Rina Sawayama reveals vile racism once made her ‘shut out her Japanese-ness’

Patrick Kelleher
·2-min read

Rina Sawayama has admitted that she once “shut out her Japanese-ness” due to pervasive racism.

The pansexual London-based pop star, who released her debut album Sawayama in April, told Time Out that she was subjected to micro-aggressions such as being referred to as “kawaii” (a Japanese term meaning “cute”).

She also discovered that she was being referred to as “Rina Wagamama” by a music executive behind her back.

The racism she encountered made her want to push her Japanese heritage away.

“I was so opposed to being stereotyped,” Sawayama said. “It took me a couple years to acknowledge the other side of things. By shutting out my Japanese-ness, I was shutting out all the experiences I had as a Japanese person.”

A change came when Sawayama’s mother moved back to Japan. Suddenly she felt freer, resulting in the deeply personal Sawayama, which draws on her heritage, family history and all facets of her identity.

Elsewhere in the interview, Sawayama spoke about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on her career, as well as on arts and culture across the board.

“There’s literally tens of thousands of people who are out of work,” Sawayama said of the live music scene, “and it is up to the artists to support them.”

Outrage after Rina Sawayama told she ‘isn’t British enough’ for the BRITs.

The new interview comes just months after Rina Sawayama was told that she “isn’t British enough” to enter the Mercury Prize and the BRITs.

Despite garnering critical acclaim, and having Elton John list her debut album as “the strongest album of the year so far”, Sawayama is not eligible for the awards because she is not a British citizen.

She has lived in the UK continuously for the last 25 years with “indefinite leave to remain”, but she was ruled ineligible for some of the country’s biggest music prizes due to dated rules.

Speaking to VICE at the time, Sawayama said it was “heartbreaking” to learn that she was ineligible for the awards.

“I rarely get upset to the level where I cry. And I cried,” she said.

Having moved to the UK when she was a child, Sawayama said: “All I remember is living here. I’ve just lived here all my life.

“I went to summer school in Japan, and that’s literally it. But I feel like I’ve contributed to the UK in a way that I think is worthy of being celebrated, or at least being eligible to be celebrated.

“I’m signed to a UK label. I’ve lived here uninterrupted for the last 25 years. I’m only tax registered in this country.

“The whole album was recorded in the UK as well as in LA. It was mixed in the UK. My lyrics are in English, except for one verse in one song.”