Can Someone Please Explain What’s Up with the Japanese Mariachis?

Japanese MC Samurai Mariachi Belatina

There’s no question about it: conversations about whether something is cultural appreciation/sharing or cultural appropriation are ongoing and can be confusing to some. The Daily Show’s Dulcé Sloan has perfectly spoken on the topic of cultural appropriation and was very clear about it. However, the Japanese Mariachi band, Mariachi Samuari, performs traditional Mariachi music and has some people wondering whether this group is showing appreciation for Mariachi music or simply appropriating the style.

Hosuma Hosegawa is the founder of Mariachi Samuari. Hosegawa is a Japanese native that fell in love with Mariachi music in 1972. His curiosity and a love for the art form led him to move to Mexico to learn more about the traditional Mexican art form. After studying the history, genre, and art form he founded the group in Japan in 2000. For almost two decades Hosegawa’s group has had the opportunity to bring a piece of Mexican culture to Japan and share their interpretation of Mariachi in Mexico.

In 2018, the group was invited to perform at the 25th annual Mariachi Festival in Guadalajara, Mexico. According to an old Indiegogo page the group put up, they have received an endorsement from the Mexican Embassy in addition to playing at functions for the embassy.

Mariachi Samuari is a cross-cultural group. Their lead MC, Sawaka Katalyna, was born in Japan and raised in Mexico. “I lived in Mexico from age one to age 18, I grew up with Mariachi music.” She has a great sense of joy and pride to have the opportunity to represent two cultures that are so deeply personal to her.

As a group, Mariachi Samuari seems very clear that they are participants and contributors to a genre that is deeply a part of Mexican culture and Mexican art. They don’t claim to be the best Mariachi group ever, ignore the fact that Mariachi is Mexican, or give the sense that they feel their version of Mariachi is better or the best. There is no sense of mocking Mexicans or Mexican culture – this truly feels like an active engagement of cultural learning and appreciation.

samurai mariachi MC Japanese Belatina

To be clear, cultural appropriation is multifaceted. However, in an effort to make it simple, think of the act of cultural appropriation like you would a paper you have to write for a class. Ask yourself, is most of the content of the paper taken from someone else? Did you cite your sources? Did you give credit to the people – whom essentially – wrote your paper for you? No, then you’ve taken something that isn’t yours and passed it off as your own. Hence, cultural appropriation.

Now, if you crafted that term paper by finding a source of information that truly opened your eyes up to this topic, felt inspired by this source and body of work, and then wrote the paper while explaining your eye-opening experience and citing the original source, and you did your best to honor the work that you found through your understanding — you didn’t plagiarize. You did your own work and didn’t try to pass it off as your own. To me, that is what Mariachi Sumaria has done.  

Mariachi Samuari is a testament that although there is a fine – and subjective – line between appropriation and appreciation, showing love for a different culture in a respectful manner is in fact possible. Que viva Mexico! (and all those that truly respect her in all her forms!)