Japan and Black America: A Long Road of Discovery

Travel to Kyoto, Japan, for an interdisciplinary course that will explore tradition from the early 20th century African American scholars and journalists’ fascination with Japan as a powerful non-European empire, to the late 20th century popularity of hip hop in Japan.

Kyoto, Japan: June 15 - July 27

Application Deadline: February 13, 2018

About the Seminar

According to popular imagery there are hardly two cultures that are more different than those of the Japanese and Black Americans. And yet, despite these perceived differences, for over a century there has been abundant and complex cultural sharing, borrowing, and exchange between them. This interdisciplinary course will explore this tradition from the early 20th century African American scholars and journalists’ fascination with Japan as a powerful non-European empire, to the late 20th century popularity of hip hop in Japan. In between we will explore the cross-cultural flows of jazz, fashion design, visual arts, Zen Buddhism, Pentecostalism, musical theater, anime, manga, and international race politics. Course assignments will include scholarly writings as well as exhibition catalogs, live and recorded music, memoir, and film. In addition to investigating creative cultural pairings, we will explore vexing issues that frequently appear when people with distinct histories and traditions imagine each other, such as: What constitutes cultural appropriation vs. cultural sharing? Which forms of mimicry are respectful and which are offensive? Can forms of identity be borrowed and reconstituted in a different locale? And, how does the meaning of art shift when its social and political context changes?

The seminar will include classes in Japanese. Excursions will include visits to the Kyoto International Manga Museum, record shops Discland Jaro and Technique and the Blue Note Tokyo Jazz Club.

Faculty Director

Imani Perry is the Hughes-Rogers professor of African American studies at Princeton University, where she is also affiliated with the Programs in Law and Public Affairs and Gender and Sexuality Studies. She is the author of: More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States (NYU, 2011) and Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop (Duke, 2004) as well as numerous articles in the fields of law, cultural studies and African American studies. She has a forthcoming book on the history of the Black National anthem from Oxford University Press and another on gender, neoliberalism and the digital age from Duke University Press.

Seminar Manager

Nikki Woolward can be reached at or by calling 609-258-8873.

Distribution Requirements

The course fulfills the Social Analysis (SA) requirement and the departmental requirements for African American Studies (AAS) and East Asian Studies (EAS).

Costs and Financial Aid

PIIRS Global Seminars cost between $6000-8000. PIIRS provides generous funding to students admitted to the Global Seminars who receive term financial aid. Possibilities for additional financial support may be available through the Student Activities Funding Engine (SAFE). Princeton Subsidized Student Loans, available from the Office of Financial Aid, are also highly recommended over charging costs to a credit card. Please consult Financing Options for Students and Parents 2016–17, specifically pages 1–2 and Table 3, and contact the Office of Financial Aid for more information

To ensure a place in the seminar, a $500 nonrefundable deposit will be charged to participants’ accounts on April 1; the balance of the course fee will be charged to accounts on May 15.

NB: Students who accept a place in a Global Seminar and then, before the seminar begins, withdraw or cannot participate because they are no longer enrolled at Princeton will lose the nonrefundable deposit and any unrecoverable costs. There are no refunds after the start of the program.

The Holly and Henry Wendt, Class of 1955, Global Seminar.

PIIRS Global Seminars are made possible in part by the generous contributions of alumni and friends and ongoing efforts of the Office of Development.