindu god right onto a t-shirt and a duvet.

The big deal is that they tended to strip these things of their significance from their origin culture. They do nothing to educate their potential customers on just how and why they are important. Sounds pretty simple, right?

It’s not. Holy hell, is it a messy thing to talk about. Sometimes, it’s legit; other times, it stinks of a kind of weird tribalism and/or nationalism. Where is the line drawn? Is it an example of the exchange of ideas in a globalized society or an example of a dominant culture ravishing the weaker ones? A few months ago, Selena Gomez wore a bindi during a performance during an Indian-inspired song. Is that okay? Is that not okay? I dunno. She didn’t care. She thought it was beautiful and wanted everyone to appreciate it. I’m sure many are just upset about her song appropriating and what have you.

(I’m also wondering if her stylized and jeweled bindi counts as a true bindi, but I’m not going to claim to know anything about them. So I won’t. If you’re an Indian or practice the faith where the bindi comes from, go ahead and educate me in the comments if you have the time.)

I’ve even seen people claiming that cosplay is cultural appropriation, but I’m not even going to dignify that argument with a real response or links. Because — no.

HaNaYaMaTa | Three Jump

So what does all this have to do with HaNaYaMaTa? Consider the fact that Hana is an American, with blonde hair, blue eyes and super-pale skin.

In other words, she’s not Japanese.

She’s so not Japanese, she fails her English class because she can’t read the questions because they are in Japanese. She doesn’t even know how to use chopsticks and uses weird literal translations for some Japanese things.

And let’s face it, yosakoi is also very Japanese, and Hana loves it. Hana loves it so much that she decides to start a club — on her own. Her love of the dance is pure and isn’t tainted by anything other than a fond memory of visiting Japan. She doesn’t care about prize money, she just wants to dance yosakoi. And it’s not some passing obsession, either. She actually loves it so much that she educates her actual Japanese friends about it.

About a thing from their culture. That’s passion.

HaNaYaMaTa | Hana's Fond Memory

Hana’s fond memory

No one really questions her about it, either. No one tells her, “Hey, you’re not Japanese, so you can’t do this thing, or wear that thing, or use that thing.” No one questions her love of it. No one even bats an eyelash. Well, other than for her over-the-top enthusiasm, but that’s something else entirely.

The only thing that ever happens is that Yaya (the tough, tsundere one) asks Hana why she’s wearing a kimono when she appears in her family’s shop. Hana says she thinks it’s pretty. Yaya, however, has an image to keep up (and doesn’t like Hana at this point in the show). She remarks that it’s too geeky for her to be around and asks her to change. Hana obliges her (as she kinda got a free meal, and all), and they proceed to hang out and become friends.

That’s it.

Not that it’s offensive. Not that she “shouldn’t be wearing it.” It’s just geeky, which, ya know, is kinda fair.

HaNaYaMaTa | Too Geeky

But it’s a bit worthy to note that neither Naru nor any of the other girls ever seemed to mind, especially later, when they’re all in full yosakoi swag.

But it’s just a dance! you say. Well, part of the issue about cultural appropriation is that it takes away the significant meaning of a thing. And with a bit of digging, you’ll find that yosakoi is a modern rendition of the Awa Odori, which dates back to Japanese Buddhist priestly dances of the Nembutsu-odori and hiji-odori.

So there is some sort of religious aspect to it — even if it is old — just like the bindi. Well, the bindi is less removed from the religiousness of it, but you get the idea.

Yet, Hana is the core of her group of friends. She brought them closer together and taught them of this amazing thing that existed just outside their doors. And it didn’t remain isolated. It spilled out into their classmates, who were curious as to what they were doing. It spread awareness.

Masaru, the yakuza-looking owner of the local yosakoi shop, even admits he’s happy just because people are into it. He doesn’t care that they’re young girls or foreigners.

HaNaYaMaTa | Gaijin

HaNaYaMaTa shows us that so long as you love something — not out of greed or for some sort of childish desire to stand out, but really love something — you should go out and love it, know about it, research and know about it so much that you can easily educate someone about it. That’s love. That’s dedication.

Hana herself even says at one point,

We only have so much time on this Earth. It’s more fun doing things you want to do, isn’t it? You might screw up or look silly doing them but I think I’d regret it more if I just did nothing.

HaNaYaMaTa tells us to do our passions justice: to know everything about them down to the most intimate detail; to never be drawn in by simple novelty, but because they speak to us somehow; to never half-ass them and always put forth effort.

Because when we do, the world will dance with us.

HaNaYaMaTa | Finale

About Antonin Kořenek

Antonin has been playing video games since before he could read. Once he did, he fell in love with their stories and worlds. He spends most of his gaming time with either story-based or strategy games. As an aspiring novelist, he blames games like Earthbound and Final Fantasy Tactics for getting him started. Antonin graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI with a degree in English Literature. When not gaming, he can be found reading, obsessing over something on Twitter, or researching strange folklore.