From anime to irezumi (traditional Japanese tattoos) and serene minimalist decor, Japanese culture has been a source of inspiration for a handful of Latin artists, as well as a pillar of peace. With Japan’s thoughtful aestheticism and a philosophy rooted in Zen, musicians such as Tainy, J Balvin, Rosalía and Young Miko have turned their creative wanderlusts to express their fascination for East Asian art.
For instance, last week (June 30) Tainy released his debut LP Data, a meticulous avant-pop opus that doubles as a love letter to Japan, reggaetón, and sonic experimentation. The album cover features a pink-haired manga character — comparable to Tainy’s current hair color — drawn by influential Japanese artist Hiromasa Ogura.
“Japanese culture has always been special and influential in my life, even before I started making music,” the Puerto Rican super producer tells Billboard Español. “Seeing [anime] movies opened up my imagination at an early age, seeing how detail-oriented they are, as well as in [other artforms] in Japan. I think animation helps you expand your imagination to try whatever you want, to create something out of this world … different from reality.”
In June, Rosalía also dedicated a song to the eastern country called “Tuya,” where in its music video the Spanish singer is seen strolling around Tokyo and enjoying a bowl of ramen. But it’s not just a trend — Japanese culture has been infiltrating Latin music in the mainstream for over a decade. Look no further than Juan Luis Guerra’s seminal hit “Bachata en Fukuoka” (2010).
Below discover more Latin musicians that have channeled their artistic musings towards the Land of the Rising Sun, in no particular order.
A few days before putting the final touches of his debut album Data, Tainy posted an IG of himself in Japan working away on his laptop. “DATA en KYOTO/TOKYO” the caption read.
Like anime, “The music I make has this technology that sometimes [feels] sci-fi, otherworldly, and with superpowers. But at the same time [anime] is human, soulful and it goes through all of these emotions, in one artform. That to me is the most special thing, and I felt it could represent Data in the most perfect way,” the Puerto Rican producer tells Billboard Español.
His buzzed-about album fulfilled all that it promised to be: a highly imaginative work, bolstered by reggaetón, ethereal trap and ‘80s-inspired synthwave, which manages to introduce intricate textures that spark neon-hued visions.
In fact, his record label — Neon16, in partnership with Latin music mogul Lex Borrero — was also inspired by a commonality he shares with the culture. “The name comes from Tainy and my love of Japanese culture,” Borrero told the press in 2019. “The first thing you think about when someone says ‘Tokyo’ are neon signs.”
Rosalía pays homage to Japanese style in her latest single “Tuya,” released June 9, a sensual reggaetón song that features strings from the koto, Japan’s national instrument, along with her signature fusion of flamenco and techno. Its accompanying music video sees the Spanish singer sporting an anime shirt and two hair buns as she roams the bustling streets of Tokyo. In the visual, she also makes time to eat ramen. The song “serves as a love letter to Japan,” the release added, “a country that Rosalía has great love and respect for.”
Previously, the musician released “Hentai” from her Motomami album, where she indulges in her cyborg fantasies. The word “hentai” loosely translates to “metamorphoses” in Japanese; it also refers to pornographic anime or manga.
Outside of music, Rosalía and her fiansé, fellow superstar Rauw Alejandro dressed up as Asuka and Shinji from the anime series Evangelion for Halloween.
One of the first things one visually notices about Rauw Alejandro are his stunning tattoos, especially the geisha and the samurai that adorn each side of his neck. In previous interviews, he has boasted that they were a tribute for his love of Asian culture. Another lyric of his should have hinted this too: “To take you to Tokyo and never miss a thing,” from the confessional love song “Aquel Nap ZzZz,” dedicated to his fiancé Rosalía. From their trips to Japan together, to their anime cosplay, it’s clear they celebrate Japanese culture together too. His music video for “Que Rico Ch–ngamos” was also filmed in Japan.
J Balvin has long flaunted his admiration for East Asian aesthetics. Look no further than the album cover for his Colores (2020) and the accompanying merch, done by Japanese artist Tekashi Murakami. But when it comes to practicing Zen, the Colombian artist sought the country’s traditional minimal decor to inspire his mansion in Colombia.
“When I went to Japan, I really connected with an energy that I really loved, and that’s definitely what I’m doing in this house. I call it a temple, because it is like a temple,” said J Bavin in a video interview, while wearing a Street Fighter II hoodie. “I’m really happy that I created the place that I wanted to do, that it’s not a place to show off, it’s a place for my soul to rest. I’m not here trying to flex no one, I’m in another vibe. This is for me, my soul and my people to come in and just be relaxed.”
In 2019, the reggaetonero was also transformed into an anime character in Japanese hip-hop trio m-flo’s music video for “Human Lost,” with Balvin as a featured artist.
Her love of Japanese culture is evinced in her stage name: Miko, which means daughter of god in Japanese. Well before she established herself as a rapper, she had a career as a tattoo artist; she claims her favorite styles are Japanese and Greek mythology pieces. “The first shows I saw on Cartoon Network were Dragon Ball Z, YuGiOh! and Pokemon,” she told Billboard Español.
She continued: “My mom also loves Buddhism and Japanese culture, they are two peas in a pod. It is very symbolic, life is sacred, animals, flora and fauna — those are things that I have also identified with her since I was little. Even all the tattoos I have done are Japanese, they all have their meaning. ‘Miko’ is Japanese, it is something that I always find inspiration in.”
Yonaguni is an island nestled in the Yaeyama district of Japan. It is also the title of Bad Bunny’s 2021 summer hit, which reached No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs. The sultry reggaetón single sees Benito in a vulnerable light and singing in Japanese towards the end of the song — where he tells his love interest that he will travel to Yonaguni for her.
Juan Luis Guerra
In 2010, Juan Luis Guerra penned a timeless bachata ballad called “Bachata en Fukuoka,” dedicated to the Japanese city located on the northern shore of the country’s Kyushu Island. It’s a sincere love song about remembering a loved one from Fukuoka. “And it’s time to leave and say sayonara, reluctantly/ And a little dove landed in my window/ Kon’nichi wa, ohayoo gozaimasu,” croons the Dominican sensation in Spanish. The song reached No. 1 on the Hot Latin Songs chart the year it was released.
Honorable mention: Christian Nodal & Cazzu
In January, Rosalía captured a group photo via IG alongside Nodal and Cazzu and others in Tokyo, where they welcomed the New Year. Although there is no direct confirmation of whether the Mexican-Argentine couple have been inspired by Japanese culture or not, a fun fact is that they found out they were to be parents during that trip to Japan, according to several media outlets. They were also caught by a YouTuber documenting Tokyo street fashion while taking a stroll in the city.