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Since the mid-twentieth century, music has played a central role in encounters and interactions between the people of Japan and those of African descent. It proved far more effective for pro- moting interracial dialogue and understanding than efforts in the early 1900s to foster an alliance against white supremacy and imperialism. This essay unpacks the ways that encounters with Black music transformed Japanese musicking and generated knowledge and empathy for people of African descent among Japanese. Personal interactions between Black and Japanese musicians constituted a process of “grassroots globalization” that circumvented the dominance of American mass media in representing African Americans and their music. Japanese who performed and consumed Black music could understand W. E. B. Du Bois’ concept of “double consciousness,” seeing themselves in the eyes of others and becoming more aware of racial injustice. Afrological music spoke more relevantly to Japanese experience than Eurological music did.



Publication Date



Department of History


Leiden University Press


jazz, black music, Japan, ethnomusicology


African American Studies | Africana Studies | Asian History | Cultural History | Ethnomusicology | Japanese Studies

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All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of both the publisher and the editors of the book.

Original Citation

“Playing Changes: Music as Mediator between Japanese and Black Americans.” In Black Transnationalism and Japan, eds. Natalia Doan and Sho Konishi. Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2024. 93-120.

Playing Changes: Music as Mediator between Japanese and Black Americans



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