What makes a Japanese person become truly British?

I love buying records and and during lockdown, I counted my vinyl collection and sorted it into categories. I have about 1000 LPs. There is a special place for Japanese records, which I particularly treasure.

When Rina Sawayama ‎released her debut record called “Sawayama” earlier this year I assumed it was OK to add it to my Japanese corner. After all, the record, sung in English, includes tracks called Tokyo Love Hotel and Akasaka Sad.

I’m also hoping to see her show at the Electric in London’s Brixton next month, although I have a feeling it will be postponed again because of coronavirus.

But it seems that I may have made a mistake to regard Rina Sawayama as Japanese. She has a Japanese passport but she’s lived in the UK nearly all her life and therefore feels that she is British. This would make her eligible for a competition called the Mercury Prize, which is for British musicians.

The singer told Vice she found it “othering” to be denied entry.

“It was so heartbreaking,” Sawayama said. “I rarely get upset to the level where I cry. And I cried.”

Sawayama added that “it’s up to the award bodies to decide what Britishness really encompasses – the very things that they celebrate, which is diversity and opportunity.”

There’s been quite a strong reaction Twitter. 

@Zoeeee_bee wrote: “This is bull**t. #Sawayama is British art and should be recognised as such. One of the best British pop albums of the year excluded because of an unnecessary clause. Disappointing.”

I think the controversy over the prize highlights a dilemma for many people who have roots in one country but who live in another. They may feel that their status is diminished because their nationality is ambiguous.

For a young singer, I can imagine it’s especially frustrating. But it doesn’t diminish Rina’s success in making a name for herself in the very competitive and increasingly global music business.

Image “Rina Sawayama by Justin Higuchi is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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